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I told them that roof would fall down!

Posted by on July 24, 2013


These prophetic words from Marv came true sometime this summer. Marv, cousin to the second-generation Hutmachers, remembers visiting Aunt Veronica and Uncle Frank’s house when he was a kid. He would not step inside the building, sure that the dirt roof would tumble down and crush them all. He was so certain, that he never took a meal inside; his mom or aunt or cousins would bring his plate outside.

Well, it took 50 years, but Marv’s prediction came true.

The fallen-in roof, located in the original kitchen section of the Hutmacher Farmhouse.


A missing section of roof, as visible from the northeast corner of the house.


You can only imagine our dismay to find the Hutmacher house in this condition. Since 2005 and 2006, Preservation North Dakota and hundreds of volunteers and NDSU service learning students have contributed sweat equity to rebuild, restore, and preserve the Hutmacher Farmstead. A Save America’s Treasures grant helped to fund the project, as did individual donations of money and materials. The property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts the best and perhaps only extant collection of farm buildings built in the traditional ways brought to this country by the Germans from Russia.

The Hutmacher House, as it appeared in all its glory the last time we saw it in April.

It was a dreary, rainy day last Saturday as our volunteer crew drove onto the Hutmacher grounds. We’d received a call two days before, so we knew to dread what we might find, but we figured that the advance notice was better than driving up to the site unknowingly. The ugly scene confirmed our nightmarish imaginings.

Facing the newest kitchen area from the older, our vision transected by the failed ridgepole.


Sad view from the south side. The living room (original kitchen) window has popped out, rafters and ridgepole reach for the sky, while all the clay and sand roof has fallen to the ground.


The bedroom roof has tumbled in, even though before the storms, this was one of the best-roofed sections of the house.

While we can’t confirm the exact date and time of the damage, we know (and the sheriff’s deputy confirmed) that vandals were not involved. It was the weather that undid our labors. In a story picked up by the Associated Press, we learned that storms in early July “packed heavy rain and winds up to 80 mph, which damaged trees, houses, farm buildings, campers and power poles throughout the region… ‘It sounded like a north wind in the winter,’ rural Halliday resident Muffin McLoud told the Tribune. ‘It just howled…I’ve never heard anything like that in July.’”

For us, the worse damage came as three ridgepoles split and broke, two in the house—affecting a bedroom and the original kitchen—and one in the garage, which hasn’t fallen yet but surely will. The granary isn’t looking too good either, as it and the garage have developed a serious sway-back look to their once-gorgeous ridges.

Sample dangerous break. This cracked pole is in the garage, a purloin parallel to the ridgepole.

Our group of volunteers, joined by PND President Susan Quinnell and led by professors Tom Isern and Suzzanne Kelley, met in the granary while a cool wind and rain taunted us from outside, reminding us just how fragile a homestead on the plains can be. We discussed options and how we might proceed.

 Our decision?

What else could we do but pick up our shovels and rakes, flex our muscles, and dig in.

We worked all Saturday afternoon, watching the sky shift from gray to blue, a match to the shift in our spirits as we cleared away debris and even made a new discovery! Digging down to the wooden flooring, which we didn’t even know was beneath years of caked-on dirt all along, were telltale orange floorboards. We’d wondered why such a traditionally constructed building, with turquoise- and pink-painted walls, did not have typical orange flooring—but there it was, right beneath our feet all the time and invisible to us but for this otherwise calamitous event.


Orange wood flooring peeks through the swept-away dirt.

Interior wall with sample paint colors from over the years.

We returned on Sunday to see how much more clean-up we might accomplish, when unexpected guests arrived. Marv and his sister and various spouses and kids had gotten the bug to come out today and see the old place. What a joyful walk on the grounds it was to hear stories from this family, their recollections of having come out years ago to partake of Veronica’s chicken noodle soup and borscht, to walk the hills and help retrieve the cows at the end of day, to note the shady spot at the west end of the house where Uncle Frank and Alex would rest in the after-lunch shade, and to see Marv shake his head at the tumbled down roofs and walls and exclaim, “I told them that roof would fall down.”


 Yes, the roof fell down. We will build it up again.

3 Responses to I told them that roof would fall down!

  1. Robert Jacob Hutmacher

    holy cow. me and my wife were just talking about heiratige this very night. and low and behold there it is. That is my great Uncles place. Uncle Frank. When i was a youngster, my family, went out there. and the stories and the food well aint enough paper to hold all the words. So will just say wish I could be there to help. am going to copy pictures to keep and show my kids for sure. a few years ago my son’s wife told me to go to a web. sight, and have a look at what she had found. it is same place. Uncle Frank. the stories I could tell. well memories I guess ok. Well thanks from the bottem of my heart. Robert Hutmacher, and Damn proud of it.

  2. Ken Smith

    It’s discouraging to see the cave-in, but encouraging to know there are many dedicated folks who will see this project through and get it up again. This project carries an important message about the value of preservation. I’m happy to have been able to spend some time working on it last summer & appreciate all who have pitched in. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in August.

  3. Chris Sand

    Thanks for the great story, Kelley! I helped re-thatch it in 2007.

    Here’s my blog post from the first day….

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    “For almost ten hours on Saturday I helped rebuild a section of a mud-and-thatch roof that had eroded off an old farmhouse in the Hutmacher Farmsite here in Dunn County. It was labor-intensive work–my forearms have been cramped and swollen since then, like Popeye’s.

    What’s particularly neat about this stone-slab house and all the other buildings on the property (a cellar, the ruins of a barn/granary, a summer kitchen/butchering shed, a poultry barn, and a garage), is that the construction materials were, and still are, locally available. These include sandstone rocks, clay mortar, flax straw, cottonwood, animal blood, manure, scoria gravel, and badlands cedar. In my opinion, the work to restore these buildings is more of an art than typical construction work. It’s also reminiscent of making a kid’s fort.

    If anyone out there is interested in helping to reconstruct these buildings next year, let me know, ’cause there will be a lot of opportunities.”

    My best,