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Bonanzaville volunteers Eugene Christl and John Bartholomay look over the fire damaged St. John's Lutheran Church on Monday, July 21, 2014, in West Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

Bonanzaville leaders wait before deciding fate of church damaged by fire

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news Fargo, 58102
Fargo ND 101 5th Street North 58102

WEST FARGO – Bonanzaville officials are awaiting word on what caused a fire at the pioneer village’s top attraction and what repairs will cost before deciding their next course of action.

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St. John’s Lutheran Church, a cornerstone of Bonanzaville, is also a popular wedding destination.

About 15 to 20 couples per year rent out the church and gazebo area for $700 per event. The church was booked every weekend in June, but no wedding was planned at the church until the end of September, said Emily Wehlander, interim executive director for Bonanzaville.

“We definitely do rely on that to bring money into Bonanzaville,” she said.

Wehlander said the couple scheduled for September is waiting for more information about the condition of the church before making alternative plans.

Fire crews responded to the calls of smoke and fire at the church about 4:30 a.m. Saturday. It took firefighters hours to contain the fire.

Volunteers from the area stopped in to help keep watch over the smoldering building throughout the weekend.

West Fargo Fire Chief Roy Schatschneider said Saturday that the fire only extended 10 to 15 feet into the church’s west side, and only one pew was heavily damaged. The rest of the church’s inside sustained only smoke and water damage, he said.

It appeared the fire started on the main floor, but the state fire marshal hasn’t determined an official caus, John Monilaws, chairman of the Bonanza Pioneer Village Board of Directors, said Monday.

Monilaws said the board has not decided how to repair or replace the church until the fire investigation is complete and the insurance adjusters issue a report.

“Everything with the church is on hold until we get some estimates,” Monilaws said. “We can’t put the cart before the horse.”

Bonanzaville will remain open to visitors with the exception of the church.

Pioneer Days, the frontier village’s annual celebration planned for Aug. 16 and 17, will still take place.

The church is only one of the wedding venues at Bonanzaville. Dawson Hall, with seating for 250 at tables, can be rented out for $900 per day, and the new Lucien C. Barnes Event Center is available for $1,500.

The church was built northwest of Horace in 1898. Services were held at that site until 1967, when the remaining congregation merged with the Horace Lutheran Church and donated the St. John’s church to Bonanzaville.

“It’s the landmark of Bonanzaville,” Wehlander said. “When people think of Bonanzaville, they think of our church.”

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