People of North Dakota have an opportunity to preserve homestead for future generations

Burke, Allan. "People of North Dakota have an opportunity to preserve homestead for future generations." Emmons County Record, 4 July 2013, 1 & 3.

There are diamonds in the rough and diamonds. The Lawrence Welk birthplace at Strasburg, which has been open to the public since 1991, is a diamond, and the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND) has the opportunity to purchase the property.

Fully developed as an historic site by Pioneer Heritage, Inc., a private non-profit organization, the farmstead would be the first “turn-key” site ever purchased by the SHSND.

The 2013 North Dakota Legislature included funds for the purchase in the biennial appropriations bill for the SHSND. While the dollar amount is not specified in House Bill 1018, the amount discussed was $100,000. The Welk project purchase is provided in a pool of funds to be used to upgrade several existing state sites, such as Fort Totten.

Shepherding the proposal through the legislative session were the District 28 legislators—Sen. Robert Erbele of Lehr, Rep. William Kretschmar of Venturia and Rep. Michael Brandenburg of Edgeley, with Sen. Erbele coordinating the effort.

Section 5 of the legislation states, “The project pool... includes funding that may be used to purchase the Lawrence Welk homestead. If the homestead is purchased, the state historical society shall determine repairs that must be completed by the property owners and negotiate with the property owners to have those repairs made prior to the state’s purchase of the Lawrence Welk homestead, during the biennium beginning July 1, 2013, and ending June 30, 2015.”

Whether the North Dakota State Historical Society (SHSND) will purchase the Lawrence Welk birthplace near Strasburg will be decided in the next few weeks.

The state’s purchase of the site would be a major boost for the Emmons County area’s tourism economy while preserving a piece of North Dakota history.

The decision on whether to purchase the six-acre site will be made by the SHSND Board of Directors which will hold its quarterly meeting in Strasburg on July 12. At that time, the board will tour the site and meet in the Strasburg Senior Citizens Center.

Site would close

Two years ago, the District 28 delegation convinced the Legislature to appropriate $25,000 through the SHSND to keep the site open after the Pioneer Heritage Board said it did not have the funds to continue operating the site in the face of declining admission fees.

Board President Adam Baumstarck of Linton said the organization was at the point where the historic site would close and the antique furnishings and collection of Lawrence Welk memorabilia would be auctioned off. The property is owned by two of Welk’s nieces, Evelyn Schwab and Edna Schwab, both of Strasburg, and they lease it to Pioneer Heritage. They are daughters of Welk’s brother, Mike, who purchased the farm from Lawrence and Mike’s parents, homesteaders Ludwig and Christina Welk.

Sen. Erbele said the $25,000 kept the site open and gave the SHSND time to do a feasibility study to see if it made sense for the state to make the purchase.

“The Welk site is an asset for the state and especially for south central North Dakota where Germans from Russia immigrated in the late 1800s,” Sen. Erbele said. “The homestead symbolizes an important part of our state’s history.”

Sen. Erbele said the state has an opportunity to purchase a site that has already been developed and that has “enormous potential” in the future as a tourist information center, authentic pioneer homestead and German-Russian cultural site.

“The Welk home is a sod house, and it would be the only example of this unique architecture on a SHSND site in the state,” Sen. Erbele said.

The process

Whether the state will purchase the homestead is far from a done deal. Among the steps in the process are:

1. The SHSND Board must take formal action to approve pursuing the purchase.

2. If approved by the board, SHSND and the Schwabs must come to agreement on the selling price. The Schwabs, who had listed the property a year ago for $125,000, have tentatively agreed to accept $100,000.

3. Repairs specified by the SHSND must be made before the purchase is finalized. The major issue is the barn, the only building on the site not fully restored. It is held together by cables, and the foundation is in bad shape, according to the SHSND study.

Summer operation

Baumstarck said Pioneer Heritage plans to operate the site through the end of July. At that time, either the state would need to take over, or the site would need to be closed and secured until the transfer of ownership takes place.

The Pioneer Heritage Board will donate all of its furnishings and Lawrence Welk memorabilia to the SHSND if the state buys the site. If not, the collection will be auctioned off.

Strasburg native Lawrence Welk is one of the state’s most famous people and was inducted into the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame. Re-runs of his television show remain popular on public television. Welk died at his home in California on May 17, 1992.
With the portrait of Lawrence Welk in the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame in the State Capitol are District 28 legislators, left to right, Rep. William Kretschmar, Sen. Robert Erbele and Rep. Michael Brandenburg.
The historic Welk homestead northwest of Strasburg was restored by Pioneer Heritage, Inc. which has operated it as a museum since 1991.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller