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House holds slice of River Falls history; homeowners to be recognized

A view of Dick and Sue Beckham's home, looking southward.

The two-story wood-shingled house at Fourth and Maple streets reaches its 100th birthday next year, but its owners -- Dick and Sue Beckham -- have worked hard to make sure it's aging gracefully.

They didn't change the cedar-plank shingled exterior but instead re-stained the shingles again and again and again. They removed carpeting to reveal old hardwood underneath, then saved money to refinish and restore it.

When a storm felled a tree onto a corner of their old house last year, they discovered full-dimension (true to measurement) lumber in the attic and located comparable wood to make repairs.

The Beckhams have lived in River Falls for 40 years and bought the home 30 years ago. Before retiring, both worked as professors -- he at UW-River Falls, she at UW-Stout.

Sue says the Beckhams approached the city's Historic Preservation Commission about the home's significance. Following that inquiry, HPC toured the house.

This month, HPC will present to the Beckhams a plaque of special recognition.

Sue said, "I understand it's architecturally significant to the city."

As the Beckhams understand it, the home has extraordinary workmanship in its beams, chair rails, long roof lines and other characteristics. The award also acknowledges their efforts to maintain or preserve the 'original intent of the home.'

River Falls HPC member and local historian Dan Geister confirms that to his knowledge, the home is the only shingle-style arts and crafts home in the city.


The Beckhams clarify that the 2,344-square-foot house is not all original, but they've taken pains to blend in what isn't.

The only rooms they've changed significantly have been the upstairs bathroom and the kitchen.

The bathroom now has a modern tub and tile with his and hers sinks.

"It only has one and a half baths," Sue said about the house.

The Beckhams redid the kitchen "stud to stud," and it now sports new cabinets made from "pickled" quarter-sawn oak, as well as new countertops and floors with artistic tile pieces that recur throughout the kitchen.

The house features a long window seat in two bedrooms and one downstairs in the living room. A built-in "deacon's seat" is inside the entryway. One of three upstairs bedrooms has a small "sleeping porch" attached.

Sue said their beloved contractor, Charlie Vanasse, created custom pieces of trim from quality oak to match the grain, stain and design of the original trim.

Dick said, "It's a lovely and big house."

He said all the wood in the house would probably build a garage, but that isn't what they used when they built one. The Beckhams strived to build a garage with wood and rooflines that match the house.

Their home has generous closet space and all-wood doors. The ones downstairs have brass knobs; the ones upstairs have crystal knobs.

Sue said she really loves the buffet in the dining room, shelves in the stairway landing and other built-in features. The couple also inherited from Dick's big family a coveted stained-glass light fixture hanging in their dining room. All the siblings wanted it but decided he had the best house for it.

He smiles patiently as he tells the roof story, "We ourselves have reroofed this house three times," he said.

A former owner had replaced the original cedar-shake roofing with fiberglass, so for the first replacement, the Beckhams tried to closely match the original.

Next, the big hail storm caused another replacement. After the tree hit their house, the Beckhams learned that the shingles they'd chosen after the hailstorm have been discontinued, which led to replace the roof a third time.

The Beckhams say their "four-season porch" or sunroom is probably their favorite -- where they get comfortable to read, watch TV or let it snow. They look through the original wood-paned windows on three sides, and the ceiling is all stained-wood wainscoting.

Several big, square, stone support columns run through the wall and are visible from inside and outside.

Dick declared, "They just don't make them like that anymore."

Radiators sit in nearly every room and warm the home with hot-water heat. Other era reminders include big solid-wood pocket doors -- at least twice the size of a standard door -- that close off the living room from the stairs and dining room.

Sue thinks back then, hosts would close off guests in the living room while cooks prepared dinner and set the dining room table.

When asked what work may come next, the Beckhams say probably more landscaping, possibly brick sidewalks in the future.

They're happy in their home as well as proud of it, and they enjoy sharing it with people.

One thing special to both of them, says Sue about the paintings, pictures and other objects throughout the home, "All over the house, we have art by friends."

Beckham home history

Dan Geister says the style of the house impressed the HPC as it toured the Beckham home. He knows much about its nearly 100-year history.

  • The land where the house sits now was the backyard of Lieutenant Governor Charles Parker

    The home was built in 1912 for Carl W. Jenson when he worked for his father, who owned a general store downtown.

  • The younger Jenson also constructed the building at 123 N. Main St. with a partner.
  • The partners became Nash and Studebaker dealers and used the building as a car dealership and auto-repair garage; upstairs it housed the Armory until the current one was built on Division Street in 1958.
  • Jenson sold the house to Elbridge Currier and Lucy May Powell Currier as a retirement home in 1919, where they lived until 1940, choosing it because Lucy's mother and sister lived across the street.
  • The Curriers' granddaughter, Margaret Allen Engel, who now lives in Rochester, Minn., was married in the house.
  • The Currier family sold it back to the Jenson family about 1940, and two of Carl W's sisters lived in it during the 1940s and 1950s.
  • The house was sold in 1960 to William Abbott -- a renowned music professor at the university who died in 1980 and after whom the Abbott Concert Hall at UW-River Falls is named.
  • William Abbott's widow sold the home to Dick and Sue Beckham.