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Historic South Heart Depot to undergo summer renovations

Prairie Outpost Park has several fascinating buildings, including the South Heart train depot and a Scandinavian stabbur. We spoke with Dickinson Museum Director Bob Fuhrman to learn more about the renovation and the rich history behind these structures.

South Heart Depot
The South Depot, now at Prairie Outpost Park in Dickinson, was built in 1881.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press
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DICKINSON — Renovations are coming to Dickinson's historic Prairie Outpost Park in the form of cosmetic and function repairs of the South Heart Depot.

The South Heart Depot was built in 1881 by the Northern Pacific Railway, and remained active until 1996. The origins of the town’s name are not hard to guess, as it is nestled in on the south side of the Heart River. In 1910, the entire town of South Heart was essentially picked up and moved about a half mile down the rail.

The depot now sits as one of many fascinating outdoor exhibits at Dickinson’s Prairie Outpost Park. Dickinson Museum Director Bob Fuhrman explained the history of this railroad gem, and detailed its forthcoming facelift.

“Originally, South Heart was really just the depot. So many of our towns along the Northern Pacific were built because there was a depot there and a town kind of grows up around it,” he said. “South Heart actually ended up damming part of the Heart River for a reservoir of water for the Northern Pacific. When they did that, they would have flooded out the depot. So they just moved it about a half mile.”

Because of the scarce lumber source with the lack of trees in North Dakota, it was rather common to move a building by train, even 112 years ago.

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“The depot is actually a pretty building. It’s just a little over 600-square feet of floor space, and moving that was really no big deal,” Fuhrman said, adding that a relatively large store was also moved. “Since they were moving the town they laid some track, jacked up the building, put railroad trucks underneath it and they had that building moved within a day.”

Sometimes the station agent’s wife would work as a telegrapher. Fuhrman noted the Order of Railway Telegraphers was progressive for its time, as it was the first labor union to allow female workers. For many years, the depot served several key functions for the town.

“It was a place for freight and mail to be dropped off and picked up. Then it was also a telegraph station for the railroad, and of course other people could use it too,” he said. “It was staffed 24 hours a day and the easiest way to do that was to have the station master live there. So about a quarter of the space inside the depot was actually for the depot operations and then the rest, maybe 400- to 450-square feet, was where the families would live. It was kind of tight.”

Caboose #1081
This is a steel caboose that was built in 1954. Cabooses served as a train conductor's office and a safety monitor's watch point. They became obsolete in the 1980s when technological advances reduced the need for such monitors.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

There was a family living there until the mid-1970s. They had electricity, but only a chemical toilet and no running water. By that time, South Heart’s water was still rusty and unfit for consumption, so they relied on water shipments from the trains.

Over the decades, railroads were consolidated. Northern Pacific became part of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. Laudie Tuhy purchased the building from BNSF and donated it to Prairie Outpost park in 1984. Now, 38 years later, Fuhrnam said it will receive some much needed maintenance this summer.

“Replacement of the siding is something I’ve been looking to get done for the nearly five and a half years I’ve been here. There’s been some severe deterioration,” he said. “We’ll replace it with what you would call in-kind materials, basically the same materials that were used to begin with — pine, drop front siding. And that’s to follow the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic preservation and restoration.”

The wooden windows will also be replaced — true to original form. Another historic building at Prairie Outpost Park is the Scandinavian Stabbur which stands as a tribute to immigrants from the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The building was originally constructed in Park Rapids, Minnesota. In 1994, it was purchased by the Scandinavian Ethnic Group Inc. From there, it was broken down and brought to the park, where it was reassembled and opened to visitors that spring.

IMG_0264.JPG
The Scandinavian stabbur at Prairie Outpost Park in Dickinson is pictured.
Jason O'Day / The Dickinson Press

The stabbur is a two-story granary and storage building that dates back to Medieval times. They were built on stilts 1 to 2 feet off the ground to keep rodents from eating the grains. The most prosperous farmers had stabburs with elaborate architecture and ornate designs carved into the wood. The bottom level was always granary, while the top was typically for storage of travel trunks, furniture and other valuables. Fuhrman said many of the remaining stabburs in Scandinavia have been converted to tourist cabins and summer cottages.

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Fuhrman noted that most museums are run by private nonprofit organizations, while this one is an official department in city government. Between history, paleontology and the Stark County Historical Society’s farm implement collection in its Pioneer Machinery Hall, their 12-acre campus has so much to offer, he said.

“What it signals out here is the city, not just as a city government but also the taxpayers and such, they value their history. They value what has been put together for the dinosaur museum as an attraction and as a hub of science,” Fuhrman said. “We’ve got an awful lot happening here and couldn’t do it without the city’s support and the support of our citizens.”

Related Topics: DICKINSONSOUTH HEARTHISTORY
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