Stern Homestead tours to begin

North Dakota was once filled with farms as homesteads began to pop up after the Homestead Act was put into effect.

Stern Homestead (RGB)
Stern Homestead

Posted July 11, 2014

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

North Dakota was once filled with farms as homesteads began to pop up after the Homestead Act was put into effect. Though many farms still remain, most of the original structures do not exist anymore. The structures became outdated, weathered, and eventually replaced with modern barns and houses.

One homestead to stand the test of time was one lived in by the Stern family.

John Stern, born in 1882 in Russia, immigrated to the United States in 1902 to take advantage of the Homestead Act. He filed 320 acre land claim three years later and by 1907 the homestead construction was finished and he and his family began life in the Great Plains.

The construction of the homestead is what makes this homestead so interesting.

Though Stern was born in Russia, his family was German, and he was a member of the Germans from Russia to settle in North Dakota.

Bringing with him the standard architecture from the Russian Steppe, Stern built one building that served a multitude of purposes.

The building that stands on the homestead was a house/barn structure that was not only for living purposes, but also housed storage space and also served as an animal shelter.

The design and its many purposes helped the family survive the tough North Dakota winters. The feed was close so they avoided being outside for long periods of time, and the animals acted as a heat source from being housed in the same structure as the family.

The structure was also built with all the doors facing south, another tactic aimed at protecting themselves from the wintery winds.

Architecture similar to the Stern’s building was common place throughout the region, though many have not lasted and in 2008 efforts were made to preserve the area located just east of Mott.

In 2008 The Mott Gallery of History & Art was successful in getting the Stern homestead on the National Register of Historic Places, a process that took the group two years to achieve. The main reason for admittance was the different design.

“That was one of the reasons that it got on the National Historic Register,” said Geno Sloan, who previously sat on the board of The Mott Gallery of History & Art. “Because of that unique design.”

Another interesting characteristic of the homestead? It has never been restored. It stands just as it did when the family moved out almost six decades ago.

“It’s never been restored,” Sloan said. “It’s exactly the way the family left it in the 60’s when they moved out.”

Though they do clean it out every spring, it remains unchanged.

On the property the Sterns created a small cemetery in which three of their children who didn’t make it past infancy at the time are buried.

“That tells the story of how difficult mortality was for the early homesteaders,” Sloan said.

There are two public tours scheduled for this summer. The first will be Saturday, July 19 and the second will be Sunday, Aug. 24. Both tours will be held 1-4 p.m.

Anyone wishing for a private tour can contact 701-824-2861 or 701-824-2613.

Sloan also wanted to encourage travelers to leave enough time during their day trip for a visit to the Mott Gallery of History & Art in the city. It is an experience that displays some history of the area, the historic bank building and changing art exhibits.

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