From the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association – Where Every Story Has Three Sides
Local residents travel by this house every day – by car, bus, bicycle or walk – and never really see it … the big light green house on the northwest corner of 24th Street and Colfax Avenue … and never give it a second thought. But that all might be changing in a few short months. The turn of the century Victorian might suffer the fate of being replaced by a four story, 48 unit apartment building. What tales could this once grand property tell that would be lost?
The present function of the house has been as a much needed rooming house for single men for over the past thirty years. Perhaps we have noted its occasional claim to infamy when the ambulance or police car showed up at its door. Perhaps we noticed when the new vinyl siding covered the ugly clapboards. Perhaps we noted the lack of vehicles in its empty parking lot which once was graced with a three story carriage house. Now a noted infill developer wants to tear it down and its northerly neighbor, 2316 Colfax, clothier Fred Young’s home, in favor of a more contemporary upscale apartment building.
But when this once grand home was built in 1893 it too was in the upscale contemporary style of a noted developer: Theron P. Healy. And the first owner was none other than Edward Orth of the Minneapolis Brewing Company. His father, John Orth, one of the first German families in St. Anthony, had come to Minneapolis in 1851 and built the famous Orth Brewery building which was later combined in 1890 with several other local establishments to create the conglomerate of Minneapolis Brewing and Malting Company. In 1891 the current Grain Belt Brewery was constructed on the John Orth site and in 1893 began producing Minneapolis’ famous Grainbelt ale. The brewery buildings are now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and are one of the signature complexes of the Minneapolis skyline housing a library, artists studios, and art galleries. Soon after the merger, the Orth sons left the business to go into real estate.
Edward Orth was also president of the City Ice Company, Orth Brothers and the Coe Commission Company. His growing family desired a grand home in the fashionable Lowry Hill area to reflect his status and bought 2320 Colfax from one of the most sought after prolific builders of fine homes in Minneapolis, T.P. Healy, in 1894. The family not only entertained family and friends but was located in the same neighborhood as other German entrepreneurs – the Glueks, Hahns, and Schopers. However by 1903, the Orth family had moved to Lake Harriet and Edward Orth died suddenly in 1910 at the age of only 54.
In 1903, the imposing house was sold to another up and coming entrepreneur, Thomas N. Kenyon, his wife Effie, and their two children, Norma and Donald. The matching frame carriage house in the rear housed not only the family horses but the latest in motorized transportation. Kenyon was an avid aficionado of automobiles and was proud to own Minnesota license number 873. (In the early 20th century the driver carried the license number not the vehicle.) Housed in the carriage house next to the car was a pair of fine driving horses which often took prizes in equine competition.
Thomas Kenyon was born in New York state in 1863, moved to Minneapolis in 1882 and worked as a traveling salesman handling drug specialties for a Michigan firm. After several years he bought the business and was the originator of Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly, a cough and cold remedy widely recognized throughout North and South America and England. He grew the business largely on distributing free samples in regions subjected to colds and hay fever. Kondon’s cold remedy was as well stocked in the average medicine cabinet as Doan’s Pills, Cuticura Soap, and Dewitts Throat Lozenges.
Thomas Kenyon also held positions as the Director of the Minneapolis National Bank and Vice President of the Citizens State Bank of Monticello.
The house at 2320 Colfax was centrally located and known as a hub of the social season holding many charitable events for Fowler Methodist Church.
Thomas and Effie’s daughter Norma was married to Asa Johnson Hunter in the spring of 1911. Asa J. Hunter was the grandson of Dr. Asa Emery Johnson, an early pioneer of St. Anthony arriving there in 1857. Dr. Johnson, primarily a botanist, in 1873, formed with 10 other forward-looking men the Minnesota Academy of Natural Sciences and was its first president. He was also a co-founder of the Hennepin County Medical Society and was among the first doctors to use quinoa to treat typhoid fever. Dr. Johnson passed away in 1906.
Similar to its 1990’s notoriety, the Kenyon house was also a site of a police visit in the fall of 1911. The October 28 Morning Tribune column read: “Girl Charged with Insanity: Victoria Larson, a domestic in the home of T.N. Kenyon was taken to the county jail last night by Deputy Sheriff Johnson and held on a charge of insanity. She has been in this county six months and is said to have often threatened to take her own life. She attempted to put her threat into execution last night and was arrested. It is said her despondency is caused by an unhappy love affair.”
After Thomas Kenyon’s death in 1935, his son, Donald continued as president of the Kondon Manufacturing Company while the Catarrhal Jelly continued to be distributed by druggists internationally well after the 1940s. Donald Kenyon and his wife, Dorothy, lived on in the house for a few more years until it was sold about 1937. Effie DeMille Kenyon died in 1943.
The house then suffered the fate of so many grand dwellings in Lowry Hill East after World War II – it was expensive to maintain and became a rooming house for many returning veterans and students. Eventually it lost its graceful airy porch and suffered through a fire.
But now 2320 Colfax has a chance to regain it’s original grand showpiece status if only it were not located in a densely zoned R6 site. Will its fate be listed on the Lost Twin Cities rolls or will it survive to anchor the north end of Colfax and again tell glorious tales?
Kathy Kullberg lives in Lowry Hill East.