While the scenery is superior along the Hwy-1806 detour, for travelers of a certain age, the trek south of Bismarck along US-83 is redeemed by one unique Road Trip destination: the Welk Homestead (701/336-7777, Thurs.-Sun. 10am-5pm summer only, $5 adults), boyhood home of Lawrence Welk, a wholesome, middlebrow dance-band maestro who, for more than 20 years, starting in the mid-1950s, had one of the most popular programs on TV. Located a mile north of the town of Strasburg (pop. 409), then about two miles west from US-83 following well-signed dirt roads, the preserved homestead where Welk was born in 1903 is one of the top tourist draws in North Dakota (which, to be honest, is not saying a lot; North Dakota is frequently numbered at the bottom of “Favorite States to Visit”).
Though the Lawrence Welk connection is the main draw for most visitors, the farm is intended as a memorial to his parents, who, as part of an exodus of Bavarian-born Catholic farmers, fled the Ukraine during the late 1800s, when exemptions from Tsarist military service were threatened, and emigrated to this country in 1893. The promise of land brought the Welks to North Dakota in the 1890s. The clapboard house that stands today began as a sod house—the mud walls can still be seen in places—and is now full of odds and ends of furniture and memorabilia, some of which belonged to the Welk family. There are hand tools in the blacksmith shop, a windmill in the yard, and Lawrence Welk’s music plays over the loud speaker for bus tours and during special events.
Much of southern North Dakota is still predominantly populated by descendants of the original wave of these immigrant “Germans from Russia” who homesteaded the region in the 1890s. Their influence is clearly apparent in the town of Linton (pop. 1,097), on US-83 around 10.5 miles north of the Welk homestead, where the Model Bakery (117 N. Broadway, 701/254-4687, Mon.-Sat.) bakes up delicious, creamy custard kuchen and German cakes and cookies. In Strasburg, Welk’s parents are buried in the cemetery behind the absolutely huge Roman Catholic church that dwarfs the tiny town.