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Why would a priest construct a building in downtown Blue Earth

By Staff | Mar 29, 2010

Elsewhere in this issue of the Register is a story about the building on the corner of Seventh and Main in Blue Earth. It is not the first time we have tried to keep our readers up-to-date on the building and what may – or may not – be happening to it.

It has had its windows covered since I moved here two and a half years ago. That fact alone has always piqued my interest.

I have also been curious as to its history. Local people who have lived here for years have said it was a drug store, and as far as anyone knows, it was a pharmacy from its start until the late 1960s when it became home to Wells Federal Bank.

The drug store business had been purchased by another pharmacy and it moved across the street.

There was another interesting item about this building which I found to be curious.

Walking by it, looking up on the roof, there is a triangle of stone with the inscription “Venn 1890” on it.

I guessed that a man named Venn built the building in 1890.

Turns out I am correct, but there is more to the story than just that fact.

According to local history buff A. B. Russ, Venn refers to Father Venn, a Catholic priest who came to Blue Earth in 1890 and died in 1905.

Now, the question I have, is why would a Catholic priest have a building constructed on the main intersection in downtown Blue Earth?

Russ had no answer to that question, and says he has often wondered about that himself.

Russ has a close association to the building in question. His father, Dr. H. H. Russ, had his office in the back of the Venn building for many, many years.

In fact, at one time there were three doctors and a dentist with offices located off a hallway in the back.

Besides Dr. Russ, there was Dr. Wilson, Dr. Chandler and Dr. Baker (the dentist).

Russ remembers he didn’t much care for his visits to Dr. Baker, as the dentist didn’t believe in the use of novacaine.

Russ also tells about his father’s practice. Dr. Russ only charged $2 for an office call, and no appointment was necessary.

He didn’t have a receptionist, bookkeeper, assistant or nurse. It was just him – and his dog Lady – in a small office/exam room.

And, if Dr. Russ or the other two docs wrote out a prescription, it was pretty easy to get it filled. That’s because there was a door on the other side of the hall which opened into the drug store – and the pharmacy counter was right there.

Because of health issues, Dr. Russ had to quit his practice in 1975. He had developed emphysema, caused by years of heavy cigarette smoking, A. B. Russ says of his father.

There is yet another curious angle to this saga of the pharmacy building.

Before Father Venn passed away in 1905, he was renting the upstairs to the Masons for use as their Masonic Lodge.

And, after Father Venn died, the Masons took over ownership of it, A. B. Russ says.

In fact, the doctors, dentist and the pharmacy were renting their space from the Masons.

This becomes all the more curious when you realize that through history the Masons and the Catholic church were not exactly friendly.

So, why was a Catholic priest renting space to the Masons, and why did he sell the building to them?

Russ doesn’t know. And, he had asked local historian Randall Pemberton those very same questions before Pemberton passed away.

He didn’t have an answer to that curious arrangement either. Maybe no one does.

One more oddity to do with the Venn building. In some old photos the triangle of stone, along with other decorative stone along the roof edge, is visible.

Then it disappears for a number of years as the building facade was modernized.

However, it obviously made a return to the roof, as it is clearly visible there now.

It is a building with a curious past, and a cloudy future.