“Crowd (All But Two) Enjoys Premeditated House Burning,” read the newspaper headline.
It was 1957 and the farmhouse, where Henry and Ida Doerfler raised 10 children, had to go, to make room for a new highway.
Since the home was going down anyway, the fire department saw fit to set it ablaze for the sake of practice. The Doerflers gazed at the inferno from a parked car, wearing far-away, resigned looks on their faces.
The newspaper article explained the house was being displaced to make room for the needs of a growing region.
“It was an old house, built of small value but out of place in a modern suburb,” it stated. “Besides, it was right in the way of the new Highway 5-100 freeway dividing Richfield and Bloomington.”
Dorothy “Dottie” Doerfler Williams, one of Henry and Ida’s grandchildren, keeps a photocopy of the article in a pink binder, along with other keepsakes documenting her family’s history as one of the first to settle the land that would become Richfield.
Coming from Bavaria, Adam and Sophie Doerfler, Williams’ great-grandparents, settled the land by 1874. “There wasn’t a house in sight,” she said of the time.
By now, that has long been far from the truth, and Williams got a reminder of that on Tuesday, Feb. 12, when 77-year-old visited the new Richfield Menards on the home-improvement store’s opening day.
When the automatic sliding glass doors opened to the public for the first time, it marked the latest change to the place where Williams spent so much of her childhood.
She said she breaks out that binder “all the time.” Williams is, after all, one of the 10 grandchildren mentioned in the newspaper account who had “gleefully explored” the home’s “odd nooks and crannies.”
She was one of the Doerfler offspring who “stamped up and down its varnished wooden stairs and gingerly investigated the cellar.”
And don’t forget about the asparagus. Williams said she and her siblings would get up at 4 a.m. to pick the stalky plant that grew on the 80-acre vegetable farm.
After firefighters got in their practice reps and finished dousing the blaze, the adjacent space was turned into the freeway that would become Interstate 494. Then came Richfield’s first Menards.
And the cycle has continued.
That original Menards was torn down last year to make room for a much larger, 270,000 square-foot double-decker Menards store. As Williams visited to welcome the new store to her old neighborhood, two assistant managers guided her on an impromptu tour like she was a visiting dignitary.
Clutching the pink binder close to her chest, she drank in the scene wearing expressions on her face that alternated between wistful and awestruck, recalling the words her grandmother uttered when the Doerfler farmhouse burned: “That’s progress.”
Williams, who has lived in Richfield for almost her entire life, can claim as well as anybody to have witnessed the changes first-hand.
In what she calls “God’s plan,” she never ventured far from that homestead. Henry Doerfler gave her father, also named Henry, a plot at East 78th Street and 3rd Avenue, where Williams grew up.
She then bought the house next door, where she had babysat for three girls. There, she raised eight children of their own.
After spending almost her entire life in Richfield – she was born in Wisconsin – Williams moved two years ago to Realife Cooperative in Bloomington, a senior apartment complex a mile-and-a-half south of the Richfield Menards.
She still visits the old Doefler homestead regularly, receiving rides every Sunday to Assumption Catholic Church, where Williams and her siblings attended grade school.
This is when memories – of the blocky house, of the rows of vegetables and of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the front porch – come back.
“I get all teary-eyed,” she said, “because I see the farm.”
Inside the teaming store, as customers pushed carts loaded with plywood and explored the gleaming new tribute to modern brick-and-mortar commerce, the realization struck her:
“All these people that are walking through here – they’re just walking on the farm, and they don’t know,” she said. “But I guess in my heart it will always be here.”
Contact Andrew Wig at [email protected]