NOME, N.D. — Established in 1916, the schoolhouse in Nome has been empty and abandoned for decades.
Chris Armbrust, owner of Dakota Fiber Mill, and Theresa Perlberg, Bear Creek Felting, both saw something different. The two joined forces to create Shepherd Industries in 2018.
Nearly two years later, their Nome Schoolhouse Project is breathing new life into the town, and attracting interest around the world.
Their ambitions to make Nome a worldwide hub for education has never wavered, and they are now closer than ever to being making that a reality.
Their collective vision — an event center, studio, fiber farm, bed and breakfast and their own office space all wrapped into one — is finally taking shape.
"It's a little surreal... that the gym is completed," Armbrust said.
"That's how it's gone, oh, I wish we could just get to this point and then, we're here. It's amazing," Perlberg said.
Tradition is not replaced, but rather, pieces of history are on every corner.
"It's a school. Even if you don't expect to come here and learn something, you're going to leave here and have learned something new," Armbrust said.
There is a statue that sat near the front door, along with used textbooks and "Wildcat" memorabilia (the mascot of the former school). It's all incorporated into more than a century of memories.
They're bringing in the town of Nome, and drawing interest worldwide, with some folks traveling 1,400 miles to get a glimpse of the school.
"I would say it's coming together more than we anticipated," Perlberg said. "It's come farther than we even imagined really."
There's still work to be done on the school side of things. The old classroom has collapsed. Revitalizing the gym is a big step forward, and rounds off phase one of the project.
Armbrust and Perleberg will unveil plans for Phase Two at the schoolhouse grand opening this weekend.
"We had a lot of nay-sayers at first that didn't have a lot of kind things to say about our ideas and what we wanted to do," Armbrust said. "Now we're thanking God this plan is coming to fruition."