For over 36 years Steve Edwins played a key role in promoting and retaining the face of Northfield that is celebrated by our community and recognized by the wider public. Steve, a member of American Institute of Architects, was a community visionary and devoted public servant for preservation.
A co-founder of the Northfield Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), Steve served on the Commission from 1980 until his death in 2014. He provided leadership in establishing the National Register Historic District which offers long term protection for our historic downtown. His professional background and service to the Minnesota Historical Society on the Grants Review Committee and the State Review Board brought valuable insights to local preservation planning.
When you tell someone you are from Northfield, their reply often includes a visual reference to our downtown, a positive image, due in large part to the work of the HPC and Steve Edwins, in particular. As an architect in the SMSQ firm, Steve provided a rich preservation legacy in the restoration of several Northfield Historic District buildings: Bushnell, Posney & MacKay Building (currently occupied by Content Books and Northfield Yarn); YMCA Building (Northfield Arts Guild) with colleague Clinton Sathrum; Scriver Building (Northfield Historical Society); and Northfield Carnegie Library 1986 addition that tripled the size of the facility – four historic examples of restoration that maintained the integrity of the original buildings.
In addition to Steve’s highly visible preservation efforts, his writings continue to promote community understanding of the need to protect and value our historic origins making the downtown historical area a major city asset. He authored the 1982 Northfield Downtown Guidebook, a history of the buildings, and contributed to Northfield: The History and Architecture of a Community, and Downtown Design Guidelines, a guide for building owners and the HPC.
Current and future generations of Northfield citizens are the beneficiaries of Steve’s preservation of their cultural heritage beyond the downtown area. Those renewal and preservation projects, sometimes in collaboration with SMSQ colleagues, included diverse buildings: a) college structures (Carleton’s Goodsell Observatory and Athenaeum-Gould Memorial Library; St. Olaf’s Old Main, Studio ‘A’, and Boe Memorial Chapel); b) churches (First United Church of Christ, St. John’s Lutheran Church, All Saint’s Episcopal Church); and c) other (several residences, Veblen Historic Farmstead, 1888 Depot, and Central Park (restoration to historical layout of John North)). The Veblen project was one of only two in Minnesota featured in a 2000 national TV series about restorations.
In 2014, Northfield was rated among the 10 Best Small Towns for livability (see livability.com). The report noted that these towns are “filled with unpretentious people who want to preserve what makes their places unique.” Steve personified that unpretentious person making a difference in the preservation of their community. Steve’s philosophy was straightforward: “Quality of life needs to be worked on all the time or it will disappear. We have something here [Northfield] – a treasure. Once it’s gone, it is never the same. Preserve what’s of worth. Do things well. It will last.”
Article written by Alice Thomas