Schwab Sod House

The Schwab sod house is a classic example of tri-partite construction typical in traditional German-Russian homes of the pioneer era. This type of construction was passed down by their ancestors who learned the method from Russian soldiers when they pioneered on the sparsely inhabited Ukrainian steppe above the Black Sea in the early 1800s. Fashioned of batsa brick (molded earth; clay + straw + manure+ water, and dried in the sun) blocks set on a foundation of flat sandstone slabs, the 2 to 3 feet thick walls provide considerable insulation from the temperature extremes and climatic elements of the northern plains. The ceiling and roof structures are supported by the exterior walls and 2 interior partition walls, and a central wood beam that runs the entire width of the structure.

Immigrant homesteaders Martin Schwab and son Lorenz built a smaller house when they arrived to homestead in 1889. The house that you see today was built not long after to accommodate Lorenz and his growing family.  Martin and Katharina (nee Schneider) Schwab moved their family north to McHenry County, North Dakota just after the turn of the century. Presumably the first sod house fell into disuse and components were eventually used for other purposes. Barely a trace of it remains today on the prairie just south of the existing house. Lorenz and Regina (nee Wald) Schwab raised their seventeen children in the house that still stands. It was probably built in the early 1890s, but the exact year is lost to history.

Lorenz died from complications of diabetes (which was untreatable at the time) in 1917. Around 1925 his son John and wife Magdalena (nee Baumgartner) Schwab purchased the farm and raised their family of 10 children here. John and Magdalena Schwab moved into Strasburg in 1948 and the next generation of Schwabs took over. Joseph and Imogene (nee Schwahn) Schwab raised 10 children of their own on the farm before retiring into Strasburg in the 1970s. Through three generations in this home, the family was known for cordial hospitality and musical talent. That hospitality continues today under the stewardship and patronage of Antonia Baumgartner (daughter of John &: Magdalena Schwab), who maintains the property and makes it available for visitors to experience. Beneath modern metal roof and the siding that eventually covered the walls, the batsa brick structure remains intact well over 100 years later, one of very few remaining such homes that once dotted the Dakota prairie in large numbers. Like the bison before them, few remain to give us a glimpse of that earlier time.

Date: February 07, 2013