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


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. 


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:

*  *  *  *


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.


*  *  *  *

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.

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