JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

My Mom, Phyllis Maxine (Boehmer) Fuglie, was born Oct. 10, 1924, at the farm home of her parents, Peter and Sophia (Aaberg) Boehmer, near Edmore, N.D.

Her family moved to Saskatchewan for a short time during the Great Depression, where my Grandpa Pete took work as a farmhand to support his growing family. But after a few years, they returned to North Dakota, and she graduated from Edmore High School in 1942. Mom received her R.N. degree from Mercy Hospital College of Nursing in Devils Lake in 1945. She did additional nurses training at Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis.

She married my dad, O.J. “Whitey” Fuglie. on Sept. 15, 1946 in Devils Lake, and they moved to Chicago, where she worked as a nurse in Chicago hospitals, supporting Dad while he attended optometry school at Northern Illinois College of Optometry, using his GI Bill of Rights benefits.

They moved to Hettinger, N.D., in 1950, where Dr. Fuglie opened an optometric practice and she resumed her nursing career, which spanned more than 40 years. She took occasional leaves from her nursing career to raise her seven children, but because of the demand for nurses in her small town, she was often called to work night and emergency shifts. Late in her career, she served as director of nursing at Hettinger’s nursing home and as a public health nurse for Adams County.

Dad died on March 16, 1984, and Mom remained in Hettinger until 1992, when she moved to Bismarck to be nearer her children after they were all out of school. She returned to Hettinger in 2005 and resided at Western Horizons Nursing Home, the same facility at which she had been nursing director (and at times thought she still was) until her death.

Mom was a member of Hettinger’s Parent Teacher Association, Eagles Auxiliary, St. Ann’s Group of the Altar Society and the Hettinger American Legion Auxiliary from 1950 until her death. She was active in Scouts, serving as den mother to all her sons’ Cub Scout packs and Campfire group leader to her daughters.

She died Sept. 26, 2009 outliving her sisters Mae, June, Pauline and Laureen; and her brothers Glen, Herbert and Jack. Her brother Leonard, the last surviving member of her family, died in 2011. Of the nine children born to her parents, only the four youngest lived past their 25th birthday, and a 25th birthday became a celebration and memorial day for the family.

All of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren join me in wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day. We loved her dearly and miss her greatly.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 38

That Champion Red Oak tree drops a massive quantity of leaves and I’ve just spent much of the last week picking these up, schlepping each garbage can load to the compost pile. Phase two of spring gardening also included cutting back the few perennials I did not trim last fall and transplanting those I’d noted in need of a different location.

I’m happy that I’m home from Texas before anything here has bloomed and just in the nick of time for the always-early blossoms on our meadowlark forsythia.

Jim has removed the straw mulch from the garlic and I’ve removed the leaf mulch from the strawberries. He’s also trimmed back the raspberries and planted potatoes and lettuce and peas and more. I’ve removed the bittersweet vine that the rabbits severed last winter and found more serious rabbit damage to cuss at — will have to do something about that next fall. Lizzie, the springer spaniel, has done a real number on the grass this past winter, something I will need to attend to soon.

The tulips have emerged and will bloom soon, and the aspens are heavy with catkins. I’m relieved their tiny lime green leaves did not unfurl before I returned. It is dry here and we had to bite the bullet and start the sprinkler system.

The seedlings we started in the furnace room are thriving and Jim has given away all of his surplus tomatoes. He was so eager to get these planted and did so —  25 planted Monday. I’m the more cautious gardener and wait until late in May for my flower seedlings. Because these annuals are in an unfenced area, I have to wait until the seedlings are fairly large in the hopes that the rabbits won’t munch ‘em.

We’ve eaten the first of our asparagus and it was mighty tasty.

I squeezed in some birding Saturday morning with the Bis/Man Birding Club. Here at Red Oak House, the white-throated sparrows are passing through and I am listening to the buzz of the newly arrived clay-colored sparrows. Sunday brought the first chu-bek of the least flycatcher. We are eager for the house wrens to return.

I’ve made my first run at a nearby garden center and my list included grass seed for that hammered lawn. I’ve also done damage assessment, and two irises have died in an exposed area where I failed to mulch last fall. I should know better. I also found more damage from the danged rabbits. Jim knows when he hears me cussing out loud that it is likely at rabbits.

These are the days when most of our time is spent in our garden. We eschew meetings in retirement, but particularly during this time of the year.

For my birthday this week, Jim granted my wish and bought me this sweet Buddda for the garden, along with a marvelous trip to Adams County on a blue-sky-puffy-cloud-meadowlark-day. We devoured twist cones at the Hettinger cafe and went down many memory lanes.

“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.” — David Hume

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The History of Highland Acres, Conclusion

OIL TO THE RESCUE

A pair of Bismarck oil men, new to North Dakota and chasing the state’s first small oil boom, likely made the deal of their life in early 1952, acquiring almost the entire 127-acre tract of Highland Acres, complete with partially constructed streets, water mains, a couple of dozen good residents and the potential to earn a healthy return on a relatively small investment, for just enough to let the credit union recover its own investment.

Bismarck residents picked up their newspapers from their doorsteps June 6, 1952, to see the following headline blaring at them from the front page:

Wilhite, Seay Buy Highland Acres

That’s a headline that probably caused the paper’s late editor Ken Simons, whose dream of a cooperatively-owned housing development died with that headline, to roll over in his grave.

The good news was that the two men who bought the development, Irvin J. Wilhite and Arthur Seay, pledged to retain the restrictive clauses in the deeds.

“What we want,” they told The Tribune, “is to make the area the most desirable in Bismarck. After all, we’re North Dakotans now, and we plan to live there ourselves. It would be a shame for a subdivision as well-planned as Highland Acres and in such a fine location to be spoiled by indiscriminate building and development.”

The Tribune said the men owned 246 lots, and planned to require houses “in the same general class as those that are there,” with prices expected to be in the $17,000 to $20,000 range. The immediate problem was getting sanitary sewer service to the development. Existing homes all had their own individual septic systems. With the new owners on board, the city moved forward, completing the first stretch by the end of the year. As the sewer system moved forward, homes began to be developed along the streets where sewer and water lines had been installed.

Wilhite, who was the visible partner and spokesman for the company, was a native South Dakotan and a former World War II bomber pilot who became a flamboyant Bismarck personality and founder of the Nokota Co., an oil and gas exploration company. He served three sessions as a state senator in the North Dakota Senate, from 1967-71, and was the majority leader in the 1971 session. He later became a real estate developer in Costa Rica, where he resides today, at age 97.

He and Seay incorporated as Capital City Development and were finally successful at marketing the properties and developing the Highland Acres we know today. By 1956, according to records at the Bismarck City Hall, lots along most of the streets were filling up with homes, thanks mostly to the advertising and sales efforts by the real estate company hired by Capital City Development, Hedden Real Estate.

Hedden took a different approach to marketing the lots and homes in the development, using radio, television and splashy newspaper ads using colorful sales pitches:

  • “The Place of Beauty with An Eye to the Future.”
  • “The Dreams of Young and Old Alike Are Fulfilled In This Wonderful New Addition … Here YOU Decide the Design of Your Family Home!.”
  • “Luxury, Pride, PLUS economy is your family’s future in Highland Acres.” 

FOUR MORE ADDITIONS

Another nearby landowner was keeping a close eye on Wilhite and Seay as they were filling up their vacant lots. When the original plat for Highland Acres was filed, it left a large open space between the country club and the eastern boundary of Highland Acres, about 40 acres.

Ell Torrance, longtime Bismarck resident and president of the A.W. Lucas Co., which owned the largest department store in Bismarck at the time, owned a tract of land adjacent to the back lot lines on Crescent Lane, the eastern boundary of Highland Acres. He’d built a large home atop the high hill, looking west toward the Missouri River over the roofs of the new homes in Highland Acres, looking east toward the golf course and north toward Jackman Coulee. His children had the run of the prairie, with the eight acres he owned and 32 more acres adjacent to his land to the north, giving them almost 40 acres of open space.

But as Torrance watched the homes going up along Crescent Lane, he decided to develop his own property, creating Torrance Hill Addition and Torrance Addition in the winter of 1956-57. His plat for Torrance Addition was much the same as Highland Acres, with about 20 lots on one long, wide, winding street, with curb and gutter, but no sidewalks. Two more large homes were built on top the hill in Torrance Hill Addition, including a large rock-faced home by Harold Schafer, founder of the Gold Seal Co. and father of modern Medora. Those homes remain today.

Much to the chagrin of his children, his son, Richard, told me many years later, Torrance began selling lots and building homes almost immediately. There went the neighborhood, Richard said. The addition ended up with 19 single-story ranch style homes, much like their neighbors behind them on Crescent Lane, on the street he named Arthur Drive, running north to near the edge of the coulee, all but five completed in a building flurry on the street in 1958 and 1959, with four more completed in the 1960s and the last, on the big lot at the end of the street, in 1973.

Wilhelm and Seay, meanwhile, with most of their lots developed and seeing the success of Torrance, purchased the property north of Torrance’s and created Highland Acres Second and Third Additions, about 32 acres surrounding a large green space along Jackman Coulee.

The 56 lots in Highland Acres Second were laid out along long, winding streets on both sides of the coulee, which had been deeded to the Park District back in 1946 in exchange for what, by the early 1960s, had become the addition’s “Pill Hill,” the area where architects designed a handful of high-end homes — but still one-story with mostly one-car garages — for doctors and other wealthy residents.

The two major streets through the new addition were named Parkview Drive and Coulee Drive. Highland Acres Third lay east of Highland Acres Second, facing the golf course along Ward Road, now the milelong major thoroughfare through west Bismarck. Here, half the homes faced west toward the Jackman Coulee park area, and half were in two large cul de sacs, so there were no through streets in the addition, and the homes in the two cul de sacs, Highland Place and Cottage Drive, though many of them upscale, again were all single family homes.

HIGHLAND ACRES TODAY                          

The eventual path of development of Highland Acres can be traced by taking a fascinating drive around the major street in the addition, Highland Acres Road, which completely encircles the development. On South Highland Acres Road, where Avenue C, the entrance to the subdivision, ends, the houses are of the Farwest Homes design — small, one-story, ground-level entrances and single-car garages — and were built for around $10,000, some less.

But as you drive north along the street, the homes begin to get larger, culminating about half-mile from the subdivision’s entrance at the top of “Pill Hill” on the very north end of the development. As you continue around the loop and head back south to the entrance to Highland Acres, the homes again become more modest, so it is clear the developers sought to preserve the integrity of the neighborhoods, rather than intermingling large and small homes. You can almost hear Ken Simons cheering, “Hooray for Wilhite and Seay!”

A drive through the Highland Acres neighborhoods in 2018 will confirm that the early promise made by Wilhite and Seay to retain the planned character of the addition was a good one, and that the vision of the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association has been fulfilled.

Now Highland Acres is a large, friendly neighborhood of nearly 400 single-family ranch-style homes, with no more than a dozen two-story homes in the entire development, although there are a number of split-entry and garage tuck-under designs, to take advantage of the addition’s hilly terrain. Two churches and a school, long winding streets carved into the land’s contours, green spaces for families to recreate, numerous cul-de-sac streets for quiet residential areas and a complete absence of any commercial activity, except children’s lemonade stands on warm summer afternoons, maintain the area’s reputation as, indeed, still one of the most desirable places to live in Bismarck, fulfilling the dream Ken Simons and his fellow veterans envisioned more than 70 years ago.

And much of what made that possible was the Veterans’ Co-op’s ability to take advantage of North Dakota’s unique history to get the project off the ground back in the 1940s. The cooperative movement was especially strong here in this prairie state, and the foresightedness of the Farmers Union, still the major cooperative influence in the state today, in creating a major credit union, basically a cooperatively-owned bank, whose only goal was to provide financing for the improvement of the lives of its members, and its willingness to provide the initial capital to purchase the land and begin building homes, was the initial driving force in making the development a reality.

Then, the Bank of North Dakota, the only state-owned bank in America, created in the state’s socialist era by the Nonpartisan League, provided the initial financing for the first twenty or so homes.

And then the discovery of oil as the second half of the 20th century began brought the two entrepreneurs, Wilhite and Seay, to the state, and they quickly caught the spirit of North Dakota, motivated not only by profit, but also by the sense of community, in retaining the characteristics of the original idea of the veterans group.

The five additions form a contiguous neighborhood, still with no through streets, bounded by a golf course on its east side, a state college on its north side (both within walking distance of Highland Acres residents), a railroad right-of-way and a few hundred acres of open space on the west, between the houses and the Missouri River, and on the south side, the famous “Avenue C,” the exit road from the subdivision leading to downtown Bismarck’s commercial area.

Today second- and even some third-generation residents occupy the homes, enough young families to not only fill the school, but in recent years, create a need for additional portable classrooms to accommodate all of them.

Here’s the makeshift bridge and the Tarzan rope over the creek in Highland Acres, just waiting for school to get out and the neighborhood kids to arrive.
Here’s the makeshift bridge and the Tarzan rope over the creek in Highland Acres, just waiting for school to get out and the neighborhood kids to arrive.

On summer afternoons, you’ll find boys and girls hard at work building secret forts in the trees along the heavily wooded hillsides of Jackman Coulee, and makeshift bridges only the youngest and bravest of us would dare to venture across, from one side of the narrow, flowing creek to the other. And parents can often hear a Tarzan-like yell as their kids swing across the creek on a rope hung from a large boxelder tree in that marvelous green space, envisioned as a children’s park more than 70 years ago, and today untouched by even as much as a sidewalk.

The big hill from Parkview Drive down to the coulee’s bottom is a favorite sledding hill in winter, and snowmen dot the coulee’s landscape, melting in spring into the gurgling water flowing west from the golf course through Highland Acres on its meandering way to the Missouri River.

Highland Acres is an important 20th-century historical achievement, one not likely ever to be repeated, or even proposed, again. It is certainly significant to the history of Bismarck, and, as Dr. Ames said, the history of post-World War II housing is an important historical American resource.

Still, in Bismarck conversations, when someone is asked where they live, and the answer is “Highland Acres,” there’s a noticeable pause, in recognition that it is a special place in the city. But most don’t know the story of the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association, and how Highland Acres came to be, and how it remains remarkably true to its founders’ vision. It’s a story that needs to continue to be shared.

Here’s a link to some historic photos on file at the Bismarck Public Library.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The History of Highland Acres, Part 5

MOVING IN

Here are the first 21 residents of Highland Acres, gleaned from the files of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Notice they are all just men’s names, the “heads of households.” We assume they all had wives as well. And probably children. I don’t have the dates of the purchase of each of these homes, but I’m pretty sure most of them were in late 1948 or 1949. See if you recognize any of these, or are related to them.

  • Horace Muller.
  • Earle A. Larson.
  • John R. Sarumgard.
  • Waldemar C. Johnson.
  • Glenn E. Brekke.
  • John P. Reinert.
  • James E. Long.
  • Elmer Herbramson.
  • Roy Schimer.
  • Homer B. Golden.
  • Roy G. Melby.
  • Harold J. Yeasley.
  • Ernst J. Pohlig.
  • John C. Neibauer.
  • Charles H. Wing.
  • Robert M. Howie.
  • Walter P. Buck.
  • Walter C. Engel.
  • Henry T. Brown.
  • George Haugarth.
  • Kenneth J. Kucera. 

FINANCIAL PROBLEMS

But by late 1949, 21 residents was far below projected progress, and the co-op found itself in financial trouble. The nationwide postwar housing boom had caused prices for building materials to “skyrocket,” according to a letter to the Cooperative League of the USA from Association secretary Virgil Luyben, and as a result, “About a third of the families could not make the additional cash payments required and had to lose a considerable amount on forced sales.”

So the association’s cash was gone, and bills were mounting. That created a problem for the association, which was paying to build the homes but found themselves still owning a number of them. The cost of the materials and labor for the homes had begun driving up the prices from what was expected to be at most $11,000 to $12,000 to $14,000 to $15,000, and not all prospective owners could afford these, or get financing.

Problems also arose with the FHA guarantees, after the first 21 homes had been completed, so the association’s officers turned to their representatives in Washington, D.C., for help. Sens. William Langer and Milton Young and Reps. Usher Burdick and William Lemke sought legislative help from their colleagues, to no avail. Without the loan guarantees, the development stalled.

The association kept working with the congressional delegation throughout 1949 and 1950, but the delegation’s frustration was as great as those back home. In a letter to Virgil Luyben, the association’s treasurer, Congressman Lemke (an isolationist who had opposed the United States’ entry into World War II) wrote that he had introduced an amendment to provide funding to the FHA for North Dakota’s veterans but didn’t sound optimistic:

“Whether that amendment will be accepted when the bill comes up, I do not know. You may rest assured that I shall do all I can to assist the veterans who are interested in this matter and who, I feel, did not get a fair deal.

“I am fully aware that when the war drums began to beat for World War II, nothing was too good for the boys who we sent again to fight and win the war that other nations started.

“But since they have returned, our government has been more interested in furnishing homes and squandering money over in Europe and forgetting the real protectors of our nation and the winners of wars that other nations started.”

Lemke’s efforts were unsuccessful. The Farmers Union-owned Central Credit Union was left with no choice but to foreclose on the association. At a meeting on March 30, 1951, the association’s board and the Credit Union reached an agreement that “the property known as Highland Acres should be transferred immediately from the association to the credit union by quit claim deed.”

Richard Joyce, secretary-treasurer of the credit union, wrote in a letter to the association dated April 11, 1951, that the credit union had devised a marketing plan for the remaining homes and lots in the subdivision and would begin offering them for sale, in an attempt to recoup its investment.

In a truly magnanimous gesture, “If and when the indebtedness to Central Credit Union is completely retired, all remaining lots will immediately be deeded back to the association and Central Credit Union will immediately retire from any further interest or activity in the association’s affairs,” Joyce wrote. And in another important show of good will, much to the association’s relief, he wrote “Central Credit Union will not in any way tamper with existing covenants during the promotional campaign.”

It was a bittersweet moment for the association’s board of directors. The agreement meant that the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association, which had been conceived, born and existed as a mostly all-volunteer effort for five years, by veterans wanting to take care of other veterans, no longer had any stake in its plan. But it would not be disbanded and would continue to exist on paper, with the hope that the credit union could recover its investment and put the cooperative association back in business at some future date.

Within just a few weeks, the credit union began its marketing efforts with a huge, two-thirds page ad in The Tribune:

*  *  *  *

FOR SALE

Lots — Lots of Lots

“Highland Acres addition to Bismarck is recognized as probably the finest potential residential area of any city in North Dakota, if not in the entire Northwest. This property is in the northwest section of the city, southwest of the capitol, just north of Avenue C and just west of the old country club.

“The project was originally conceived and sponsored by the late Ken Simons and other public spirited citizens of Bismarck shortly after World War II to expand and improve living conditions in this city.

“The 127 ½ acre area was purchased and platted. Streets were laid out. Special covenants were approved to keep this strictly a residential area of one family dwellings. Shopping and community centers are reserved, as is an area for school and playgrounds and parks. There are no alleys. Eleven “tot park” (playground) areas are set aside. Sixty-four of the 312 lots are sold. 27 homes have been built and are occupied. 72 lots are on city water and of this number, 28 lots are not sold. Water can easily be extended as other lots are sold and improved.

“North Dakota Central Credit Union made advances to the Association for purchase of the land, for surveying and platting, for filling and driveways, for water installation, for appraisals and for initial promotion and operation. The credit union was to be repaid as lots were sold.

“High building costs, lack of support, inexperience and some opposition prevented the Association from achieving its worthy goal. It finally became necessary for the Credit Union to acquire the property. This was done voluntarily by the Association.

“This Credit Union is not in the real estate business by choice. Therefore the Credit Union is disposing of the property by offering lots for sale at attractive prices without disruption of any of the original plans of the Association. Any lots remaining after the Credit Union has recovered its investment will be returned to the Association.

“This is our plan for selling this choice property. First, all members of the Association living in Bismarck have been given first chance of purchasing their choice of unsold lots during the period of May 1 to date. Second, this ad for residents of Bismarck and surrounding trade area offers people who live in this section of the state second choice of the remaining lots. This same information is being sent by letter to a select rural mailing list in Emmons, Burleigh, southern McLean, Mercer, Oliver, Morton, Grant, and Sioux counties. These are people who, when and if they retire, are likely to choose Bismarck as their new home. This offer is being made from now to July 15.

“Third, sale of any remaining lots needed to retire remaining indebtedness to Central Credit Union after July 15 has been guaranteed by individual members of local credit unions throughout North Dakota which have funds invested in Central.

“Appraised prices of these lots range from $285 to $920. Whatever your choice of a lot or lots, they may be had for 75 per cent of the original appraised price—if purchased by July 15. These are big lots and good lots. Our representative in Bismarck is Mrs. Mary E. Owens, Great Plains Real Estate and Housing Company, 319 Seventh Street, Bismarck. She has maps, plats, prices, and all other necessary information. See her at once for your choice of property. All taxes are paid. Good title will be furnished.

“BISMARCK IS ONE OF THE FASTEST GROWING CITIES IN NORTH DAKOTA. IT IS THE STATE CAPITAL. IT IS NEAR GARRISON DAM AND ITS POTENTIAL DEVELOPMENTS. IT MAY BE THE CENTER OF OIL AND OTHER INDUSTRIES IN WESTERN NORTH DAKOTA. BISMARCK’S PLACE IN THIS PROGRESSIVE GROWTH, LIKE OTHER CITIES IN THIS AREA, IS CONTINGENT UPON ADEQUATE AND DESIRABLE HOUSING. THERE IS NO MORE PROMISING NOR ATTRACTIVE POSSIBILITY THAN HIGHLAND ACRES.”

*  *  *  *

Association members hoped against hope that the credit union, with its advertising, would succeed in selling enough lots to recover its investment and return the remainder of the addition back to the cooperative. But with a debt of more than $60,000, it was going to take the sale of a huge number of the remaining 250 lots.

As the credit union said in its ad, it was not in the real estate business by choice. And it was not the credit union’s forte. The idea that the credit union could sell enough lots to retire the debt and return the unsold lots to the Association was not to be.

Its marketing effort brought a trickle of interest, but within a year, the credit union decided it needed to recover its money and get out. The solution was to sell the whole development. And for lucky developers, the price was right because the credit union was not involved to make a profit — it just wanted to recover its investment.

Next: Final installment. Oil to the rescue. Highland Acres today.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The History of Highland Acres, Part 4

1948: BUILDING HIGHLAND ACRES BEGINS

The Bismarck Tribune reported in April 1948 that “Twelve houses are under construction in Highland Acres, the addition on the western edge of the city owned by the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association.”

The paper said that the housing co-op had also contracted for construction of nine additional homes.

Looking over the building plans for the first round of construction, The Tribune reported “Eight houses are 24 feet by 36 feet, 10 are 24 feet by 38 feet, and three are 24 feet x 46 feet. They are shipped in panels and all accessory parts are pre-cut.”

The Tribune continued “Five of the buildings have the upper framework in place, four have progressed as far as the main floor on which work will be done at once.”

The Tribune hoped that 21 homes would be occupied by July 1. But the hoped-for construction scheduled proved too optimistic. Only four homes, in addition to the manager’s home and office, were completed over the summer, and The Tribune reported that, “On the 26th of October, the first four families moved into the Bismarck Highland Acres veterans housing addition, at 1118, 1119, 1120 and 1123 South Highland Acres Road. They were greeted by freshly graveled streets, which the city had agreed to do.”

But before construction began, the association’s board drew up, and the membership approved, a set of strict protective covenants, designed to create what the members hoped would be the most family-friendly neighborhood in Bismarck. Among the restrictions placed on the development were:

•All lots will be for residential use only, except a small area at the entrance to the addition, which is designated commercial, and areas set aside for schools and parks. (Note: the commercial area was later dropped from the plan, and an exception was made for two churches in the addition.)

  • Only single-family dwellings, no higher than two stories, with garages, will be permitted.
  • All houses are to be for single families only — no apartments will be allowed — except that servants’ quarters will be allowed. (emphasis added)
  • All “unsightly service entries, yards, and appurtenances must be adequately and tastefully screened from public view,” and dwellings “shall be of such style and proportions as are in keeping with the residential community.”
  • Buildings, fences, walls, walks, drives and other structures must be approved by a committee of the association before being built.
  • Hedges, trees, shrubbery and other plantings, as well as landscaping and grading, must be approved by a committee of the association.
  • Houses will have 30-foot setbacks from front lot lines and street lines, 8-foot setbacks from side lot lines, and 20-foot setbacks from all easements.
  • Seven-foot utility easements are required on side property lines, but they may not be used for vehicular traffic.
  • Minimum size restrictions depend on the size of the lot, but none will be smaller than 600 square feet on the main floor.
  • Exceptions to the covenants can be granted by the board of directors of the association for specific reasons.
  • No trailer, mobile structure, basement, tent or garage may be used as a dwelling.
  • Nuisances are not allowed. Examples are refuse piles, unsightly signs, unkempt yards, poultry, livestock and unusual pets, and “ugly fences, ugly landscaping and ugly exterior paint color.”
  • No “noxious or offensive trade or activity” shall be carried out on any lot.
  • If the covenants are in conflict with the recorded plat, the covenants rule.

At last, two full years after the first meeting was held at the Bismarck Veterans Club, the Highland Acres housing community for returning World War II veterans was becoming a reality.

The manager’s house and association office was completed in the summer of 1948, and it served as an office, although the manager did not move in to live there. But to speed up development, the association began a marketing program to sell the lots and get commitments for more houses to be built. In a report to stockholders dated May 27, 1948, the association reported it possessed “unselected lots” with a retail value of $107,900, with the average price of a lot being $400.

One of the problems was association members who found themselves financially unable to follow through on their commitments to build a home in the development. For example, the association received a letter from Anton Gress of Mandan, N.D., that said “Well, I’m pretty long to get together the money to build, but I can now see it’s impossible for me so please put my lot up for sale as soon as possible. Answer soon.”

Shortly after the office opened the following ad began running in The Bismarck Tribune:

LOTS FOR SALE

A limited number of lots are now on sale in Bismarck’s modern addition, planned for family living. Spacious lots with plenty of elbow room and expansion for a home. See the Highland Acres development off the west end of Avenue C. Inquire at the Avenue C office.

And seeking to attract attention to the development, other uses were found for the office. On Oct. 2, 1948, The Tribune reported that the house would be used as a Sunday School location.

“To accommodate children living in west Bismarck, Zion Lutheran Church will open a branch Sunday School at the office of Highland Acres at the west end of Avenue C. Beginning Classes will be held Sunday (Oct. 3) at 10 a.m. Parents who are interested are invited to send their children. A recent canvas of the area showed a need for a Sunday School in that sector.”

Church records do not tell us how long the house was used for that purpose, but it certainly was a good tactic by the association to draw attention to their new development.

The Tribune remained steadfast in its efforts to assist the development. Shortly after editor Simons’ death, The Tribune hired a veteran journalist, John O. Hjelle, as its new editor. Hjelle had been working in Washington D.C.. as an aide to Sen. Milton R. Young and had been instrumental in setting up meetings for the Homeowners Association’s board with the Federal Housing Agency, which led to the agency’s granting of loan guarantees for mortgages by association members. So Hjelle brought a solid knowledge of the Highland Acres project with him to the editor’s job, and made sure The Tribune’s coverage did not wane as the project progressed.

A story in the paper in June reported that Bismarck was facing a school shortage, in common with the rest of the nation. The School Board did a survey, and one of the conclusions they reached, as reported in The Tribune, was “Should the Veterans addition, Highland Acres, on the western edge of the city, develop as is now planned, a site for a new school should be obtained there. At first, a primary school would be sufficient. The site, however, should be large enough that a wing for the intermediate grades could be added if necessary.”

The school became a reality in 1958. According to the Bismarck Public School District’s website, “Highland Acres Elementary was built on land donated to the district by Veterans of World War II in 1958. It was expanded in 1963. The school name reflects its geographical location.”

Today Highland Acres School serves students in kindergarten through grade 5.

DRESSING UP THE NEIGHBORHOOD

As homes began to sprout on the prairie, alongside newly graveled streets in preparation for winter’s snows, the association activated its Community Facilities Committee, under the leadership of Mrs. Kenneth Piper. The committee decided it wanted to take steps do the things “necessary to make this area an ideal neighborhood,” with adequate nursery schools, parks, playgrounds and nearby commercial establishments to serve the addition, which was a long way (for the times) from downtown commercial areas, schools and parks.

Seeking advice, they sent letters to pretty much anyone they could think of that had experience in developing new communities. The list included:

  • Parents Magazine.
  • The National Association for Nursery Education.
  • The Child Welfare League of America.
  • The National Education Association.
  • The University of Iowa Institute of Child Welfare.
  • The American Public Welfare Association.
  • The American Medical Association.
  • The University of Minnesota Institute of Child Welfare.
  • The Tennessee Valley Authority.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor Children’s Bureau.
  • The Child Study Association.
  • The Association for Childhood Education

The responses they received have long since been lost, but today’s Highland Acres meets all of those goals except the commercial establishments, remaining 100 percent single0-family homes, with no apartment buildings or duplexes, along with parks, playgrounds, a school and two churches.

By late 1948, the association had built and had lined up buyers for its 21 Farwest-designed homes. The Tribune reported Dec. 14 that “Some of the 21 home builders have made additional savings through personal labor contributed to their particular houses. The co-op decided that, if any home builder was qualified to do acceptable jobs about the project, he would be credited with the actual cost of these various operations as dictated by work on houses completed by co-op paid labor. As a result, most of the homebuilders waterproofed their own basements. Quite a few did their own primer coat painting, a number installed their own insulation, a few did their own plasterboard or sheetrock work.”

By this time, the development was receiving some national attention, which should have helped to spur sales. The winter-spring edition of Small Home magazine, which came out in late 1948, had a six-page “picture story” about the development. The magazine called the project “the first successful large-scale cooperative homebuilding venture, and certainly one of the most ambitious to date.”

Lauding the late Ken Simons and the veterans organizations’ efforts to address the housing shortage here, the magazine wrote:

“Probably no section of the country needs new homes as much as the Dakotas. Several years of lush wheat and flax harvests and promised completion of the huge Garrison dam which will bring flood control, water for irrigation and industry, and cheap electric power to the whole area have created a large population influx. Bismarck expects to double its population by 1962.”

The magazine story went on:

“Several factors, based on sound planning and broad vision, are responsible for completion of the first 21 homes at Bismarck and development of a project that will ultimately include 312 single family dwellings, a school and shopping center.”

Here’s an important excerpt from the story:

“The veterans’ planning committee wisely bought up low-cost pasture land at the edge of town, brilliantly planned it as a beautiful safe residential community and offered building sites for sale at less than half the cost of smaller building lots in Bismarck.

“To realize maximum savings, the architectural committee selected standardized building plans which could be most economically built by specially trained labor. To avoid monotony of appearance the committee chose designs so flexible that nearly all the homes on Bismarck’s new Highland Acres development appear to be individually planned.”

Strict zoning is one of the notable features of the development, the article said.

“Although the restrictions are comprehensive, none of them invade individual privacy, but are aimed at preventing the deterioration of all property through the neglect, indifference, carelessness or greed of any individual owner. The aim of all this, obviously, is to avoid the hodge-podge of shacks, cellars apartments and tents that can mar community appearance and lower property values where there are no zoning controls.

Shortly before Christmas 1948, as the addition’s first residents were completing moves into their homes, they received letters from the Bank of North Dakota firming up the bank’s commitment. One such letter, to Roy Shimer, who was living in his home at 906 Crescent Lane, informed him that the FHA had agreed to insure his $9,200 loan from the Bank of North Dakota and that his annual charge for the insurance would be $45.48. The bank also confirmed that interest on the 25-year, $9,200 loan would be 3.75 percent, and his monthly mortgage payments would be $47.38.

Imagine that. The Shimers had their own home, on Crescent Lane, one of the prettiest streets in Bismarck (go there today and take a look), thanks to a cooperative formed by veterans, who built the house and then sold it to them, with a loan from the Bank of North Dakota, guaranteed by the United States government, on which the monthly payment was less than $50. The dream had come true.

According to some research done by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and a search of records at Bismarck’s City Hall, the 21 homes contracted for and built by the association were all located on either South Highland Acres Road or Crescent Lane. They were at 1100, 1118, 1119, 1120, 1123, 1131, 1134, 1139, 1144, 1145, and 1211 South Highland Acres Road, and 822, 902, 903, 906, 907, 910, 911,  915, and 919 Crescent Lane, and a house at the corner of Midway Drive and South Highland Acres Road whose address was 729 Midway Drive. All thoe original homes remain in place today, although there is currently no house with the address 919 Crescent Lane, but city records show the house at 917 Crescent Lane was completed in 1949, so it is likely that house number was changed from 919 to 917 at some time. Three additional houses at 1127, 1130 and 1134 South Highland Acres road were also completed in early 1949.

A drive down South Highland Acres Road and Crescent Lane today will reveal the similarities in construction, but enough difference in design, to ensure that the neighborhood did not look like strings of row houses that you might find in other places which responded to the post-war housing crisis.

Lillian and I live on Arthur Drive, and the houses behind ours, whose lots back up against ours, are 915 and 917 Crescent Lane. Between our lots is a utility easement where Montana Dakota Utilities runs its power lines. As is the case in most of Highland Acres, the power lines run down the center of the blocks, behind the houses, instead of along the streets, and are pretty much hidden by trees, making the area seem less cluttered.

The dream of the veterans was to put sidewalks down the middle of the block, between the houses, serving the homes on each side, but it likely proved too costly. Today, there are curbside sidewalks on some blocks, but most do not have them. The lawns, trees, flowers and shrubs and some pretty nice landscaping, are what the founders of Highland Acres envisioned in those original restrictive covenants, which still remain in place.

But even though their dream of hidden sidewalks for residents to enjoy with privacy and efficiency did not come to fruition, they did the next best thing. Instead of sidewalks, they put the power lines back there. Take a drive, or a walk, through Highland Acres, and as you go down the long, long streets, look up, and ahead, and what you won’t see are power lines running along the streets. The streets are wide enough for parking on both sides — necessary because most homes have single-car garages — and there’s a sense of openness, and a lack of roadside and overhead clutter. Instead of power lines running from the street to the front of homes in Highland Acres, the power lines run from utility easement through back yards to the homes.

You won’t find that in the rest of the city. The minute you drive east on Avenue C and exit Highland Acres — there are only a couple ways in and out — your view is cluttered with long lines of power poles and overhead power lines alongside the street, and that’s the case in much of the rest of the city as well. But not in Highland Acres. The founders did their job well.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The History of Highland Acres, Part 3

WALLACE STEGNER: IN PRAISE OF COOPERATIVES

In early 1947, the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association’s management committee developed a mimeographed newsletter for mailing to co-op members and in one of its first issues included excerpts from an article written by the noted author Wallace Stegner in the April 1947 issue of the magazine “47,” noted by some as “The Magazine of the Year.” In it, Stegner wrote of a cooperative housing effort under way in California with remarkable similarity to what members of the Bismarck co-op were undertaking.

The newsletter said: “These excerpts are being reproduced here because of the amazing parallel between what is being planned and accomplished in a notable California group housing project, and what has been accomplished and is being planned for Highland Acres by the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association.”

Here are Stegner’s words:

“Last year, the ARCHITECTURAL FORUM, commenting on a community of seven cooperatively built homes in a Chicago suburb, admitted somewhat wryly that ‘whatever social theory inspired the development, the results go a long way toward justifying such an approach.’ It is the only way most middle-income can build at all. If one is a veteran he may have a chance at an overpriced cheesebox about whose design he can say virtually nothing. If one is very wealthy or has close friends among the building community he may be able to appropriate the house he wants. But the average man in need of a new home is helpless against the enormous inertia of an outworn building procedure, against the strangle-hold of the realtors, against the red tape and delays of an inadequate government program, against high labor costs and the plain shortage of materials.

“Leagued with a sufficient number of his fellows, he can overcome those obstacles. He can build just about the kind of house he wants, and build it at anything from 10 to 30 per cent less than it would cost if he built it alone.

“There is no way of knowing exactly how many associations for cooperative or mutual home building have grown up in the past two years. No issue of an architectural magazine seems complete today without plans or pictures of a new group. An architect as eminent as Richard Neutra publicly espouses co-operation as the best possible expedient in our housing emergency. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor, finds it necessary to publish a pamphlet on the organization and management of co-operative housing associations.

“One of the largest groups of its kind, and certainly one of the most thoroughgoing in its planning, is the Peninsula Housing Association of Palo Alto, California. Its present membership is between 200 and 300 families. At its maximum it will have 400. When it completes the project on which it is well started, it will have created not merely 400 modern homes of sound and beautiful design, but an entire new community. This community is new from the grassroots up, and it is one which should demonstrate more thoroughly than they have ever been demonstrated in this country, the advantages of co-operative planning and building.”

Stegner went on to tell the story of the success of the co-op. It wanted to purchase about 250 acres, a large tract like that of Highland Acres in Bismarck, of rolling land overlooking the south end of San Francisco Bay. Starting with five members, the co-op grew to 150 members, each of whom paid $200, with all but $50 of it returnable on withdrawal. Then the co-op sold shares that were exchanged for title to a building lot — exactly the same process being used in Bismarck. In July 1946, almost exactly on a time parallel to what was happening with Highland Acres, the co-op acquired the land and gave members the chance to pick a lot on a first-in, first-pick basis.

They chose the name Ladera — from the Spanish word for Hlillside, another parallel with Highland Acres. And then, Stegner wrote:

“Ladera will in no sense be a housing project or a row-house development. Varieties of terrain, slope, view, and family need will result in varieties of houses. The basic floor plans can be subjected to almost endless variations, and for a little extra cost any owner may have an entirely personal set of plans.”

Stegner continued:

“A site plan of the whole plot will utilize curving or circular traffic arteries, dead-end lanes, patches of park, whatever the topography seems to demand. Building lots can be partitioned into varying sizes and shapes. Between 50 and 100 acres will be withheld as commons and park lands. Because of these, almost every lot in the tract can be placed adjacent to a park. Privacy can thus be made possible in remarkably small space; since planting is considered as part of the building operation, this can be achieved within the space of an average city lot.”

Plans also included a shopping center, as did those for Highland Acres, with service businesses organized as cooperatives, and buildings designed as part of the integrated community, erected on land owned in common by all the members of the co-op.

Stegner also wrote of the financial advantages of the plans, including savings in buying a large tract of land instead of individual lots from a developer, cheaper financing because of the volume of loans (“the association can beat down both buried costs and interest rates”) and a savings of up to 20 percent in construction costs, including equipment such as washing machines, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, cabinets and dishwashers.

“These savings are substantial enough to make the difference between building and not building for most of the families in the Ladera project,” Stegner wrote. “The people planning this project are as representative a cross section of the population as one could find in a long hunt. Few are wealthy. Some are limited to what they can do with a white-collar salary. But they will get their houses — not jerry-built boxes, but the kind of houses they have dreamed of. They will get their houses through their own ability to plan and work together.”

Stegner concluded his essay like this:

“The survey chains that are stretched out across the Ladera site are now measuring more than the lots of future homeowners on the Stanford Hills. They are measuring the ability of the American public to throw off a system that has proved utterly incompetent and even antisocial. They have put in its place some of the spirit that used to animate barn raisings when democracy was younger and simpler.”

He might just as easily have been writing about Highland Acres in Bismarck.

MAKING PLANS

The association could have found no better sales pitch than Stegner’s article. On Jan. 9, 1947, the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association filed its plat for Highland Acres Addition to the city of Bismarck with the Burleigh County Register of Deeds and the Bismarck City Engineer. The plat was for 127.5 acres of land, and the Bismarck Tribune of that day noted the following “interesting features:”

  • ONE — Streets located on the contour. These make the land more useful for residential building purposes and at the same time reduce the cost of street improvement.
  • TWO — Large blocks. These allow for more land to be used for residence purposes, less for streets.
  • THREE — Cul de sacs, of which there are five. These are carefully designed dead-end streets on which traffic will be light and which therefore will be desirable for families with small children and persons who like quiet.
  • FOUR — Fourteen children’s playgrounds, all located within the interior of the blocks, so the small patrons will be protected from traffic hazards.
  • FIVE — Large lots. The average size is 70-by-150, allowing 10,500 square feet per house. They are one-third larger than the standard 50-by-150 lot now common in Bismarck.
  • SIX — Sidewalks in the interior of the blocks instead of along the streets. These are in line with the most advanced practice in high-class subdivisions elsewhere. Because fewer sidewalks are necessary, they also reduce costs.

The plat also included a school and playground in the center of the addition and a shopping center at the addition’s entrance in the southeast corner.

In the end, four cul de sacs were constructed, and a school and two churches were built in the addition. Three more cul de sacs were added in later additions on the development’s east side, as were several long streets with large lots and no streetside sidewalks. The dream of the interior sidewalks and small parks was abandoned for cost purposes, but a large green space surrounding Jackman Coulee as it winds through the addition still serves as a place for hidden forts and makeshift bridges across the creek in summer and sledding hills in winter, for children of the neighborhood.

Hopes were high for a year of building as 1947 began. But the project was bigger than anyone had imagined. Major hurdles to be cleared were the grading of streets, installation of water lines and obtaining building materials. By early February, 90 of the original shareholders had agreed to purchase a lot and paid an additional $200 as “earnest money.”

That income, plus a $50,000 loan from the North Dakota Central Credit Union of Jamestown, a subsidiary of the North Dakota Farmers Union, allowed the association to make the remaining payment on the land. Now planning for actual construction could begin.

But it was critical to arrange financing for the individual homeowners. The business plan called for the association to contract for the construction of the homes in the addition and then sell them to the individual lot owners. Lot owners would need financing to pay for their homes.

After some lengthy negotiations, which stretched all the way into October 1947, the Guarantee Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Omaha agreed to finance the homes for 4 percent interest.

Meanwhile, anticipating the beginning of construction, 50 stockholders had paid for their lots and participated in a lottery to see who would choose their lot first. The association hired a full-time construction engineer who took an option on 20 to 50 homes to be built by Farwest Construction of Tacoma, Wash., which built partially prefabricated homes.

By the end of October 1947, more than 20 stockholders had arranged for financing and signed construction contracts. Importantly, the association had entered into a contract with the city to install water lines into the addition and to the lots selected for the first homes. Sewer lines had not been contracted for, however, so each home would have to install its own septic system for sewage disposal.

But first streets had to be graded. Summer dragged into fall and by November, there still were no streets, although they had been staked in preparation for grading.

With city permission, the association contracted with its own street-building firm, a Fargo company that agreed to do the work and postpone payment until the following April. Incurring that debt was the beginning of the group’s long-term financial problems.

Street work and water line installation began in November and continued well into the winter. But in December, Guarantee Mutual, which had anticipated construction of the actual homes to begin in the fall, withdrew its financing offer.

Facing road-building and water line installation bills, the association went back to its friends at the Credit Union and borrowed an additional $15,000. But with Guarantee Mutual gone, that didn’t solve the problem of mortgage credit for the homeowners.

Earlier, the Central Credit Union had told the Bismarck Association it wanted to be partners — co-ops wanted to help fellow co-ops. Luckily for the Bismarck co-op and its members, there was another institution that existed to help the people of North Dakota — the Bank of North Dakota, the nation’s only state-owned bank.

The Bank of North Dakota dated to a time 30 years earlier, when the socialist-oriented Nonpartisan League captured control of North Dakota state government. The League’s platform included state ownership and control of marketing and credit agencies. In 1919, the state Legislature established the Bank of North Dakota and the North Dakota Mill and Elevator Association. BND opened July 28, 1919, with $2 million of capital.

BND has responded to the state’s needs since its inception. When teachers were paid with warrants rather than cash during the Great Depression, BND paid them in full, rather than with the 15 percent loss they would take when trying to cash them elsewhere.

In the 1940s, BND sold back farmland that had been foreclosed during the ’30s, usually to the original families who owned it and had been allowed to remain on the land and farm it, and began making home mortgage loans in North Dakota communities when community banks were not doing so.

In early February 1948, the Bank of North Dakota agreed to provide both construction loans to the co-op and long-term mortgage financing for the homeowners. The homeowners’ mortgages were to be guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration. The total initial commitment of the Bank was $168,000.

The winter of 1947-48 went into the record books as one of the most severe in our state’s history, paralyzing the northern Plains, including North Dakota. But frustrated by the lack of building in 1947, the association decided to plunge ahead in spite of the adverse weather. Delzer Construction of Bismarck, a company still in existence today, began digging the basements by blasting the frozen crust off the ground with dynamite and then sending power shovels in to scoop out the unfrozen dirt below.

By early April, the last carload of building materials from the Farwest Co. arrived in Bismarck, and the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association, now deep in debt and a year behind schedule, was at last ready to begin construction.

The first thing it did was build a house at the entrance to the addition, to serve temporarily as an office for the association. The house was to be used as the association manager’s home while construction throughout the addition continued, with plans to eventually move the house onto a lot inside the addition once work was far enough along.

The house was located “at the end of Avenue C,” and it remains there today at 1016 West Ave. C, with Richard Griffin as its owner.

GOODBYE TO KEN SIMONS

Sadly, the man who had served as the inspiration for the entire housing project did not live to see the first house built. The Bismarck Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, Kenneth W. Simons, died unexpectedly on April 19 at age 48. Simons had led The Bismarck Tribune’s reporting of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression and had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Community Service in 1938.

Shortly after his funeral, the association’s board of directors convened and voted to send a letter of condolence to Simons’ widow. It read, in part:

“BE IT RESOLVED by the Board of Directors of the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association Inc., assembled in meeting this 20th day of April 1948, that this board, having been greatly shocked by the passing of Kenneth W. Simons, who has been a father and friendly counselor of this association since its beginning, express to Mrs. Kenneth W. Simons and the other members of the immediate family our heartfelt sympathy in this hour of tremendous loss to them; that we also express to them the sense of grateful appreciation that the members of this association will always feel for the friendly influence by which he guided this organization thus far toward success in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties; that we express to the family our appreciation to them for their part in inspiring him, through roots firmly placed in a loving family relationship, to pass on the fruits of this relationship by way of the good influence he was thus enabled to exert for harmonious and fruitful relationships among all with whom he came in contact. We firmly and solemnly resolve further that it shall be our most inspired purpose to achieve a full measure of success for the project which was so dear to him, that it may be a living and fitting memorial to his name.”

(Note: Kenneth Simons’ son, K.W. “Bill” Simons, was well-known to many of today’s North Dakotans. K.W., as he was known to most of us, was the longtime editor of the Nonpartisan League’s newspaper, The Leader.  He died in 2007 at the age of 79.)

At an April association board of directors meeting, the board approved a motion stating, “It is the desire and intention of the board, upon transfer of the school grounds to the city, to stipulate that the school shall be named the Kenneth W. Simons School.” They were unsuccessful in that effort, though, with the school board choosing to name the new school, when it was built later, after the historic addition in which it was located — Highland Acres Elementary.

Next: Building begins, with strict protective covenants.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — The Day The Colima Warblers Broke My Heart

I am in Texas at the invitation of my friend, Valerie, who has a house here near the Davis Mountains. I have been a birder for more than 40 years, and she and I greatly enjoy birding together whenever we get the chance. Here we birded together five years ago, but it was February, so I jumped at the chance to visit in April, before it gets so blistery hot.

Colima warbler.
Colima warbler.

My penultimate goal was to observe the Colima warbler, which can only be seen in the U.S. in the high reaches of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, a species I’d never seen. (It is not present in the U.S. in February, and my parents never took me to Big Bend NP all those years ago when we lived in Texas.)

Val picked me up in El Paso, where I lived as a very young girl. (More about that in a future blog.) We started birding the Chihuahuan Desert right away. The song of the cactus wren in my old neighborhood took me back in time.

It took us quite a while to drive to her West Texas home because we made frequent birding stops. In fact, it takes us quite a while to get anywhere for this reason. It wasn’t long before I snagged a new species, the Chihuahuan raven.

I’m enchanted by the fact that this is the street sign on the corner on which her house sits.

In the morning, we observed birds in her yard and then all around the town, including the cemetery, a very interesting walk in its own right. Our most frequent sighting for these days was the iridescent scarlet tanager. We took a tour of downtown Alpine, which has lovely murals that capture the images of West Texas culture.

The next day, we took the long drive to Big Bend National Park, a fitting place to spend National Park Week. Valerie is a retired National Park ranger, and one of her postings was five years in Big Bend NP as Chief of Interpretation. She knows and loves the landscape well and one can find no better guide.

We camped in Cottonwood Campground on the Rio Grande River, where we birded and interacted with other birders. She has a camper, but I set up a tent, unaware that a very windy night was to come. The constant gusts of wind flattened the tent on my face, and we both got very little sleep.

Nonetheless, we arose the next morning and began birding in earnest. Because of the water of the Rio Grande, the habitat makes for excellent birding. When we saw a bird, we noted its markings and slowly, unless it is a familiar species to us, came to agreement. Our reference sources are our field guides, a couple of birding apps on our phones, our lifelong knowledge of birds and the “Big Bend Bird Checklist” by her friend, Mark Flippo.

Neither of us take all that many photographs as we prefer to be looking through our binoculars and storing away the mental images. I did attempt to photograph the Vermilion flycatcher, but it is a poor quality photograph that doesn’t begin to do justice to the bird.

Here is a better photograph by a professional.

 

Equally as wonderful is the Scarlet Tanager.

All around are other campers and hikers, birders and photographers. Near to our campsite was a gray hawk nest.

Our next destination was the Rio Grande Village campground and a boat trip across the river to Boquillas, Mexico, for the day, via the border crossing in the national park. It was staffed by a ranger who knew Val from her Theodore Roosevelt National Park days, and we all had a friendly chat.

We paid the $5 for the boat ride across the river, although it is very low, as this is the livelihood of the locals. In Boquillas, I ate the best chicken tamales of my life and we enjoyed the laid-back village vibe. Val purchased some highly recommended tortillas from a village woman to bring back for herself and her friend.

Upon our return, we birded around the Rio Grande including some outstanding evening birding on the nearby nature trail. Then, it was on to Panther Junction, where we crashed with an old friend of Val’s who has been a wildlife biologist at Big Bend NP for decades.

I am particularly taken with the Chisos red oak that grows in Raymond’s backyard. Val, Raymond and I took a stroll in the dusk to find elf owls. We heard one, but did not see it. Although Val does not, I count it when I hear a bird as I can picture these in my mind. A hot shower and a good night’s sleep revived us.

The last day in Big Bend was focused on finding the Colima warbler. We drove to the Chiso Basin, stopped in the Visitor Center and prepared for the hike up the Chisos Mountains.

The Chisos are the farthest south range of the Rocky Mountains and a striking feature in the heart of Big Bend NP. Big Bend NP is a huge and wild landscape, on a big bend of the Rio Grande River on the border, and is comprised of 801,163 acres with many diverse ecosystems. The Chisos Basin is at 5,400 feet and the highest peak is Emory at 7,825 feet. We weren’t going all the way to Emory but nearly. We knew we had a long hike planned, complete with lots of birding dawdling. Although I love all rivers, including the Rio Grande, the Chisos Basin is my favorite area of the park and I was thrilled to be there again.

The ascent of the Pinnacles Trail is 1,655.84 feet to an elevation of 7,078.05 feet. I was feeling the mild effects of the elevation and very grateful that the temperature was fairly mild. I could never endure the height of the summer desert temperatures with my N.D. sensibilities. As we hiked, Val identified plants unknown to me.

We met up with hikers on the way. This woman had seen a Colima warbler about 20 minutes before and she was on her way down. We pressed on, frequently stopping in the shade to cool off. The orange from my pack revived me, a lifesaver.

It is difficult to read the sign below, but it says Colima Trail, the trail we took to make a loop to connect to the Laguna Meadows Trail.

All around were desert plants: cacti, agave, juniper, matrona and the Chisos red oak. The distinctive blue agave is called a Century Plant. It blooms just once, after several decades of growth, and then dies. The side-by-side photo below is an example of this phenomenon. The hummingbirds and butterflies and other pollinators flock to the blossom.

We wondered if this Century Plan shown below, somewhere on the Colima Trail, would fall off this rock to which it clung when it sent up its bloom.

As we reached The Pinnacles, white-throated swifts chattered about. Otherwise, the day was dominated by Mexican jays and blue-gray and black-tailed gnatcatchers.

At the end of a very long hike, more than 10 miles, we trudged back into the Chisos Basin, as the sun was setting. No Colima warblers. Raymond had warned us that due to the exceptional dryness of the year, the birds away from the Rio Grande were not as active. Valerie lived here for five years and has frequently visited and she has only seen “couple” of Colimas. I might have jinxed it when I bought this cool medallion for my walking stick.

My heart wasn’t completely broken though. I’ve weathered much worse. I had just spent a day soaking up the silence of this place, renewing my spirit, knowing that I was where the Colimas live and breed. We saw no other hikers for the last six miles. And we were both spent.

As we left the Chisos Mountains, a full moon was rising over the desert. The stars were spectacular, Venus a beacon on the horizon, and Mars very red in the southeast. Deep within, I’d stored the memory of another Chihuahuan Desert adventure, complete with numerous new bird species for my life list. More to come.

“Drunk on my milky light of the stars

Anyone staggers. If I seem mad

I am. And if you see that

You are too. Be glad.”

Rumi

New bird list so far, 12 “lifers”:

  • Scaled quail.
  • Black vulture.
  • Elf owl.
  • White-throated swift.
  • Ash-throated flycatcher.
  • Plumbous vireo.
  • Chihuahuan raven.
  • Crissal’s thrasher.
  • Rufous-crowned sparrow.
  • Varied bunting.
  • Scott’s oriole.
  • Gray-headed dark-eyed junco.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The History of Highland Acres, Part 2

FINDING A NAME: HOW WE BECAME HIGHLAND ACRES

The new development needed a name. Bismarck Tribune editor Ken Simons wrote a story for his paper announcing a contest would be held to name the subdivision and the streets within it. Entries were to be submitted to the committee, with an entry deadline of Aug. 12, 1946.

On Aug.t 22, the contest committee, chaired by automobile dealer Robert McCarney (anybody recognize that name?), announced its winners. The name chosen was Highland Acres, an entry submitted by Mrs. Henry B. Golden (the newspaper doesn’t tell us her first name — standard practice in those days — try THAT today), who claimed the $25 first prize — and who later donated it back to the veterans group.

By this time, the cooperative had agreed with Simons’ vision for the development and decided, with the city in agreement, that the subdivision would not be laid out in a grid like the rest of the city but would follow the natural features of the land, with long streets and large blocks to reduce paving and utility costs, and sidewalks, if there were to be any — take note, Bismarck City Commission — placed down the middle of the blocks, behind the houses, serving the homes on either side of them. And the resulting street names would not have to adhere to the city’s numbering and lettering structure.

So street names were also added to the naming contest, and the committee chose the word “Drive,” preceded by 164th Infantry, Riverview, Parkview, Crescent, Midway, Longview, Victory, and Pioneer — some with war references, others with “the lay of the land.” Parkview, Crescent, Victory, Pioneer and Midway were eventually used and survive to this day.

Meanwhile, lots of paperwork needed to be completed before actual construction began. The association had incorporated itself with a projected value of $1.5 million — no small dreamers. It retained counsel, Bismarck attorney and returning World War II veteran Archie McGray and began drafting by-laws.

The final draft was 10 pages and authorized the association to acquire land, build homes, issue shares of stock, borrow money, issue securities, provide financing for sidewalks, utilities and sewers, lend money to members, pay dividends and to elect a board of directors and officers to conduct business on behalf of the member-stockholders.

BUYING THE LAND

By December 1946, the association exercised its option to purchase the Jaskowiak and Keating land and made a down payment of $5,000 on an $18,000 agreement. The group also needed to pay for a survey of the property, drawing a plat, clearing the title and begin adding utilities, an investment of another $7,000. So total startup costs were $25,000. That meant the co-op needed 125 members — a total almost already achieved — with an investment of $200 each.

The association had acquired what it called “one of the most desirable tracts of land within the city limits of Bismarck, comprised of approximately 125 acres of land offering almost all conceivable types of building sites.”

Hopes were high that 1947 would be the year that returning veterans would own their own homes. The next step was getting actual commitments from the members to purchase a lot and build a home. Editor Simons drafted a prospectus to be distributed to the members. It began:

The 108 original contributing members joined in forming the association for the purposes of achieving, as a group, the following ends which they could not achieve by independent action as individuals:

1. To secure new homes at a saving through large-scale purchasing of materials and large-scale construction of houses.

2. To secure advantages in rates and other terms of financing through group negotiation.

3. To secure adequate building lots at lower cost than available generally in the city by acquiring undeveloped land in a block.

4. To secure improved conditions for family living by designing the land to minimize traffic, to insure privacy, and to provide convenient and protected recreation areas, especially for children.

5. To secure any other significant advantages relating to the home and the community that might be accomplished through cooperative planning and execution.

“Generally,” the prospectus read, “the tract, known as Highland Acres, lies between the Mundy estate and the Municipal Country Club and Golf Course on the east and Fraine Barracks Military Installation and other public land on the west. Part of the land lying to the north is owned and controlled by the Bismarck City Park Board and the remainder is privately owned and not presently developed as a residential area. The southern boundary of most of the area lies about one block north of a line extended westward from Avenue ‘C.’ Land lying to the south will eventually be developed according to a plan harmonious with that of the association.

“Main access to the property is from the west end of Avenue ‘C,’ a street slated, according to the plans of the City Planning Commission, to become a main thoroughfare which will provide easy access to the downtown and other areas of the city.

“Drives within the area follow the contours of the land in sweeping curves and straightaways and, with the lots and blocks, have been designed to make the most of the natural advantages of the terrain itself, the view of the river to the south and the recreational and scenic character of most of the adjacent lands.”

The prospectus ran to seven pages, single spaced, and concluded with a dream for a unique housing area, not wedded to traditional city layout but following the natural features of the land. Simons went to considerable effort to make his case for this kind of development:

“Highland Acres is planned, from raw land to finished houses, to provide comfortable housing in an employable community at minimum cost. To achieve these ends, it has broken cleanly from sterile and costly traditions and has returned to the basic considerations which make for wholesome and economical family and community life. Because of this approach its design provides greater utility and greater comfort, more beauty and more convenience—and at less cost.”

To make his point, Simons drew up some comparisons.

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Alleys in residential areas were highly essential in horse and buggy days when barns, wood sheds, tool shed and other out-buildings, attendant refuse and heavy deliveries of ice, wood, and coal were kept as far as possible from the house for social, visual and olfactory reasons.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: Systematic mechanical rubbish disposal, street entrances to utility room — garages, modern heating and refrigeration and frequent light deliveries eliminate the need for the costly and unsightly nuisance of alleys.

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Sidewalks completely circled each city block when pedestrians held their noses, looked discreetly ahead, and “took the long way home” around the block to avoid the condition that made alleys a necessary evil.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: Removal of barns, sheds, refuse heaps and attendant alleys permits foot traffic “as the crow flies” down the center line of blocks on one economical main walk per block in place of a costly four.

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Street Curbs kept wagons in the street, wheel ruts from the grass, and the butcher’s horse away from sidewalks when this one-horse-powered motor “fueled up” on boulevard grass.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: Horses are no longer a notable threat to boulevard, grass or pedestrian traffic and curbs are worth their cost only where needed for soil retention and storm water run-off.

ORIGINS OF THE OLD TRADITIONS: Boulevard strips gave pedestrians added protection from danger to life and limb and from other indelicate hazards that were part and parcel of the horse drawn traffic era.

MODERN FACTS AND PRACTICES: With walks routed, park-wise, between residential lawns and gardens along the center of the blocks, front lawns stretch unbroken from the latch-string to quiet driveway streets.

With a flair, Simons concluded: “Most of the old traditions can be traced to three distinct blood lines:

  • “Straight-line Streets, the ungracious off-spring of the surveyor’s transit and section line roads, followed a parallel course with their parent’s path, come hill, come vale, come hell or high water, as if duty and penance bound, though obviously their parentage was not of their choosing.
  • “Checkerboard blocks were all the favored progeny of the same surveyor’s transit mated to the square section or quarter-section, angular and straight-lined, with little to recommend them, they were accepted and used simply as convenient  and as saving of time and effort.
  • “Coffin-box lots, third generation and the natural children of the naturally wedded square block and straight street, had little to recommend them except that one was the same as another, dull and uninteresting, but capable of being filled with houses and sheds, barns, privies and refuse.

Simons concluded: “Wooed less brusquely and with more regard for nature’s contours, the land gives rise to gently curving and sloping drives; patience and respect are rewarded by this more pleasing progeny which demands less in expense and maintenance while providing greater satisfaction.”

The prospectus was distributed widely, not just to veterans and members of the newly-formed co-op but to anyone in Bismarck interested in building a house in the new subdivision.

One of those families that received the prospectus, along with a short questionnaire “to obtain information which will assist in effectively organizing your cooperative and in locating, planning, and constructing your home with a minimum of delay and with a maximum of results” was that of Mr. and Mrs. George Haugarth of Mandan. George was an employee of Deluxe Cleaners in Bismarck and was looking for housing for himself and his wife and their six children, ranging in age from 5 months to 8 years old. They sent a short letter with their questionnaire:

“We live in three very small rooms. No running water. Outside pump and outside toilet. Washtub for baths. There is no city gas, so we use bottle gas for cooking and oil heater for heat. We live in the flood district in Syndicate (south side) in Mandan. We were forced out this spring for a week due to the flood. Also if we were to make the change for a home in Bismarck it would be a saving on meals and my gas bill driving to and from Bismarck.

“We plan on applying what we can get for this place to one there if need be. We own our furniture and haven’t any debts excepting our living expenses. I have had three years Army training. Sincerely, Mr. and Mrs. George Haugarth”

That may have been the situation with many of the veterans who were looking to become co-op members and realize their dream of owning a good home. But it was also likely the dreary financial situation of prospective members and home builders, which would lead to financial difficulties as work on the development progressed.

Next: Wallace Stegner weighs in; The sales pitch; Closing the deal.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The History of Highland Acres, Part 1

 HIGHLAND ACRES AND THE BISMARCK VETERANS HOMEOWNERS COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION — PRODUCTS OF A PERFECT STORM

Highland Acres Addition to the city of Bismarck, was a housing subdivision developed cooperatively by a group of returning World War II veterans in the 1940s and 1950s. Its success led to the subsequent development of nearby Highland Acres Second and Third Additions and Torrance and Torrance Hill Additions. Together they make up today’s Highland Acres neighborhood in west Bismarck, a neighborhood of some 400 single-family homes, a school, and two churches.

A “perfect storm” of circumstances, many of them unique to North Dakota, set the stage and opened the curtain for the development of Bismarck’s Highland Acres by the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association, guaranteeing its place in North Dakota’s history.

First, in post-war America, millions of young men returned home, married millions of young women and needed housing. Highland Acres was Bismarck’s response.

Second, the project was launched as a cooperative. The cooperative movement was exceptionally strong in North Dakota, bringing electricity and telephones to rural North Dakota in the form of the North Dakota Rural Electric and rural telephone cooperatives; fuel and other farm supplies through the Farmers Union Oil Company; insurance for homes, farms, vehicles and medical care through the Farmers Union Mutual Insurance Co.; and markets for grain — elevators for farmers to sell their crops through the Farmers Union Grain Terminal Association.

Most city dwellers in North Dakota were just one generation removed from the farm, and most had benefited from, or still participated in, local and statewide cooperatives. So it not was not surprising that the response to the housing shortage in Bismarck was the formation of a cooperative to get homes built for returning veterans. While the cooperative structure ultimately failed, it was critical to the launch of the project, which eventually succeeded.

Third, because the project was launched as a cooperative, it caught the attention of another cooperative venture, the North Dakota Central Credit Union. The Central Credit Union was a child of the North Dakota Farmers Union, the ultimate cooperative in the state. The Farmers Union, organized in North Dakota in 1927, grew out of the state’s socialist movement of the early 20th century. By the time of the post-war housing shortage, in addition to its other cooperative business ventures, it had also organized its own lending and savings institutions, in the form of credit unions, organized at the local level but partnered together statewide as the North Dakota Central Credit Union, owned by Farmers Union cooperative members. Credit unions worked by members pooling their savings to provide financing to other cooperative ventures, such as the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association. So the Highland Acres venture had immediate access to credit to begin operations.

Fourth, there was the Bank of North Dakota. Financing individual homes was a critical part of the venture, and that’s where the Bank of North Dakota came in. A product of the Nonpartisan League takeover of North Dakota government for a decade earlier in the 20th century, and still today the nation’s only state-owned bank, it stretched its charter provisions, to provide home mortgages to co-op members, greatly aiding the sale of homes by providing a central clearinghouse for prospective homeowners.

And fifth, the timing of two events unique to North Dakota also played a key role in Highland Acres development. By the time the war ended, plans were already being implemented to begin the state’s largest-ever infrastructure project, construction of the massive Garrison Dam on the Missouri River. Not only did it provide jobs for returning veterans, enabling them to stay in their home state, but it brought a flood of new workers as well, and the promise of economic development for central North Dakota once it was completed. Thus the need for housing.

And the discovery of oil in western North Dakota in the early 1950s brought more new residents, new wealth and two entrepreneurs to North Dakota, names that will still be familiar to many North Dakotans today (well, OK, pretty OLD North Dakotans), who rescued and completed the project as a private venture once the cooperative structure had broken down.

The absence of any one of those factors — a critical need for new housing, a strong cooperative movement, a state-owned bank, the construction of the Garrison Dam and the discovery of oil — might have doomed the project. The existence of all of them guaranteed its success. Here is the story of Highland Acres.

THE DREAM BEGINS

For those committed to keeping preservation in contact with the most significant historical events in the twentieth century United States, the post-World War II suburban landscape will be the defining resource.” — David L. Ames, professor of Urban Affairs and Public Policy and Geography, University of Delaware

If Bismarck had a suburban landscape, it would be Highland Acres, a neighborhood of about 400 homes on the city’s west edge, developed to meet the post-World War II housing shortage that was as critical here as any place in America.

Dr. Ames writes, “The suburban landscapes that developed around American cities after World War II are among the most significant historic resources of the 20th century; they represent the fulfillment of the dream of home ownership and material well-being for a majority of Americans.”

“In them,” Dr. Ames continues, “a distinctive settlement pattern emerged, centered on the single-family house on its individual lot sited within the large-scale, self-contained subdivision with a curvilinear street pattern.”

Such a place was postwar Bismarck, where that dream was fulfilled for many families by the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association.

In 1945, in Bismarck, and across America, a generation that had left its parents’ homes as boys four years earlier to fight a great war began returning home as young men, some to their sweethearts, others with sweethearts on their arms, and they needed places to live.

In Bismarck, the City Commission appointed a group of community leaders, headed by Kenneth W. Simons, the editor of The Bismarck Tribune, to a newly formed Bismarck Municipal Housing Committee, which arranged to bring in trailers for use by returning veterans.

But members of Bismarck’s veterans’ organizations — the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans — felt that veterans were not getting enough say in the fight against the lack of housing, so in early 1946 a Veterans Housing Committee was formed, made up of members of all three groups.

The American Legion put up $200 to the support of the activities of the Veterans Housing Committee, saying they expected to be paid back if an organization was formed to build homes.

Once again, Tribune editor Simons, himself a veteran and active American Legion member, emerged as a leader, using the resources of his newspaper to push the effort forward. The group set as its aim a mass building program, and to get it rolling, Simons printed an advertisement in the newspaper seeking to learn if there was interest in such a homebuilding program. There was.

The Tribune reported more than 150 persons answered the ad, expressing interest in building a house. On the basis of the response, the group decided to get a home building organization started.

Meetings were held. On April 2, 1946, under the headline “LOCAL BUILDING CO-OP FORMED” The Bismarck Tribune reported “More than 150 home-seekers attended a meeting Monday night in the Veterans Club and approved articles of incorporation for a co-operative to be formed for building homes in Bismarck.”

Of note was the word “co-operative.”

Just a week later, on April 10, 1946, the veterans organizations and the city’s Housing Committee formed the Bismarck Veterans Homeowners Cooperative Association, and April 27, just over two weeks later, they filed the articles of incorporation with the North Dakota Secretary of State. Things began moving fast.

Initially, 108 persons paid a fee of $100 — not an insignificant sum in 1946 — to become a stockholder in the cooperative. The group elected a 19-member board of directors (whose size the co-op would later come to regret) and set a membership goal of 125. The members were not required to be veterans, but about three-fourths of them were veterans.

From the 19-member board, seven “Division Chiefs” were elected to become, in essence, the management committee of the Association. The seven divisions were Management, Finance, Engineering, Architecture, Materials, Contracts and Community Facilities.

FINDING THE LAND

The first task was to find a tract of land. The organization was large enough that the land would need to be located on the city’s edge. Most people in Bismarck believed that the city’s growth would be north of the Capitol and west toward the Missouri River. The city’s Municipal Country Club Golf Course was on the northwest edge of town, and the group initially contacted the city and asked if they would be interested selling that land to the association and in finding a new location for a golf course and the city’s softball diamonds which sat alongside it. The idea was formally proposed to the Bismarck Park Board at a meeting on April 17, 1946, by editor Simons, on behalf of the newly formed Homeowners Association.

Simons told the group the golf course and softball diamond land was attractive because of its location and terrain — it was at the very edge of the city at that time, in the rolling hills surrounding Jackman Coulee, a deep gully with a running stream at the bottom, which pretty much formed the city’s northern and western boundaries.

“It costs no more to develop the land properly for best residential use than it does to accept the square lot lines we have now,” Simons said. “There is no good reason why even a modest home should not be placed in attractive surroundings. We can, if we want to do so, arrange the land so there will be a community play park at the back of every lot.”

Simons proposed the Park Board use the money from the sale of the land to build a new golf course and softball diamonds. The Park Board demurred, but pointed the association to a parcel just to the west of the golf course, owned by R.H. Keating and the Jaskowiak estate — land through which Jackman Coulee continued its southwesterly course to the Missouri River. Within weeks, the association had taken an option on 80 acres and began the legal process for purchasing it.

It was later able to add another adjacent 50 acres to the parcel, including an area on the north side of their land owned by the Park Board, which it obtained from the Park Board in trade for land along the coulee, which was not fit for residential use and would later become an undeveloped city park, providing a long strip of green space through the middle of the development. The land remains undeveloped today.

With enough members to ensure there would be a large-scale housing project, and with a sizeable bank account generated by the $100 memberships, planning began.

Contractors were contacted and they estimated that considerable cost savings — as much as 30 percent — could be realized if they built a large number of homes in a concentrated area with a few floor plans.

In May, the city was visited by Sam Kaplan, from the Chicago office of the National Housing Agency. His visit began a long association between the co-op and the agency. On May 16, the association’s secretary, C.H. Koch, wrote Kaplan a lengthy letter summarizing the progress the group had made in the short time it had been in existence.

“Everything is still very much in the planning stage,” Koch wrote. “Everyone of us, except our attorney, is working in his spare time. And we are all new at such a thing as this. We feel that if we can make this succeed, which I am certain we will do, we will have helped the housing problem in Bismarck immeasurably. Also we will have helped many people acquire homes of their own who, otherwise, might have a much more difficult time doing so.”

Koch went on to say his group would like assistance in financing, especially with G.I. loans for the veterans, assistance in getting materials (“priorities which will produce the goods, not mere hunting licenses”) and technical information on building.

In June, the association’s Finance Committee sent out its first formal communication with the stockholders, in a letter with a form to be filled out seeking financial information, stating “The information which must be had now is exactly the same as will later be required of the members by the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration and by the bank or other financing agency before G.I. or other loans can be secured by the members and before home construction can begin. The reasons the information must be had now are these:

  1. You must know how large a loan the Veteran’s Administration or Federal Housing Administration will guarantee or insure for you, in order to determine what price you can afford to pay for a home and how much of that price can be borrowed.
  2. The Architectural Committee must know what price you can and will pay in order to provide plans for the best possible house at the lowest possible cost for the members.
  3. The Finance Committee must know what house you want built, and for what price, how much you can pay in cash and how much you can and will borrow.
  4. The Executive Committee must know these facts before it can “talk turkey” with material supply companies, construction contractors, and money-lending agencies in order to secure the most advantageous arrangements.

In July, D.E. Freeman, chief of the association’s Management Division, flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the Housing Agency staff and with North Dakota U.S. Sen. Milton Young. Both the agency and Sen. Young provided valuable assistance along the way as the work of the association progressed. The FHA sent its land planner from Chicago to assist the group and approved the Association for FHA insurance before construction began the following year.

In September, the association sent its Finance Division chief, R.W. Hermes, to Dayton, Ohio to meet with a similar group there that was a year or so ahead of the Bismarck effort. Based on what he had learned, and with help from the FHA, the association began preparing contracts for members to sign and start the home ownership process, making provisions for not just those who had down payments available and financing arranged, but also for the possible construction of homes by the association itself to be available on a lease-purchase basis to members who could not make a regular down payment.

Next: Buying the land, choosing a name.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — History

Regular readers of this blog (both of you, as my friend, Dan Ulmer, likes to say in his weekly newspaper column, poking fun at himself to remind him not to take himself too seriously — I’m with Dan) will notice that I haven’t been very active here lately. That’s not because there hasn’t been much going on to write about. Instead, it’s a function of time. And priorities.

No, I haven’t been fishing, although I intend to change that next week, if the weather cooperates. I’ve been researching, digging through files at the State Historical Society and old issues of The Bismarck Tribune, being a bit of a historian. And writing. History.

A few months ago, my longtime friend (if 40 years counts as a long time) Bruce Whittey called me and asked me to help with a project. Bruce is a neighbor, about two blocks away, although we are both relative newcomers to our neighborhood, the outskirts of Highland Acres, a neighborhood of some 400 homes in northwest Bismarck, overlooking the Missouri River.

Like me, Bruce retired a few years ago, and has taken on a major project: Nominating our neighborhood, Highland Acres, as a National Historic District, to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a worthwhile effort, and the history of Highland Acres is a fascinating one, likely qualifying it for listing on the National Register, if we do our job well.

The application process is a lengthy and cumbersome one, in my opinion, but this is a great big deal and a listing on the National Register is not to be taken lightly, so applicants should be subjected to a very thorough review. When the application is done, it will be submitted to our State Historic Preservation Officer (North Dakota State Historical Society Director Claudia Berg), and she and her staff will review it, and if they feel that Highland Acres is worthy of being listed on the National Register as a National Historic District (the first major hurdle to be crossed in the process), they will submit it to the National Park Service for final approval.

My job was to write the broad history of Highland Acres. I’ve done that. About 13,000 words worth. It took me a couple of months. I’ve turned it over to the historians because it is time to move on to another project. Lillian and I are writing a book, and that will consume all my nonfishing hours for the next few months. More about that another day.

But my job of writing the history of Highland Acres was the easy part of the National Register application. Now the real work begins — the technical details of qualifying for the National Register will be filled in by real historians, not old retired writers like me, pretending to be historians.

Bruce Whittey has put together a pretty good team. I’m a bit in awe of what he’s done. Not bad for an old car salesman with a bushy mustache. I think once you read the history you’ll agree. You’ll get to read it if you want to because I’m going to share it with you here over the next couple of weeks. It’s a pretty long story, so I’ll break it up a bit so you don’t get history overload.

Right about now, you’re asking “What’s so historic about Highland Acres? It’s just another part of Bismarck, one often viewed as kind of ‘ritzy,’ right?”  Well, what I learned in the course of my research is, it’s not what you think it is, and it has a very, very interesting story. I think you’ll like it.

Here’s how the National Register of Historic Places describes itself:

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

The key words there are “worthy of preservation.” You’ll be as surprised as I was to learn how dreams came true for some of Bismarck’s finest young men and women, returning World Wat II veterans who came home after winning a war, looking for a place to live and start their new lives, and how that dream has been preserved for history. Stay tuned. See you tomorrow.