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The North House Folk School master plan could involve changes to the historic structure on the waterfront

The North House Folk School campus has seen many changes since the school was founded in 1997. The school has improved the forest buildings from the 1930s, bought neighboring land, changed the driveway and pedestrian access to the school, and many more years. Is there more for the campus by the water? WTIP checked with North House Executive Director Greg Wright to learn more about the elementary school’s “master plan”.

The master plan is an internal document developed by school staff, board members, and community partners. One focus of the master plan is currently the possible creation of a classroom by the harbor on the Dockside Fish Market property, which North House acquired in December 2017.

The harbor classroom could mean changes to the historic Scott Fish House, a building on the National Registry of Historic Places. As the owner of the property, North House Folk School has a number of options. Elementary school could request that the building be removed from the register, which Wright insists the school is not considering.

Instead, the North House Folk School works with the Minnesota Historical Society, LHB Engineers, and the Cook County Historical Society to develop a report on historical structures. The report looks at the current state of the building and examines what “treatments” could be used to preserve the old building. The report provides suggestions for treatment ranging from simply leaving the building standing without changes to moving the building to another location.

Wright notes that the building is currently stable thanks to the work of former owners Harley and Shele Toftey. But these improvements were necessary, but not historically correct – for example, the old fish house now has a metal roof. Wright said the elementary school could continue to make such changes to keep the building in use – but at what point would the Scott Fish House lose its historic look?

The historical structure report will help the North House Folk School examine the possibilities – how might a restoration or move work? What would it cost? Who would be involved in this project?

There are currently no answers, Wright said. He said North House was about 75 percent through the process. When asked when the ward can expect a decision about the future of the Scott Fish House, Wright said the elementary school hopes to have more information for the ward in the spring.

WTIP also asked if the future development of the waterfront campus will affect the Fisherman’s Daughter or North Superior Fisheries. Wright said no, the goal is for these businesses to thrive on the Dockside property.

Another piece of the master plan puzzle is the Little Yellow House, which doubles as a welcome desk and gift shop, which is also owned by the North House Folk School. The structure has foundation problems and is not really set up for campus access. There are plans to remove the Yellow House and replace it with something more appropriate and welcoming, Wright said.

Other changes and additions to the North House Folk School campus since 1997 include the purchase of the former Superior National Forest headquarters in May 2016, across from Highway 61 from the North House main campus. The building offers offices and classrooms. North House is also leasing part of the building to a trading company, North Shore Title.

In October 2021, North House Folk School acquired land across from the main campus, west of the former Forest Service building. Part of the property is undeveloped and the upper part was cleared when an old house was demolished. Any development of this property will be another challenge for the elementary school as there are concerns about the Anishinaabe burial sites in the countryside. In a previous WTIP interview, Wright noted that North House is very aware of this. The elementary school sought assistance from the Minnesota State Archaeologists Office and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa before construction began.

For the time being, Wright invites anyone interested in learning more about historic fish houses in Grand Marais Harbor, including the Scott Fish House, to attend an online event on Thursday, January 27th. The event is co-hosted by North House Elementary School and the Cook County Historical Society. WTIP will share information on how to attend this presentation as it becomes available.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke to North House Director Wright about all of this. Here is their conversation.


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