Couple revitalize historic family barn

George and Patty Ehlis farmed north west of New England for 30 years, and moved to Dickinson after two of their sons took over the family farm. While living in Dickinson, Patty missed the country living that she had been accustomed to, and the idea of fixing up an abandoned family farmstead which originally belonged to George’s great uncle Dan Elis (Ehlis) came to mind. The couple wanted to renovate the farmstead and use it as their summer get away.

picture of the farmstead (RGB)

By RACHEL BOCK | For The Herald

George and Patty Ehlis farmed north west of New England for 30 years, and moved to Dickinson after two of their sons took over the family farm. While living in Dickinson, Patty missed the country living that she had been accustomed to, and the idea of fixing up an abandoned family farmstead which originally belonged to George’s great uncle Dan Elis (Ehlis) came to mind. The couple wanted to renovate the farmstead and use it as their summer get away.

Daniel Elis (Ehlis) was born in June 1880 at Sulz,Beresan Odessa Russia, son of Sebastian and Margaret (Weber) Ehlis. His brother Frank Ehlis (George’s grandfather) came to America from Russia before being drafted into the Russian Army, homesteaded near the Schefield area in 1907.

Frank’s brother Dan Elis (Ehlis) was an officer in the Russian army and hired a man to sneak him out of Russia inside a barrel.

After arriving in America, Dan claimed his homestead in 1910, close to his brother Frank, and settled on some land that someone had abandoned. Dan immediately purchased the section of land that adjoined the homestead he had settled on. Because of the nature in which he left Russing, and for fear of being caught, Dan Ehlis spelled his last name Eliz on his homestead papers, and then eventually  he dropped the H in Ehlis, and would go by Daniel Elis.

Dan married Rosalie Schmidt and together they had eleven children. On the original homestead there were two buildings, a tool shed, and a structure that was possibly used for storing feed. Dan added a nice sized two-story house, which was quit extravagant for that time.

“That was a fancy house, they always said Dan had big ideas” George said.

In 1913 Dan with the help of his hired men, started building a barn that would be completed around 1916. The center of the barn was built to house sixteen teams of horses, with a total of thirty two horses having their own individual stall. The floor of the horse stalls was made up by a layer of rocks, since the horses would paw with their front hooves on the ground and the floor in the back of the stalls, bridge planks were also placed on the ground. The need for all the horses during that was primarily for farming.

There was also a stall in the center of the barn for one bull. On a side-lean of the barn, Dan placed stanchions for fifteen cows to be milked. The barn walls are made of double layers of rock two feet thick, with most of the rocks coming originally from the homestead.

The mortar used on the outside of the barn was clay, straw and horse hair, and the walls were also plastered with mud. The barn also had an enormous upstairs loft, which was needed for storing hay for the horses and cattle.

Years later when, Dan Elis’s health began to fail, he sold his farm to Frank Friedt and wanted cash only. Dan wanted to make sure his wife Rosalie, who was younger than him, to be taken care of when he was gone. Dan died on November 25, 1945.

“Dan was an operator, when you look at the abstracts all the way through the 1930s he never mortgaged this farm” George said, about his great uncle.

George Ehlis purchased the farm from Friedt’s in 1981. The farmstead was empty for roughly fifteen or twenty years, and this is when George and Patty started to envision their summer cottage in the country.

The plan was to fix up the old farmhouse as a summer cottage, for not only them but also for their children and grandchildren to enjoy.

“Patty just wanted to get back out in the country, she said with a little bit of water and a little bit of soap we will clean it up” George said.

In 2006 George and Patty moved a cabin out onto the farmstead, to have a place to stay while they were renovating the house and cleaning up the farmstead. The first two years were primarily cleaning up a mess of 20 years.

The house remodel began in 2008.

“We went basically down to the studs,” Patty Ehlis said.

The old basement of the house was in bad shape, and it was more cost effective to move the house and dig a new basement right next to the old existing basement. All the plaster on the walls was removed and new insulation and new windows were replaced on the house.

The new windows are the same size that Dan Elis originally put into the house when it was first built. Luckily for George and Patty, the house did not go through a lot of remodeling over the years so the house still contained the original hardware, doors, trim, woodwork, and hardwood floors. All of these items needed to be stripped and stained, to remove years of paint.

Some of the trim was purchased from the Church in Schefield, and some of the side boards also needed to be purchased. A couple of the walls inside the house were torn down to open up the rooms in the house, and a new sun room and entry way were also added. A bathroom was added to the upstairs of the house. The house remodel took about three years with numerous contractors.

After the house was done, the barn was next on the list to be restored. First the barn needed to be cleaned out as there was over two feet of dried manure was left along the walls, and year’s worth of items stored inside the barn also needed to be removed.

New steps were built to go up to the upstairs of the barn, the upstairs floor needed to be replaced and two new hay lofts were built. A new roof of cedar shingles was put on the barn to bring the barn back to its original state.

“The structure was solid,” George said.

The outside was re-plastered and painted. All the original stalls and stanchions that Dan Elis built were kept and you can still see on the wood on top of the stanchions, the cows names that Dan carved into the wood are still legible.

“The outside surprisingly was in excellent condition, we put new windows into it and whatever boards were rotted out we replaced them and gave it a couple coats of paint,” George said.

The newly renovated barn made a great place for George and Patty and 350 of their family and friends to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 2013.

During their celebration their oldest granddaughter Megan was purposed to by her boyfriend Nolan Schwartz.

In July of 2014, Megan and Nolan were married and they also had their wedding dance inside the barn. Over the years, George and Patty’s immediate family has grown and any time they have a big family gathering, the barn is used.

“They (the family) have enjoyed it, we all have enjoyed it, it’s been worth it,” Patty said.

This last year George and Patty Ehlis’s barn was among seven barns around North Dakota featured in the PBS special “Hay Day: Musical Barns of North Dakota”. PBS was present during their 50th wedding anniversary and filmed the barn at that time.

In June, George and Patty were invited along with the other barn owners to Fargo, and also the Heritage Center in Bismarck for a viewing of the video. Their barn is also featured in the book Prairie Barns of North Dakota.

Editors Note—Daniel and Rosalie Elis are the grandparents of Joan Binstock New England, and Sister Gladys Reisenauer, Janet Schobinger, and Geneva Steier Dickinson. Joan, Gladys, and Janet were all born inside that farm house.

Share this post

GAMES