Frank’s Farm: A Field Trip into North Dakota History

Less than a hundred dollars. That’s what Frank and Veronica Hutmacher built their Dunn County farm near Fayette for in the early-to-mid 20th century.

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By Jennifer Strange

For the DC Herald

You can bet there were no imported hardwood floors, granite countertops or fancy Italian tiles involved. In fact, there wasn’t even indoor plumbing. But there is a two-seater outhouse, a “cluck house” for baby chicks and an old fridge that was used as a smoker. And the five stone-slab buildings—a farmhouse, livestock barn, garage (also used as a summer kitchen), granary and poultry barn—were all constructed with local resources, with roofs made of clay and straw supported by timbers and branches. Proximity to a nearby coal vein and fresh water made the location a good long-term choice for the German Russian farmers.

To accommodate their growing family, the Hutmachers kept adding onto the farmhouse. By the time the last family member, son Alex Hutmacher, moved from the farm to Dickinson in 1979, the site had grown into a full-fledged complex.

The Hutmacher Farm is one of the best examples of earthen roofed, stone-slab, vernacular architecture in this part of the country, according to Preservation North Dakota, a non-profit organization that now owns the home site. The Hutmachers were part of a significant migration of Germans from Russia to North Dakota in the early 1900s. This important ethnic group found the Great Plains similar in climate and geography to the Russian steppes. Settlers including Frank Hutmacher combined building techniques from the old country with the sandstone and clay of the prairie to create working homesteads.

Because of the site’s architectural importance and the Hutmacher’s heritage as Germans from Russia, PND was successful in getting the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The organization also secured some restoration funding from Save America’s Treasures Program, administered by the National Park Service. In 2008, under the guidance of Tom Isern of NDSU’s Center for Heritage Renewal, a team of volunteers from eastern North Dakota was trained in safety and renovation techniques and brought to the site to help restore the roof on the main farmhouse.

The restoration was about “95 percent there” before the heavy spring rains of 2012 and 2013, said Susan Quinnell, PND treasurer and Review and Compliance Coordinator at State Historical Society of North Dakota.

“The rains saturated the earthen roofs, especially in main house,” Quinnell said. “We just couldn’t get any funding to repair the damage done by the rains. So there it stands.”

PND hopes to keep restoring the smaller buildings. “They are more manageable; you can get something done in a weekend project,” said Quinnell.

In the meantime, the public is welcome to visit the site. A series of interpretive signs provide extensive history about the Hutmachers and the influx to Dunn County of Germans from Russia a century ago. Blueprints of the homestead as well as family photographs are available for perusal.

For safety reasons, visitors are asked to not enter the buildings and keep an eye out for rattlesnakes.

If You Go

Hutmacher Farm Site is accessed from the Killdeer Mountains portion of Four Bears Scenic Highway, on Highway 200. Look for the sign west of the Killdeer roundabout. The site is six miles south of the highway along a winding dirt road that is currently being improved, so be prepared for construction delays. The site may also be accessed from Manning via 12th St. SW.

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