WAYZATA — For some, they might have been just old letters found in a ceiling during renovation — letters that could easily have been discarded.
But one old letter found during a home remodeling project has ignited new friendships and added to the history of a prominent Wayzata-area family.
It was in late March that workers found two old letters in a Wayzata house owned by Steve Albers.
The Lakeshore Weekly News, in research of those nearly century-old letters, discovered that Lee Hughes of Wayzata, a World War I veteran, had written one of the letters to a woman named Edith.
You see, Lee had a sister named Edith and a girlfriend named Edith.
The newspaper, after determining the letter likely was written to Lee’s sister, ran a story in early April about the letters.
It wasn’t long after publication of the article that Gary Hughes contacted the Lakeshore Weekly News, requesting contact information for Albers.
It was only recently that Gary Hughes of Plymouth, and his uncle, Roger Hughes of Golden Valley, sat down with Albers at his real estate office in Wayzata to discuss the letter and how the Hughes family has been historically involved with the Plymouth and Wayzata areas.
Roger and Gary proceeded to talk about how the Hughes family arrived in the U.S., came to Minnesota via covered wagons in the mid-1800s and settled largely in the Plymouth area.
In fact, Roger Hughes, 82, produced a copied land document with President James Buchanan’s signature that led to the Hughes family owning a total of about a quarter section along Highway 101, north of Highway 55 and south of Highway 24.
Large Hughes families dominated that area, which led to the unofficial title of the area as “Hughes Crossroads” in the 1930s, Roger Hughes said with a laugh.
“In fact, if they wanted to rename the town of Wayzata to Hughes, I don’t think we’d have a problem,” he joked.
“I just find all this so compelling,” Albers said during the hour-long meeting with Roger and Gary Hughes. “It’s just incredible. I just think this is so much fun how this all just came about. I just love listening to the history of it all.”
Roger’s father, Floyd Hughes, was the brother of Lee Hughes. Even that has a story to it, according to Roger.
“Lee’s real name was Maurice,” he said, getting a nod of approval from Gary. “He went by Lee because nobody liked the name Maurice.”
Gary Hughes has been working with the Wayzata Historical Society on the Hughes family file.
“I found out about the letters from the newspaper,” he said, adding that learning more about the letter was important “because it’s about family, and everything about family is important.
“This might be something that most people would gloss over, but when it’s family, you don’t gloss over that,” he said, choking back his comment. “I know these people. I’m related to them, so I want to know everything I can.”
Albers and the Hughes’ agreed to stay in touch. But there is one nagging question for them all. How did a letter from Lee to his sister, along with another anonymous letter, get into the house that Albers is having remodeled?
Did Lee Hughes, a reputable contractor, take them with him while working at the house? Did he or family members live there? Who did live there?
“It just goes on,” Albers said with a smile. “Why were they in my house? It will be nice to maybe know someday.”
A contractor, while renovating the home at 224 Broadway Ave. N., found the letter Lee Hughes sent to his sister, and pieces of another letter involving a jilted lover.
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.
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, according to church records.
Albers bought the house in 2013 and in the process of renovation, the letters were found in the living room ceiling.
The letter from Lee Hughes is written in calligraphic style on stationery letterhead that reads: Army and Navy, Young Men’s Christian Association, ‘with colors.’
In part, the letter, signed, “Your brother, Lee,” 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.”
Given the fact that Lee 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.
Edith Hughes and Edith Aman were considered best friends. Edith Aman married Lee Hughes, and Edith Hughes married Joe Jolicoeur.
After the war 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.
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 had a thought on that letter as well.
“I can’t wait to find out who Jane is,” he said with a smile. “I’m sure that will be fun too.”