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Waseca County's Hofmann Apiaries Is Only Bee Colony On National Register Of Historic Places

JANESVILLE, Minn. (WCCO) -- Near the town of Janesville, bees are all the buzz -- and for good reason.

In this week's Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us why a certain bee colony is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Larry Hofmann doesn't know how many times he's been stung in his life.

"No, no idea," he said. "The tip of my tongue, that's a bad one. Your nose is really bad. That hurts too."

Hofmann has done the research on bee stings, but not by choice. He grew up on a farm in Waseca County where pigs once ruled before bees took over.

"It's very comforting to have them here. To hear them in the air. We love that," said Hofmann.

It all began in 1903, when Hofmann's grandfather, Emil, happened upon a swarm of bees. He became intrigued when they flew into a makeshift container and settled there.

"That launched his career. Within just a few years the bees were making more money than the pigs. So he quit the pigs and went into the bees full time," said Hofmann.

Smart move. It's believed Emil was the state's largest honey producer in the 1920s. At his peak he had a thousand colonies along with a wax house and a honey house. After Emil's death, his son Charles took over and Larry followed. It was a way of life and they wore it well. Especially when Charles wore his bee beard at town festivals.

Hofmann Apiaries
(credit: CBS)

"The combination of honey and wax and all of it. It was lovely. Just lovely," said Hofmann.

But as the century wore on, the operation slowed. By the mid-'80s the honeybees were gone, though not forgotten.

"As that building unfolds you realize, what is this? And I looked at Larry and I said, 'This has to be saved,'" said Joan Mooney with the Waseca County Historical Society.

During a tour of the Hofmann farm, Mooney realized there was history through honey. So with Hofmann's blessing she got the apiary put on the National Register of Historic Places, the only one in the country with that distinction. Then she helped secure funding for new roofs and windows for the houses.

The goal is to turn the farm into an education center with a pretty sweet story.

"It is amazing that it happened the way it did and sustained them as long as it did," said Mooney.

And the bees are back and as busy as ever, but with a new purpose. The honey they make isn't nearly as important as the lessons they'll teach.

"We all know bees are in trouble. It's not just a little problem, it's a big problem. So education, that's the whole focus of this place is education," said Hofmann.

After more renovations take place this year, the apiary plans to be open to the public by next summer.

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