History of the Mansion
Nicolin Era 1888 – 1917
Frank Nicolin Sr. was born June 15, 1833 in Stommeln, Cologne, Germany, where he lived until 1857, then came to the United States and located in Jordan. He married Anna Sophia Konigsfeldt, of St. Paul, in 1859. Their children were Henry, John, Frank Jr., Joseph, Anna Mary and Gerhard. Frank’s wife Anna passed away in January 1889. He later married Maria Angela “Annie” (Mitsch) Stahlmann, widow of Henry Conrad Stahlmann, in September 1890. Together they had one daughter, Angela.
Frank resided in Jordan for 35 years, where he was widely known as one of the king-pins of Minnesota valley industry. He made things hum in Jordan, sometimes referred to as “Nicolinville,” during the ‘70s and ‘80s, when at one time fully 200 men were in his employ. Remembered as a remarkable community builder, his holdings became vast in a short time. He first engaged in the Mammoth Store mercantile business, and began a brewery connected to caves for storing beer. His holdings soon spread to include a bowling alley, a second brewery, a brick yard, building contracting, the California Wine House Saloon, a coopershop, a dwelling drilling enterprise, an insurance company, two flour mills (the second producing 400 barrels of flour a day), the Nicolin Opera House, and a stone quarry. The brick block of stores on Water Street along Sand Creek was built as the “Nicolin Addition.”
The Nicolins were also active in local politics. Both Frank Sr. and his son Henry served as President (Mayor) of Jordan, and Frank and his sons held positions with the fire department, town council, public school board, local bands, and the Catholic Church. Frank donated $1,650 for the beautiful high altar of St. John the Baptist’s Catholic Church when it was built in the 1889.
In 1888, during the hype of a later abandoned coal discovery of which Frank was the primary shareholder, his mansion was built at 326 Shakopee Street, later renamed 221 Broadway Street. In June of that year, the Jordan Independent newspaper reported “the foundation for Frank Nicolin’s beautiful new mansion is about completed, and the carpenters are at work. Mr. Ulrici, the architect of the building, came from St. Paul to look over the building. If you don’t think Frank is going to have the finest residence ever erected in Scott County, then you’re no judge.” On Monday October 29, 1888 Frank Nicolin and his family moved into their mansion.
Frank remained in Jordan until after the disastrous $100,000 mill fire on March 19, 1893. The Jordan Independent reported that “As soon as Mr. Nicolin learned that his mill was on fire he fell prostrate in the street and was carried to his residence.” Combined with the stock market crash that year, Frank was left insolvent, selling his holdings, including the wheat in his grain elevators, to pay creditors, and moved to St. Paul. It is believed that thereafter his son Henry lived and raised is family in the mansion. During that time, Henry served as Mayor of Jordan from 1905 through 1909.
On Tuesday, April 17, 1923 Frank Nicolin Sr., having suffered a paralytic stroke while spending the winter in Los Angeles, California, “responded to the call of the Master and his spirit was wafted to the abode of Him on high.” He is buried at Calvary Cemetery in Jordan.
Mearz – Mertz Era 1917 – 1980
On the 27th of March, 1917, the mansion was purchased by Anton “Tony” Maerz for $16,000. He used funds earned from working for his father at the family farm and took out a loan to purchase the Nicolin residence and adjacent business property. He took up management of the opera house and saloon adjacent to it, and remodeled their interior in Venetian fashion.
Based on articles as they appeared in the local newspaper, it appears possible that the Kaiser family ran the Kaiserhof Hotel under Tony Maerz’s ownership. Their run of the hotel ended as reported on June 21, 1917 that “Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Kaiser intend to move from the Kaiserhof Hotel next week, to the apartments in the upper floor of the Koelzer building.”
Anton married Ida Mary Seifert on June 18, 1917. Together the couple conducted the Maerz Hotel in the former Nicolin residence. Their marriage was to last only two years. Tony suffered from health complications relating to illness developed in childhood, was admitted to St. Lawrence Sanitarium in Minneapolis, and eleven days later on May 20, 1919 he passed away at the age of 34. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery.
Ida was assigned the property in probate court, and it’s believed she ran the Maerz Hotel from 1919 to 1923.
As a wealthy widow, Ida was remarried to Bernard “Ben” Mertz on May 15, 1923. The mansion’s name was changed to Mertz Hotel. Together with Ida’s meticulous manner and street smarts, and Ben’s influence, tenacity and funding, they transformed the hotel and neighboring dance hall and tavern into even more popular places. Outspoken and stately, Ben became a favorite in the community, and the Mertz name became synonymous with the hustle and money of the Roaring Twenties. During the alcohol prohibition, rumors circulated that Ben netted $40,000 one year in illegal liquor profits. Though there never was clear proof of a tie between Ben and the organized underworld, his love of the affluent life, expensive cars and fashions that included a diamond-studded tie, only fueled the rumors. The rumors were strengthened by his close friendship a man with proven ties to the mafia, and his lavish gifts for Ida, which included fur stoles and pearl necklaces. On March 5, 1951 Ben was found dead in his bed at the Ryan Hotel in St. Paul. He had been staying in St. Paul since January, with the intent of running for Congressional office as a Democrat from St. Paul.
Following Ben’s death, Ida ran the mansion as a boarding house. During this era, the original steeple on the turret was destroyed in a storm and rebuilt with a shorter roof as seen today, and the original front porch was replaced with a stucco porch and neon boarding house sign. As an elderly woman, Ida moved to a nursing home in 1980 and sold the property, having lived in the mansion for over 60 years. Ida passed away on December 13, 1981 at the age of 87, and is buried alongside Ben at Calvary Cemetery.
Gail Andersen Era 1980 – 1994
In 1975, Gail Andersen compiled and edited the two volume local history books “Jordan, Minnesota; a Newspaper Looks at a Town” gleaning history from 77 years of reporting in the Jordan Independent newspaper. Unfortunately the newspapers were unavailable at that time for the year 1893, which fueled the misguided speculation that the Nicolins left Jordan in disgrace.
In July 1979, Gail nominated the Jordan Historic District, fourteen historic buildings including the Nicolin Mansion, to the National Register of Historic Places. Regarding the Nicolin Mansion, Gail wrote in the Nomination Form that “The most distinctive features of most of the buildings in the District are their construction of local Jordan brick (a light buff brick), the modest proportions, and simple decoration. The Nicolin Mansion (#1), 1888, and the Nicolin Opera House (#2), 1876, both built by Frank Nicolin, Jordan’s prime mover and developer, are the most characteristic of styles popular in larger population centers during the period.” The nomination was approved and listed on April 17, 1980.
Gail purchased the Nicolin Mansion in 1980, and lived there with her mother, Eleanor Johnson. Gail’s mother had her residence on the first floor, while Gail used the second floor as her residence. At that time, the Nicolin Room served as her living room, and the Nicolin Bath was a kitchenette. And Gail’s namesake room was her bedroom.
For years Gail ran “Gramma’s Attic” antique shop in two attached buildings, previously the Jordan Post Office and Klinkhammer Drugs, in the Historic District on Water Street. She also purchased and saved several of Jordan’s historic buildings from destruction, including the Jordan Brewery and Mary (Nicolin) Leonard’s Victorian home, which she had moved to sit beside the brewery Mary’s father built.
Gail won the election as the first female Mayor of Jordan in 1981, running on the campaign “Vote for ‘Feisty’ Gail Andersen for Mayor.” Her title was ultimately rescinded under controversy of being a bit of a vigilante in patrolling the streets of Jordan. She left office in 1984.
Gail passed away on July 27, 2017 at the age of 99. Gail’s family continues to own the Brewery and Water Street properties.
Nicolin Inn Era 1994 – 2000
Kevin Breeggemann purchased the mansion on October 7, 1994. He renovated and restored the mansion, including restoration of the front porch. With only a blurry photo from the newspaper article about the Kaiserhof Hotel to guide him, Kevin architected and constructed the front porch so accurately that it hit the original footings. Common areas were restored. Bedrooms were remodeled, and additional bathrooms were installed.
It was opened as the Nicolin Inn Bed and Breakfast and operated by Breeggemann’s uncle and aunt, Lee and Patricia Kness. At that time the rooms were named for towns along the Rhine River in Germany: Bremerhaven, Dusseldorf, Muenchen, Wiesbaden, and Bonn.
On March 1, 1997 the Nicolin Inn was transferred to Deborah Wiss, a former actress and mother of two children, who spent 26 years in the event marketing business organizing large parties.
The Nicolin Inn then offered five guest rooms named Mr. Nicolin’s Room, Gail’s Room, The Traveler’s Room, Daughter’s Room, and The Boys’ Room.
Unfortunately the inn stood vacant after it fell into foreclosure in December 1999, and sold at Sheriff’s sale on January 25, 2000 to former owner Gail Andersen.
Chamberlin Era 2001 – 2003
On February 13, 2001, the mansion was purchased as a private residence by Troy and Laura Chamberlin for their family of four. During their ownership, the home was further renovated, and following a lightning strike, they updated some of the core infrastructure. They aspired to open the mansion as art gallery and gift shop feature Minnesota artists.
It was during their ownership that Steve Hanks painted “Shelter for the Heart” featuring young Jordan resident Rachel Moeller, and niece of Jordan residents Tim and Julie Bischke, Cortney Zimmerman, standing in front of the mansion’s porch. Hanks asked friend and local photographer Joel King to photograph the image from which Hanks painted the watercolor. The 6-foot by 3-foot painting was unveiled at the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation fundraiser in Las Vegas, Nevada and sold for $110,000 to a couple from England.
Before owning the mansion, the Chamberlins had lived in the Rhine Valley of Egelsbach, Germany for several years while Troy served in the United States Air Force. The couple frequented wineries throughout Europe and developed a love for all things wine. They determined to pursue their passion and sold the mansion to create Chateau St. Croix Winery & Vineyard in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, modeled after a Chateau in France once owned by a Black Musketeer.
Knox Era 2003 – Present
In June 2003, Kevin and Terri Knox purchased the Nicolin Mansion and began renovating to again open it as a bed and breakfast. Their efforts, and those of the previous generations of owners, are now available for you to enjoy.