May 2, 2017


By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

If you’ve never seen the Sandstone School, I recommend a stop.
But get directions before you go or you’ll wind up like me, just prowling the countryside south of Keene with no phone service.
New tires on my Jeep, I hit the road last Saturday morning for as many rural churches and schools as I could find in McKenzie County.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Six churches, four schools and 160 miles later, my day was full. I celebrated by grocery shopping and going to bed early.
Country schools and prairie churches are fascinating for me. They served so many communities in North Dakota, before big cities and other advancements came along.
Rural schools were once numerous enough in North Dakota for one to stand every 15 square miles. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface in schools here, but if you can only get to one in McKenzie County, make it the Sandstone School.
It’s about as charming as a one-room schoolhouse can be, manufactured of local sandstone.
The structure (and its outhouse) served students of Keene country from 1908 to about 1960, and the school (and its outhouse) are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Unfortunately, its windows are all shot out and its front door appears jammed. But, poking my head through the broken windows, I could see the little desks and picture frames of old photos.
There’s still history here.
But broken windows are still sad.
Earlier in the day, I bounced from Farland Lutheran to Garden Lutheran, with a stop at the Arnegard Dam to look for prairie smoke (none to be found, but I did almost step on a nest of mallard eggs).
Five pronghorns wandered a cornfield near Garden Lutheran. Red dust covered the church and its headstones, blown off the road out front by constant traffic.
Clear Creek Lutheran, I must say, is one of the few ADA-accessible rural churches I’ve seen. The other that comes to mind is the church at Porcupine, N.D., on the Standing Rock Reservation.
Banks Lutheran may be the biggest country church I’ve seen, or at least it appears that way, towering over State Highway 1806 as it does. The church was organized 110 years ago, around the same time as Clear Creek and Keene First Lutheran.
That longevity is pretty amazing.
I’ve got a ways to go in finding the rest of the country schools and churches remaining in McKenzie County, but I like what I’ve seen.
There’s a sense of character and local pride in each one. But where will they all be in another 100 years?
Hard to say. Local history is so important to small communities, or really any community. Nothing lasts forever, but having these 100-year-old structures around is like a rock in a raging sea.
They’ve always been there.
I’ve never attended a rural church service, and I certainly didn’t attend a country school, but I can appreciate their importance.
If you know of any more, please let me know:
See you on the road.