US‑83: Linton, Strasburg, and the Lawrence Welk Birthplace
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 Ludwig and Christina Welk Farmstead (701/336-7777, Thurs.-Sun. 10am-5pm, $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 2.5 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 very 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 donated by the Welk family, who still own the place. Hand tools, a windmill, and farming implements are arranged around the yard. In the hayloft a mannequin dressed as young Lawrence squeezes out polkas on the accordion—apparently, his early playing was so bad that he was banned from practicing in the house, though now his recordings are broadcast nonstop from a speaker system strung around the grounds.
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 Catholic church that dwarfs the tiny town.