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Home sweet home

By Staff | Jun 20, 2014

The historic Holbrook house in Pleasant Lake hearkens back to another time and another place.

Since 1906, the stately Holbrook house has stood under the trees on the north side of old U.S. Highway 2 in the town of Pleasant Lake. The setting is complete with a wrought iron fence fronting the lawn, flowing springs and a stone milkhouse, also built in 1906.

One-hundred-eight years later the house is owned by a limited liability partnership of three siblings-Curtis Geibel, Dale Geibel and Charlotte Geibel Beachler-great-grandchildren of the original owners, Calvin and Sophronia Holbrook.

Although none of the owners lives in the area, they return to the home regularly for extended stays. In fact, Charlotte’s family plants a large garden every year on the family land across the road.

The large Victorian house is actually the third home the Holbrook family built on their property after coming to the area by covered wagon in the spring of 1882.

Two couples, the Holbrooks, their son, Seley, and Calvin’s sister Emeline and her husband Charles Mendenhall made the move north from Hastings, Nebraska, to become squatters on the north side of Broken Bone Lake. After Dakota Territory was divided into states, squatters were allowed to file their land in a claim office. Their claim was then called a homestead.

Edie Wurgler/PCT This unusual oval stained glass window in the living room is even more rare because direct sunlight and temperature variations over the years have caused it to bow inward.

The two pioneering families each built a small log cabin east of the large stand of oak trees on the north shore. It was there Effie Holbrook Geibel was born in 1885. She was a year old when her mother carried her to the top of the hill north of their house to witness the first train to go through on the newly-laid Great Northern Railway tracks. The actual townsite of Pleasant Lake wasn’t established until after the railroad was built.

Later, each family constructed more permanent houses, made of lumber milled from logs they cut in the woods. The Holbrook home was built west of the large grove of trees, and the Mendenhall house on the east side.

As the town of Pleasant Lake grew, the Holbrooks decided to erect a more substantial home. Using blueprints that the family still possesses, the house included features unique in an era when many homes were barely a cut above a homestead shack.

Starting with the basement, everything was part of the grand plan. The blueprints called for walls of cut stone at least 18 inches thick. The Geibel family doesn’t know where the stones came from or who carefully fitted them, but it obviously was a skilled stonemason. The original plan called for coal heat. Many years later the family switched to more convenient propane and cemented over the old coal chute.

As with the basement, no one is certain who built the house. But whoever the carpenters were, they were true artisans. Over the generations the family has resisted the urge to follow more contemporary architectural trends, and the home remains much the same as it was in 1906.

Almost all of the four-inch lap cedar siding is original, but Dale Geibel and Charlotte’s husband, Wyatt Beachler, have replaced some of the boards. “It’s a good thing we didn’t have to do too many,” Dale said. “That stuff is expensive.”

Just inside the front door, a winding open staircase leads to the second floor with its bedrooms and walk-in closets. A large closet was turned into a bathroom some years after the house was built. Dale remembers the original water closet with its large overhead tank. He has no idea how, but water was pumped into the tank and the toilet was flushed with a handle.

Nearly every room has a stained glass window or two-even the closets. “That’s something you don’t see every day,” Dale said with a laugh.

When the house was built, even the storm windows were of stained glass to match the interior panes, but a hailstorm in the 1970s broke nearly every one. Some storms were so badly broken they had to be tossed, Dale said, but one large one was restored. It, along with an undamaged storm window, was not put back on the house, however, and now all the storms are practical clear glass.

Original dark oak woodwork is found throughout the house, including crown molding in every room surrounding the 10-foot-high ceilings, finials in the entry hall, and a plate rail in the dining room. Two sets of heavy oak pocket doors can be closed to completely isolate the living room from the rest of the house.

The well-used upright grand piano in the parlor has a story of its own. “That piano was played at the dances in the Shively barn,” Dale said, referring to the many parties held in the large building that was built by A.W. Hughes. “They hauled it over and with ropes and pulleys hoisted it into the haymow.” It survived, and is still played by family members.

No one is quite sure when three more rooms and a back porch were added to the north side of the house. Impeccably following the architectural style of the original, a kitchen, pantry and bedroom made a big improvement in liveability. Previously all the bedrooms had been on the second floor. The pantry later was turned into a bathroom, another significant upgrade.

In the late 1960s the kitchen was remodeled with built-in cupboards and appliances. Carpeting, which has since been removed, was also added to some of the rooms at that time. The original hardwood floors appear to be maple, Dale said.

What makes the property truly one of a kind, however, are the flowing springs and the milkhouse. Situated right on top of one of the springs west of the house, the small stone building kept milk, cream and other produce fresh in the days before refrigeration.

And the house itself would appear to be perched on another spring. While most houses and basements are designed to keep water out, the Holbrook house literally ‘goes with the flow’. The basement was designed so water seeping out of the hill is funneled into a channel built into the floor. It enters the basement along the north wall and leaves via a floor drain in the southwest corner. From there it goes through a buried pipe into the creek formed by the milkhouse spring. The basement windows are kept open in the summer and the house is heated all winter, so humidity never becomes a problem.

All the springs on the property are fed by a large aquifer which also supplies the municipal wells of Rugby and Leeds. Sand Lake to the north is also fed by the aquifer as are other lakes and wells in the area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has had a lease on Broken Bone Lake since the 1920s according to Dale, and the level must remain constant. Therefore the North Dakota State Water Commission monitors the springs. The milkhouse spring flows a steady 70 plus gallons per minute and never freezes. A few years back some enterprising beavers built a dam downstream of the milkhouse, flooding and damaging it. Dale hired a stonemason from Granville to make repairs. Beavers have always been a problem, Dale says, and he remembers his grandfather and neighbors trapping them.

The Geibel siblings possibly feel an even stronger attachment to the house because it has been owned by both sides of their family. When their paternal grandmother, Effie, passed away in 1965, their maternal grandparents Hailey and Emma Paulson moved to the place. Hailey Paulson and their father, Eugene Geibel, Effie’s son, purchased it from Effie’s estate. Emma Paulson was the last heir in that trust, so her interest went to the siblings’ mother, Doreen Paulson Geibel, who then gave the property to Charlotte, Curtis and Dale.

Nowadays, generations five and six also enjoy visiting the historic house. The only issue Dale forsees is how it will be shared in the future. “Right now,” he says, “if you want to use it, you can.” But that possible complication is somewhere down the road. For the present, everyone in the family seems happy soaking up the slow pace and quietude of rural life and enjoying the distinctive Victorian atmosphere of their beloved family home.

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