State Historical Society sees future potential for the Welk homestead

Burke, Allan. "State Historical Society sees future potential for the Welk homestead." Emmons County Record, 4 July 2013, 1 & 3.

Merlan E. Paaverud, Jr., Director of the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND), said the state has 56 historic sites but does not have a pioneer homestead or sod house in its inventory.

That’s why Paaverud sees potential for the Welk homestead at Strasburg if the SHSND Board of Directors votes to use money appropriated by the 2013 North Dakota Legislature to purchase the property.

The board will holds its quarterly meeting in Strasburg on July 12 and tour the site, and the board will be seeking local input.

Paaverud said $100,000 is included in a pool of funds for SHSND projects, including work at Fort Totten, the Stutsman County Courthouse and completion of the expansion of the Heritage Center.

“The State has never before purchased an historic site, but the Strasburg property is unique in that it has been open to the public for years, and all buildings except the barn have been professionally restored,” Paaverud said, “and most of the buildings are out-fitted as they would have been in pioneer days.”

The farmstead is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, he noted.

Paaverud said the barn on the site is not the original structure, but it is typical of barns found on homesteads.

“I believe the board will be interested in purchasing the site, but there are a lot of steps before it can actually happen,” Paaverud said. “It is certainly not a done deal.”

The legislation passed earlier this year provides money for the purchase but also stipulates that repairs specified by the SHSND must be made before the deal can be finalized.

Repairs mentioned by the SHSND would be to place new wood shingles on the house, refurbish the band shell and put a new foundation under the barn. The amount and the time frame for the improvements are a part of the negotiation process.

“I’m hoping we will have a decision soon,” Paaverud said.


What makes the Welk site attractive, Paaverud explained, is that it has already been operated as a museum, complete with antique furnishings and has been well maintained by Pioneer Heritage, Inc.
“For the most part, it is ready to go,” he said.

He likes the fact that it could be the only historic site and tourist information center between Pierre, S.D., and the rest areas along Interstate 94, the closest of which are about 70 miles to the northwest and northeast.

“Sod houses are unique to North Dakota’s history and certainly unique architecture, and it makes sense to have one in our inventory,” Paaverud said, “and it also makes sense to have an authentic pioneer homestead to help tell the story of North Dakota agriculture.”

He said the Lawrence Welk legacy, including his membership in the North Dakota Rough Rider Hall of Fame, and the significance of the Germans from Russia in the state’s cultural history, are also positive points for the site.

One of the problems Pioneer Heritage has faced for years has been the lack of funds to promote the site. If the state takes over, the site will be listed on state maps, promoted by the North Dakota Tourism Department and included in SHSND promotional literature. Similar exposure would have cost Pioneer Heritage tens of thousands of dollars, money they didn’t have.

Since the site was privately owned, although operated by the non-profit Pioneer Heritage, it was not eligible for most of the state’s tourism promotion programs.

Paaverud said, if the state purchases the site, the SHSND will need strong support from the community through volunteers and events tied to the site.

Diane Rogness, SHSND Historic Sites Manager, and Merl Paaverud, SHSND Director, see potential for the Welk homestead if it becomes part of the SHSND inventory of historic sites. Both have visited the site.

Printed with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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