Many of the houses surrounding Valley City State University were built long ago with character and detail that isn’t found anymore in modern homes. Some of these homes, which have housed generations of families, will soon be torn down.
In an effort to preserve the history of the homes, the Barnes County Historical Society, in conjunction with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, is documenting the homes that were bought out in the first phase of Valley City’s flood buyout program.
Wes Anderson, director of the Barnes County Historical Society Museum, said he and volunteers are working together to document the architecture and history of homes as well as repurpose some of the architectural pieces found.
Lisa Steckler, historic preservation planner in the division of archaeology and historic preservation for the State Historical Society of North Dakota said, “Since we determined that the sites were significant, mitigation measures must be taken prior to the demolition of these properties in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (as amended) and according to the Secretary of the Interior Standards. We determined through consultation between our office and the city that documentation of the sites would satisfy the mitigation requirement.”
“They don’t build ‘em like they used to, and since they’ve been a part of the community, some since the 1890s, they have had many families living in them and it is all a significant part of Valley City history,” Anderson said. “Plus, with the architectural elements, they don’t make them like this anymore, and so it is to everyone’s benefit that we repurpose them here.”
The museum already houses some repurposed architecture that came from homes in the 1997 buyouts.
“They are sprinkled around the museum as part of the art and architecture lost due to these projects,” Anderson said.
One of the prominent features the museum shows that came from a buyout home is a colander that is part of a dining room exhibit.
Anderson explained that colanders were typically used to separate parlors, which are formal living rooms, from dining rooms during the turn of the 20th century. In the 1950s, it became common to remove colanders in an attempt to modernize, so even houses that once had them, typically do not anymore.
The dining room exhibit also shows portable windows and doors with leaded glass, all from buyout homes.
The museum also features stained glass windows, authentic wood pieces and doors with intricately-designed knobs that came from houses and other historical buildings including the old Elks building and City Auditorium.
Anderson said antique architecture typically has a high monetary value in other parts of the nation. People typically use the pieces to restore their old houses and add old elements to new construction, but here it is not so common to repurpose architecture.
“And it isn’t very green of us either,” he added.
Becky Heise is working on the research end of things, where she’ll work to learn of any historical figures who may have lived in the homes, and Kara Kramin will photograph the homes on all four sides as well as focus on important architectural details and interior photos.
All documentation will be forwarded to the State Historical Society of North Dakota and added to the Architectural Site File collection, which is a permanent collection of all recorded resources in the state. That collection is housed in the division of Archaeology and Historic Preservation at the State Historical Society of North Dakota, located at the North Dakota Heritage Center, 612 E. Boulevard, Bismarck, ND 58505.
The information and photos will be put into a binder, which people can access at the museum.
Howard Langemo is the predominant craftsman who mends the pieces to be displayed in the museum.
Each architectural piece the museum displays will note which house they came from.
Anderson said that before modernization and plain, detail-less architecture, “homes were a statement of who you were.”
The demolishment of them is “destroying a neighborhood.”
“Many generations have lived in and out of those houses, raising generations of families,” he said. “We’re honoring the memory of the homes.”