Bert D. Keck was an architect who moved to Crookston, Minnesota, in 1902. His Neo-classical and Romanesque designs for Crookston’s costliest and most significant public buildings changed the skyline of the town. Three of his structures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Keck’s parents, Frederick and Susana (Harvey) Keck, immigrated to Louisa County, Iowa, in the 1850s, and later to Aledo, Illinois, where Bert grew up and attended school. Following high school, he studied architecture. He also learned the carpentry and construction businesses from the ground up, supervising construction crews at the young age of seventeen.
In 1902, Keck and his wife Elsa (Hansen) moved to Crookston, Minnesota, a thriving railroad, lumbering, and agricultural center in the Red River Valley. Many of the downtown’s historic buildings were already in place, but Keck was able to add to the beauty of the town with his unique designs for hotels, business blocks, public buildings, and private residences.
Keck opened an architectural office when he arrived. Soon, he became involved not only in business, but also in Crookston’s social and educational circles. At various times, Keck wrote letters to the editor of the local paper about the role of local architects, expressing his belief that building beautiful, structurally sound homes added to the growth and status of a community.
Keck’s own home at 716 North Broadway was built in 1908 and was featured in Western Architect magazine in April of 1912. The article featured the floor plan and a description of his home.
Keck was also responsible for the design of at least three other elegant homes in Crookston. Like his own home, two of these were influenced by the Arts and Crafts style, and were built for businessman Felix Fournet and realtor Clarence Lumpkin. In addition, Keck built a large two-story home for Crookston’s early bandleader, G. Oliver Riggs.
While his earliest designs in Crookston were for hotels and business buildings, including the Morris Building for jeweler Tom Morris, Keck’s legacy rests on the public buildings he designed, some of which became landmarks in Crookston.
The first of Keck’s public buildings was the Carnegie Public Library, designed in 1904 and completed in 1908. This building features a Classical Revival style, with Ionic columns inside and out. It was Keck who argued in the local paper that the library needed to be built on a large lot on a hill. His insistence on the site may have saved the building from nearly annual flood damage in nearby Central Park. The library, at 120 North Ash Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Between 1909 and 1916, Keck put his architectural skills to use in designing many of Crookston’s most unique schools, including Franklin Elementary School, Cathedral High School, and Crookston Central High School. Keck wrote a feature article about Central High School and submitted it to The American School Board Journal of New York in 1915. All of these school buildings were demolished in the 1980s and 1990s.
The three-steepled red brick Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was designed by Keck in 1912. This building, next to the Carnegie Library, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1998. Keck also designed the highly touted Elks Building (1913), the Armory Building (1915), and the First Presbyterian Church (1914).
Keck, who was a member of the Minnesota chapter of the American Association of Architecture, did not limit his work to Crookston. The northwestern Minnesota communities of Kennedy, Ada, Twin Valley, Middle River, Eldred, Humboldt, Trail, Warren, Halstad, Newfolden, Fertile, and Argyle hired Keck to design public schools and business blocks.
In 1917, Keck moved his office and his family to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Then, in 1925, he followed the building boom to Stuart, Florida, where he continued to design public buildings and private homes and resorts. Keck continued to live in Florida until his death in 1962.
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.