Lynn Namminga was by his own account a man with too much time on his hands. After retiring from his teaching job at age 55, he needed a project. When he decided to buy and renovate a piece of Deadwood’s history, Namminga took on a fixer-upper that’s kept him occupied for two decades.
A former art teacher, Namminga had remodeled a house in Des Moines, Iowa, during the years he was teaching. After retiring, he moved to the Black Hills, where his family owned a cabin.
“I wanted a historic home,” he said. “I’d been collecting antiques my whole life.”
His sister, Donna, suggested looking for a house in Deadwood. “My sister was telling me about all the neat houses for sale,” Namminga said.
Namminga found a gem in deep disrepair — a Victorian-era house that survived as a single-family dwelling. It had only four previous owners. Built in 1892 by an attorney named M.T. Stern, he sold the house to another attorney, but later got it back. Stern sold it again in 1907 to Mr. and Mrs. Ogden. Mrs. Ogden lived in the house until her death in 1965.
“There’s still people around that remember Mrs. Ogden,” Namminga said. “She lived in the house until she was 100.”
The house was then bought by a miner named Sinky Roth and his wife. Mrs. Roth died in 1994. “When she died, the place hadn’t had anything done to it for decades,” Namminga said.
When Namminga bought the house in 1996, very little of the house was salvageable, so he was able to buy it inexpensively. Other than the basic structure itself, few remnants of the original house remain. Namminga was able to preserve a leaded glass window and a chandelier.
“It needed absolutely everything done to it from the foundation to the roof — wiring, plumbing, new floors, new everything,” Namminga said. “It kept me busy for 10 to 12 years.”
Despite being an extreme fixer-upper, the three-bedroom house appealed to Namminga, in part because it had avoided being chopped up.
“People flocked (to Lead-Deadwood) after World War II. There was no place to live, so slum landlords bought (old houses) and cut them up into apartments,” Namminga said. “That’s one reason this house survived. Mrs. Ogden lived here until she was 100.”
Namminga completed as much of the renovation work as he could — stripping paint off woodwork, repairing the foundation, removing old wallpaper. He hired professionals to lay flooring, rebuild the chimney, design Victorian-looking draperies, install a retaining wall, landscaping and an underground sprinkler system, and update the plumbing and wiring.
“The house originally was plumbed for gas and electric. People thought electricity was a fad until the early 1900s,” Namminga said.
He preserved some of the home’s quirks, such as original fir trim throughout — except in the dining room, which is trimmed in oak. He also saved the bells for calling servants.
“This house had maid bells all over. I disconnected them because the cats kept stepping on them,” said Namminga, who has three rescued cats.
He turned the pantry into a bathroom and added bedroom closets. In the Victorian era, closets were considered extra — and taxable — rooms, so homes of the time often didn’t have them, Namminga said.
Namminga’s love of painting and woodwork graces every room. He painted lines of poetry in a border in his living room. A hand-painted delicate yellow bird adorns the wall of his bathroom, and he hand-painted thistles on a ceiling medallion over his dining room table. His carved wood fretwork frames several doorways in the house. Anywhere a visitor looks, there is evidence of Namminga’s artistic talent.
The house has become the perfect venue for Namminga’s interests and collections — history, furniture restoration, elaborate picture frames, antiques and, most of all, thistles.
Namminga is inexplicably fascinated with thistles — the purple-flowered weed ranchers tend to disdain but that Namminga finds endlessly intriguing. “I guess it’s because I was born in Scotland — South Dakota,” he jokes by way of explaining his love of thistles.
Namminga named his house The Thistle House, because thistles are in every room — painted on trays, cabinets, a screen. Gold thistles are stenciled onto the walls of the dining room. Thistles are carved into a wooden chair in an upstairs bedroom. Other thistles adorn home decor he’s bought.
“You can find anything you want with a thistle on it,” Namminga said.
Mingled among the thistles are rescued, restored treasures. Stained glass windows, salvaged from a house that belonged to the first governor of Iowa now adorn Namminga’s living room and stairway. “It was a big beautiful home that had been cut into apartments. I found all these pieces laying there,” he said.
The china cabinet in his kitchen was rescued from the Treber house, which had belonged to an early Black Hills pioneer.
Namminga rescued and restored an especially rare find, a 90-year-old Mason & Hamlin player piano, and has collected dozens of rolls of music that go with it.
The Thistle House is furnished almost entirely with antiques dating from the late 1800s to the early 20th century. “To me, it’s a lot more interesting than contemporary stuff. It’s got history to it. It’s fun to imagine who owned it,” Namminga said.
In some cases, he knows. His vintage glass and china collection includes glassware formerly owned by Ginger Rogers, and stemware he bought from Seth Bullock’s grandson’s wife.
Namminga’s house and collections will likely never be “finished,” because Namminga says he’s always finding something new to do. Next on his list is remodeling the kitchen.
Namminga, who serves on Deadwood’s Historic Preservation Commission, gets frequent requests to give tours of his house. The house sits on the route to Mount Moriah Cemetery.
He’s modest about the work he’s put in to transform his house, though he clearly enjoys sharing with visitors the hundreds of details he’s put into it over the years. Though he shrugs and says, “It’s a house, a place to live,” Namminga’s Thistle House is a work of art.