For the greater good of the state, two visionary women saved a school in Nome, North Dakota.


Theresa Perleberg and Chris Armbrust found the 1916 Nome Schoolhouse in total disrepair in 2018, but were not deterred by its deteriorated state. Three years later the school was reborn as the Nome Fiber Arts Boutique Hotel and Event Center. Courtesy the Fiber Arts Boutique Hotel and Event Center



This is a story about two North Dakota women on a shopping spree—not for school clothes, but for a school. 

“We’d already looked at other schools, but they were either modernized or vandalized, and they weren’t what we wanted,” Theresa Perleberg remembers. “This one was hidden by trees and had been abandoned for 50 years.”

Nobody had painted over its antique woodwork or closed up windows; nobody had stripped it of the great old stuff they proudly built North Dakota schools with in the early 1900s. No, this 1916 building was perfect.

They laugh as they’re reminded that their idea of perfect was a place falling apart: rain coming through the decrepit roof; birds coming through the broken windows; enough junk to fill multiple industrial dumpsters.

“It was tough, but we could see through it,” Chris Armbrust says.

As they looked around, they found themselves in the City of Nome, North Dakota, southeast of Valley City. Every community in North Dakota is called a “city”—it’s a chest-puffing thing—and this one counted 51 residents in the 2020 census.

So, what in the world would someone want with a 13,000-square-foot, two-
and-a-half-story brick school with 29 windows on its face in a town of 51?

Theresa and Chris wanted a “destination” place for their fabric business—a multipurpose center where they could turn others on to the creation and use of wool from the sheep Theresa was raising on her farm near Fort Ransom.

Within days, they’d purchased the building and started cleaning out the junk.

“At first there was a lot of skepticism,” Theresa says. “People thought we were kind of crazy.” Chris remembers her husband—himself a “remodeling guy”—suggesting “we should be committed.” But as everyone saw how structurally sound the old school still was, they came around.

It took them three years to remake the school—jealously protecting all its old stuff—and opened the Fiber Arts Boutique Hotel and Event Center in July 2021.

People go there from around the nation to stay in its 11 antique-filled hotel rooms for classes on fiber arts and basket-weaving, as well as hanging out with Chris in the fiber mill, relaxing, visiting wineries, kayaking and sitting around the fire at night. There’s also space for special events, like weddings and corporate retreats, as well as a bar and a chef they brag about. Their slogan says, “Guests can immerse themselves

in the kind of peace and tranquility that is unique to rural North Dakota.”

The project not only demonstrates real guts and determination, but a resource that is helping a tiny “city” see new economic health.

As far as shopping sprees go, this
one took the cake. Literally. Theresa and Chris were honored in 2022 as visionaries, winning one of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Awards.

Jana Bommersbach has earned recognition as Arizona’s Journalist of the Year and won an Emmy and two Lifetime Achievement Awards. She cowrote the Emmy-winning Outrageous Arizona and has written three true crime books,
a children’s book and the historical novel Cattle Kate.

Related Articles

  • Sheriff_s-at-Bell-grave

    By dying from Billy the Kid’s hands on April 28, 1881, Deputy Sheriffs James W.…

  • border crossers bob boze bell true west

    In the old days (early twentieth century) riders were often hard pressed to know exactly…

  • Theodore Roosevelt’s Western home is where legends were made—and still celebrated. It’s hard to imagine…