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Nearly century-old letters found in ceiling of Wayzata home

WAYZATA — You never know what you might find in an old house.

Just ask Steve Albers.

A contractor, while renovating Albers’ Wayzata home, found nearly century-old letters — one involving a jilted lover and another from a sailor to his sister. Both were located in the ceiling.

“All this is going to lead to more exploration,” Albers said. “I want to find out more about the house and who the letters could possibly be from and to. It’s all been pretty interesting, but I’m sure it will get more interesting.”

The answer to questions about one of the letters might be answered by historical accounts and photographs, as well as the closing signature.

It was about two weeks ago that Albers received a call from a contractor who said he discovered some letters in the house at 224 Broadway Ave. N.

“He said he found them and asked if I was interested in any history of the house and I said ‘absolutely,’” Albers recalled. “He said he found something and showed me one letter which was in really pristine condition for being used as insulation in the ceiling. The other was, as you would assume it would appear, crumpled up.

“What’s interesting is, I was asked if I had ever seen anything like this before and the irony is, yes, in this house,” Albers said. “Downstairs I found newspaper clippings from the 1920s that I have framed. They are pretty cool.”

Albers, a real estate agent by trade, hopes to eventually find out who owned the house at the time the letters were written, and more about the house in general.

According to what Albers has initially learned, the house once served as a rectory for St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church in Wayzata. The house was eventually moved to its current location, a short distance from the church.

Kathy Salman, director of communications for the church, said the church had two rectories. The first was bought in 1925 from the Hughes family and served as the church’s rectory until a new one was built in the early 1940s.

Albers said the house had gone through some remodeling when he bought it.

“When I bought in 2013, the plan was to live in it for a while and then completely renovate it,” he said. “In the process, in the living room ceiling, the letters were found.”

The letter from the seaman is written in calligraphic style on stationery letterhead that reads: “Army and Navy, Young Men’s Christian Association, ‘with colors.’” The return address is from Sinclair Refining Co., of Omaha.

“Isn’t that impressive?” Albers said while looking at the letter which he now protects with plastic. “That writing is so cool.”

In part, the letter reads:

“…made a kind of handbag for Edith. I am going to make her another one this trip for it helps to pass the time away when a fellow hasn’t anything else to do.

“…try to write a few lines to the folks and let them know that I am back anyway.

“…army officers — you had ought to have heard them order one of them out of the galley whenever they came down after a handout.

“P.S. I mailed a picture of our ship to you while we were on our way back. I hope it gets to you alright.”

It appears, the letter was likely written by Lee Hughes, since it is signed: “Your brother, Lee.”

Given the fact that Hughes had a sister named Edith, and he served as a cook (in the galley) in the U.S. Navy during World War I, and he mentions sending a photo of “our ship,” it seems logical that he penned the letter.

Deanne Straka, of the Wayzata Historical Society provided Lakeshore Weekly News two undated photographs. One shows Edith Hughes and Edith Aman together. They were considered best friends. Edith Aman eventually married Lee Hughes, and Edith Hughes married Joe Jolicoeur.

Lee Hughes, according to historical accounts, enlisted in the Navy near the start of WWI and served as a cook because of his experience cooking for large numbers of people in lumber camps.

The second photograph shows Hughes, in a sailor’s uniform, embracing his wife.

After the war that ended in November 1918, Hughes returned to Wayzata and served as a carpenter’s assistant and helped build the original Woodhill Country Club, St. Bartholomew’s Church and a house next to the church. To the south of that house, he built another one for him and his wife Edith, according to historical records.

It is uncertain which, if either, of those houses eventually served as the first rectory of St. Bartholomew’s, and may be the house in which the letters were located.

The other letter found in Albers’ house offers a little more intrigue. It has a corresponding envelope postmarked June 15, 1922, from Omaha, Nebraska.

“Yeah, I think there were a few things going on there,” Albers said with a smile while laying out pieces of the letter. “Looks like things might not have been going well for someone there.”

Parts of that letter read: “loving her as you do,” and “maybe not so much love.”

Then, a more complete part of the fragmented letter reads:

“The last letter you wrote to me you signed the letter ‘your pal.’ I appreciate that Babe, but ain’t I more than a pal to you? I got to thinking last night that perhaps one reason you couldn’t know you loved me is because you love Jane.”

Albers, as he carefully picks up the pieces of the letter, adds: “It would be interesting to know what it was all about.”

Maybe someday, like the letter, he’ll be able to piece it all together.