nd.gov - The Official Portal for North Dakota State Government
North Dakota: Legendary. Follow the trail of legends

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!

Len Thorson - Melissa Thompson's blog

Curating the Decorative History of the North Dakota Governor’s Residence

The 1955 North Dakota Legislative Assembly appropriated $200,000 to build a new, brick, one-story Governor’s Residence. Construction on the residence was completed in the Spring of 1960. Governor John Davis and his family were first to occupy the residence. Since then, the building has been the official residence of Governors William Guy, Arthur Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner, Edward Schafer, John Hoeven, Jack Dalrymple, Doug Burgum and their families. The Governor’s Residence is slated for demolition this fall to make room for the new Governor’s Residence being constructed next door.

Throughout the occupancy of the Governor’s Residence, there have been several renovations of both public (State) and private rooms. The State Historical Society of North Dakota has eight collections from the Governor’s Residence totaling about 800 objects including furniture, decorative objects, silver, china, and building material from the various eras. The State Archives has also collected materials including photographs, blueprints, and pamphlets.

Governor's Residence living room in 1989

Governor Edward Schafer and First Lady Nancy Schafer sitting in the State living room

In 1989 the State Living Room was renovated. This photograph was in a collection of Governor’s Residence photos transferred to the State Archives and shows Governor Edward Schafer and First Lady Nancy Schafer sitting in the State living room prior to the renovation. The couch, two blue chairs, two striped chairs, valance and drapery, and the table upon which the Schafers are sitting have been a part of the SHSND collection since 1998.

State guest bathroom

The State Guest Bathroom, as it appeared in 1985. The agency collected a sample of the wallpaper, silver soap holder from the shower, and the yellow tile appearing in the photo, as well as a silver tissue box holder, toilet paper holder, and toothbrush holder collected in 2000. We recently acquired samples of the shower tile, floor tile, and wallpaper from the 1998 renovation of this bathroom.

China with gold wheat center design

The Gold Wheat Center Design china is Wheat by Lenox, R-442. The sterling silver dinnerware, made by Gorham, features a gold Wheat design on handle, and “ND” is carved into the bottom of each handle. Originally purchased by Governor Brunsdale in 1951-1957, more pieces were added in 1966. The items were used during dinner parties at the Governor's Residence and the Former Governor’s Mansion at 320 E. Ave. B in Bismarck. The placemats and napkins were purchased from Macy’s and monogramed with the “ND.” The placemats and napkins are new acquisitions to the SHSND collection, while the china and the silver were received as part of a complete set from the Governor of North Dakota in June 2004.

State guest bedroom

The State Guest Bedroom went through many furniture changes throughout the years. There were two futon-like pieces of furniture, two single beds, and finally this double bed. The room as pictured was decorated by First Lady Jane Sinner in 1989.

We were recently provided with samples of the wallpaper pictured and of the wallpaper currently in the bedroom. The quilt on the bed is called "Waving Wheat," designed by Carol Kelly and constructed by the North Dakota Quilters in 1988. Sewn into a corner of the quilt are a brief history of the quilt and a list of the people who helped construct it.

While the structure itself will no longer stand in a few months, and Governor Doug Burgum and First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum will occupy a new residence, the Governor’s Residence of 1960-2017 is well documented at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

We would like to extend a sincere thank you to Steve Sharkey, the Residence Manager for 30-plus years, for having the foresight and love of history to continue offering the State Historical Society these objects throughout the years.

Collecting History from Dakota Access Pipeline Events

In March 2017, our colleague Geoff Woodcox wrote about the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Museum Division proactively collecting contemporary objects. Specifically, he wrote about staff going to the Oceti Sakowin camp where many of the water protectors protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) resided. That blog post explains some of the activities staff took part in as they gathered stories and objects from camps near the Missouri River and Cannonball River confluence in south-central North Dakota.

Along with this kind of fieldwork, we have also requested objects from various entities involved with the protests. To cover the many sides of the DAPL protest story, we collected from as many sources as feasible within our staff time and budget capabilities. These sources include, but are not limited to, the Oceti Sakowin camp water protectors, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota Emergency Services (including Morton County Emergency Management), the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the North Dakota National Guard, and media who spent time in the camps. The following is a small sample of those collecting endeavors:

The North Dakota Department of Emergency Services provided us with a piece of concertina wire, also known as razor wire. This wire was placed in coils along the perimeters of various protest sites. (PAR-2017.044)

Concertina Wire

Morton County Emergency Management gave us riot gear including this riot shield, and other equipment like these flexi cuffs used by law enforcement. (PAR-2017029)

Riot Shield

Lauren Donovan, a reporter with the Bismarck Tribune, collected items while gathering information for stories at the camps. We now have multiple items representing camp life, such as this sign with camp rules and a can of baked beans. Lauren also donated the badge she wore identifying her as press. (PAR-2017009)

Sign reading Welcome to Satellite Camp! Respect that you are on indigenous land. If possible, get oriented by the folks who infited you. Hot to Plug In: Attend campwide orientation, which is daily @ 9 am in the geodome (in the center of camp, south of main road.)

Major French Pope III, of the Army Corps of Engineers, was at the Oceti Sakowin camp negotiating evacuation of the remaining occupants in February 2017. This placard was placed in the window of his vehicle to grant access to the camp. (PAR-2017025)

Plackard reading US Army Corps of Engineers. Oceti Sakowin Camp Cleanup Approved Vehicle

The Department of Water Resources at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe received donated items from across the country to support the water protectors. This handmade flag was sent in by an army veteran from California and is signed with well wishes from a myriad of people. (PAR-2017014)

Flags reading Protect Our Way of Life and Tame the Black Snake! Stand With Standing Rock

Likewise, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department received donated items in support of law enforcement actions. They provided some of those items for our collections. The handprint and drawings are thought to be from a daycare in Mandan, N.D. (PAR-2017045)

Painted American Flag with blue stripe reading Blessed are the Peacemakers... and three pictures supporting law enforcement

The North Dakota Highway Patrol donated a few items from the Oceti Sakowin camp and from the protest on Thanksgiving Day 2016 that blocked Main Avenue in Mandan, N.D. (PAR-2017041)

Sign with red arrow on top and water on bottom reading Kill the Pilgrim Save the Water

The Museum Division is actively collecting additional items from other sources and the agency would like to begin collecting oral histories. These items will be preserved to tell the North Dakota DAPL story for generations.