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St. Stanislaus Church

8/3/2016:

Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. As immigrants traveled to the emerging frontier, they carried little more than their personal belongings, but equally important were their traditions and religious beliefs. Often settling in ethnic groups, these traditions and beliefs created a cohesive cornerstone to build communities.

In 1873 Polish immigrants began settling in the southwest corner of Walsh County. When word of the fertile Red River Valley spread, Polish families from the Old World, as well as many who had settled in Minnesota and other states further east, quickly moved into the area, and by 1880 over 100 people of Polish ethnicity had settled there. Many of the immigrants were Polish Catholic and to them life without a church was just not life, so a small church was established in 1883. Centered near the town of Warsaw, it became a beacon for other families. A two-story, wood-framed rectory was added in 1892. By 1896, 1,800 souls of Polish descent lived in the area. The need for a larger church was apparent, and in 1899, architect John W. Ross was hired to design a suitable place of worship.

Upon completion, St. Stanislaus Church was one of the largest structures of its kind in North Dakota. Its Gothic style was more in line with the medieval cities of Europe than the tall grass prairie of the Red River Valley. With a main steeple extending 143 feet heavenward, its impressive red brick design stretched 76 feet to the roof peak and 33 feet to the eves. At 143 feet long and 50 feet wide, it left an impressive footprint. From its dedication on July 9, 1901, it served as a cultural and social center helping the Poles retain the cultural heritage still seen today. In 1978 it suffered heavy damage from fire, but was restored to its formal grandeur.

To further preserve the culture and religious conviction, the Sisters of the Resurrection established the St. Anthony Academy in 1921. This three-story, wood-framed building with brick veneer, served as a convent and school offering instruction in general subjects, Catholicism, the Polish language and Polish customs. On this date in 1979, the St. Stanislaus Historic District, including the parish cemetery, was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places. Often called the Cathedral on the Prairie, it continues to link modern generations to Old World traditions and beliefs.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis

Sources:

Walsh Heritage, a Continued Story of Walsh County and Its Pioneers, Walsh County Historical Society, Associated Printers, Grafton, ND 1981

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form- St. Stanislaus Historic District- 1979 State Historical Society of North Dakota

Plains Folk, North Dakota’s Ethnic History, William Sherman, et al, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1986.