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"It's heartbreaking.' Vandalism causes flooding at Bonanzaville

An act of vandalism is believed to have pumped more than 200,000 gallons of water into the ground and foundations of three buildings at Bonanzaville. Wendy Reuer/The Pioneer1 / 4
Water pooled around the eastern edge of Bonanzaville after vandals flooded the area. Wendy Reuer/The Pioneer2 / 4
Water remains pooled outside Mount Pleasant Church at Bonanzaville. Wendy Reuer/The Pioneer3 / 4
Vandals who turned on water spickets at Bonanzaville caused large amounts of water to spill onto three buildings. Wendy Reuer/The Pioneer4 / 4

An apparent act of vandalism caused more than 200,000 gallons of water to flood the ground and possibly foundations of at least three historic Cass County buildings at Bonanzaville.

"I've been here nearly five years, and we've never, ever had any vandalism," Bonanzaville Executive Director Brenda Warren said Monday, Jan. 7. "I just can't imagine who would want to purposely destroy precious artifacts and historic buildings. It's heartbreaking."

Warren said Special Events Coordinator Melissa Warren discovered massive amounts of frozen water around the South Pleasant Church on Sunday, Jan. 6, after an event held in the Cass County Historical Society's event center. Melissa Warren heard running water and found water coming from two outdoor spigots at the church on the east side of Bonanzaville.

"It was definitely deliberate," Brenda Warren said. "It was clear they were not just accidentally turned on."

Brenda Warren said someone must have broken into the village, which is fenced in and closed to visitors through the winter holidays. The Cass County Sheriff's Office was called to the village and will investigate, although finding suspects may be difficult, Brenda Warren said.

"By the time we found it, all the footprints that might have been there were gone," Brenda Warren said.

Melissa Warren was able to turn off the water, but when West Fargo public works officials arrived, they estimated about 201,000 gallons of water had been pumped into the grounds. Public works staff estimated the spigots were likely turned on around the evening of Dec. 31.

The massive amounts of water pooled around the church and flowed to a historic gazebo, schoolhouse and Cass County Courthouse.

Brenda Warren said it's not yet clear how much damage the water may have done to the buildings.

"We probably won't know the full extent of the damage until this spring and all the ice melts," she said. "We'll start pumping water the minute the snow starts to melt."

The schoolhouse built in 1895 was a former Mapleton Township school. Bonanzaville courthouse is a former schoolhouse building in Cass County that was moved to the village and filled with original Cass County Courthouse artifacts.

South Pleasant Church, built in 1890, was moved to Bonanzaville in 2015, to replace the more than 100-year-old St. John's Lutheran Church, which was struck by lightning and destroyed by a fire in July 2014. The church in Christine, N.D., was dedicated to Bonanzaville by its former congregation and moved to the West Fargo site after the Pioneer Village raised $125,000 to help pay for renovation costs such as a new foundation and updated amenities needed for the many weddings and events that are held at the church each year.

2018 marked the first full calendar year the new church was operational for private and public events.

Bonanzaville, which is run by the Cass County Historical Society, has video surveillance on the property, but the spigots are just out of view of the cameras, Melissa Warren said.

The Pioneer Village sits on about 12 acres and is home to 43 original Cass County buildings, with more than 400,000 artifacts. The village receives a stipend from Cass County each year but is primarily funded by grants, donations and private fundraising.

On Monday, Jan. 7, a GoFundMe page was created to help with cost of cleanup and the extended water bill. Within an hour of posting, the site had generated $500 of its $2,500 goal.

Donations for the cleanup can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/bonanzaville-vandalism-cleanup

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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