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Saving pieces of history

Press Photos by Linda Sailer Above, the Dunn Center Museum features a vintage chuckwagon. Grant Brown, vice president of the Dunn County Historical Society, showcases several of the eating utensils on June 20.

DUNN CENTER -- The Dunn Center Museum is a show place of Dunn County artifacts, but the next step is to secure volunteers who can keep the museum open to visitors.

The museum was open during the summer hours in previous years, said Cathy Trampe, chairman of the Dunn County Museum Committee.

Due to the economy, the Dunn County Historical Society and Dunn County Museum Committee are looking for caretakers to watch over the museum on a volunteer basis, she said.

"There is a demand by people who would like to see the museum over the summer and I'd like to fulfill their wishes," she said. "We've got a lot of things for them to see in the museum. It's well worth their time to stop and see it."

The Dunn County Historical Society has worked to establish a museum since 1976, but its efforts always fell through. Finally, Dorothea and Les Pelton gave a donation to restore the Dunn Center School as a museum in 1984, said Trampe.

The volunteers soon learned it was too expensive to restore the building. The school was demolished and work began on a new steel building. It was ready for the first showing by July of 1986.

Grant Brown, vice chairman of the Dunn County Historical Society, said work is ongoing at the museum site. A concrete sidewalk was recently poured at the entrance after rainwater leaked under the doors into the office, apartment and conference room.

But the biggest hurdle is securing someone to write a grant to obtain funds for a caretaker's salary.

Last year's caretaker opened the museum to visitors and did a complete inventory of items at the site. The inventory was necessary to secure a grant, he said.

"We've got the inventory, now the next step is someone with the capability of writing a grant," he said.

The grant would offset costs of a salary, and would be used to enhanced the inside of the museum, he said.

Brown envisions note card descriptions for each setting and plastic covers to protect the smaller artifacts.

"We've got a lot of small artifacts that should be encased so they don't walk," he said.

The two primary museum buildings highlight the settlement of Dunn County with the arrival of the homesteaders and the railroad in 1914.

"A lot of settlers in this area walked from Richardton to establish their homestead. Some even walked out of Mandan to establish a homestead," he said.

The museum complex also tells the story of the Native Americans who lived in the area, followed by the trappers in their dug-outs, the ranchers with their log cabins and the homesteaders with their shacks.

The complex includes a shack, log cabin, the first bank in Manning and the Galyen Country School, he said.

Brown believes it is imperative the past be saved for future generations.

"I think we all learn from the past," he said. "I was just reading an article that economics repeats itself every 30 years," he said.

The inside of the museum features the altar of St. Edward's Church at Fayette, located west of Killdeer, a complete kitchen, and examples of how women washed, cooked and ironed clothing.

Another warehouse showcases Dunn Center's first fire truck, a Twin City tractor, an REC service truck, a buckboard, a 1900 threshing machine, a grasshopper poison spreader, an early combine, a 1929 Nash and a chuckwagon.

"If you've seen Third World countries, that's what this country was like. Basically, we looked like a Third World country," said Brown.

He said young people need to appreciate how settlers pumped water and carried coal to the wood-burning stove. The water was dumped into the stove's reservoir to heat. Baths were taken once a week in the kitchen.

"They don't have an appreciation with the past because they were born into an era where we started to get modern conveniences. We had electricity. We had paved roads. We had telephones," he said.

Taking the idea a step further, he said the country schools were consolidated into school districts, requiring that children ride the school bus one hour each way.

The other thing is to appreciate what the homesteaders endured to arrive here.

"My grandparents came from Iowa in 1914 and bought land north of Dunn Center," he said.

He recalls how the original Dunn County settlers went to Dickinson maybe once a year.

"If Dr. Smith couldn't take care of you, you'd see Dr. Rodgers in Dickinson. The rough was in bad shape, and you might not make it," he said.

To preserve the early settlers' stories, the museum also is spearheading an oral history project. For the past two years, Deb Biffert has been taping the oral histories of families. Gail Lynch prints the histories into booklets.

"They don't like hearing how they actually talk, but that is the uniqueness about having the oral history. That's how we communicate," he said.

The problem, he said, is that the project should have been started 10 years ago.

"We've lost too many people in their 80s -- they were the ones who experienced the teens and 1920s," he said.

Brown recruits his children and grandchild to help out with projects at the center, but he needs more help.

"The problem is finding somebody to do something," he said.

The founders of the museum were in their 60s when the museum was open, but more volunteers are needed to replace them, he said.

If anyone is interested in helping at the museum, they may contact Clarence Schollmeyer at 701-764-5734, Trampe at 701-548-8150, Brown at 701-548-8042 or Barb Fridley at 701-974-3971.

Those interested in touring the museum can call Brown to schedule a time.