Historical bonanza awaits in West Fargo
by Candi Helseth
|Bonanzaville, and its 43 vintage historic buildings has opened a new, resurgent chapter in helping visitors understand Red River Valley pioneer life. Cass County Electric Cooperative Fargo, serves Bonanzaville. (courtesy photo)
The dictionary defines bonanza as “something that is very valuable, profitable or rewarding.” A “bonanza extravaganza” is awaiting North Dakotans who put Bonanzaville on their list of summer attractions to visit. Executive Director Troy White calls the historical museum complex “North Dakota’s must-see attraction with a new face, a new look and a new direction.”
Located in West Fargo, the historic Bonanzaville is home to more than 400,000 artifacts on 12 acres that contains the Cass County Museum and 43-building Pioneer Village. The Lucien C. Barnes Pavilion, which opened last year, is an events center with a revolving exhibits gallery.
The Cass County Museum and the Pavilion are open year-round; gallery exhibits change quarterly. The new 4,000-square-foot events center can be reserved for business meetings, wedding receptions, family reunions and other special occasions. A full kitchen, dance floor and conference room with electronic capabilities are among amenities.
“We have made a lot of changes to a valuable Red River Valley attraction and we are working at making it more appealing,” White said. “We are open year-round now and are focused on providing a better visitor experience. Bonanzaville is not just an entity in West Fargo. It is a North Dakota attraction that you must experience if you want the entire state history.”
A longtime Fargo area resident, White had never visited Bonanzaville until he decided to investigate the executive director position that was open. He was amazed at what he found and said he has since realized that the complex lacks awareness locally and throughout the state.
“I don”t think there is anywhere you can go in North Dakota and see as much history in one location as you do here,” he asserted. “Each building in the Pioneer Village is decorated and filled with artifacts relevant to the period of that building. The museum has three areas: an extensive Native American exhibit, a focus on homesteading and settling of the state, and then North Dakota’s modernization from the turn of the century to the 1950s.”
White’s favorite buildings in the village are the “unassuming courthouse with its impressive interior and massive woodwork and the absolutely stunning Houston House with its gorgeous antiques.” The home belonged to David Houston, who invented the rolled film camera and sold his patent to Eastman Kodak.
“Many of our visitors are surprised to learn that we have an extensive tractor, car and airplane collection,” he said.
Improvement are under way and will be continuous, he added. Tram tours accompanied by historical interpreters are available. Work is under way to expand oral interpretation using smart phone or video-based technology in the village buildings.
Special events will be held in July and August. A picnic, horse-drawn wagon rides, costumed characters doing historical re-enactments, a scavenger hunt and Vietnam veterans’ 5K/10K run are among events scheduled for the second annual July 4 celebration. Comedian and juggler Jason Huneke, best known for his performances on “America’s Got Talent,” will be the headline entertainer. A fireworks show will conclude the evening.
Pioneer Days Aug.16-18 celebrate the settling of North Dakota with steam threshing exhibits, demonstrations of prairie pastimes such as blacksmithing, basket weaving and wool spinning, old-fashioned games, a powwow, live music and various foods.
Now in its 59th year, Bonanzaville is owned and operated by the Cass County Historical Society. Summer hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Summer admission is: adults, $10; children 6 to 16, $5; children under age 6, free. To learn more about the complex and upcoming events, go to www.bonanzaville.org.
Candi Helseth is a freelance writer from Minot.