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History professor to give talk about settlers' earthen homes


Tom Isern, University Distinguished Professor of history, and Suzzanne Kelley, managing editor of New Rivers Press at Minnesota State University Moorhead, are scheduled to present "Prairie Earth, Prairie Homes" Tuesday, Dec. 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County, located in the Hjemkomst Center at 202 First Ave. N. in Moorhead.

The society is now displaying a National Endowment for the Humanities House and Home exhibit that asks the question, "Would you like to live in a house made of dirt?"

As scholars of the history of earthen homes on the northern plains, Isern and Kelley take that question seriously. They suggest earth was not the material of last resort, but rather the material of choice for many settlers on the plains. In addition, there was knowledge and technique involved, as Kelley and Isern discovered during their restoration efforts at the Hutmacher Farmstead in Dunn County, North Dakota.

"There is nothing like taking a house apart and putting it back together again for gaining an understanding of how prairie pioneer homemakers operated," they said.

In their talk, Isern and Kelley will illustrate the variety of techniques setters used to fashion houses of earth, assess the virtues and faults of this type of housing and share insights from their restoration experience.

Isern is a specialist in the history of the Great Plains. He has written or co-written six books and is host of the popular weekly feature, "Plains Folk," on Prairie Public radio. Together, Kelley and Isern have led multiple service-learning expeditions of college students restoring historic earth buildings.

The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County collects, preserves and shares the history and culture of Clay County, Minnesota. For more information, call 218-299-5511 or visit 

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Last Updated: Friday, December 03, 2021 3:37:09 PM
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