Manfred the museum

MANFRED Fewer than five people live full-time these days in the windswept prairie town of Manfred, but the echoes of former residents still linger.

The entire town, which is located nine miles east of Harvey on U.S. Highway 52, has been turned into a museum. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturdays from May 1 to Sept. 30. Admission is free, said Wanda Melchert, museum director. Volunteers staff the main building, where there are historical displays with pictures of past residents and information about the town and the buildings. The Vang Lutheran Church, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, also features historical displays.

Most of the historic buildings have been restored so far only on the outside. Visitors cannot go inside buildings like the 1910 Manfred School, the 1905 First State Bank of Manfred/Manfred Post Office or 1906 Hotel Johnson.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine “Lena” picking her flowers in “Lena’s garden,” a flower and vegetable garden planted every summer by staff at the Manfred Heritage Museum in honor of the woman who once lived in the house next door. Melchert said Lena’s yard was always filled with beautiful flowers. Last summer, museum staff and visitors enjoyed plucking ripe tomatoes and eating them straight off the vine.

One museum display in a garage features tools that were found buried in nearby fields.

Down the road there is the Solheim Service Station, owned and restored by former owner’s daughter Audrey Solheim. Melchert said the station is a popular spot for picture-taking, since there are two fuel pumps that are authentic to the 1960s time period. Melchert said it would be wonderful if money could be found to one day restore the inside of the building too. Solheim’s dad loved old clocks and filled the station with them. At one time Solheim’s Service Station was the gathering place for everybody in the town. Before it became the town service station, it was the 1894 Rogers Lumber Company.

The post office no longer collects mail, but the town’s last postmaster still visits the town.

Edgar Flick, who had driven up to Manfred to visit one of the local cemeteries last week, said the last piece of mail was delivered to the post office in 1992. During the last few years it was open, the post office also served as a small grocery store. After the grocery store closed, Flick kept milk and other essentials in the office to sell to elderly residents who had a hard time going out of town for the necessities.

Melchert, who grew up visiting the community and moved back to Harvey after her husband’s retirement, said that people who loved the town have helped it survive as a museum. The Manfred History and Preservation Inc. began in 2000 and has been honored for its success in preserving historic structures. In 2003, the Manfred Heritage Museum was dedicated. In 2011, the prairie village was honored by Preservation North Dakota with the “Preservation Excellence Award.”

Newsletters featured on the website at are filled with stories told by former residents about the history of the town, its people, its businesses and reminiscences about growing up and going to school there. Like many towns in the region, Manfred was a railroad town, growing fast with the expansion of the railroad and then slowly declining in population after the 1920s. It was at one time a thriving primary market for grain and was the trade center for the surrounding area, with five grain elevators and one stock yard, along with many of the businesses that are featured in the museum.

These days, the museum is a draw for children of former residents as well as others passing through. They keep up with the history through the website and the newsletters. “We have a mailing list of 500,” said Melchert.

Melchert said that visitors from urban areas, especially, are fascinated by the museum and its depiction of a North Dakota prairie town in the early to mid-20th century.

Melchert said the museum board would still like to do more work on the museum. A grant from the North Dakota Historical Society is helping to restore the outside of the town school.

Melchert said the museum is grateful for monetary donations and that volunteers are also needed to help maintain the grounds and the historic structures.