School of arts
When you see an abandoned building, it’s hard not to imagine what it might have been like in the past. Abandoned homes create daydreams of the families who used to live there, the holidays they celebrated and the memories they created. Abandoned businesses have you wondering about the service they provided or the items they once sold. Although you might imagine what an abandoned building once was, have you ever imagined what it could be?
That’s exactly what Chris Armbrust and Teresa Perleberg did with the Nome Schoolhouse. Together, they took something most people would consider a lost cause and gave it a new life. Today, the Nome Schoolhouse is a thriving business and event center, housing both Dakota Fiber Mill and Bear Creek Felting and bringing exciting opportunities to rural North Dakota.
A fiber artist paradise
Not many can say their business started from their child’s birthday present, but that’s exactly what happened for Perleberg. After her daughter asked for a sheep for her eighth birthday, Perleberg started exploring wool arts. Needle felting, a process of repeatedly stabbing wool with a needle to stiffen and shape it into a three-dimensional form, stuck with her. Not long after starting, her needle-felted animals were selling on eBay and Etsy. When she began selling needle-felting kits with step-by-step instructions on how to make the animals and wool from her sheep, the business began to grow.
“Business grew slowly,” Perleberg says in one of the videos on their “Ewetube,” Shepherd Industries YouTube channel. “I remember it grew to the point that I could buy my family a new dishwasher, which was pretty exciting at the time.”
After her first small success, the income from this side gig kept increasing, and, in 2017, she decided to put together an online academy to teach interested fiber artists how to make more intricate needlefelted animals. Throughout all of this, Perleberg was taking the wool from her sheep to be cleaned and processed at Dakota Fiber Mill, which was run by Chris Armbrust, out of Kindred.
For Armbrust, Dakota Fiber Mill started when she purchased alpacas to fill an empty barn. She purchased them with the intention of starting hand spinning and processing their wool for her knitting projects. Although she enjoyed the process of hand spinning her yarn, when family and friends began to want to purchase her yarn, she started to use the help of an outside mill. Using an outside mill saved Armbrust time in the process of hand spinning, but she still had to wait about eight months for the processed yarn to come back.
In 2009, her alpaca shearer suggested she start her own mill. Within six months of that idea being planted, Armbrust had her own mill. The machinery for spinning wool is expensive, but Armbrust was approved for a low-interest, women-owned business loan that allowed her to purchase the equipment she needed. After finding someone in England who could gather the equipment she needed and have it sent to her, she then paid him to train her for about three weeks on how to use the mill. After a whirlwind of a training process, Armbrust was left to figure out the rest as she went.
“It was a terrifying process,” Armbrust said. “Every batch you spin is different. It was such a huge learning curve.”
As both of their respective businesses expanded, they decided to form a partnership and expand. In 2018, the ladies joined forces to create Shepherd Industries LLC.
“We wanted to share our love and knowledge of the fiber arts with others and needed a unique space for those interested to come and stay, learn, and experience the process from farm to needle,” Perleberg said.
The space also had to be big enough to house a large amount of equipment for Armbrust’s mill. Although this is a very specific set of needs to fill, the long-abandoned Nome Schoolhouse had the potential to do just that.
Bringing the vision to life
After the initial idea for their retreat center, Armbrust and Perleberg had all but decided they wanted to find an old school to carry out their idea. They envisioned a gym being the perfect place to host events and the rest of the building being used for guest rooms, places to eat and drink, and, of course, enough space to hold Armbrust’s mill equipment.
As they brainstormed buildings they knew of in the area, they started to contact current owners. After a few tours and an almost sale falling through, Perleberg brought up the idea of looking at an old school she knew of in her area.
“I didn’t even know if there was a school there anymore; it was so overgrown with trees,” Perleberg reminisced.
But, closer inspection revealed there was, in fact, still a building there, and that building was the Nome Schoolhouse.
The Nome Schoolhouse was built in 1916, and a gym was added in 1949. For years, the classrooms and hallways served the students, teachers, and parents in the area. As the rural population of North Dakota declined, the school’s enrollment numbers dropped. Classes began to get smaller and smaller, and the high school was forced to close its doors in 1966. Eventually, the elementary school followed suit in 1970. The students traveled to attend other schools in the area, and the building was eventually sold and used for storage.
On Oct. 9, 2018, Armbrust and Perleberg officially purchased the Nome Schoolhouse. From there began the three-year journey to get the schoolhouse and their business to where it is today. At the time of purchasing, the schoolhouse seemed barely salvageable.
“The renovation process was intimidating, but we were determined,” Perleberg said.
With the building being a shadow of what it once was, many people might have decided to just knock the building down and start over. But Armbrust and Perleberg had the determination and vision to restore the building to its former glory.
“The more setbacks we had, the more our determination grew!” Perleberg said.
A thriving business
Thanks to hard work, determination, and faith, the old Nome Schoolhouse has been successfully transformed into three separate entities that each provide something different.
The Nome Schoolhouse provides a space for weddings, corporate retreats, getaways. You can see all events and book your stay at Nomeschoolhouse.com.
Shepherd Industries is growing, developing more products and ideas, as well as continuing to increase its wool product production. You can shop all their products in the Nome Schoolhouse. For hours and online products, visit Bearcreekfelting.com.
Eweneversity is the educational side of the business for crafty folks looking to learn something new. They keep busy developing classes, retreats, school tours, and educational materials on fiber arts, and agriculture and industry. They are currently fundraising to bring a variety of animals onto their campus at the schoolhouse to complete their Farmto- Needle Experience. Learn more at Eweneversity.com.