St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Fillmore, North
Dakota Historic Church: Church Still in Good Shape After 22 Years
Baker, Marvin. "St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Fillmore, North Dakota Historic Church: Church Still in Good Shape After 22 Years Without Congregation." Minot Daily News, 17 October 2005.
There’s a magnificent building setting empty amongst a tall
group of evergreen trees about halfway between Balta and Baker that
stands as a reminder of a time when every small town in North Dakota
St. Ann’s Catholic
Church in Fillmore is now closed, but it remains as a solid
foundation on the prairie, built by native stone in Benson County
in the 1940s.
The building is the former St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Fillmore
and unfortunately, settlers in western Benson County moved on, leaving
an entire string of communities along a line in Pierce, Benson,
and Ramsey counties without sustainable population bases.
Fillmore, where the church was built in 1949 from native stone
by the late Edroy Paterson of Rugby, is listed on the North Dakota
map but doesn’t show a population. It is southeast of Rugby
about 30 miles and about 40 miles northwest of Minnewaukan, the
Benson County seat.
The church is in remarkable shape for having been without a congregation
for the past 22 years. Its lawn is a bit suspect, but the structure
is sound and looks clean from the outside. The front door is slightly
weathered and since it is locked, it is unclear what the inside
looks like. However, the windows and the bell tower are still intact.
Mary Ebach, a history buff living in Rugby, suggested the church
be preserved and that the story of Paterson’s workmanship
also be recorded so it remains a part of North Dakota history.
“I find it fascinating—the man who built it,”
Ebach said. “Who in Rugby knows this man did this?”
Ebach said it’s unfortunate that a beautiful church on the
prairie would be vacant, but also understands the shift in population
to larger communities, which has left Fillmore without an official
population and without people, there can’t be a congregation.
“I think it has historical value,” Ebach said. “You
can’t just go buy some lumber and have a building. This takes
a lot of time to gather the stone and get it ready for construction.”
Ebach said it would be great to have St. Ann’s on the museum
grounds in Rugby, or perhaps in Minnewaukan, but because it is a
stone structure, it can’t be moved. Thus it will remain in
this community that straddles the Benson/Pierce County line unless
it is preserved or until it deteriorates.
Ebach, who has visited the church, would like to find out more
about it in hopes that official preservation could be arranged some
The only additional information Ebach knows about the church is
that the Rev. F.X. Miller was the parish pastor when the church
A check with the Diocese of Fargo indicates the church was closed
in 1983 because there were no longer enough people to maintain a
Tanya Watterud, who serves a as public affairs representative for
the diocese, said that St. Ann’s was actually a mission of
the Knox parish and began in 1942. Patterson built the stone church
in 1949, Watterud said.
According to Ebach, the Fillmore church is only part of the story.
She said the wrought iron crosses that were used to mark the graves
of those buried in St. Ann’s Cemetery are another story. Ebach
said the crosses were once a fine art in parts of North Dakota and
Prairie Public Television did a wonderful job portraying the crosses
during its Germans from Russia TV series.
Ebach said new isn’t necessarily better and believes that
translations of religion can be lost when a church such as St. Ann’s
“To me, you have to preserve history, even if it’s
in writing,” Ebach said. “If you compare a church built
in 1820 and one today, it doesn’t mean the church of today
is better. Maybe the religion has been lost.”
(Marvin Baker is a staff writer. His “On the Road”
feature appears Mondays in The Minot Daily News)
Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.