County Road 90 well house

This lonely and not-particularly-well-loved structure has intrigued people ever since the new County Road 90 was routed just to the south of it in the 1990s.

Q: This house stands on Highway 90 between Stoltzman Road and Monks. I’ve always loved it. Can you find any history of it?

A: Ask Us Guy had serious doubts about finding an answer to this question, which arrived only with the accompanying photograph, but he got lucky. Turns out the lonely little building’s history isn’t what the reader might have been imagining, assuming he or she was picturing a “Little House on the Prairie” sort of backstory.

The collapsing structure has been around for a century or more, but it was never the home of a farm family. Instead, it was the home of lots and lots of batteries.

Tax records, which have no information on the building, show that the land is owned by a Glencoe man. A little online digging revealed the man is a Mankato native with a brother, Neil Ballard, who still lives just south of town. And Neil Ballard, 83, happened to know quite a bit about the building.

It was constructed as a well house that supplied both water and electricity for a dairy farm that long ago disappeared from the site.

“The well house had a pit well in it and they had a wind charger on it,” said Ballard, whose father purchased the farm in 1948.

The dairy farmer, Clinton Law, rented the property, which included a farmhouse, a large dairy barn and some outbuildings, including the well house.

While Law was an old-fashioned farmer, he coveted the labor-saving prospect of electric milking machines — even though a power line had never been strung to the farm. Instead, he erected a windmill to power a generator in the well house, which charged batteries, which stored up the electricity for windless days.

“They had racks and racks of batteries for the wind charger, and that also ran the pump,” Ballard said.

Law, said Ballard, didn’t run any of the juice to the farmhouse — reserving all of the electricity for the pump and for the milk machines for his herd of Guernseys. That left Law’s wife to make do with kerosene lamps and other pioneer-era technologies. Coincidentally or not, the Laws never had children.

The cow barn, which Ballard said was 120 feet long, burned down sometime after 1948, putting an end to the property as a dairy farm. The Ballards kept the house because their hired man lived in it for several years, and the well house was his source of water. Later, the home and the outbuildings were burned to the ground in a training session by the St. Clair Volunteer Fire Department and the 300-foot well was sealed.

“All that’s left is the little well house. We left a few of the trees there, the cottonwoods,” said Ballard, a longtime Minnesota State University biology professor who grew up about a mile north of the spot and still lives in the neighborhood in retirement.

And the reader who sent the question apparently isn’t the only one intrigued by the building, which ended up losing its longstanding anonymity when Blue Earth County created the new County Road 90 — complete with a biking/walking trail — just south of the former farmstead.

“I’ve seen people out there taking pictures,” he said, noting that others have taken more than photographs over the decades. “We stored a lot of crap in there but it kind of got robbed, a lot of the boards taken, even.”

Q: I know Highway 22 from Mankato to St. Peter is scheduled for reconstruction in 2024, I have one question: When does MnDOT plan on repairing all the potholes and major cracks that are getting bigger by the week and also grinding down the bumps in the road from basically County Road 2 to around the asphalt plant by Kasota? By the way, those bumps in the road have never been ground down since the road was reconstructed in 2000.

A: Highway 22 from Mankato to St. Peter is the busiest two-lane roadway in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 13-county District 7, so it’s challenging to make repairs without disruption to a lot of traffic — including large trucks hauling gravel and asphalt. Nonetheless, crews have addressed some of the issues the reader raised.

“Highway 22 between Mankato and St. Peter is a high-traveled road, which makes it difficult to work on,” said MnDOT maintenance supervisor Tony DeSantiago. “Being it’s a two-lane road, doing traffic control backs up traffic, especially trucks with all the pits and bituminous plant nearby.”

But they’re trying.

Just last week, MnDOT crews were milling bumps on that section. While still “not perfect,” a lot of the sharpness of some of the bumps was eliminated, according to DeSantiago. Plans are in place to do patching in the next two to three weeks if time and weather allow.

The work will cause some traffic delays, and MnDOT asks for patience from motorists.

Contact Ask Us at The Free Press, 418 S. Second St., Mankato, MN 56001. Call Mark Fischenich at 344-6321 or email your question to mfischenich@mankatofreepress.com; put Ask Us in the subject line.

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