Bucket list: Heart River Church (Part One)

I love old prairie churches. I’ve documented many of them, but you haven’t seen the photos or trip stories on this blog. That’s because I’ve been holding out for a book or calendar project, one which has yet to materialize. Someday it will come to fruition, I hope. In this case, however, I’m so eager to share that I simply can’t wait.

I have a variety of methods for locating old prairie churches, and I’m not going to share those. One such church is the Heart River Lutheran Church, aptly named because it’s tucked next to the Heart River near a little bend in rural Morton County. What makes this church particularly interesting, picturesque, and frustrating is that it’s nowhere near any public roads. Not by a long shot…in fact, it’s over a mile away, as the crow flies, from the nearest gravel road. So how do I get to it?

I poked around, quite infrequently, for years trying to find out who owned the adjacent property. After quite a long time I was contacted by an acquaintance of a friend of mine, who told me the name of the out-of-state landowner whose property included the church itself. I didn’t get around to contacting that person, though…I encountered a really busy stretch and put it on the back burner for a long while. Then we had this little pandemic thing going on, which made life even more complicated. Then, out of the blue, the same person contacted me to let me know that the church had been purchased by the other adjacent landowner, and she gave me his contact information. Aha!

Long story short – a rarity with me – I was able to contact the owner, a kindred spirit in many ways, and he granted me access to the church. It’s a good thing I’ve got an off-road capable vehicle, because it’s a must. I even scraped my hitch at one point! But I found it. And boy, was it worth the wait.

This is the Heart River Lutheran Church. It’s being cared for by its new owner, and it’s a beautiful little church. I can’t imagine what it was like to attend services in this building, back when there was a way to drive right up to it from the northeast. Its remote location is an enormous part of its charm.

Shall we take a closer look?

First is the spectacular steeple. It’s obviously being well cared for. The steeple has its shingles intact, while the rest of the church has a more durable metal roof. By the way: the bell works!

I’m a sucker for a good chimney, and this little church has one. Red brick on a green roof on a blue day.

How firm a foundation, as the hymn goes. One of the reasons for this church’s resilience is that it does have an incredible foundation. You can see that at least one Larson, Olsen, and Nelson had a hand in its construction.

The inside of the sanctuary is in beautiful condition. The walls are a light blue, the wood floor is intact, and the pews remind me of the little church building I used to call home.

The organ is still in place, although I didn’t investigate it any further. I’m not Lutheran, but this looks typical of the arrangement of other Lutheran churches I’ve visited.

This is the view facing the sanctuary.

Just think how many sermons were given from this pulpit, songs led, that sort of thing…

In the basement we can see what feeds that bright chimney above: this grand old furnace. It’s rather imposing in person due to its size.

Behind the furnace is a rather tidy and well kept area with a trio of chairs. You can see the foundation and remnants of basement access, perhaps for the coal chute.

Where there are chairs you’re likely to find tables. That’s true in this case; I found a trio of those, too.

I’ve already shared that I was able to revisit this church for some autumn color photos, and it was a spectacular visit then, too. I brought back plenty of other close-up photos giving greater detail to the beauty of this church, and I’ll share those next. Oh, and there’s video, too! Stay tuned…

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