George H. Christian was a manager at the Washburn-Crosby Company in Minneapolis who worked out a new process of milling springwheat. Because of his new method, by 1875, George had made so much money that he retired to pursue his interest in art, music, philosophy, and philanthropy. 

George chose the husband of his niece to build his home near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1917. Before the house was completed in 1919, George, his wife Leonora, and all of their children had died. This left Carolyn McKnight Christian—the widow of George’s son, George Chase Christian—to complete the house. She lived in the magnificent mansion with her four foster children and seven servants for the next 40 years. One of Carolyn’s foster children remembers how she and her siblings would listen excitedly from the top of the grand staircase as the doorman announced guests arriving for social gatherings.

Carolyn was an avid philanthropist in her community and a supporter of the arts. In fact, she was the first president of the Friends of the Institute at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. In 1957, she donated the house to the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts. The Hennepin County Historical Society purchased the mansion that same year and opened in 1958. Aside from the permanent fixtures in the home, only one item, a table, was left by the Christian family. Carolyn donated many items from her family’s collection to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. 

After Carolyn died in 1964, her heirs started the Carolyn Foundation rather than inherit her $4.5 million in assets. Since then, the foundation has given more than $50 million in grants to improve the lives of children, communities, and the environment.

The Hennepin History Museum continues to use the building as their home.