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Bonanzaville church damaged by fire

An early morning fire damaged the face of West Fargo’s Bonanzaville on Saturday.

As of press time, the cause and amount of damages caused by the fire at St. John’s Lutheran Church had not yet been determined.

Officials at Bonanzaville were still waiting to hear from the fire marshal and insurance adjusters before deciding how they would move forward to repair the church.

John Monilaws, chairman of the Bonanza Pioneer Village Board of Directors said the board has not yet made any decisions on how to repair or replace the church until the fire investigation is complete and the insurance adjusters have issued a report.

“Everything with the church is on hold until we get some estimates,” Monilaws said. “We’ll do everything we can to keep it right where it’s supposed to be.”

Fire crews responded to the calls of smoke and fire at the church around 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

It took firefighters hours to contain the fire, and “hot spots” in the church’s steeple were still spotted late into the morning.

Volunteers from around the area later stopped in to help keep watch over the smoldering building throughout the weekend.

West Fargo Fire Chief Roy Schatschneider said on Saturday that the fire only extended 10 to 15 feet into the church’s west side, and only one pew was heavily damaged. The rest of the church’s inside area only suffered smoke and water damage, he said.

On Saturday, Schatschneider said the fire appeared to have started on the main floor of the church.

St. John’s Lutheran Church is also a popular wedding destination.

About 15 to 20 couples per year rent out the church and gazebo area which runs for $700 per event.

In June, the church was booked every weekend, but no wedding is planned at the church until the end of September, said Emily Wehlander, the interim executive director for Bonanzaville.

Wehlander said the couple scheduled for September is waiting for more information about the condition of the church before talk of alternative plans.

In the meantime, Bonanzaville will remain open to visitors with the exception of the church.

Pioneer Days, the Frontier Village’s annual celebration planned for Aug. 16 and 17 is still scheduled as planned.

While the church as a wedding venue is a revenue source for Bonanzaville and the Frontier Village, it is not the only option for couples heading down the aisle. Dawson Hall with seating for 250 at tables can be rented out for $900 per day and the new Lucien C. Barnes Event Center is available for $1,500.

The church built northwest of Horace in 1898. Services were held at that site until 1967, when the remaining congregation merged with the Horace Lutheran Church and donated the St. John’s church to Bonanzaville.

“It’s the landmark of Bonanzaville,” Wehlander said. “When people think of Bonanzaville they think of our church.”

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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