History Culture Architecture
German-Russian immigrants from the Russian Ukraine brought with
them to the prairies of North Dakota, beginning in 1884, a high
level of cultural integrity. They came as Germans, with language,
religion, social structure, and economic traditions intact. A self-imposed
isolation allowed them to remain as a virtually undisturbed and
Along with their social and economic ideals, the Germans from
Russia brought with them a distinctive architectural style. Below
is a floor plan for a traditional house. Each settler's home varied
by individual needs and tastes, but several characteristics remain
1. The stone- or earth-built house was a single story rectangular
structure, with a gable roof.
Three types of construction were used-stone with native clay mortar,
sun-dried native clay bricks with mortar, and puddle clay. All three
methods, either singularly or in combination, were traditionally used.
These earth houses were economic to build, energy efficient, and colorful.
On earlier houses bright colors were used both on the interiors and
exteriors. With the Victorian influence, walls became more subdued,
but the favorite colors of yellow, blue, red, and green remained as
2. The vorheisel, or entrance, was an enclosed room from which
to enter or leave the house; it protected the main house from
temperature extremes, and always faced south.
3. A house was usually divided into two or three rooms, running
on a linear east-west axis.
4. An exterior staircase to the loft was always located on a
gable end. Occasionally an interior ladder-like staircase replaced
the exterior stairs.
5. Chimneys and stoves were centrally located on interior walls.
6. Windows were few in number, tall, and narrow. They had deep
interior sills and beveled walls. Beveled walls allowed more light
to enter the room.
Even though German-Russian architecture was a unique sight on
the Dakota prairie, its overall simplicity of design and modest
size reflected the lack of importance of the house as a status symbol
in the German-Russian community. This extension of the treeless
prairie required little imported material or outside labor to build.
It was utilitarian in space and design and reflected the German-Russian
attitude towards economy and utility.
Brochure reprinted with permission of the State Historical
Society of North Dakota, Museum Division, Bismarck, North Dakota.
to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested
by contacting Michael