Many people have contacted the Historical Society seeking help in researching the history of their house. We hope that the following will be helpful.
Hennepin County Tax Records
The first thing to do is to go to the Hennepin County Property Information Search (PINS) website. This website contains public information from the county tax records. Enter your address and it will give you the year the house was built, the legal description and dimensions of the lot, whether the house is homesteaded, etc. Your name and address should also appear as owners of the property.
The site will also indicate the name of the subdivision. With that you can enter the name of the subdivision and block number where indicated to get a list of all of the houses on the block. For example, if you want to know the ages of all the houses on your street, look up your own address to find out the subdivision name and block number, then enter that information to get a list of each house in that block. Click on each house on your street to get the year built.
The site also has a very helpful mapping feature.
Abstract of Title
Your property may be titled by an Abstract of Title. The Hennepin County Tax website will indicate whether your property has an abstract of title or is titled by Torrens. An abstract is a lengthy legal document. If your home is titled by Torrens, there may not be a document to consult.
If you have an Abstract, it is your best source of information on your house and neighborhood. An Abstract is prepared by a Title or Insurance company, and tells you who owned your property (not necessarily your house) before you. It is updated every time the property is sold. It is a valuable document because it would be almost impossible – or at least very expensive – to reconstruct. You should keep yours in a safe deposit box and work from a copy. (If you don’t have one, check with your title company – sometimes they store abstracts for homeowners.)
Abstracts can be very difficult to understand. First of all, the descriptions of property change. St. Louis Park (Section 21, Township 117, Range 21) was first surveyed in 1855, so the first conveyance recorded will probably be from the U.S. Government around that time, described in 40-acre Government Lots. These lots are quite different from the blocks and lots that resulted when the land was first platted. Then there could be subsequent plats; in the Center, e.g., 2,000 acres were platted into 25 ft. lots in 1882, and those lots were often replatted when the Walker plan fell through and the land was bought up by others.
Second, one purpose of an Abstract is to document clear title to the land. When the property is sold, a search is made to find out if there are any liens on the property. Often people with similar names are identified as possible clouds to the title. Those entries can be disregarded.
Third, conveying the land (sometimes for a token $10) is different from getting a mortgage, and both of those transactions are recorded separately. Sometimes the same entity will own the mortgage, but the land will be conveyed back and forth. Or, in later years, it may be the opposite. There may be a whole flurry of transactions that don’t actually amount to any kind of change in ownership.
One source of all the back-and-forth in older houses is that in the beginning, one could buy property for a low down payment, but financing was only available for about five years at a time – refinancing a balloon payment was usually required. In 1939, with FHA insurance, homeowners could finally get the 30 year mortgages that are common today. So you might see a lot of refinancing that doesn’t relate to actual ownership.
One important use of the Abstract, especially for an older house, is to determine who owned the house the year it was built. With that information, you might be able to use the resources of the Northwest Architectural Archives to obtain plans and other documents pertaining to the building of the house. This would be unusual in St. Louis Park, however, since most homes were built as tract houses with identical or similar floorplans.
Also note: Almost all of the Village’s street names were changed in 1933. A cross reference can be found here.
Historical Society Office Resources
If you find some names on your abstract on or after 1933, you can consult the Society’s collection of directories to see if that person is listed. Unfortunately, there are no directories before 1933.
Newspapers might be another source of information. The Dispatch began publication in November 1941, and the Society has all issues and subsequent papers either in hard copy or on microfilm. There were some other, shorter-lived papers as well. Newspapers often gave addresses of people in their stories, as well as in birth announcements and obituaries.
The Society also has a limited collection of photographs of homes and businesses. Most of these are either along major thoroughfares such as Minnetonka Blvd. or Excelsior Blvd. The homes in the Brookside neighborhood are also included in the collection.
Note: More photographs are in the files of the Tax Assessor. These files have been scanned, and the hard copies are in storage for the Society until such time as the Society has room to take them and make them available to the public.
City Hall: 5005 Minnetonka Blvd.
There are two places in City Hall that may be helpful in your search. The first is the Permits and Inspections desk on the second floor. There they have microfiched documents for every house in the City. Give them an address and they will pull the file and let you view it on the machine. These documents are generally building permits, which may tell you when a garage or an addition was added. You can glean the names of owners from the documents as well (but be careful – often permits are taken out in the name of the contractor). These records generally only go back to the 1950s, and the first record is often a certificate of when the house was hooked up to City (then Village) water.
The second place to go in City Hall is the Tax Assessors Office, on the third floor. They, too, have files on every house in the City. Copies of these files, with old photos, are in storage for the Historical Society – we will be able to provide these to the public once we obtain sufficient physical space.
Often a good source of information is your neighbors. Look on the Hennepin County Tax website (above) and pull up the houses on your block. The site will tell you when the current owner bought the house, back to about 1970. Before that, it will say that no information is available. You may want to knock on the door of a “no information” house to see if the longtime owner has any information about your house or neighborhood.
How to: House History: Minnesota Historical Society: www.mnhs.org/localhistory/bldghistory/househistory.htm
National Park Service: www.nps.gov regarding preservation issues
National Trust for Historic Preservation: www.preservationnation.org also regarding preservation
Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library: www.columbia.edu/cu/lweb/indiv/avery/ architectural archive