The Little White House Downtown

Levi M. Stewart came into the world the usual way on December 10, 1827. He spent his earliest years in the town of Corrina, Maine, where his parents, David and Elizabeth Stewart, were anxious to prepare him for the the ministry. After he finished his elementary education he passed a year at college in Waterville, Maine and three years at Dartmouth, in New Hampshire. He graduated in 1853. During his school years, he worked at a sawmill in Corrina and spent summers on fishing boats near Bangor and Portland, Maine. Stewart was very tall and slender and had a reputation as a good wrestler. He spent two years in the law office of his brother, David, before he was attached to Harvard’s law department. He graduated from Harvard in 1856 and was admitted to the bar of Maine’s Supreme Court less than a month later.

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The Stewart House at 4th and Hennepin in 1901.

Levi Stewart decided to go west in the fall of 1856. After he arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, he boarded at Bushnell house and later took up residence with a family on the site of what is now the Minneapolis City Hall. Everyone called him Elder Stewart, because his parents had hoped he would enter the ministry. He never did and instead started his law business in the wooden building at Washington and Second Avenue South. In 1868 he moved his practice to the Harrison block on Nicollet where he remained for 28 years. He had one room on the second floor where Thomas Lowry had two rooms. For his home, Mr. Stewart bought a half a block between Fourth and Fifth Streets on Hennepin Avenue and built the little white house that became a downtown landmark. The residence was a source of pride for Stewart and he spent the rest of his days there. In 1880 after the Kasota Block was completed across the street, he moved his office to the second floor. Stewart never had a partner. In addition to his law practice he dealt in real estate and became one of the first millionaires in Minneapolis. Stewart donated land for Abbott Northwestern Hospital. He was shrewd and his many private charities were never mentioned.

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He had a reputation for honesty and the people of Minneapolis thought well of him and were sentimental about his little house on Hennepin Avenue. Stewart came from a family noted for longevity. He was 83 when he died on May 3rd, 1910. The little frame house where he lived downtown for over 50 years was sold for $65.00. The white pine timbers used in the home’s construction were sold to a janitor who worked in a building kitty corner across the street to build a new house in Eden Prairie. When it was announced that the Stewart house was to be removed friends and folks came downtown get a last look at the old home that stood for so long in the heart of Minneapolis just as it had in the years before the Civil War. The story reminds me of Virginia Lee Burton’s children’s book, “The Little House.” I imagine the timbers of old Levi Stewart’s house breathed a happy sigh of relief when they were put to use the new Eden Prairie home.

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