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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Guinn Hinman's blog

Summer Historic Preservation: Column Restoration at Fort Totten State Historic Site

Fort Totten State Historic Site, on the south-east edge of the town of Fort Totten, features a dozen or so brick buildings, all with distinctive columns lining the front porches and entrances. Unfortunately, many of these columns had succumbed to rot and water damage over the years and were in desperate need of preservation.

The original military fort was built of logs in 1867 and replaced with buildings built using locally made bricks in 1868. These original bricks and the wood columns require regular maintenance and care.

Soldiers at Fort Totten State

Soldiers in front of a building at Fort Totten, circa 1870. Note the distinctive columns on the porch. SHSND 670-21

Staff members in front of school

After its tenure as a military post, Fort Totten became an industrial boarding school for Native American children in 1890. Pictured are staff members of the school on a front porch around 1890. SHSND 32286-61

Rotted columns

The columns at Fort Totten had started to rot and were in need of restoration.

Column replacement

This summer, we replaced 7 columns. To replace the columns, the existing rotten columns were removed and the porches shored up temporarily. Large fir beams were hand cut into the distinctive tapered shape of the historic columns at Fort Totten.

Column replacement

The footers at the base of each column were then poured and the columns painted to match the historic colors.

Column replacement

Although likely overlooked by most visitors, the columns at Fort Totten are an important architectural feature of the site and well worth restoring. Restoration work is an important aspect of our preservation of historic sites at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

We invite you to visit Fort Totten and admire the craftsmanship of our newly restored columns.

Exhibit Development at Fort Totten State Historic Site

Work is nearing completion on restoration of the historic hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site. Throughout the winter of 2017 we’ve developed, designed, and installed new exhibit spaces throughout the building. Agency staff members have been hard at work for several weeks customizing the exhibit display booths and preparing objects for exhibition. Interpretation themes for visitors to explore include the frontier military hospital and industrial boarding school cafeteria as well as the extensive collections of the Pioneer Daughters of the Lake Region who have occupied the building since 1960.

When we last left off, the exhibit cubes were under construction (blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/totten-restoration-update). The past few weeks have been spent outfitting the individual spaces and tailoring them to themes related to the Pioneer Daughter’s collections including military, Victorian era clothing and accessories, pioneer kitchen accessories, farm tools, and toys from the turn of the century.

Outfitting exhibit cube with 1870-era wood siding

Fort Totten site supervisor Kyle Nelson outfits one of the exhibit cubes with 1870-era wood siding sourced from his family’s original homestead in Nelson County.

Preparing military uniform for exhibit

Historic Sites Manager Guinn Hinman (right) works with volunteer Alison Hinman (Dickinson Museum Center) on preparing a military uniform for exhibit.

Exhibit showcasing dress uniform

The completed exhibit—showcasing the dress uniform of H.M. Creel who founded Devils Lake.

WWI artifacts

World War I artifacts housed in the vast collections of the Pioneer Daughters of the Lake Region being assessed and prepared for exhibition.

Preparing to install large graphic

Ramone Gumke of Newman Signs (Jamestown) prepares to install a large graphic depicting a turn-of-the century printing press in an exhibit cube at the hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

Some of the completed exhibit cubes

A view of some of the completed exhibit cubes in the west wing of the hospital/cafeteria at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

The Grand Opening for the hospital/cafeteria and re-opening of the museum of the Pioneer Daughters is scheduled for May 20, 2017. Stay up to date on the restoration process and see more photos on the Fort Totten Facebook page: facebook.com/FortTottenSHSND