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Storied rooms: Brothers share vivid memories of ancestor's Red Wing home

The back porch of the Brooks-Sheldon House is in use today. People may visit the home 1-4 p.m. Sept. 24, 2017, as part of the Goodhue County Historical Society Historic Home Tour. Kit Murray / RiverTown Mulitmedia1 / 3
The library at Brooks-Sheldon House doubles as an office for Melissa and Steve Sorman.2 / 3
Melissa and Steve Sorman use this space as their first-floor living room at 457 W. Seventh St. The Brooks-Sheldon House is part of a tour Sept. 24, 2017, that will benefit the Goodhue County Historical Society.3 / 3

Two great-grandsons of the man who built one of Red Wing's most striking historic homes will be back in town Sept. 24 to share stories about what it was like back in the day.

Charles and Bill Stone are returning to the big brick house at 457 W. Seventh St. for a Historic Home Tour sponsored by the Goodhue County Historical Society.

Along with the current owners, Melissa and Steve Sorman, they will welcome visitors to what is known as the Brooks-Sheldon House in the new South End Residential District.

Family records indicate it was built around 1864 by their great-grandfather Charles E. Sheldon, who was a founder and president of Red Wing Sewer Pipe Co. He also was associated with an early bank and other local businesses.

He and his wife, Harriet Brooks, had four children, but three of them died within the span of about a year, the Stones said. Two died after becoming ill, and one son was electrocuted while working to bring electricity to Red Wing.

The surviving child, Sam, was the Stones' grandfather. Born in 1890, he traveled to school on horseback.

He later was educated at Dartmouth and went into business in Minneapolis, but inherited 457 Seventh St. when his parents died. He decided to retire early and move back to Red Wing with his wife, Jane Newton.

That's where the Stones' stories come to life.

Listening to them talk, you can picture it: white pillars near the street; peeling wallpaper in the parlor; a Civil War pistol on a dresser; mementoes of international trips in the curiosity cabinet; a swinging bed on the porch; tall bookcases filled with rare volumes.

One of their grandfather's earliest stories involved the delivery of the very first automobile in Red Wing to the president of a local bank. Since Sam Sheldon's father, Charles, was associated with the bank, young Sam had the honor of "rolling it off," Charles Stone said.

Family photos show that there were Indian tepees nearby when the house was built, and that following the wedding of Charles Sheldon and Harriet Brooks there were white pillars near the street with "Sheldon" imprinted on one and "Brooks" on the other.

Visits to their grandparents' home generated many stories. Charles Stone recalls the day he noticed that wallpaper in the front parlor was starting to curl, and mentioned it to his grandpa.

"It's been fine for the last 125 years. If your mother wants to replace it, she can," Sam Sheldon responded.

"Nothing was ever changed," Charles Stone said.

He also vividly recalls seeing two shrunken heads from 1800s New Guinea in the curiosity cabinet in the dining room. His great-grandfather enjoyed wealth and went on several world trips in the early 1900s.

The original house had no plumbing or electricity, so there were exposed pipes in the rooms. Some fixtures combined gas and electric service. There's a coal chute in the basement.

A close relative was a rare book dealer, so the 9-foot-tall bookcases were filled with valuable books, including first edition of Charles Dickens' works. Books brought in thousands of dollars at estate sales when his grandparents and later his parents died.

Sam Sheldon and his wife. Jane. had two daughters: Edith, who married Norman Stone and had six children; and Betsy, who still survives in her late 90s. Jane died in 1966 and Sam around 1976. That's when Edith and Norman Stone moved into 457 Seventh.

Bill and Charles Stone never lived there, but they were regular visitors to the house when their grandparents and later their parents occupied it until around 1987.

Sam Sheldon learned to fly at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis to become a World War II Navy pilot and later served in Cuba and as an adviser to the Korean Conflict. He had a Chris Craft boat named ALNAV (All Navy) that they rode to Lake Pepin.

In Red Wing he was on the board of Red Wing Potteries, which meant the entire family once had lots of stoneware, dinnerware and art pottery.

The Stones have fond memories of a small upstairs bedroom with a colonial-era bed that was strung with ropes. In the attic they found garment bags containing Civil War uniforms, and guns and knives. In later years Charles Stone took a Remington pistol with wood grips that had sat on a dresser since the Civil War and had it restored. It's still in the family.

Bill remembers that a full-size bed hanging on chains used to be in the front porch, which formerly was screened. The kids used to rush for it so they could jump in and make it swing.

There is memorabilia in a family scrapbook with rare items such as a pass that gave Charles E. Sheldon permission to cross the Potomac River during the Civil War.

Another item the Stones still can picture in their memories is a framed bill of sale for a slave, dated 1855, which hung on a wall.

Charles Stone asked his mother why anyone would keep such a thing, and she explained that one of her Brooks relatives in Ohio was part of the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape the South. The bill of sale had been left behind. To the family it represented freedom.

Bill Stone was in Red Wing over the summer and wanted to show a friend the old family home. He stopped at the house and discovered that the doorknocker on the kitchen entry still bears his grandfather's name.

While Melissa Sorman gave them a tour of the house, he learned that it would be open to the public on Sept. 24 and decided to come down that day. He and brother Charles both plan to be in town to share their memories.