Weather Forecast



After removing the worn shingles from the rooftop of the former governors' mansion, Ethan Wessner, left, and Samual LeBeau, back right, prepare to place a synthetic waterproof underlayment as part of the reroofing process on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, in Bismarck. The mansion is at the corner of North Fourth Street and Avenue B in Bismarck. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

New roof in store for 1884 North Dakota former governors' mansion

BISMARCK — North Dakota’s former governors' mansion is raising the roof.

Work is underway throughout October, weather permitting, to replace and waterproof the roof of the stick-style Victorian house at 320 E. Ave. B in Bismarck.

The Society for the Preservation of the Former Governors' Mansion raised about $40,000 for the $70,000 project. The balance was met with state funds. Twenty governors and their families lived in the home from 1893 to 1960.

Site Supervisor Johnathan Campbell said the new roof will be rows of fancy-cut cedar shingles like what was on the original 1884 house, over a waterproof barrier. A reproduction lightning rod will be installed later.

The old roof, installed in the early 1990s, was losing shingles and risked leaking, Campbell said.

Keeping up the house is a balance of maintenance with historic integrity.

“In the case like this with a roof, cedar shingles haven’t changed from what they were 130-some years ago,” Campbell said.

The project isn’t the most comprehensive work done on the mansion. An interior and exterior restoration about 40 years ago was more major, Campbell said.

But a roof is vital.

“Even your average house, it has to get a new roof every few decades,” Campbell said. “This is something that without a roof, you don’t have a building.”

The State Historical Society of North Dakota maintains a variety of buildings as state historic sites. Some sites include numerous buildings, such as the Fort Buford and Fort Totten military posts near Williston and Devils Lake, respectively.

Bandleader Lawrence Welk's family homestead near Strasburg, which dates to 1899, is one site that includes original buildings, among them the sod-insulated family home.

Architectural Project Manager Tom Linn said the State Historical Society is "really trying to get ahead" on maintenance at its sites. Painting is one method that helps, such as at Fort Totten State Historic Site.

"Those buildings are painted because the brick is very soft and the paint is actually helping to maintain the historic buildings," Linn said.

North Dakota State University history professor Tom Isern led a recent project scraping, priming and painting the summer kitchen and family house at the Welk Homestead. The project was done for the appearance and preservation of the buildings.

"Your priorities have to do with appearance and function and not messing up the experience of the building," Isern said.

For instance, the Welk paint job involved an expensive "new-age" primer, "like transparent slime," to vastly extend the life of the paint and the underlying wood, he said. Using historic lead paint isn't an option.

"You can use current technology in invisible fashion," Isern said.

The State Historical Society maintains 57 state historic sites throughout North Dakota.