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Pioneer Village Museum recovering from flood

MINOT, N.D. — The newly cleaned and refurbished train depot and country school at the Pioneer Village Museum on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds are signs of recovery from the Souris River flood of 2011.

Bruce Brooks, treasurer of the Ward County Historical Society, said he thinks parts of the museum are looking even better than they did before the devastating flood. The museum is closed for the winter and won't be open until after Memorial Day, but visitors next year should be pleased by the newly refurbished buildings, he told the Minot Daily News.

The railroad depot, which used to be the Sawyer railroad depot, has new flooring, new paneling and newly cleaned vintage furnishings. The building, which dates back to the early 1900s, was donated to the museum by the Soo Line Railway. Ward County's early development was fueled in great part by the constant moving of the railroads. Early trains averaged only 25 miles per hour in good terrain.

The North Prairie School No. 1, or the County Schoolhouse, boasts a newly shingled roof and new flooring. The desks, bookshelves and other furnishings in the country school belong to the oldest school house in Ward County.

The late Robert Sandstrom of Lonetree donated the little red school house, which dates back to 1887, to the museum last year. The building was the former Graham No. 1 in St. Mary's School District, six miles southeast of Foxholm. The Ward County Historical Society has not been able to move the school house itself to the museum grounds because the North Dakota State Fair Board has refused permission.

The North Prairie School No. 1 was built in 1903 and cost $984 at the time. It was located in North Prairie, approximately nine miles north of Velva. It was originally just one room with a central heater. The entry was added in the summer of 1914 and provided a place for coats and lunch pails. In the summer of 1917 a basement was added, which contained a cistern. The school in was in use from 1903 to 1947. It was purchased in 1955 by Elmer Moen, who later donated the school to the Historical Society in 1989.

Brooks said work on the buildings was done by local contractors. The museum received some reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

There has been an ongoing dispute between the State Fair Board and the Historical Society over the museum. The State Fair Board wants the museum moved off the grounds so that it can use the land for expansion and other purposes; the historical society maintains that it has a legal right to remain on the grounds under the terms of a 1966 contract, which states that "the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fairgrounds."

The State Fair Board last discussed the matter when it met earlier this fall, but no decisions were made at that time. Brooks said there has been no change in the situation since the last State Fair Board meeting.