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Serving as curator and librarian Angela Jutila looks over the A.M. Tofthagen Library and Museum in Lakota. The museum was built in 1926 shortly after Lakota resident Amun Tofthagen donated $5,000 towards the project. An experienced world traveler Tofthagen donated his collection of many books, paintings and art objects from all over the world. (Luke Franke/ Grand Forks Herald)

Hidden history in Lakota, N.D.

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LAKOTA, N.D. — On U.S. Highway 2 in eastern North Dakota there isn’t much to see other than fields and pastures stretching for miles. But every so often a town like Lakota, N.D., will appear adorning the highway as an oasis for motorists who have been driving through the endless farmland.

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A farming community about an hour west of Grand Forks, Lakota has history and adventures as rich as the caramel rolls from Elaine’s House of Dreams, a local hotspot where visitors and community members shop for gifts and home décor while also grabbing a quick, homemade lunch or dessert.

“For a town our size, we have quite a bit of things here,” said Elaine Brooks, owner of Elaine’s. “We’ve got a lot of young people here getting involved with our events.”

Boasting a variety of annual events throughout the year such as its Turkey Barbecue, Lakota is home to a treasure chest of secrets and artifacts dating back to the Civil War era.

The A.M. Tofthagen Library and Museum is one of the oldest buildings in town, which houses more than 4,000 donated books and countless artifacts from all around the world.

“If you’re a North Dakota person and a history buff, you could spend the entire day digging through stuff,” said Angela Jutila, librarian and caretaker of the building.

Going back nearly 125 years, Tofthagen was a resident of Lakota who emigrated from Norway. In 1926, he donated $5,000 to build a library, requesting to live in a small section of the building.

Recognized on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, the library also serves as a museum, containing memorabilia from Tofthagen’s travels, including a peace pipe Tofthagen smoked with Sitting Bull in 1889 and a set of carved ivory. Other items include an original flag marched in the Civil War and historical, first edition books.

“It’s amazing for this size of a community to have this type of collection,” Jutila said. “We’re finding the fine line between moving into the future and preserving history.”

About 10 miles out of town, the Lakota community frequently visits the Stump Lake Recreation Area, where boating, fishing, camping and outdoor recreation dominates the more than 15,000 acres of state park. Just outside the park is Stump Lake Village, where historic buildings from around the area were moved to one location and mimic the “western town” of the 1800s.

“There’s always something here to do,” City Auditor Amie Vasichek said.

Awarded City of the Year in 2010 by the North Dakota League of Cities, Vasichek said Lakota is one of the few towns left where “everybody knows everybody.”

“It’s a great place to live,” she said. “It’s nice to have (Grand Forks) close but it’s far enough away.”

Fun Facts

  •  Lakota, N.D., was founded in 1882.
  •  The name “Lakota” means “allies,” from the Sioux people of the Plains.
  •  Its population was 672 in 2010.
  •  It is home to the annual Turkey BBQ, June 20-22 this year.
  •  Notable residents have included U.S. Sen. Asle Gronna, R-N.D., and former major league pitcher Rick Helling.
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