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.

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