WILLISTON, N.D. – An abandoned schoolhouse that was becoming surrounded by oil development is now transformed into a historic new home for Williston business owners.
Mark and Mary Pettersen recently began living in the 100-year-old schoolhouse they moved to a new location northwest of Williston after a year of renovations.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Mark said. “What a transformation.”
The Pettersens, who co-own Coates RV, moved from the Twin Cities to Williston three years ago to open a new location of their RV dealership. They fell in love with the schoolhouse while driving around Williston one day and got permission from landowner Lyle Langseth to move it.
The schoolhouse, Twin Butte School No. 1, had its first teacher in 1912-13, according to “The Wonder of Williams,” a book by the Williams County Historical Society. Langseth’s mother, Cora Langseth, was the last teacher hired at the school before the district dissolved in 1950.
The differences between the before and after photos of the school are dramatic, but the Pettersens stayed true to the original features.
They didn’t change the location of any walls, creating a small kitchen out of what Mary believes is the area where students would hang their coats. What had been a stairway leading to a basement is now a bathroom with a claw foot tub.
A piece of the school’s original chalkboard they found in the weeds near the abandoned building sits on the coffee table. The baseboards, door frames and woodwork around the windows are all original. The interior walls are painted yellow because the schoolhouse had traces of yellow paint.
One wall is lined with custom cabinetry and a Murphy bed that folds up when they need more living space.
The steeple, which had to be removed when the school was relocated, was successfully reattached and has a bell inside that Mark plans to connect to the doorbell.
The house also has a walk-out basement with guest quarters that are decorated with antique furniture.
“This is exactly what we planned,” Mary said.
Getting the renovations done took longer than the couple anticipated.
“The biggest challenge was getting people out here to stay and work,” Mary said.
The construction project also included a barn that was designed to complement the architecture of the schoolhouse. The upper floor has guest quarters and the main floor will be Mark’s man cave, featuring a bar, big-screen TV and an area to clean game after hunting trips.
Even though they’re pleased with how the house turned out, the beautiful scenery and wildlife that surround it are what they love the most.
“The real value in something like this is the area around us,” Mark said. “It speaks of what North Dakota is to us.”
Mark, who is always looking for his next project, would like to add additional buildings to the area.
The couple have been given the Scandia Lutheran Church building near Grenora, and they hope to move it adjacent to the schoolhouse if they can buy additional land. They would like to restore it to be a wedding chapel and location for family reunions and other events.
“It’s the coolest church,” Mark said.
Mark, whose family homesteaded in Zahl, also has a home that his relatives are eager for him to restore, and he’s eyeing other projects as well.
“From my standpoint, it will never be done,” Mark said.