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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!

Planning a Party – Welk Homestead Grand Opening

Welk Homestead

Welk home with Blacksmith shop in background

How do you celebrate the acquisition of a new historic site? Well, you certainly want to recognize all the people that helped to make it happen. You want to give a brief explanation of its place in the story of North Dakota. And you want to make it fun! This was my mission this summer as we prepared to celebrate the most recently acquired state historic site.

Mud Brock

Mud brick construction of Welk home

The Welk Homestead State Historic Site, located near Strasburg, ND, celebrated its grand opening on Saturday, July 29, 2017 (see my last blog post to understand more about the significance of this site). The site had been operated by a private non-profit organization for many years. The state of North Dakota acquired the property in 2015 under the management of the State Historical Society. After the addition of new exhibits and other minor changes, the site was ready for a grand opening.

Ribbon Cutting Line

Ribbon cutting line up

First, I sent invitations to everyone who had helped in the acquisition of the site, including the governor and the congressional delegation. I asked people to say a few words about the site—either talking about the importance of the site in North Dakota’s story, or to tell a bit about the site’s history. A representative from US Congressman Kevin Cramer’s office read a congratulatory letter, and Secretary of State Al Jaeger read letters of congratulations from US Senators John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp. Representatives from the State Historical Society, the North Dakota State Legislature, the local community, and the former non-profit group caring for the site all had a hand in the acquisition. I invited the priest from the local church to give the invocation. Why invite a priest to a state historic site grand opening, you may be asking? Well, faith is an important part of the story we interpret at the site; immigration and the history of the Germans from Russia, North Dakota’s largest ethnic group. I realize that sounds like a lot of people talking, but all had short and sweet messages.

Disappearing kuchen

Disappearing kuchen from Model Bakery, Linton, ND. Photo by Michael Miller

Bubbling Cider

Bubbling cider. Photo by Michael Miller.

How could we make it fun? Well, this is the birthplace of the famous band leader Lawrence Welk, as well as a special place telling the story of German-Russian culture and agriculture. Music was and is an important part of this culture. Before the speeches, accordion music was provided, which put everyone in a festive mood. After the speeches, there was kuchen (a traditional German pastry) and bubbling cider – what else for German Russian country and the birthplace of Lawrence Welk!?

Matt Hodek and the Dakota Dutchmen playing and couples dancing

Matt Hodek and the Dakota Dutchmen from Lankin, ND, playing on the stage. Couples dancing to the music on the “natural” dance floor! The band started playing a bit before 4 p.m. and played until 7:30 p.m. with many people dancing and listening to the music. Say what you will about accordion and polka music, but it is happy music!

Then the fun started. Matt Hodek and the Dakota Dutchmen from the tiny town of Lankin, ND, provided music into the evening. Many people found the dance floor (actually the lawn) to be just right for celebrating the occasion. It was a “wunnerful” celebration for the community and the Welk Homestead staff.

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.