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'Tragically gone': Barn dance venue near Arthur, N.D., lost to fire; fundraiser aims to rebuild

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ARTHUR, N.D. – Friday, Oct. 27, was supposed to be another boot scootin’ night at Arthur’s Barn, a historic and beloved venue for folks of all ages across the region the past six-plus decades.

But instead of the sounds of country music filling the venue, formerly known as Johnson’s Barn, the State Fire Marshal’s Office and Cass County Sheriff’s Office will be investigating the cause of a fire that consumed the barn Thursday, Oct. 26, leaving nothing but the silo standing.

“What an absolutely tragic situation that has taken place in the community of Arthur,” said Cass County Sgt. Tim Briggeman as smoke from the scene billowed behind him.

Flames were reported shortly after 1:30 p.m., and the barn was fully engulfed when fire crews showed up. Within 40 minutes of crews arriving at 1907 155th Ave. S.E., just north of Arthur, the barn collapsed, Briggeman said.

Volunteer firefighters from Arthur, Hunter, Gardner and Grandin responded, and dozens of fire trucks filled the barn property, along with ambulances and the Salvation Army.

No one was hurt, Briggeman said, and animals near the barn were relocated. In addition to the barn amounting to a total loss, a semi truck directly south of the barn was damaged.

Briggeman said high winds and cold weather make it harder to fight flames, and on Thursday the National Weather Service was reporting gusts up to 60 mph.

It’s not known how the fire started, the sergeant said.

Remembering the barn

The loss of the landmark impacted barn dance-goers and even North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum who shared his sympathies in a tweet:

"Johnson’s Barn is tragically gone, but 70 years of music & dancing memories will live on in all who experienced magic in this special place.”

Barn dances at the venue have been a tradition since the 1950s.

An outpouring of prayers and personal stories circulated online from the more than 6,000 people following Arthur’s Barn on Facebook, many sharing memories of time spent in the hayloft dancing to live music as well as future plans to return.

North Dakota State University freshman Kaitlin Steffl said she was looking forward to introducing her friends to Arthur’s Barn and was planning to go next weekend. And West Fargo resident Tara Marie Newman was planning to have her wedding there next summer.

“I had my heart set on having my whole wedding there, ceremony and reception,” Newman said. “I was so excited, but now I’m so sad and am at a loss for words! It’s a tragedy, especially since I’ve been there a few times for their iconic dances.”

The longtime country music venue located on a farmstead formerly owned by Brian and Becky Johnson was sold to Delon and Julie Cahoon, of Casselton, in 2015. The barn was renamed Arthur’s Barn and had a full slate of dances planned for the rest of 2017.

“Our family is just devastated with our Arthur's Barn being totaled by a fire today... please keep our family in your prayers. We’re not sure what started it yet...but will keep you posted...no words can explain our loss,” wrote Heather Leavitt, one of the Cahoons’ children, in a Facebook post.

Thursday evening, a $300,000 GoFundMe campaign called “Rebuild Arthur’s Barn” was started by Tiffanie Honeyman, a daughter of the owners. Honeyman wrote on the fundraiser page that no one was home at the time of the fire.

“Today we lost a staple in our community,” Honeyman wrote. “People have come from all over the world to enjoy the experience of dancing in the barn and we want to keep the dances alive.”  

To learn more about the fundraiser, visit www.gofundme.com/rebuild-arthur039s-barn.

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