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Historic church finds new life as a museum in small North Dakota town

The museum building was built in 1928 by Joseph Bell DeRemer, and his son Samuel Teel DeRemer. The DeRemers, who were well-known architects, also built several structures on the UND campus, a number of churches in Grand Forks and the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.

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Emerado Community Museum board directors Gary Carroll and JoAnn Renfrow are photographed in the recently opened museum in the former Presbyterian Church. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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EMERADO, N.D. — A historic Emerado, North Dakota, church has been transformed into a museum that supporters hope will pique young and future generations' interest in the past.

The Emerado Community Museum, in the small town 17 miles west of Grand Forks, opened its doors in the former Emerado Presbyterian Church in late August.

The museum, operated by a board of seven community members, also houses the food pantry in the town of 440 people. The Emerado Volunteer Fire Department oversees operation of the food pantry, which is in the basement of the museum, in cooperation with a food bank.

The building was constructed in 1928 by Joseph Bell DeRemer, and his son, Samuel Teel DeRemer. The DeRemers, who were well-known architects, also built several structures on the University of North Dakota campus, a number of churches in Grand Forks and the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.

Emerado Presbyterian Church's last worship service was Aug. 16, 2020 . After nearly a year of completing the legal work needed to transfer the church's ownership to the Emerado Community Development Commission, museum board members, the Emerado Volunteer Fire Department and other volunteers went to work cleaning the building inside and out.

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The Emerado Community Museum opened in late August and was formerly the Emerado Presbyterian Church. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

A few weeks ago, the museum board put out a call for donations of historical items.

“It’s just amazing, the response we’ve had,” said JoAnn Renfrow, a museum board director. Families who live in and near Emerado donated vintage clothing, including a wedding dress and the suit worn by the groom at a 1939 wedding, a crocheted apron and a fur coat.

Meanwhile, Emerado Community Museum Board Director Gary Carroll gave the museum two quilts that are more than 100 years old and an heirloom china set that originally belonged to his grandparents.

Other items in the museum include an American flag with 48 stars, a wringer washer and wash tubs, calendars and other merchandise long-gone Emerado area businesses gave to their customers as Christmas gifts.

The Emerado Presbyterian Church altar, hymnals, two of its church pews and several kitchen items remain in the front of the museum as a tribute to, and reminder of, the origins of the museum.

Outside the museum building, a cook car, built in 1918, sits next to the building. The fully equipped car was donated by an Emerado family who restored it in the early 1980s and then parked it on their farmstead.

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Not only have community members been generous about donating items to the museum, but also volunteering their time, Renfrow said.

“They helped us clean items, labeled, cataloged,” she said.

The museum board will continue to accept donations and plans to increase the number of its displays, which it hopes will include photographs of former Emerado businesses and memorabilia from Emerado Public School.

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Gary Carroll takes a closer look at an heirloom china set that had originally belonged to his grandparents that he donated to the museum. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The board also plans to host educational programs for Emerado students at the museum, Renfrow said.

“We want to get the children involved because they’re going to be the caretakers of this,” she said.

“The people who donated to this want it to live on,” Carroll said.

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He and Renfrow do, too.

“We both are passionate about that and think we need to treasure it,” Renfrow said.

"And not throw it away," Carroll said.

The museum is open the third Sunday of each month, from 2 to 5 p.m. To donate, call Renfrow at 218-791-7308 or Carroll at 218-779-1113.

Related Topics: HISTORY
Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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