SABIN, Minn. — When Kelly Wambach was a child, he marveled at his great-grandfather Jacob Wambach’s house in Georgetown, Minn.
“I remember as a little kid, wondering what it would be like to live inside,” he says.
Decades later, he’s figured out how to experience living with such a grand house.
Wambach has built models of historic area homes and decorated them for the holidays.
“It’s a way for me to get inside them,” he explains from his own home near Sabin, Minn.
“I’m kind of a history buff,” says Wambach, who may be best known for his involvement with the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead, from serving on the board to more public positions, like running the gift shop or the cafe.
The undertaking mixes regional and sometimes personal history. His great-grandfather Jacob was an early settler of what is now Minnesota's Clay County in the 1860s and built the house in 1890. The others are homes he has long admired, even if he didn’t know anything about the house other than its address.
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He modeled his houses after traditional Putz houses, German home kits that would be set up around Christmas.
Kelly’s models are more substantial, using an X-Acto knife cutting from a more solid cardboard. He paints the material to match the house and adds seasonal touches, like snow on the roof, wreaths and bows.
He estimates each house takes 60 to 120 hours to build and decorate.
“Once I start one, I can’t leave it alone,” he says.
His first favorite build was the John Olness house built in Kragnes, Minn., in 1902, now better known as A Friend's House, an events center.
He also recreated the Wulf Krabbenhoft home, built in 1901 in Sabin, and the Dr. Patterson home built in 1898 in Barnesville, Minn. He recently finished the 1900 Adam Stein home in Georgetown.
“I’m going to have to do the Comstock House,” he says, referring to the Moorhead landmark.
“It shows the money in this area. Some of these were prosperous farmers at the turn of the century,” he says.
The one home he had no historical information on was the one that catches the most eyes everyday: 1302 Sixth St. S., Fargo.
“I’ve driven by that house for 40 years and it hasn’t changed a bit,” he says. “I don’t know what the scoop is with that one.”
The Italianate house was originally built in the 1880s at 715 Eighth St. S., Fargo, but was moved to its current location in the 1920s by Louis Hanna, the 11th governor of North Dakota. James Lunde currently lives there, having acquired it from his parents, Jack and Helen “Bimi” Arneson Lunde, who bought it in 1955.
Finding the history of the homes is as much a part of the process as building the models.
“It’s my appreciation for these beautiful homes,” Wambach says. “They’re the houses you drive by and can't help but look at.”