New event center, overnight rental to open near Detroit Lakes

The Chapel House was a labor of love for the Dunnigan family

O’Mara Dunnigan, her husband Adam and their two children, Kinley, 10, and Ryan, 8, renovated a church building (along with professional help), to provide a new event center and house rental for residents and visitors of the Detroit Lakes area. <br/><br/> <br/><br/><br/>
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES – A new event center is opening at a historic venue on the outskirts of Detroit Lakes, and will also offer overnight stays.

About six minutes from downtown Detroit Lakes sits a church on a hill. From the outside, the golden steeple, elegant windows and clean white siding trick the eye into thinking the building is a well-loved house of worship.

Once inside, visitors see the building for what it was, and what it has become.

An open house at the Chapel House is set for Saturday, Sept. 17, from 2-5 p.m.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

The architectural staples of a church building remain – decorative windows and curved ceilings. But, the entryway leads to an open floor plan where a living room, dining room and kitchen meet at an enormous kitchen island. There are also two patio doors leading to an oversized deck.

Up the stairs is a master bedroom with a full bathroom. Downstairs are two more bedrooms, another bathroom, TV area and a second gathering area. There is also access to a ground-level patio.


From the staircase, the enormous kitchen island that ties the dining room area and living room together can be seen.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

O’Mara Dunnigan, a real estate agent, saw the church was for sale last year. She and her husband Adam, who reside in rural Audubon, enjoy renovating properties and were looking for something unique.

“When we walked in the front door, it took our breath away,” she said, noting the potential was immediately recognizable to them. “We had no idea what we would do with it, but loved it.”

That says a lot about the Dunnigan's vision, as the church reportedly looked as if Mother Nature had hosted an ongoing party that had gotten out of hand.

The two examined the foundation and roof. When the bones of the church were determined to be in sound condition, the two decided to buy it.

“It was September 2021,” Dunnigan recalled. “We’re having our open house almost a year to the day.”

The Chapel House is located at 22700 175 St., Detroit Lakes. The open house is set for Saturday, Sept. 17 from 2-5 p.m.

Chapel House built in 1903 and moved twice

The story of the Chapel House began in 1903, when it was built as a church in the Hamden Slough area of Audubon. The church closed in 1960 due to low membership numbers.

After 23 years of abandonment, the building was purchased and moved to a farm where it was used as a boutique offering artwork, dolls, quilts and furniture.


Chapel HouseMap.jpg
The Chapel House is located at 22700 175 St., Detroit Lakes, which is about six minutes from downtown.
Contributed / Google Maps

In 2000, the church building was sold and moved once again, landing at its current location along a gravel road not far from U.S. Highway 10.

The church was placed on a poured cement foundation and became a non-denominational house of worship known as the “Chapel on the Hill.” Due to low membership, in 2021, the building and 2.5 acres were offered for sale.

After the Dunnigan’s purchased the building, the renovation work began.

“The steeple was crumbling,” Dunnigan said. “It was held together with prayers and sawdust.”

She added there was no insulation in the building, there was no heating or air conditioning, the septic system had failed and the to-do list continued to grow.

Pictures of the building before and after the renovation are on display at the Chapel House in Detroit Lakes, giving visitors a visual diary of what was done to rehabilitate the building.
Barbie Porter / Detroit Lakes Tribune

As the family dove into demolition, they contacted Divina Cloney, a designer from Maryland. Dunnigan said Cloney visited the church and created a vision to best utilize the space. Then, professionals were hired to tackle the electrical, plumbing and septic. A man named Ted Anderson was hired to level a floor, build custom trim and fix the 65-foot-tall “leaning” steeple.

“We had two contractors look at the project,” Dunnigan said. “One said sell the building and the other was scared to be up in the steeple (due to safety concerns). When Ted came, he looked and said anything was possible.”

Now that renovations are complete, the Dunnigans look forward to giving the church a fourth lifetime filled with events, celebrations and moments where people strengthen the ties that bind.


The Chapel House will be open year-round and reservations can soon be made through sites like VRBO and Airbnb, or by calling Dunnigan at 701-200-4240.

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