Historic Mott home offers a slice of southwest ND life in early 1900s

Posted 7/07/23 (Fri)

By Jason R. O'Day

July 05, 2023 at 3:01 PM

MOTT, ND — The historic early 20th century homestead farm of John Stern and his family is a neat summer tourist destination. The home was officially recognized as a “historic place” by the National Park Service in 2008. Geno Sloan has been volunteering to help with the upkeep for 22 years. She said a couple of her friends spent a substantial amount of time filling out paperwork to make that happen.

“It’s important history for this whole area,” she said. “While walking the prairie property and listening to the Meadowlarks, one can truly feel the presence of history.”

John was a German-Russian who came to America in 1902 at age 19, and staked out his 320 acre claim in 1905. He married soon after meeting a Glen Ullin woman named Fredricka. They built a house of rock, mortar, sod and straw. The structure contained living quarters, storage and an animal shelter all under one roof. Sloan said you can still see the depressions north of the house where they dug out all the rock.

“There were twice as many German-Russians who settled here and took advantage of the Homestead Act, then there were Norwegians. And the Norwegians were the next largest,” Sloan said, adding that the home was impressively designed. “The Russian steppe is much like the prairies: wide open and lots of wind. Having all southern opening doors to the house, the storage area and where they fit the animals, that was all southern exposure. If there was a raging Blizzard, you could go out and feel your way down to get your feed and then down to help take care of the animals. So it was really a pretty good idea.”

Life on the prairie wasn’t easy. The Sterns lost their first three children in infancy, but went on to have five children who lived into adulthood. The infant cemetery remains. Sloan said John lived there until he died in the mid-1950s, and Fredricka until the mid-1960s. Their youngest grandson, Jim Stern, lives close by and mows the lawn.

She explained anyone can take a walking tour around the house, which is two miles east of Mott on Highway 21. Brochures and metal signs offering a more detailed history can be found around the property. The interior of the house is now closed off to the public for safety reasons as the walls and floor have deteriorated, but photos can still be viewed there and at the Mott Gallery of History and Art.

The gallery is open every Sunday afternoon, during special city events and by appointment. It offers local farm and business history, extensive military exhibits and an array of doll collections. This season the gallery is selling a group of dolls collected over many years by long time resident Margaret Gjerstad.

For more information or to arrange a more in-depth tour, call 701-824-2613. Additionally, early homestead displays are being featured at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck and the Schafer Center in Medora.

Stern infant cemetery with the first three sons who died at birth. The first two were twins.

Contributed / Geno Sloan