RUGBY – Although the century-old buildings of Rugby’s Prairie Village Museum house artifacts from Pierce County’s rural past, the people behind the museum today make it their mission to connect visitors of all ages to the area’s history.
Steve Dockter, vice chairman of the museum’s Geographical Center Historical Society board, is gleaning ideas from other parts of North Dakota and the United States to help the Prairie Village Museum make history relevant to people of all ages.
Inspired by a pumpkin patch and corn maze near Grand Forks last fall, Dockter decided to bring the concept to rugby. Dockter has teamed up with the Rugby Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to build an autumn attraction for young and old.
Dockter said in March that fundraising and finding volunteers kept him busy with the project. He felt he had contacted “more than 100” shops in town.
“I received a very enthusiastic response” says Docker.
He said he hoped to include wagon rides, a barrel train and other activities to bring fall fun from a simpler time to children who visit.
Museum buildings tell stories
The museum, which is scheduled to open for the season on May 1, consists of a collection of buildings large and small. Some buildings, such as the Pleasant Lake Bank and Zion Lutheran Church, are over 100 years old and have been moved to the museum grounds from its former homes in rural Pierce County.
Each building contains artifacts from the early days of Pierce County, illustrating how early residents did business, worshiped, and learned in school.
The main museum building often features items such as artwork that tell the story of Pierce County’s first inhabitants, Native Americans who lived in the area for thousands of years.
The newest building on the property is owned by Germans from the Heartland of America who came from Russia.
The Heart of America Germans from Russia Heritage Center houses a collection of artifacts from German families who came to Pierce County through the Black Sea region of Russia.
Some elements of the Germans of Russia heritage building come from the family of Valentine Brossart, many of whose relatives and descendants still live in Pierce County. Brossart made the start of the building possible thanks to a generous financial donation. Other articles come from Mary Ebach, a longtime resident of North Dakota whose family has farmed in Pierce County for many years.
The building provides a surname list of German families who immigrated to Pierce County from Russia and serves as a genealogical research resource for people with German-Russian roots in the area. An endowment fund ensures the operation of the center.
“One thing that will probably stand out this year is Ukraine,” Dockter said of the heritage center. “My ancestors passed through Odessa. They passed through the region of Ukraine. So that has a whole new level of relevance to us now. I don’t know if I have relatives who stayed there now. I think most of them got on the boat and came that way.
Rhubarb Fest, Oktoberfest and more on the program
Dockter said that the Germans of the Heart of America from Russia “Are going to be key for Oktoberfest to be held on September 24, the last Saturday in September, and by the way, September is when they traditionally celebrate Oktoberfest.”
Other events on the museum’s busy schedule include its annual Rhubarb Feast, a tribute to North Dakota’s favorite dessert vegetable. Local bakers and home cooks are offering a variety of rhubarb treats for a small price at the event, which is scheduled for June 19.
Museum volunteers set aside part of the property to plant rhubarb and Juneberry shrubs last year using funds from an AARP “Edible Garden” to agree. Young fruit trees surround the outer edge of the main buildings.
A project to replace the façade of the museum office and adjoining building will continue this year. Work on the wood siding that resembles a prairie town began in 2021. Local artist Terry Jelsing designed the facade.
Shane Engeland, a graduate of Minot State University pursuing a master’s degree in history at North Dakota State University, took the helm as the new executive director of the Prairie Village Museum on April 1.
Engeland, a descendant of Norwegian settlers from Pierce County, grew up near Barton.
“My great-grandfather got off the train at Barton and moved into his home,” says England. “We’re actually a stone’s throw from the dirt house he had.”
Reaching Students in North Dakota
Engeland, who taught social studies online to distance learning students, has been busy restoring a family farm in Barton.
“I grew up surrounded by my own family history and a lot of people don’t understand that,” says England. “This museum can provide them with that.”
Engeland said he hopes to use technology to bring history lessons to life for students visiting the museum.
“That’s what kids are used to” he said.
Other ideas from England are to ask students “Be a part of this story by building the Minecraft Museum”, or other educational software to help students interact with the story.
Engeland said the technology would create what he called “augmented reality” for visitors.
“Augmented reality is where you use that connection (with technology) to amplify your experience. So museums will do an audio tour,” he said. “In my experience, what I do for my thesis is create a podcast. So, I thought about the idea of something along those lines (for the museum) and also expanded the presence of the museum through a digital tour or something.”
Engeland said digital museum tours would give visitors such as K-12 students across the state the opportunity to visit the museum. “even when the museum is closed.”
“I can email all the North Dakota Studies teachers in the state,” he said. “I can tell them that they can spend a day just to come and visit my museum and that they don’t need to take a bus, no permission slips, and that they can access all this information that we can make available to them.
“It’s not huge, but it’s quite profitable. So those are just some of the ideas I’ve been thinking about, but of course seeing these things turn into something you can actually see takes a bit more.
the “After” The England referred to includes volunteers.
“We will take volunteers whenever we can get them” Dockter said, noting that the museum would need volunteers to help with maintenance, lawn and yard maintenance and more.
To volunteer or learn more about the hours of operation of the Prairie Village Museum during its regular season from May 1 to October 1. 3, call 776-6414 or visit www.prarievillagemuseum.com. The museum is also on Facebook.
To learn more about Heart of America Germans from Russia, call 208-1044 or visit their page on Facebook.