The Pioneer Village maintained by the Ward County Historical Society at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot kicked off its summer season Saturday afternoon with music, food, and lots of evidence of the work that has been put into the site since the 2011 Souris River flood ruined much of the property and collection.
Members of the Frozen Fingers Music Association of Minot played old-time country music from the porch of one of the Village's historic homes to greet visitors as they arrived and parked around the central courtyard. One man stood at the grill from at least 2 to 4 p.m. supplying the guests with hamburgers and hot-dogs. Chips, Kool-Aid, coffee, and cookies were also available in the picnic area in the front yard of the Samuelson House Museum.
Sue Bergan, the site director for Pioneer Village, raised her hand high above her head to the 6 or 7-foot level to show how high the floodwaters came on the first floor of the Samuelson House. With the waters also went an old piano, classic televisions and radios, phonograph players and other historical items.
Sue Bergan, left, site director for the Ward County Historical Society’s Pioneer Village, dances with another member of the society to old-time music played by members of the Frozen Fingers Music Association of Minot at the season opening of Pioneer Village on Saturday. Band members are, left to right, Jane Heller, David Mettler and Roland Belgarde. Obscured by a column is Leroy Preisinger.
"There was a lot more stuff," said a man touring the home who has been there several times before. "They were all early 1900's and maybe even a lot of late 1800's stuff down there."
"I would say probably 50 percent of the stuff was lost," Bergan confirmed, and placed the items in the range of 1890 to 1950. "None of that stuff got moved at all, it all went in the flood. The small things got moved and that was about it. But we're bringing it back."
There are new doors on some of the rooms downstairs and some rooms are noticeably empty, although Bergan and others have done their best to fill the home with more historical items, including a hand-crank organ Bergan played with a grin on her face, obviously enjoying the history in the home.
"You need to know history so you know where your ancestors came from, how they lived, why they did what they did. And we need to appreciate that so we can move forward," said Peggy Smetana, a professional genealogistwho has been involved with the historical society for some time. "If you don't know history you're going to go backwards."
Other buildings have also been refurbished toward the rear of the site. A row of buildings resembles a movie set for a small western town in an old film. Moving from the Samuelson house there is a food car, which Bergan described as a kitchen on wheels; an old post office, which includes an old bankers cage donated by the Minot Post Office because it has been unused; the original courthouse for Ward County, a one-room office with a judge's desk that also served as the jail when the building was first used in Burlington, which was the first county seat of Ward County; an old grocery store; and, finally, a blacksmith's shop which people there hope will manufacture nails and maybe even swords, one hopeful man wondered, when the fair comes to town.
Finally, though, is the Pioneer Village warehouse building which houses many historic vehicles damaged in the flood. All the vehicles will eventually be restored like the Model-T Ford, parked proudly in front of the Samuelson House, which was also damaged in the flood.
After touring the buildings and learning of their history, though, people would either become hungry or look for something else to do. Visitors could play tag, as two young children did after finishing their lunch, or they could dance to the music or pet some animals.
The Rocky Top Ranch petting zoo, which is based in Ruso, about 35 miles to the southeast of Minot, was on hand with an assortment of animals.
"They really like the miniature horses and the pig. Everyone likes the pig," said Dennis Erickson, who has run the petting zoo with his wife, Karla, for 22 years. "We try to keep everything as small as we can so the kids aren't intimidated by them."
It has been a challenge keeping the popular pot-bellied pig small, though. Erickson says he has to limit the pig's food "so they don't get 350 pounds. That's the whole thing to it because a pig's a pig."
"It's a lot of fun just to watch the kids light up when they come in and pet stuff they haven't seen before. If they don't know what the animal is we'll take the time to explain it to them."
The event may have kicked off the season, but there is still more to come.
Bergan's mother, Schlafman will be living in the Samuelson House over the summer and will invite people into the home for tours and maybe even some coffee if there's any brewing.
Schalafman said that there will be normal business hours when the door is open but that all people will have to do is ring the bell.