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Rebuilding history one block at a time

Posted 11/03/15 (Tue)

By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer

The McKenzie County Heritage Park Board has been busy this past month dismantling a 100-year-old stone homestead house southeast of Keene so that it could be moved, rebuilt, and restored alongside other buildings at the McKenzie County Heritage Park.
“I am so impressed by the talent, dedication, and determination of the volunteers who have been working on this project,” said Daniel Stenberg, McKenzie County Heritage Park director. “Our county has not seen many structures made from stone. The fact that it was built without modern machinery and has stood for all these years makes it a significant building for us to preserve as a part of our local history.”
Stenberg will take the next couple of months gathering all of the history on the house so that it is ready when the Heritage Park opens again next spring.
Assisting in the project restoration was LeRoy Lilllibridge, Arden Omlid, Robert Omlid, Hugh ‘Tex’ Stevenson, Gerald Transtrom, David Jones, Larry Jones, Lynn Linseth, Daniel Stenberg, and Conlie Hermanson.
“All of the walls were able to be reconstructed at the Heritage Park the week of Oct. 12-16,” said Stenberg. “It was important to get the walls back up as soon as possible, since we wanted to make sure we got them reconstructed while it was fresh in our minds how the rocks fit back together, or risk losing the ‘map’ that we had of where the stones were originally placed. We still have work to do, but it isn’t as time-sensitive.”
The stone house was built in 1908  and was lived in by Alvin Jones. Alvin’s brother, Frank, also lived in the old homestead for a short period of time before the brothers later moved to Frank’s new homestead, which was about three miles southeast of Alvin’s homestead. The stone house remained empty for the next several decades.
“I used to say that homestead was built at the turn of the century, but now we’ve turned two centuries,” said David Jones, the nephew of Alvin Jones. “Back then, Alvin and my dad, Frank, used to mix sandstone from the Blue Buttes and then they hauled them one and a half miles back to the homestead with a team and wagon.”
The house was a landmark for many years, said David, until vandalism overcame it.
“There was so much vandalism in the area,” stated David. “My plan was to restore it myself. The roof was coming down and I wanted to fix it up. But once they re-did the standstone school next to the homestead, people started shooting at it and busting out the windows. There was just so much vandalism.”
So David talked with his brothers and sisters and they all agreed that they wanted to restore the home. The plans were discussed for about six to eight years until October of 2015 rolled around. Then the plan became a reality and a big project started!
“We took it apart one rock at a time,” said David. “That is the way it was put back together. The workers labeled every stone. They marked the top of the next row - that way the marks didn’t show when it was put back together. It’s been a big project my family and I are very happy with. We are really thankful for all the helpers that came out to restore the homestead.”
David’s brother has gotten a bronze plaque to put on the restored homestead now located at the Heritage Park for when it is finished. The family is planning on furnishing it and putting a stove inside.
“Hopefully when it is done, it will look like an old homestead shack,” said David. “Most of the old stuff is gone, but at least the building is restored.”
“That was quite the undertaking!” stated Jennifer Sorenson, on the Watford City Centennial Facebook page. “Can you imagine living in that? Or building it with no machinery? Do you have any idea how much some of those stones weigh?”
“We drove by this homestead for 40 years,” stated Wanda Olson, another comment made on the Facebook page. “I’m glad it’s going where lots of people will see it!”