It wasn’t a typical 1893 farmhouse when Albert and Jennie Sperry built it overlooking Foot Lake in Kandiyohi County. There was brick work on the exterior, stained glass in the windows, a two-toned wood floor in the entry, and a machine-carved staircase bannister.
When their son, Bryan, died in 1970 and willed the house to the Kandiyohi County Historical Society, the farm was gone and the house was a part of the city of Willmar.
“Bryan lived his whole life in the house,” said Jill Wohnoutka, Executive Director of KCHS. “He was also sitting on the board of the historical society when he died.”
His father, Albert, was one of the first settlers in the area, according to Wohnoutka. He moved to the area from Atwater after his first wife died and their general store had burned. He married Jennie and they built the house. Albert was a businessman, with an implement dealership and a meat market, and was involved in land development.
He was also a farmer, of course, but according to Wohnoutka, Sperry’s younger daughter didn’t think farming was his forte.
Five of Albert’s children (including one from his previous marriage) lived into adulthood. Albert died in 1917 and a few years later the house was divided into upstairs and downstairs apartments. Bryan stayed on and lived in the upstairs apartment. After KCHS came into possession of the house, that apartment was home for the caretaker who took care of the complex of buildings and grounds. Now empty, the Society is looking into restoring the upstairs.
After six years of renovations, the bottom floor opened to the public in 1976.
“This is a Victorian farmhouse,” Wohnoutka said. “The Board returned it to the turn-of-the-century period. The wallpaper is era-specific, but not trying to match the original. All the woodwork and stained glass is original.”
Most of the furnishings are from the museum’s collection, with a dining room table and fireplace mantle from the Carnegie Library of that era. A few items are from the Sperrys: Jennie’s set of dishes, a bedroom set, and a framed picture of William Jennings Bryan — Albert’s favorite politician after whom Bryan was named.
The Society holds an annual tea and has a fundraising raffle for a turn-of-the-century walleye and bison dinner served in the house. Otherwise, the Sperry House can be seen by appointment if the historical society is contacted ahead of time so someone is available to show it. Check the KCHS website at www.kandiyohicountyhistory.com, or find them on Facebook.