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Sticks and Stones

Donovan, Lauren. "Sticks and Stones." Bismarck Tribune, 8 July 2007, C5.


Volunteers are needed Saturday through July 21 to begin the basic work that will go into preserving this stone house and other buildings that were named to the 2007 endangered list by Preservation North Dakota.
DUNN COUNTY - For this work, bring a strong North Dakota back.

Experience is helpful, but not necessary. Salary is not negotiable. There is none.

A strong back will be needed to cut cottonwood beams and juniper rafters. It will be needed to shovel decades' worth of fallen plaster and dirtblown in through broken windows. It will be needed to hack away grass overgrown around abandoned farm equipment, dig a new hole and repair the outhouse.

The Hutmacher farmhouse in rural Dunn County will be taken off the list of endangered historic places and, like the bald eagle, saved for the future.

Preservation North Dakota, based in Buffalo, will hold a restoration work week Saturday through July 21 at the Hutmacher site. It's located 10 miles northwest of Manning on a windy gravel road.

The group will take all comers, though they need to register. Helpers should bring a working attitude and their own money for food, lodging and safety gear.

As old farmhouses go, this one is of some repute in historic circles, here and elsewhere.

In all of the Midwest, it is unique, said preservation director Dale Bentley, whose nonprofit group named the site to its 2007 most endangered list of historic sites.

It is not the only sandstone prairie house built in a style brought over from the Black Sea region of the Russian Ukraine, the stone prized from sandstone outcroppings in nearby Dunn County hills and held together with clay and straw mortar.

It is singular in that, like the house, all five outbuildings also are made of stone. In every other known site, other buildings, the barn or granary, were built of wood.

Those stone walls are 16 inches thick. And they are all still standing.

Stone, like a good North Dakota back, remains upright.

Grass and sunflowers grow up along abandoned farm equipment at the Hutmacher farm.
All else is in disrepair, hovering on ruination. The floors, the windows and the roofs of cottonwood beams and cedar rafters woven with willows have given way to time and weather.

It is not too late, Bentley says.

Save America's Treasures provided a matching grant of $98,000 for the project. It's the same group that helped preserve the Old North Church in Boston, where in 1775 Paul Revere had two lanterns lighted to signal the British approach by sea.

History in the colonies and history in the heartland is different in time and in intent. But it is all America's story.

As North Dakota's story goes, the Hutmacher farm is not all that old.

Frank Hutmacher built the house and buildings in the years 1928 to 1930.

At that time, craftsman houses with indoor plumbing were in vogue in towns and cities. But Hutmacher used the materials in the hills around him and the old world skills he learned from his father, Valentine, who used the same style and stone to build the homestead buildings a mile to the southeast in 1911.

The house was occupied until 1979, when Frank Hutmacher's son, Alex, moved to Dickinson. It never did have plumbing. Nor did it have a well for water, or other than a coal stove for heat. It did eventually have electricity.

The ceilings, when Alex Hutmacher left, were covered in bright oilcloth held in place with Mason jar lids.

Bentley thinks the interior should be restored back to the '70s, when the home was last occupied, rather than to the '20s, when it was built.

It was as if life in the Jimmy Carter, polyester wearing-era somehow never penetrated those thick stone walls.

The inside, with faded curtains blowing through the broken window glass, is for later.

Cows graze outside the fence surrounding the Hutmacher site. Steve Burian, a neighbor, bought the buildings and a small acreage to preserve it from being part of a cattle pasture in later years.
Now comes the outside, where time has been waiting.

The Hutmacher farm was saved before, by Steve Burian, a neighbor, who bought the small acreage and donated it to the Dunn County Historical Society in memory of the pioneers.

The elderly society, unable to do all the necessary maintenance, deeded it back to the Burian family.

Arnold Burian, of Bismarck, Steve Burian's son, said the family was happy to deed it over again in March, this time to Preservation North Dakota.

"It would be a significant loss if it's not preserved," said Burian, who plans to bend his back to the shovel out at the site.

It is the first time the nonprofit has accepted ownership of an historic property.

Bentley said he believes future Hutmacher work projects, like what has happened with dinosaur digs, could find a niche in experiential tourism. That's the kind where people pay for the opportunity to experience and learn something real.

There will be real work to do, starting with the general tidying up, sorting and digging out scheduled starting July 14.

Bentley said he believes the day will come again when the Hutmacher farm looks like it once did, a series of modest, but intrinsically beautiful stone buildings with high hills on the windward side and the prairie stretched out front.

Besides a strong back, helpers should bring some North Dakota soul, the kind that makes them relish the feel of wind drying their own sweat and the taste of dirt they've breathed, washed down with cold water.

 

Comments

Bob Mitchell wrote on Jul 11, 2007 9:39 PM:
" Congratulations on getting this worthy effort organized and off the ground! Sorry I can't join you all this summer. Maybe next year.... In response to 70's? comment: No, I don't believe we're talking about shag rugs and tire ashtrays. Rather, the time target is the overall
configuration of the building(s), including any additions and changes in door and/or window openings; this for three very sound reasons: 1) The history of the homestead is really a continuum of the entire occupation by the Hutmacher family. 2) To return it to its original configuration might
require removal of a significant portion of the house and of one or more of the outbuildings. 3) We know approximately what the buildings looked like in the 1970s. Although not familiar with the latest research, I suspect that very little firm evidence of the exact original house configuration, and sequence of the outbuildings, is available to us. "

Clio wrote on Jul 10, 2007 11:04 PM:
" When you think about the time period these buildings were constructed in, the 1920s, it is amazing. It was after WWI, after the Titanic sunk, after the Russian Revolution. It was Prohibition, the Jazz Age--an interesting time in U.S. history. All that going on, and out here in North Dakota they were still building structures of this nature. A structure that environmentalists and architects, interested in green buildings, are studying for a true circling back of architectural styling. "

DBLDIP wrote on Jul 8, 2007 6:19 PM:
" I HAVE TRIED TO PURCHASE OLD FARM PROPERTIES IN MY AREA TO FIX UP BUT THE FARMERS WILL NOT SELL THEM BUT WOULD SOONER LET THEM FALL APART I CAN NOT UNDERSTAND THAT "

70's? wrote on Jul 8, 2007 1:57 PM:
" Restore it to look like the 70's? You've got to be kidding me. Pazelies, shag carpet, etc. of course don't forget the customary mini tire ashtray. Original condition when constructed or don't do it at all. As if I ever need to see another 70's remodel job. "

Ray Schmidt wrote on Jul 8, 2007 1:25 PM:
" Go to ' Hutmacher complex' on your computer for the interesting story. I grew up and lived near there and was a friend of Frank & veronica. This type of building construction was common in the area in the depression years when dollars were in short supply. They used resources that nature provided. The out of pocket cash for the entire farmstead did not exceed $100. $99,000 for restoration, WOW! Frank and Veronica would be proud. "

ML wrote on Jul 8, 2007 11:51 AM:
" Its not just an old building.! That one building has a lot of history behind it. I think it is wonderful that people are trying to preserve these very historic places. I would love to see more presevation in our area. "

Don Elmer wrote on Jul 8, 2007 8:56 AM:
" It's just an old building. "

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