Leith, ND: A home away from home

To some of you, Leith is that place of former white supremacists. For others it is a town so small that its population rivals that of your living room on Thanksgiving. For me it is a place of nostalgia, tradition, and friendship.

Select Leith, ND photos courtesy of Ghosts of North Dakota

Since I was a child, my dad, brother, cousins, and friends have been making multiple trips per year to the small town of Leith, ND, Population 14, With the purpose of hunting upland game birds. (Pheasants, grouse, and partridge).  Although hunting is the main reason for the trip, it is hardly the only reason we have a good time and keep going back. A majority of the memories made in Leith include a few beers after the hunting is done, shaking dice, telling stories, and getting to know the residents of Leith and the surrounding Grant County.

Years ago, when we started Grain Designs, and were still tearing down our own material from barns and houses, I approached some of our friends from Leith about obtaining wood from their properties. Many of the farmers were extremely generous and allowed us access to their buildings and properties. Two stick out as especially memorable.

Nettie Ketterling, standing no taller than 4’11” and sitting no taller than her steering wheel, Nettie is the tough yet compassionate owner of the bar in Leith.   I have known Nettie for upwards of 18 years and my brother Danny and I see her as a “third grandma” of sorts. Her extreme generosity has been shown in many ways to myself and our group of friends over the years, but especially in 2013 when the Grain Designs team and I came out to her farm and she gave us a load of wood she had in her barn.

Over the next few months we built many pieces of furniture from this very wood, however we knew we wanted to save some of the boards to make a special piece for Nettie. We decided to build a tabletop that could replace one of the tables in the bar so that it could be used by Nettie and her patrons every day. If you’re ever passing by Leith, I hope you’ll stop in for a beer and a chat at the Grain Designs table at the Leith Bar.

Barry Striegel – Barry is many things that I admire; an Intellectual, a great cook, a Storyteller, a concert go-er, and a generous host and friend. I met Barry some time ago when he moved back to Leith after many years teaching in northern California (amongst other places). One of the things I always enjoy when visiting with Barry is that he never fails to have interesting stories to tell me about the past.

It should be noted that in my research, nobody knows more about the history of Leith, ND, than Barry.  There was a small yellow house on the northwest side of town, by the church, that belonged to Barry’s Grandma. Run down and abandoned, he allowed us to take wood from there before it was bulldozed. Along with a good load of wood, I found a favorite hat, and a classic Steinbeck novel in there.  Again, by saving some of the boards Barry had given us, we decided to build him a coffee table using the wood from his grandmother’s house. In turn, continuing the historical rhetoric of Leith, ND that Barry is so well versed in.

Sentimental pieces are my favorite items to build for someone, as they really connect the Grain Designs mission with a real relationship that someone has with that wood or most often a person that a building or place reminds them of.

Nostalgia can be a great feeling, and for me, the scenery of grant county in the fall paired with family and friends is about as nostalgic as it gets.

P.S. If the Habberstroh family is reading this, I haven’t forgotten about our plan to get some material from you and make something for you as well!

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