Archived Story

Kirkbride tours are now trendy [UPDATED]

Published 4:18am Monday, July 22, 2013 Updated 6:19am Monday, July 22, 2013

Walking into the superintendent’s apartment at the Regional Treatment Center, tour guide Maxine Schmidt gave folks a few minutes to walk around the spacious area before rattling off some facts from March 1937.

At that time, the hospital was at its largest with 2,078 patients. It was meant for 1,000. Beds filled the hallways and only 264 staff members were on hand.

“Patients helped take care of patients,” Maxine Schmidt said.

Demand for Friends of the Kirkbride tours of the Regional Treatment Center has increased the past couple years, especially since the future of the building has been in question.

“Right now the demand is great because everybody knows that it’s going to change, and our tours will likely end,” said Maxine Schmidt, a Friends of the Kirkbride member. “We used to try to keep it at around 20 people, and now we are going to 30 and over sometimes.”

For the past nine years, Maxine Schmidt and her husband Gene have shown thousands the Kirkbride facility on Friday afternoons, from spring to early fall. The purpose of their tours is to educate people and raise awareness for the vacant building until a reuse could be found.

“And stop it from being demolished,” Gene Schmidt said.

Tour goers have come from all over, including seven different countries and more than 40 different states.

The city of Fergus Falls and Historic Kirkbride, LLC officially entered into the letter of intent phase for redevelopment of the RTC. Historic Kirkbride is looking to complete a $41.4 million plan including an upscale hotel of approximately 120 hotel rooms with associated amenities, about five restaurants and about 60 market-rate apartments.

With a plan in the works, it’s uncertain how much longer the RTC tours will continue.

“We met with (city administrator) Mark Sievert, and it was agreed that we would continue to book until something changes,” Maxine Schmidt said. “We are willing to continue the tours as long as possible.”

They’re already booking tours into October because everything before that is full. Though they have received lots of requests for tours to be expanded to Saturday and Sunday, they’ve stuck to Fridays. But city staff turns the lights on and off for the tours, and they don’t work weekends, Maxine Schmidt said. They’re also not sure going to weekday tours would work either, because many people say they can’t come Fridays because of work.

The Friends of the Kirkbride also take freewill donations during the tours, with the money going toward “anything that will promote the building,” Gene Schmidt said.

They do get occasional cancellations, so they also have a waiting list.

People are willing to wait, too. At least some people on the July 12 tour tried last year to get in and couldn’t. Jim and Adelle Devries from Bejou, Minn. (just north of Mahnomen) were two of them. So this year, the tour was a Father’s Day present from their daughter.

Jim Devries is a pilot who’s flown over the RTC before. He snapped many photos during the tour and thought the tour was great.

“He’s always been so impressed with the architecture,” Adelle Devries said.

For Carla Symons, of Langdon, N.D., the tour was interesting and a good chance to compare it with the state hospital in Jamestown. She and her family were staying at a resort in the area and it was her daughter-in-law who did the research on the RTC.

“I certainly hope they can preserve it, because there’s a lot of history here,” Symons said. “This is a tourist area, so it should draw people.”

  • nanajean

    Gene and Maxine have done much to promote the saving of the Kirkbride Campus, though they have not done this by themselves. Many Friends have contributed to the promoting of the complex, and that should not be forgotten. It is not possible for 2 people to have taken on this task with out other caring people who have pushed some limits. Lets be sure the credit is spread through out the community.

  • SAOkke

    Jean I did not see anything that indicated Gene and Maxine have done anything by themselves. They have certainly never portrayed their involvement as being anything but what it is. They are the spokespeople for the Kirkbride. They are the ones to call for tours. If it makes you feel better I will personally thank you. Thank you Jean for all of your hardwork! ( I myself prefer to contribute to society without fanfare and recognition.) I am very greatful to those who have contributed to the saving of this beautiful building.

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