The Barn at Dunvilla re-opens in style
Eric Miller walks slowly around an old barn that is now his. The clip clopping of his shoes on the new, stone tiles echo throughout the spacious, historic building.
But behind the shiny, new log-style construction and cozy gas fireplace lies a rich history that still echoes in the memories of some of the residents of Dunvilla.
Not long after the turn of the 20th century, the barn once housed cattle for resort owner Wilson Dunn and his son, Roy.
Together, the pair built several little cabins, a little log house, a large lodge and the barn.
Roy Dunn would go on to become one of the longest standing, influential Republican legislators in Minnesota history, all the while owning and operating the resort, which became a well-known destination that thrived.
Miller, who grew up on Lake Lizzie right next to the Dunvilla Resort, remembers it like it was yesterday.
“Back when the restaurant was there, we’d go swimming in the pond,” said Miller, who says he could see the barn from the road where he waited for the school bus. “My first job was bussing tables and doing dishes there in the seventh grade,” he added, smiling.
Dunn sold the resort in 1973, and since then, it has passed hands, changed functions and has been structurally whittled down until only the little log house and the barn stand today.
When the property came up for sale last year, Miller had an idea.
“At Christmas time I brought it up to my family, that wouldn’t it be great if we could turn it into a place where people in the community could hold events?” he said, adding that his sister, Linda Grefsrud, joined him in the venture.
Miller purchased the property in May, which came complete with the barn, the little log cabin and nine acres.
Although much of the barn had already been remodeled for the use of a realty business, Miller had visions of knocking down some walls of the office space, rebuilding the staircase going up into the big loft on the upper level and building an outdoor deck.
Although he and Grefsrud have been handling the bulk of the big project over the summer, they had plenty of family members willing to pitch in and make it a reality.
There would be a lot of cleaning and hard work to get the old barn shining like new again.
But by July, Miller’s niece was walking down the aisle at the place now called The Barn at Dunvilla.
The bottom 3,600 square feet is all new and refined; the top 3,600 square feet is authentic and historic, providing a popular blend of rustic and refined.
Miller, who is also the director for internal audit at NDSU, had found an outlet for his creative side.
“I like architecture, I like photography, I like working with my hands,” he said, laughing at how this new business has even landed him at a bridal show as a vendor.
“Who would’ve thought?” he laughed.
But with the help of sisters who seem to always be finding something rustic and fitting for The Barn, Miller now has a full-fledged event center perfect for weddings, receptions, bridal showers, family and class reunions.
“The Pelican Rapids High School is even booked to have their prom here next spring,” said Miller, adding that he already has 14 weddings booked.
He says he’s excited to bring a piece of history back to the people of the Dunvilla area, and says he’s had several elderly folks stop in just to look around at the place and share with him their Dunvilla Resort stories from years ago.
“It’s bringing back what we once had here,” said Miller, who says the business aspect of it is one thing, but it’s the idea of providing a place for people to create new memories is what really drives him.
“We’re just glad that we were able to preserve it to be used this way — we didn’t want to see it turned into a bad nightclub or something,” he laughed.
The little old log cabin that Roy Dunn was born in is still being leased out to a couple who run a gift shop out of it, as the familiar acreage around The Barn remains virtually untouched.
“We have a nice flat space for receptions, plus a nice natural amphitheater with a pond, so we can have ceremonies down there, and our place faces the west so the sunsets are fantastic,” said Miller, who hopes his new place can be used for more than just personal events, but also for things like farmer’s markets and 10-K runs through the year.
“This is about taking our past here and hopefully linking it to our future,” said Miller.