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Much has changed in 100 years in Selz

By Staff | Jul 6, 2010

Not many people live in the town of Selz these days, but some residents can remember a time when there were lots of retail businesses, homes, elevators, a bank, school, hotel, depot, stockyards, opera house, even a bowling alley. And there were scores of people to patronize them.

Though the community may be small, the citizenry is going all out to provide a good time for everyone when the Selz Centennial is celebrated this week, July 9-11.

Selz had a rocky beginning in 1910 when Rochus Sanders built a general store and the Tellman Investment Bank was started. Before the year was out, the store burned to the ground. The next year the bank was liquidated for lack of sufficient business.

Things started looking up in 1912 when the K.O. Subdivision, more commonly called the Surrey Cutoff, was built by the Great Northern Railroad from near Minot to Fargo. The town has been a fixture in southern Pierce County ever since.

The village was originally named Dallas by settlers from Dallas, Texas, who came to homestead, but postal authorities objected to that name. Sanders, who was appointed postmaster in 1910, is credited with selecting the name Selz, after the German-Russian settlement of Selz, Russia, where many of the area pioneers came from.

With the railroad assuring the town a future, a new bank was opened. Three elevators soon were built to handle the bumper crops of the early years. In 1912 one elevator shipped between 300,000 and 400,000 bushels of wheat. Half a million bushels were shipped in 1915.

Until 1915 students from Selz attended a rural school just outside of town, one of four one-room schools in Hagel Township. Residents weren’t happy with this arrangement since Selz had the majority of the students, and tried to have the school relocated. When that effort failed, the district split and a new school was built in town.

By 1924 attendance was 80 students in grades 1-8. The building burned in 1934 and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built a new school. Gradually high school classes were added. In 1957 the rural schools closed and all students

were bused to Selz. The high school was discontinued four years later and students were sent to Harvey. For a period of 14 years, ending in 1957, Catholic nuns taught at the public school.

Magdalene Hoffart taught continuously at Selz from 1956 until the school closed. “I never had a problem with any of the kids,” she said. “They were really good and the parents were cooperative.” But students told her things weren’t quite that way when the nuns taught. “The nuns were very strict,” she said, “and the kids used to get lickin’s from them.”

For 100 years religious life has been a priority for Selz residents even though there was not a church building in town in the early years. Homesteaders attended churches in the country, Eden Valley Lutheran, northwest of town, or the Catholic churches of Odessa and Strassburg. The current church, St. Anthony’s, on the northwest edge of town, was organized in 1916 as a continuation of Odrssa and Strassbrg. The first building was destroyed in a fire on January 6, 1959, but by Christmas of that year parishioners were worshipping in a new large brick structure.

Today Selz is home to fewer than 50 people.

Lena Fettig, at 95 the town’s oldest resident, still lives alone in a house across from the church. She grew up five miles north of Selz and remembers attending church in town. “I got married in Selz,” she said, “but that was more than 70 years ago.”

Andy Axtman, who still lives on the farm near Selz where he grew up, remembers when the town was a bustling center of community life. “We had a lumber yard, grocery store, blacksmith, gas station and a cream station,” he said. “Selz had three elevators. Now one still operates to buy sunflowers and beans but someone from Grace City owns it.” Lots of people worshipped at St. Anthony’s church fifty years ago, Andy remembers, but now only about 60 attend.

“I was on the school board in 1957 and we had 110 students. There were only seven children in school when it closed,” he said with a touch of sadness. “But we still have a bar and a church…but no post office.”

Eighty-three-year-old Joe P. Keller and his wife, Lena, have retired to Harvey but they have vivid memories of life in Selz 50, 60, even 70 years back.

“There were quite a few stores…hardware, two groceries, gas station, barbershop, two bars, two dance halls. The town was halfway decent,” Joe P. remembers. “The thirties were bad,” he continues. “Dust and grasshoppers. The grasshoppers were so bad they ate the fence posts.”

In the 40s farmers started using small tractors instead of horses, and things got better. The tractors could pull a two-bottom plow according to Joe P. and did a better job of farming.

“We raised all our own meat and vegetables. The only things we needed to buy were coffee, sugar and flour. Nowadays, I think the young ones would starve (if they had to raise their own food)” Joe P. said. “My mom made her own yeast for bread. She’d start with potatoes, but I can’t remember the rest. They all made their own yeast.”

Selz was a hotspot for night life also, according to the Kellers. With two dance halls, “There wasn’t a week that went by, I don’t think, when there wasn’t a wedding dance,”Joe P. remembered. “Name’s day parties…card parties. Didn’t cost an arm or a leg either.” And not just Selz residents held celebrations there. “Even outsiders would come in for their wedding dances,” he said.

But there were many more people then. “I remember a farm every quarter mile,” says Katie Schneider of Harvey who grew up near Selz.

Joe P. agrees. “When we lived on the farm there were six Joe Kellers just on our mail route. You had to use your middle initial so you got the right mail.”

Sadly those are things of the past. “The school closed in 1988. I think the last thing to go was the post office,” Joe P. said.

Still, residents are looking to the future and the upcoming celebration. They are confident the party will rival the celebration of 50 years ago when, according to Andy Axtman, the VFW set up a beer garden and a large parade was featured. Between events in nearby Harvey and those in the city of Selz, planners are sure everyone will have a bang-up time.

And the stage will be set for the next 100 years.

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