DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Custody of North Dakota Governor's Mansion is transferred to the State Historical Society

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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Photo courtesy of Prairie Public

For 67 years, the North Dakota Governors' Mansion served as home to 23 state executives. Originally constructed in Bismarck in 1884 by a local businessman to serve as his family residence, the state purchased the home nine years later when it became apparent funds approved to construct a new governors' house were insufficient.

Although a large and elegant residence, it didn't take long for governors and their families to discover its short-comings. The house was designed as a private residence. So, keeping family areas separate from public space was a constant concern and sporadic state funding often limited upkeep and modernization of the house as it aged. In 1908, Governor Burke begged for access to the city's sewer system so the cesspool in the yard could be removed. The house was cold and drafty, especially during the winter months. First Lady Carrie Brunsdale described the mansion as a "refrigerator." It "had some charm," she said, "but that could not keep us warm." More than one resident admitted wearing overshoes in the kitchen to prevent frostbite. As late as 1957, Governor Davis was battling broken pipes and water flowing down the kitchen walls - on his inauguration day nonetheless!

These problems were recognized as early as 1905, but plans to appropriate money for a new building were repeatedly defeated. Finally, in 1955 the Legislative Assembly approved $200,000 for a new executive home. Building began in the spring of 1959 and was completed within the year; and less than $1,000 over budget. Governor Davis and his family moved into their new residence on the state capitol grounds on March 21, 1960.

But the new home for North Dakota's Governors begged the question: what should be done with the former Governor's Mansion? For several years, the house served as offices for the State Health Department, but many North Dakotans thought it an ill-fitting use for such an historic building. In 1974 several citizens, working with Governor and First Lady Art and Grace Link, formed the Society for the Preservation of the Former Governor's Mansion. Working to preserve the house, they supported legislation to transfer custody of the property to the State Historical Society. Because of their dedicated efforts, Governor Link signed the bill transferring custody on this date in 1975.

Today, the renovated Former Governor's Mansion fulfills an important mission to educate and entertain North Dakotans.


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