Historic church may come to SL

Friday, October 26, 2001

The Buena Vista County Historical Society is considering the possibility of moving a landmark Alta church to a new home in its pioneer heritage display on the Storm Lake lakefront.

The Danish Lutheran Church in Alta was built in 1889 in the Gothic American architectural style, and the structure remains much as it was over a century ago. It has been vacant since the 1950s, and for many years has served only as a storage shed.

"There were three things that really mattered to the people who pioneered in this area - home, a school for their children, and a place to worship. Our exhibit now has excellent examples of the first two in the prairie log house and the Elk Center one-room schoolhouse. If we could somehow raise the money to preserve and move this wonderful little church, we would really have it all," said Janice Danielson, of the historical society board of directors.

While the owner of the old church is apparently motivated to sell the building to be moved so that the lot could be used for other purposes, the real cost would be in carefully transporting the old structure just over seven miles from its site near the Alta Main Street to Sunrise Park, she said. "It would be an awfully nice project if we could find a donor, some help in a fundraiser, or perhaps a grant to help cover the transport."

She envisions that once the church is refurbished to original style, it could become a tourist draw and host special events such as weddings, baptisms, music and speakers, no unlike the Little Brown Church in Nashua.

The idea came to the board from Storm Lake resident Brenda Samuelson, who noted how such small churches played a major role in strengthening the rural family life in the prairie region.

The historical society's building expert, Wayne Robb, has already investigated the church and found that it is in "remarkable condition" in spite of its age and years of disuse.

"It is a very solid church, and it still has all of its original panes of stained glass and other features, which is probably pretty unusual when you think of how it has been used for the past 50 years or so," Danielson said.

The idea was discussed for the first time at the historical society's board meeting this month. Danielson also noted that the Hanover Historical Society may have some interest in the church for its own historical park site.

Brenda Samuelson also suggested that the board consider preserving an old farm windmill for its site, since original complete windmills are becoming scarce. She also suggests that an old corncrib be preserved, perhaps for drying native herbs, flowers and Indian corn which could then be sold with proceeds going to the society's museums.

"A windmill has been on my wish list for many years, and we might be able to get a farmer to donate one with the promise that we would restore and preserve it for people," Danielson said. "There is always a concern with liability, but perhaps we could put a picket fence around it and include it with the flower garden area at the pioneer heritage display. I've thought that it might be appropriate to approach the people at Enron windfarm and ask if they could help us to move a classic windmill."

The board is expected to discuss the suggestions further. In the meantime, anyone who would like to pledge a donation toward the projects or to make a suggestion, is invited to contact the museum staff or any member of the historical society board.

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