Chateau site sees changes in management, construction

MEDORA - Changes abound for the Chateau de Mores Historical Site here. Not only have they been nationally recognized for their "Footsteps into Medora's Past" program, but new site director Dolores Linn began work in March.

MEDORA - Changes abound for the Chateau de Mores Historical Site here. Not only have they been nationally recognized for their "Footsteps into Medora's Past" program, but new site director Dolores Linn began work in March.

Site director Diane Rogness is seeking greener pastures as the State Historical Society's Western Regional Manager of Historical Sites, which moves her to Bismarck, but not quite yet.

Due to unforeseen construction delays, Rogness is staying on until things get tied up, which could extend into the fall. The site will still operate for the upcoming summer season, only not as Rogness had expected.

Unexpected delays

The new construction completion deadline for the interpretive center project at the chateau is mid-to-late August, Rogness said.


"We had planned to use the old interpretive center and incorporate it into the new structure, but when we gutted the old building to start remodeling we discovered it was unsafe structurally and it had to be torn down," she said.

The old building is now being reconstructed on basically the same footprint as it had been and is still incorporated into the new structure. The original estimated cost of the project was $1.7 million, but with the new work with the old building there is an additional cost of $250,000. Rogness said additional funds are coming from the State Historical Society's budget. The chateau is the most visited site for the society.

"The contractors have to dig the foundations and put in the footings," Rogness said. "It's put us behind. We had planned to open in May to be ready to go with exhibits and everything."

The good news is the structure already completed is being used for this summer's tourist season for operating admission and museum store sales.

"We won't have exhibits in place until this fall," Rogness said. "I hope the delay won't affect sales, but the chateau will still have staff doing tours and our other programs. It will just pose a slight inconvenience for people coming to get tickets and things."

Construction of the new building is moving right along, she added.

"The interior is scheduled to be painted, siding is going on the exterior, windows are in, shingles are on the roof, cabinetry is next and they're finishing up interior mechanical and electrical work," Rogness said. "If we hadn't encountered this delay things would be right on schedule. We knew the building had some problems going in, but we didn't know how severe they were."

Besides the delay, the other challenge is figuring out where to put all the display and exhibit items to be stored during construction.


"We've got things here and everywhere. Any spare room we could find, it will be a challenge to find it when we need to this spring," Rogness said. "More storage was one of the reasons we went with a new center."

A grand opening for the new interpretive center and reconstruction isn't until next spring, but a small event is planned this fall when construction is done.

Moving on

Rogness is looking forward to her new job that takes her to Bismarck.

"With my new role, there's more responsibility which is the biggest change from being at the chateau," Rogness said. "I'll be dealing with all the different sites instead of just one, otherwise most of the work is the same, but less detailed."

Rogness expects to be on the road quite a bit, but also work from her office in Bismarck.

She found out about the new manager position internally through the society. As western regional manager of historical sites, Rogness oversees all the historical sites from the Missouri River west. Some of the major sites include the chateau, Fort Buford, the Missouri Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center, Fort Clark, Fort Dilts, Double Ditch Indian Village and places such as the former governor's mansion and Camp Hancock in Bismarck.

Rogness had worked at the chateau the past 8½ years. She has always been interested in history, but it was a second career. Before going back to school to get her graduate degree in museum studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Rogness worked in the textile industry.


She is originally from the Sioux Falls area and lived in Nebraska before coming to Medora.

"I like the Great Plains part of the country," Rogness said.

Changes with the chateau and her role in it have included keeping the site buildings up, new bathrooms and cooking grates at Chimney Park, new tour programs and visitor studies and continually working on small improvements.

"So many changes seem small, but you can notice the change," Rogness said. "We have kept everything up so you don't see any deterioration of the buildings, which is a tough job in itself. When you're over 100 it's tougher to look good."

New pre- and post-visit materials for school tours were added to the chateau's Web site to help teachers give students the best learning experience they can during their visit.

Another change Rogness has seen while at the chateau is programming which used to be generated out of the Bismarck office is done on site with support from the heritage center, she said.

A new face

Linn started her responsibilities as the chateau's new director Wednesday, March 21, but is still getting situated. Linn was the activities and records organizer at the Fort Totten State Historic Site since April 2005. She did everything an assistant site supervisor does, Linn said.


Right before leaving for her new post, Linn finished working on Fort Totten's 140th anniversary celebration happening July 14-15. Linn hopes to attend the celebration after working on it for so long.

Linn is originally from Devil's Lake and like Rogness, got into historical work as a second career.

"I started college in 1992 going into wildlife biology, but when I transferred to the University of North Dakota I fell in love with the archaeology department," Linn said. "My degree is in archaeology with an emphasis in forensic anthropology and a minor in wildlife biology."

The biggest change for Linn coming from Fort Totten to the chateau is the different types of history between the two sites, with the fort being military based.

"There are different tours given between the two places and I need to get know the staff and learn about the programming research," Linn said. "At Fort Totten we didn't have kids involved with the tours like we do here."

One project Linn enjoyed at Fort Totten was the Living History Field Day which invited seventh graders from within a 100-mile radius of the site to see living history demonstrators and play old time games related to the time period of the site.

"I've discussed with others about a living history field day for all sites across the state, but it's just an idea for the future," Linn said. "If done here we would do things to indicate how this site was used with demonstrations like hunting."

National recognition


The State Historical Society of North Dakota's partnership program "Footsteps into Medora's Past" received the 2007 EdCom Award for Excellence in Programming from the American Association of Museums (AAM).

"When I got the phone call from Cheryl Palmer on the National EdCom Committee saying we had won I was floating on air for a while and immediately passed on the word that good things were happening to all those involved in the footsteps program," Rogness said.

The footsteps program is a collaborative effort with the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site of the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Dickinson State University, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and the Billings County Historical Society and Museum . In the past five years, more than 8,000 people have experienced the program.

The program was eligible for the national award after being the winner of the

2006 Excellence in Educational Programming by the Mountain-Plains Museum Association. The MPMA is a regional museum association that includes 10 states from Colorado to South Dakota to Texas and was established in 1953. It was the MPMA Education Committee that selected the Medora program from numerous museums .

A museum is nominated by another MPMA member and the "Footsteps into Medora's Past" program was nominated by Sandy Ben-Haim, the curator at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo.

Rogness is accepting the national award at a special banquet May 13 at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago, Ill. The banquet is in conjunction with the AAM's annual meeting in Chicago.

The footsteps program first began in 2001 as a walking tour of Medora and the next year the theater production was added.


Karen Nelson is co-director with Rogness and works at DSU as an adjunct professor of communication teaching public speaking courses.

The re-enactment drama tells the story of the conflict among cowboys, hunters and outsiders fencing the land against the background of the DeMores murder trial with the Medora walking tour and a 20-minute theater presentation. Time traveling actors in period costumes are placed in various spots around the chateau.

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