When it comes to barbers, history is a big deal.
And nowhere is the history of haircuts more important than at Capitol Barbers, the basement barber shop of the State Office Building in St. Paul. According to its owner, Josh Kirkpatrick, and its website, Capitol Barbers has been cutting, shaving and buzzing heads since 1883, making it the oldest barbershop in the country.
Not for parting hair, but that may not be entirely true.
While Kirkpatrick said the shop dates back to 1883 – then located in the second State Capitol in downtown St. Paul – the documents are a bit blurrier when it moved to the current State Capitol after opening in 1905. In 1932, the store moved to the space in the state office building it has had ever since.
“The thing is, there has been a barber shop on the Capitol campus since 1883,” said Kirkpatrick, who bought the shop from his father, Ken, in 2016. Ken Kirkpatrick bought Capitol Barbers in 1972 and still cuts his hair there. .
“I’ve cut the hair of all governors since Wendell Anderson,” said Ken Kirkpatrick. “Except Jesse Ventura. He didn’t have any.”
Ken Kirkpatrick can also rattle off the names of the barbers who cut and chop the grounds of the Capitol before him.
“Hank Bream had it for seven or eight years before me. And before him, Harold Lawson had it for 35 years,” he said.
It all started with Walter Gassoway almost 140 years ago.
“He was the first to call it Capitol Barbers, from what I understand,” said Ken Kirkpatrick.
The Kirkpatricks admit that there may be other legitimate claimants to the title of “oldest barber”. It all depends on how longevity is defined.
George’s Barber Shop in Saugus, Mass., Was founded in 1902 and bills itself as “the oldest barber shop in the United States!” It certainly seems to be the oldest run by the same family, now in the fifth generation of hairdressers.
Capitol Barbers may not even be the oldest store in Minnesota, at least to operate on one site. Located in St. Paul, across from the old Schmidt Brewery, 7th Street Barbers has been a “non-stop” barber shop since 1893, owner Pete Klein said.
But no matter how you cut it, Capitol Barbers has a long history. And the meaning of her is not lost on Erin Diede, who cut her hair there for three years. She feels it every day, she said.
“It’s kind of like a weird nostalgic feeling,” said Diede, who sometimes works alongside Ken Kirkpatrick. “He has clients who have been coming here for 50 years, which is a little crazy for me.”
Kent Whitworth certainly appreciates the history of the shop. The CEO and president of the Minnesota Historical Society has been coming to Capitol Barbers for three years. His great-grandfather could also have been a patron, Whitworth said. He was a state senator from 1903 to 1905.
Why are barbershops and history so intertwined?
“I would say that barbershops and country shops are a kind of original hangout places in America. It’s where business is done and where a lot of problems are solved,” said Whitworth.
Neal Abbott was Diede’s next appointment Thursday at 12:15 pm The marketing and communications coordinator from nearby St. Agnes School has been coming to the store since moving out of Stewartville six months ago. During that time he sat in Ken Kirkpatrick’s chair four or five times.
“Having grown up in a small town, I really wanted an environment where I felt I could just come and talk, relax and cut my hair,” he said.
Abbott said he appreciates the store’s legacy.
“I like that I have the same guy cut my hair [Ken] who cut the hair of the governors, “he said.
Josh Kirkpatrick, who opened a second barber shop in Waconia in 2018, said he takes responsibility for owning the historic shop. Barbershops and their shops hold a pivotal place in Minnesota history, both in America and around the world, he said.
In 1887, Minnesota was the first state to pass a law requiring licensing for barbers, he said. Further back, barbers once performed dental work and surgery. Barbers are even mentioned in the Bible, Josh Kirkpatrick said.
“It’s the oldest profession in the world,” he said, before pausing. “Well, maybe the second oldest.”