Prairie Churches

By Lauren Hardmeyer Donovan

Foreword and Epilogues by Thomas D. Isern

Tasora Books, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2012, 118 pages, hardcover.

Steeples stand out here on the prairies and plains of North Dakota. They are eclipsed by few other structures in the countryside, creating a cultural landscape like no other. Testaments to faith and community, the prairie churches of North Dakota captured the heart of the nation.

Through the Grassroots Grant Program, Preservation North Dakota -- a statewide nonprofit dedicated to preserving and celebrating the architecture, historic places, and communities in the varied landscapes of our prairie state -- has to date awarded nearly $150,000 in grants, beginning with the twenty-six prairie churches preservation projects across the state that are featured in this book. Preservation North Dakota and its partners have made a huge investment in the people and places that make North Dakota unique. Prairie Churches, with its stunning photos and success stories, is a commemoration of all that has been accomplished over the past decade.  The book includes many color and black & white photos, Bibliographic Note and  Index.

“Dramatic strokes upon the prairie landscape, the churches of the first settlers continue paying tribute to their founders’ heritage, their faith, their God. Although many of these country edifices have disappeared, the survivors still honor the convictions of the pioneers.

This volume singles out and salutes those houses of worship--powerful monuments to the individual homesteaders and immigrants who determined that a spiritual life was an elementary part of their precarious existence. The enduring survival of these structures is a reminder of the central role that religious belief has played in both the private and the community life of the American countryside.” --Kevin Carvell, noted critic, collector, and connoisseur of North Dakota books

“Prairie Churches . . . renews our admiration for the faith of our ancestors and reinforces the connection between faith and farming.” -  Al Gustin, North Dakota broadcast journalist and rancher

About the Authors

Lauren Hardmeyer Donovan, a native of Mott, lives in Hazen and attends English Lutheran Church (established in 1907), a simple brick-faced structure on the town’s Main Street. Donovan is a career journalist and currently works from a Hazen bureau for the Bismarck Tribune as a regional reporter, covering people, community, energy, and agriculture. She and her husband Patrick Donovan have three grown children and two granddaughters. Her love of history and small town North Dakota are links to her interest in the work of Preservation North Dakota, which she joined in 2008 and now serves as vice president.

Jennifer R. Wilkie was born and raised in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She attended Northern State University as a Presidential Scholar and graduated with a BA in music and history. Wilkie has six years experience in non-profit administration, including her current position as the Director of Administration and Development for PND.

Thomas D. Isern, a long-time officer of Preservation North Dakota, and now a member of its advisory board, participated in several of the prairie church preservation efforts chronicled in this book. He is Professor of History and  University Distinguished Professor at North Dakota State University and founder of its Center for Heritage Renewal, which performs research and public service in the areas of historic preservation and heritage tourism. Professor Isern is the author of Plains Folk, the weekly radio feature heard on Prairie Public.

John Toso is an Oregon-based photographer who specializes in historic photographic documentation. For him, North Dakota is a cornucopia of his favorite subject matter--churches, grain elevators, schools, barns, cemeteries, and sunflowers. He once mentioned to a woman his surprise and appreciation that most churches are unlocked. She replied, “Well, this IS North Dakota.”

St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Assumption Abbey, Richardton, North Dakota
Center Lutheran Church, Center, North Dakota
Lauren Hardmeyer Donovan, author of Prairie Churches, autographs book on April 19, 2012, at Zambroz's in Fargo, ND.

Prairie Churches

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