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Building with Stone


One would think that in a state with as many rock piles as we have, there would be fieldstone buildings everywhere, but they tend to be uncommon.

The Buffalo Herald described Angus Beaton, a stonemason from Nova Scotia, as a “reliable expert in the handling of brick and stone.” Beaton was an early homesteader in southeast North Dakota and was responsible for building the historic Calvary Episcopal Chapel in Buffalo in 1885. Now known as the Old Stone Church, it was the first stone church built in Cass County, and the third in northern Dakota Territory. The building was architect George Hancock’s first stone church design to also include a stone tower. While the building has since been rescued, the tower disappeared many years ago.

Beaton was 39 when he began construction on the Chapel. It’s reported he was very involved in the community, serving several years on the Board of Trustees of the Village of Buffalo. Today is the anniversary of his death; he succumbed to meningitis in 1898, at the age of 52.

It was about twenty years later when several stone buildings were erected near Ryder. Daniel Jackson and Anna Gudahl were both homesteading their own claims in Blue Hill Township, southwest of Minot, when they first met. They married in 1906 and shared a dream of someday having a fieldstone house similar to one Anna remembered from Norway.

Reporter Merrie Sue Holtan wrote a story about the Jacksons for the McLean County Independent in November 1983. In it, Holtan says the couple started with a smaller building first. “In 1912,” she writes, “a neighbor and stonemason built a Norwegian style, split-level chicken coop for the Jacksons. The chicken coop, entirely of fieldstone, had two stories. Feed, stored on the upper level, reached the main floor through chutes. In the basement, the hens laid their eggs.”

The main house was built six years later, in 1918. The stonemason was Magnus Bjorlie from Ryder, but Anna supervised the construction, because the design was her creation. When it was finished, the house was a showplace – two stories built of large hand-cut stones and smaller rounded stones used for design details and the chimneys. The main floor had a large living room, fireplace, library, master bedroom and bathroom, and a walk-in basement housed the kitchen, dining, furnace and storeroom. When the building was finished, Daniel had a new nickname: Stonewall Jackson.

Up in the Turtle Mountains, the Rolette County Historical Society is trying to stabilize what’s known as the Coughlin Castle, a whimsically designed, 5-bedroom, stone mansion on a hill east of St. John. An Irishman, Maurice Coughlin, and his sons built the castle, complete with cupolas and a turret. Coughlin homesteaded there in 1883, and when he built his masterpiece in 1904, it was considered a very grand affair. It included a heating plant for hot water and indoor plumbing, a grand central staircase and was the only house in the region with hardwood floors.

Unfortunately, the castle has fallen on hard times. The doors and windows are gone, and in the 1960s, someone built a bonfire that burned a hole through one of the floors and destroyed the grand staircase. In 2003, Preservation North Dakota named the building one of the state’s three most endangered properties. The County Historical Society’s goal is to stop further deterioration by repairing the roof, stabilizing the foundation and replacing the doors and windows. They probably wouldn’t mind some donations toward their project...

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm