Prairie Churches








Preservation North Dakota recently published the results of a multi-year statewide project: Prairie Churches.  I love this project (and learned some critical lessons).  Get your copy here:  Here is a quick, stream-of-consciousness review. 

Prairie Churches is an enjoyable read, filled with useful detail.   The book is also something much more, as it is the culmination of several years work by Preservation North Dakota staff and volunteers.  Prairie Churches documents an unparalleled effort to save the historic church structures of North Dakota, and that effort is particularly notable as it was based in the local communities (the reason, I am sure, it was so successful).  While not addressed head-on in the book, the lesson of the project is one for preservationists to mind:  local interest and effort, and a handful of dedicated and tireless individuals makes for preservation success.   While I never participated, I watched from the sidelines.  The PND staff did an excellent job of pulling this all together at a statewide level.  In sum, the PND Prairie Churches project is one of those things that happened because the right people (working together), were in the right place(s) at the right time. 

On a more egghead note, the book does an excellent job of showing just how vital these churches were small, proud ethnic communities.  Isern’s foreword and epilogue are perhaps the most succinct and relevant summaries of ND (and Northern Plains) Euroamerican history you will find; he clearly has been pondering these issues for many years. The old saw is that the churches were overbuilt based on unrealistic expectations, and thus were doomed from the beginning.  Prairie Churches opens the door so we can see that many (perhaps most) were deliberately built by proud communities who knew darn well what they were doing.  Toso’s photos are wonderful, and Donovan did a nice job of making a coherent whole out of many projects and many voices.

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