Bruflat Academy and Business Institute
Portland, North Dakota
The old Bruflat Academy campus is only a block from where I live, so I see the grounds almost every day. Theodore Gilbertson’s history of the school is available in Grand Forks. The Portland Republican had a weekly column of Bruflat Academy activities. The present community newspaper, the Traill County Tribune, did a special on the school in 1981 after interviewing one of its last graduates. Concordia College has the catalogue.
Bruflat Academy was the work of Reverend Bjug Harstad, a Lutheran minister. It opened in 1889, shortly after North Dakota became a state. Bruflat became a boarding high school for this rural area at a time when many communities lacked the facilities to prepare students for college. But Bruflat was more than a preparatory school. Among its programs was a normal school to train elementary teachers and a commercial course for students seeking careers in office work. It was noted for its strong music program.
Since many students were first generation Norwegian immigrants, the academy offered classes in English. But it was also a parochial school, offering classes in Norwegian language. These emphasized church doctrine, memorization of biblical passages, and hymns in Norwegian. Often guest speakers did presentations in Norwegian, and at times repeated the lecture in English.
The Christian environment of the school was emphasized by mandatory daily chapel.
The Tribune article notes that since some male students worked on farms in the fall and spring, Bruflat had a short 12-14 week winter term to accommodate the work schedule of these students.
Bruflat Academy opened with 100 students. The 1909 commencement program shows 11 graduates—four from the prep course, three from the normal department and three commercial students. One commercial student also received a diploma in shorthand.
The school closed in 1918, a likely victim of World War I and competition from public high schools.
Graduating class from Bruflat Academy. Graduates included preparatory, normal and business students. (Photo from Traill County Tribune)
Bricks and Mortar
Main Building contained three floors above a basement. Parochial classes were held on the ground floor and Academy classes on the second floor. The third floor contained dormitory rooms for girls and faculty, while the dining hall was in the basement. In 1896 a second building was added, primarily as a boys’ dormitory. The ground floor there held the auditorium as well as the rooms for commercial subjects.
There seems to have also been a small hospital and a heating plant. Discussions about the building of a gymnasium seem not to have materialized, as the auditorium also served as the gymnasium.
After Bruflat closed, the main building was sold to the city of Portland for a high school. It was raised in 1986. The second building has just been razed. I took up some of the flooring to use in projects for the local art gallery.
Above) The hilltop Bruflat campus. Main Building with its distinctive bell tower is to the right. (Photo from Bruflat Menighets Historie, 1874-1924).
Colors: The pennant at the Traill County
Museum is red and blue
Bruflat’s sports were baseball and basketball. The small numbers and the shortened schedules for males from the farms, would have precluded a football team. Bruflat’s primary opponent for both baseball and basketball was the Normal School at Mayville, only two miles away. Available newspaper accounts show pretty much an even rivalry. Other opponents were from the high school and town team ranks.
(Above) 1912 Bruflat Academy basketball team (Photo from Traill County Tribune)