Carver historian John von Walter and his wife Kathleen will be reluctantly moving from the city of Carver, but they are forever linked to the community.
The move, which has not yet been scheduled, will mean the sale of their fascinating 17-room Victorian residence at the corner of Oak and Fourth streets.
“It’s not that we want to move, we have to,” John said, in a recent interview, from the fabulously-furnished residence. “We will be moving from Carver, but we will continue to be involved with what goes on here.”
The von Walters will be moving to a handicap-accessible residence in Victoria that is more compatible with Kathleen’s serious health issues, John said.
The von Walters have been actively involved in Carver events since moving to the community about 18 years ago. That interest has greatly involved the history of Carver.
“John values so strongly the history of our town and the importance of connecting the community together,” said Anna Edlund of Carver, who also serves as the gifted services facilitator for the Eastern Carver County School District. “But for him, it’s not just about preserving that history, it’s celebrating it.”
The earliest part of the von Walter house dates back to 1856 and sits on property once owned by Minnesota Gov. Alexander Ramsey.
If anyone knows the history of that house, referred to as “The Gables” because of its seven gables, or any other house in Carver’s downtown historic district for that matter, it would be John.
“I’ve always liked to know about things, investigating things,” he said between sips of coffee while seated in his preferred antiquish casual chair near the fireplace. “I just enjoy knowing about the past.”
Von Walter has combined his loves of history and writing to produce many historical accounts. He also is keenly involved with historical preservation groups.
“Once something is gone, it’s gone forever,” he said. “The future rests on what happens today. What happened yesterday is the foundation of what we have now.”
The von Walter residence has become a showplace of sorts, having garnered plenty of media and passers-by attention over the years, but a broad smile comes to John’s face when he talks of how students have toured the house on special occasions.
“I want to do what I can to help preserve history for the younger generations to appreciate. That’s important,” he emphasized.
Von Walter can mesmerize listeners with great details of the house and the “stable” in the backyard, which once served as the first schoolhouse for District No. 1 in the state of Minnesota. The building previously was the “claim shanty” of Carver founder Axel Jorgenson before becoming a school.
Von Walter, because of his research, learned Jorgenson built his shanty and loosely called it a hotel, naming it “Hotel Luksenborg,” before the structure was moved to its current location.
Von Walter, 72, says he’s enjoyed writing from an early age and developed investigative techniques while serving about 10 years as an officer and crime scene investigator with the Metropolitan Airports Commission and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, and then 20 more years as a field superintendent with the MAC.
John and Kathleen, who celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in July, lived in St. Paul before moving to Chanhassen. They had noticed “The Gables” house in Carver and agreed they would look into buying it if it ever went on the market. It did and they did.
“The (three) girls were grown and gone and we wanted to find an old house again like we had in St. Paul on Summit Avenue,” John said. “This was perfect.”
When the von Walters arrived in Carver, John was already on his way to investigating buildings and genealogies, having completed his and Kathleen’s families’ genealogies.
“It kind of ties you to specific times in history,” he said, adding that a neighbor in Chanhassen asked him to research that man’s residence that reportedly belonged to a Civil War major. “That way I got a taste of how to look up properties and houses.”
Von Walter said he knew little about Carver until moving to the city, but quickly got involved as part of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission and other civic groups.
He now has bookshelves filled with extensively-researched historical archives related to family and the community, and has historical accounts available on the city of Carver, Carver County and state historical websites. Much of John’s historical information can also be found at carverontheminnesota.org and carvercurrent.com.
“I started out making a little walking tour guide for Carver Steamboat Days and now it’s 240 pages long. My wife calls me a fount of worthless information, but I think some of it is valuable,” John said with a laugh.
“John is an incredible example of someone who is invested in the community, even in retirement, when he could have chosen so many other things,” Edlund said. “Their house is like a mini-museum, but what they tell the kids is also so valuable.
“John and Kathy are a treasure and so many of us are so sad that they will be leaving, but glad that they will continue to be involved,” Edlund added. “They are absolute gems.”