This historic Bonanzaville church, St. Johns Luth Church, was demolished in 2015 due to fire damage. Sitting in its place now is South Pleasant Church which was relocated to the site from Christine, North Dakota.
After being around for almost 70 years, you’d think people in the community would know everything there is to know about Bonanzaville; but that’s the fun part, they’re always adding more. Over the years, the Cass County, North Dakota, Historical Society (CCHS) has been able to bring artifacts and new exhibits from all around the country to the site. In addition, they have hosted countless educational and celebratory activities for family, friends and curious minds alike.
Along the streets of Bonanzaville, or the village as they call it, there are 41 buildings, most of which are original historic buildings, however, some are replicas because the originals are damaged. Inside each building’s doors, you will find a piece of history from North Dakota’s past. In addition, you can discover even more in the museums on the Bonanzaville property, like the agricultural, air, car and tractor museums that showcase donated items, helping to tell the story of the state.
This important community space tells the stories of the region’s history and culture. When Beth Jansen started as executive director of Bonanzaville in 2020, she realized there was a need to bring relevance and intrigue to the village in order to connect with the community.
Beth said that the goal now is to find new ways to express and facilitate Bonanzaville’s mission in the ever-changing world, whether that be through added digital elements or even partnering with other organizations. The hope is for the community to learn about the region’s history and culture in a new and more interactive way than what they’ve done in the past.
Let’s explore some of Bonanzaville’s initiatives to create a historical hub for our state.
A large and important part of Bonanzaville’s programming, especially in the winter, is its educational activities for students and the community. A push for more interactive programs began this winter and will continue to grow as the year goes on. That might come in the form of digital interactive activities like iPads on the site, where students can take quizzes or people can find electronic exhibits. “We have this whole education component that we’re working on, which includes new interpretations that we’ve already started and revamping our school tours,” Beth said. “Part of revamping includes bringing in both electronic-digital interactive opportunities, as well as hands-on interactive opportunities. We also want to go out into the community to give different talks on different topics.”
Support Local Art
In an effort to not only utilize the spaces at Bonanzaville but also become even more immersed within the community, in the main museum you can now find the Art in the Valley: Artist Showcase. The project began last fall when local artists applied to be showcased for eight weeks at a time. The rotating exhibit is a year-long project.
One of the biggest and most engaging projects for Bonanzaville was the increase of events.
“I noticed over 2020 and 2021, the organization had, at that time, Veterans, Fourth of July, Pioneer Days and Christmas on the Prairie events; so four events,” Beth explained. “As a nonprofit professional, I believe in relevance. I believe that nonprofits need to be relevant all the time, not just when we’re asking for money, not just when we’re doing projects, but all the time. So we worked towards creating some added events.”
Two additional events were added to the calendar, First Responder Appreciation Night on September 22 and Trunk or Treat at “Boonanzaville,” which had an immediate response over the last two years and brought in over 4,000 kids each time since its addition. That was a great start, but Beth and Special Events and Wedding Coordinator Meg Solberg saw there was room for much more.
“Looking at these events,” Beth said, “Meg and I realized that our Fourth of July event and Pioneer Days event were really quite stale and very similar to each other. So we have a whole plan on how we’re going to change those events.”
Bonanzaville needs to be a place in our community that offers those family-friendly activities and unique and different activities that people can enjoy.-Beth Jansen
Bonanzaville 2022 Events!
- Veterans Memorial Celebration, May 26
- Murder Mysteries, June 10 & 24, July 15 & 23 by reservation
- 4th of July Event, July 4
- Pioneer Days, Aug. 27 & 28
- First Responder Appreciation Night, Sept. 22
- Paranormal Investigation and Ghost Tours, Oct. 14, 21, 28, & 29
- Trunk or Treat at “Boonanzaville,” Oct. 30
- Christmas on the Prairie, Dec. 3
4th of July
Did you know?
You can visit the indoor museums at Bonanzaville year-round? And admission is free Oct. 1 through April 29 on Saturdays 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. and Sundays 12:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M.
The 4th of July event this summer will be bigger than ever before at Bonanzaville. The team chose a fitting summer theme—games galore carnival.
“The focus on the 4th of July will be all about fun and all about kids. We’re going with a carnival theme. Adding tons of different carnival-type activities. Not necessarily moving away from our history, because history is what we’re all about, but incorporating a lot of fun into that,” Beth said.
The focus won’t totally be on demonstrations like Bonanzaville has done in the past and will continue to do at their Pioneer Days, but instead on turning their space into a festive, outdoor carnival celebration. Activities will include carnival games, pony rides for kids, fireworks at dusk and more.
Another summertime celebration Bonanzaville will be hosting, and arguably the biggest game-changer for the historical site’s events calendar is their Pioneer Days.
“On Pioneer Days, which is our signature event, again we noticed a lot of staleness in that. We’re looking at creating more history into it in fun ways. We’re looking at more demonstrations, more living history and partnering with more organizations in this community, like theatre organizations and music organizations to bring back those types of histories as well,” Beth said.
Pioneer Days will be on August 27 and 28, running from mid-morning to the late afternoon. The daytime will feature historic demonstrations like kuchen making, butter making, and soap making, and more family-friendly activities, food, and celebration. What make’s this year’s Pioneer Days stand out is that they are closing the weekend out on Saturday night with a street dance. Not only will the community be able to spend the warm summer night on the streets of the village, but they have booked a performer from Nashville, Tenn., country singer, Sheyna Gee.
Bonanazaville has always held a special place in Meg’s heart, and she is very excited to see Pioneer Days light up the village.
“We’ve never done anything like a street dance down here, hopefully, that’ll bring it back to what it was,” Meg said. “As a kid, this was my first job ever from age 14 to 17, and now I had an opportunity to come back 20 years later. We used to easily have 10,000 people out here during Pioneer Days, it was a very relevant event.”
Meeting in the middle, between the historic and cultural significance of Bonanzaville and the engaging, community fun, is a recipe for success for the organization.
Bonanzaville Summer Hours:
Monday-Saturday 10:00 A.M.-5:00 P.M. &
Sunday 12:00 P.M.-5:00 P.M.
Bonanzaville has already rolled out some exciting Halloween events like Trunk or Treat and the corn maze they hosted last year, and they’ve seen positive results. Trunk or Treat “Boo-nanzaville” will be back on October 30 this year. The day, sponsored by First International Bank and Trust (FIBT), will feature a cakewalk, games, snacks like hot dogs, chips and a drink for the kids, and trunkers set up in the village handing out candy to the treaters.
In the past, the historical site has hosted volunteer-run paranormal investigations, and last year they invited a professional to lead those. After that season, Beth said another person reached out with interest in investigating.
Due to the wide interest in the events, they not only plan to continue those events this year but to expand them. They have invited the Midwest Paranormal and Minnesota Haunts to assist with Paranormal Investigations and Ghost Tours at Bonanzaville, and have scheduled 4 different nights allotting 30 people each night on October 12, 21, 28, and 29.
“What we found is that the groups like to sit down and talk to each other about their experiences,” Beth said. “So, we offer a kind of happy hour during that time as well with snacks and drinks.”
Christmas on the Prairie
Looking ahead to the holidays, Bonanzaville is planning to partner with the Red River Valley Fairgrounds during Christmastime. As part of the annual Lindenwood Parks lights celebration, Bonanzaville will be kicking off their Christmas on the Praire celebration by creating a Santa Village.
“So we’ll go from our Christmas on the Prairie event to a Santa’s Village happening during the lights so that people have an opportunity to not just drive through the lights, but to stop and have some hot cocoa and come see Santa.”
Exhibits & Opportunities
Being that Bonanzaville is a museum, they work with local NDSU professors to curate exhibits, two being on the board of directors and one who helps with the collections. They also bring in architectural historians for repairs on the 1870’s cabins. But the best part about Bonanzaville? They can work with anyone in the community, region or even state to find artifacts to educate and represent the area.
Recently, they connected with someone who works for the county but who has an interest in this region’s history.
“He is a massive, fur trading buff. He has been doing a lot of research and has written a book about the fur trade in this area during our pioneer heritage, during our pioneer start. We’re hoping to collaborate with him on both exhibits and demonstrations and more,” Beth explained. “So, anybody that has an interest in history, give us a call.”
There are many niche groups utilizing Bonazaville like a blacksmith club or a club that houses a miniature train in one of the site’s two train depots.
“We have a bunch of opportunities. We have medical items and tractors, the International Harvester Collectors Club Chapter 26 Minnesota North Dakota (Minn-Dak) meets here once a year and their members also participate in assisting with the tractors. We have the doll ladies who come in and look at all the dolls that we have, look at making repairs to them, inventorying them and displaying them in different ways for different events,” Beth explained. “To me, it’s about this area’s history, but it’s also about partnerships with those historical groups.”
Partnerships & More
Christmas on the Praire, the corn maze Bonanzaville had this past fall, and more are all part of a budding relationship between Bonanzaville and the fairgrounds that Beth is very excited to explore. Another partnership they are exploring is with the Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre (FMCT) for their murder mystery events on June 10 and 24 and July 14 and 23; as well as with the North Dakota Brewers Guild who will be presenting the Under Brew Sky’s brewers festival featuring around 15 different brewers from around the state on May 21 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
As part of this community bond that they are hoping to develop, Bonanzaville is implementing a partnership opportunity for other non-profits who may want to use their events space.
“We will offer discounts to nonprofits and ways for them to volunteer so that they can do their fundraiser at our event center or in Dawson Hall so that we can help out the community of nonprofits around us,” Beth said.
The partnership opportunities that Bonanzaville is working on continue to grow, and with that come an exciting future for the community to discover there. Similar to historical reenactments that other museums and communities do, Beth hopes to bring some action to the streets of the village.
“I see our Pioneer Days having a courtroom proceeding happening in the courthouse, a classroom in our school, a pioneer family in our cabin. We are building partnerships with area theater groups with that vision. That’s living history, and that’s what we want to be and what we’d like to get back to.”
To bring more live-action to Bonanzaville, while beneficial and engaging, can be hard to do. The same goes for any new attraction coming to the site, but that’s where they are approaching it differently.
“We’re looking at it like, how can we partner? How can this be something that’s mutually beneficial? If we can get those mutually beneficial relationships happening, it’s a win-win for all of us.”
For more information on everything Bonanzaville, head to bonanzaville.org!