According to North Dakota State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, who appeared on Chris Berg’s Valley News Live program this evening, the controversial purchase of the Lawrence Welk homestead “sets a new precedent” for the state’s relationship with historic property. According to Schmidt, the state has never made such a purchase before.
“That was one of the reasons why I had to cast a no vote,” she said.
Schmidt, who serves on the State Historical Society board as part of her elected duties, wrote about her opposition to the purchase here on SAB earlier this week, and made those same arguments to Berg tonight. She pointed out that North Dakota has been the birthplace of many notable people. Where do we draw the line on preserving historical properties?
Someone who “might be notable to one may not be notable to the rest,” she said.
“It seems to me we have some better places to put a $100,000 grand than an old house 500 people went to last year,” Berg said during the segment.
I think that’s really what is driving most of the controversy surrounding the home. A lot of people – I’d be willing to wager most in North Dakota – simply don’t see the homestead as a viable tourist attraction. Even if the hundreds of thousands are spent by taxpayers on the needed repairs, and the millions are spent for the “upgrades” in the homestead supporter’s “wish list,” what happens then?
Even if traffic to the farmstead increases by 10 times, we’re talking about 5,000 visitors per year or less than 15 per day.
And it’s hard to imagine that Welk’s celebrity, all these years after the peak of his fame and his death, is going to pull even that many people.
Supporters of the site argue that it’s not just about Welk. That it’s about the history of German/Russian settlers in North Dakota. As the descendent of homesteading sodbusters myself, I’m not callous to the need to preserve that history, but that seems even less likely than Welk’s waning celebrity to pull people off the beaten path to the middle-of-nowhere, North Dakota.
Schmidt has the right of this debate. Those who want to preserve the Welk homestead should explore ways to fund it privately.