Dec 21, 2023

Scenes from the Lawrence Welk Birthplace, Strasburg, N.D.

Picture yourself cruising through the rolling hills and farmland of southern North Dakota early on a late summer morning. 

The sun is still rising and the dew has yet to completely evaporate.  Passing cars are few and far between. 

Then, suddenly, without warning you pass this sign near a quiet intersection with an otherwise barely noticeable gravel road.  What would you do?  Would you speed up and try to get away as quickly as possible?  Would you simply be amused by the happenstance and continue on, accepting that it’s past “tourist season” to visit?  

Or would you do what this commoner did, find the nearest spot to turn around and check it out anyway?  Of course, you would! 

But before we check out the site, I should probably offer some background into Lawrence Welk for generations younger than me and why his birthplace would be of any interest to the casual passerby. 

It’s probably not a stretch to claim that Lawrence Welk is North Dakota’s most famous resident, other contenders being actress Angie Dickinson, baseball’s Roger Maris and western author Louis L’Amour … but to my knowledge none of their birthplaces are designated as tourist attractions. 

So, why is Lawrence Welk often considered North Dakota’s favorite son?  Well, if you grew up in the 1970s like I did, your TV viewing options were limited, and you couldn’t turn on PBS without being exposed to “The Lawrence Welk Show,” a showcase of orchestra, big band, ballroom and accordion music, with Welk orchestrating the show.  Then there was the bubble machine.  Even at a very young age, I found this all to be very odd.  But to this day, long after Welk passed away and the show’s 30-year run of original broadcasts ended, you can still find reruns on public television.     

So, with scarred memories of my childhood in the back of my mind, I had to see what kind of place would be home to this man.    

Strasburg, N.D., a small farming community founded appropriately enough by German immigrants like Welk’s family, stakes a claim to be the hometown of Lawrence Welk, but the exact location of the Welk home (also known as the Ludwig and Christina Welk Homestead) is, in fact, just north of town. 

As I noted earlier, just follow the signs to turn onto this gravel road seemingly surrounded by sunflower fields …

… then take a right onto a single-lane road that eventually dead-ends at the farm.  And as far as classic farm settings in the upper Midwest go, this one is actually pretty idyllic.   

The largest building on the lot, unsurprisingly, is the barn.

Closer to the family pond, and presumably the original water supply, is a windmill and a picnic table to visitors to take in the surroundings. 

I obviously had not made the appointment to have someone open up the house for a full tour, but I doubt I missed much.  My grandmother was raised on a farm in rural Kentucky from the same era, so the place seemed pretty standard by my rough assessment.  I did find the outside staircase leading to the top floor to be odd, though.  I suppose that’s one way to get some separation from the rest of the family. 

There’s certainly nothing unusual to see on the other side of the house, though, except for maybe a bare patch of land where a home garden may have been long ago.   

Closer to the tree line marking the edge of the property remains what arguably was once the most important structure on the homestead – the outhouse.  Unfortunately for those wishing to sit on the same throne where Lawrence Welk once did “ah one and ah two,” sorry, but it’s no longer open for business. 

The porta-potty nearby will have to do. 

(photo of picnic tables and tree line)

Also along the tree line are more picnic tables for those who prefer a shady spot to soak in the atmosphere. 

As tranquil and charming as the Lawrence Welk Birthplace it today, it’s ironic to learn that Welk himself probably could not have cared less about its restoration.  Supposedly, he left home when he turned 21 and probably never looked back.  It is reported, however, that he often donated money back to his hometown, but he specifically asked that none of it to go to the homestead.  Hey, when I think about my formative years in Macomb, Ill., I can relate. 

Lawrence Welk may have wound up hating his childhood home, but I actually found that for all its tranquility and charm, my brief visit was worth the stop – probably even more so if you phone ahead for the full tour.  I guess home sweet home is whatever you envision it to be.


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