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.

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.