Heritage Museums
of the
Coteau des Prairies
SissetonSouth Dakota
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Overview
The historic Stavig House, built by Scandinavian craftsmen in 1916, combines elements of the Victorian era with Arts and Crafts style architecture. Listed on the National Historic Register, the museum tells the authentic story of a Norwegian immigrant family through three generations, from fishermen in Norway to homesteaders on the Dakota prairie to Main Street entrepreneurs in the new town of Sisseton.
History

The Stavig House, built in 1916 by the son of a Norwegian immigrant, tells the universal story of a typical immigrant family coming to America for a better life. Andrew Stavig, the eldest son in the family, designed the house and raised his family there. The house remained in the Stavig family for 80 years before becoming an immigrant museum. Andrew and his brothers established a successful mercantile business on Sisseton's main street in 1898. Stavig Bros, Inc. served the area for 100 years from 1898-1998.

The Queen Anne home features a three-story tower and wrap-around front porch. The interior with its solid woodwork, built-in cabinetry, and sturdy furniture reflects the Arts and Crafts style. The quality craftsmanship of its Scandinavian builders is seen in the design of the wood floors throughout the house, the open staircase and the thirty plus window groupings throughout the eighteen-room house.

The house was bequeathed to the Heritage Museum of the Coteau des Prairies by Andrew's daughter, Mathilda (1904-1994), who lived in the house throughout her life. It opened as a museum in 1996.
The Stavig Letters Collection
The Stavig Letters are an extensive collection of letters written between two brothers, Lars Stavig, who emigrated to America and Knut Stavig, who stayed in Norway. Consisting of more than 150 letters spanning five decades, the  Stavig Letters give voice and reality to the immigrant experiences from the perspectives of the  old country and the new country.

The letters document the period between 1881 and 1937. Lars' letters from Dakota Territory offer a first-person perspective of the arrival of the railroads on the prairie, changes in agriculture, the advent of aviation, World War I and the Great Depression. Knut's letters from Norway tell not only of personal struggles, but also of the state of the Norwegian economy, the dangers of traditional fishing practices of the period and changes in Norwegian culture. Woven through the letters are the dreams and aspirations, the joys and griefs of two brothers, one who came to the prairie and one who stayed by the sea.

The letters were collected by Harold Torness of Sisseton, SD, and Dorothy Stavig, of Sacramento CA. They were translated from Norwegian into English by Marta Boyce of Minneapolis, MN. Copies of the letters in Norwegian and English are archived at the Center for Western Studies at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, SD. The collection of original letters at the Romsdal Museum in Molde, Norway, were accepted into UNESCO's Memory of the World Registry in 2018.

The collection of Stavig Letters inspired a readers theater, an Emmy-award winning documentary and a published book, all available through the Stavig House Museum.

Readers Theater production

"The Stavig Letters: The Story of a Norwegian Immigrant"

The immigrant experience comes to life in this performance by Dr. Wayne S. Knutson. The cast of three includes a narrator and the two brothers, Lars Stavig, who came to the prairie and Knut Stavig, who remains in Norway. Using excerpts from the Stavig letters and basic theater props, the play can be performed anywhere. More than 80 performances have been given throughout the Midwest and in Scandinavia over the past twenty-five years. The readers theater is a program of the South Dakota Humanities Speakers Bureau.

Contact us about bringing the program to your community.



Contact us
about scheduling a performance of The Stavig Letters in your community.

Documentary: "The Stavig Letters"



The Emmy-award winning documentary produced by South Dakota Public Broadcasting is available on DVD through the Stavig House Museum for $25, includes shipping.

Annotated Book: "Dear Unforgettable Brother"
The Stavig Letters from Norway & America, 1881-1937.



Published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in 2013, this book of letters, historical photographs and essays provides a window into the universal story of immigration through the Stavig family.

Available through the Stavig House Museum for $25, includes shipping.

Architecture

The Queen Anne home features a three-story tower and wrap-around front porch. The interior with its solid woodwork, built-in cabinetry, and sturdy furniture reflects the Arts and Crafts style. The quality craftsmanship of its Scandinavian builders is seen in the design of the wood floors throughout the house, the open staircase and the thirty plus window groupings throughout the eighteen-room house.


3D image scans of the Stavig House

“If These Walls Could Talk”

How can we know what's inside the walls of a historic building without scratching its surfaces? The historic 1916 Stavig House is storied for its incorporation of both traditional ship building and innovative climate control technologies. What in these stories is fact and what is legend? Is the house built around the latest climate control technology in 1916? Is this mansion on the plains built like a Norwegian boat?

A team from South Dakota State University and the University of Manitoba built a detailed analysis of this museum in Sisseton using LiDAR "point cloud" technology to peer into the walls of the house to look into these questions of history in place.

Learn how the Stavig House was constructed in this virtual program and accompanying laser LiDAR images along with original estimates for lumber and millwork to construct the house. The research project was sponsored by the Stavig House Museum in 2021 with support from the South Dakota Humanities Council.

Visit Us
Summer Hours
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday
1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Sundays

Off Season Visits:
Available for tours and catered events by appointment.

Admission

Guided Tours Donation ($5.00 minimum)

Special Event: “The Goodwill Church Cookbook Luncheon”

An old-fashioned lunch on china plates served at the dining room table (or a coffee and dessert event) can be combined with a group tour of the house throughout the year (except winter months) if planned in advance. 

Contact us to arrange an “off season” tour or a group luncheon event

Location
Stavig House Museum
I-29 Exit 232
112 1st Ave West
Sisseton, SD 57262
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Galleries
Stavig House