Timeline of Bismarck's past being unveiled; 2-year effort produces print, online versions

Posted 3/14/23 (Tue)

Bismarck Historic Preservation Commission Chair Amy Sakariassen, right, holds a copy of the “Timeline of Bismarck History,” which will be distributed free at a release party on Wednesday at Juniper Workantile in downtown Bismarck. Others who helped spearhead the project, clockwise from top left, are Will Hutchings, Blake Dinkins, Jim Christianson and Tory Jackson.



More than two years of research into the history of North Dakota's capital city by dozens of volunteers will culminate Wednesday with the official unveiling of a timeline of Bismarck's diverse and historic past.

The journey to the completion of a "Timeline of Bismarck History" wasn't an easy one, but it has been fulfilling, according to attorney Tory Jackson, a history buff and one of the spearheaders of the project.

"There were hundreds of volunteer hours that went into the project; it was a tremendous amount of work," he said. "There were times it looked like we would never get to the finish line, so we're all pretty thrilled with the result."

The result is both a printed version and an online version of highlights from Bismarck's past, broken down into chunks and nuggets and placed on a timeline stretching from 12,000 years ago to modern times. The start and the finish of the project bookended the capital city's celebration of its 150th anniversary in 2022.

“This group of volunteers researched, wrote, rewrote, wrangled over organization and subject matter, drafted, designed, edited, redrafted, rewrote, wrangled, and committed many months of their time to a project that is an immense value to people interested in understanding the specifics of the area’s past,” said Amy Sakariassen, chair of the Bismarck Historic Preservation Commission, which led the effort.

Project origins

The biography of Bismarck grew out of the creation of the Historic Preservation Commission in May 2019. Members of the group wanted to have a historic preservation plan to guide their goals and activities, and decided a timeline would be the best format.

Jackson said it initially was going to be a "small undertaking" of a few pages as part of a larger planning document, but "It kind of took on a life of its own."

There was no money available to hire out the work, so three commissioners -- Jackson, businesswoman Beth Nodland, and Blake Dinkins, who works for an architecture firm -- formed a subcommittee to launch the project. They added five others in the community with an interest or expertise in local history -- Jim Christianson, Jack Dura, Emily Sakariassen, Kate Waldera and Sarah Walker.

The group first met in January 2021 and decided to split the timeline into eras, exploring history all the way back to the Paleoindian Period rather than just focusing on Bismarck's relatively shorter history as an organized city. Eras are:

  • Native landscape (12,000 B.C. to 1738 A.D.)
  • Pre-founding (1738-1872)
  • Bismarck early years (1872-1898)
  • Growing capital city (1898-1930)
  • Tumultuous years (1930-1945)
  • Post World War II and mid-century growth (1945-1965)
  • A maturing city (1965-1999)
  • Bismarck today (1999-2022)

The group enlisted the help of volunteers who researched various topics and wrote short narratives, ranging from well-known people and events such as the burning of the state Capitol in 1930 to the more obscure, such as steamboat cook and gold miner Sarah "Sally" Campbell.

The list of contributors is long, according to Jackson.

"City staff -- (former Senior City Planner) Will Hutchings in particular -- a lot of people in the city, various groups and people along the way, the State Historical Society, the Northern Plains National Heritage Area, The Bismarck Tribune, local colleges -- it was a pretty big effort," he said.

Final product

The final product is an 8.5-by-11-inch bound paperback book of 90 pages, including an eight-page bibliography. It has about 160 written narratives and about 200 images ranging from maps to photos.

"A pretty tremendous amount of information," Jackson said.

It cost a little over $11,000 to have United Printing of Bismarck make 2,500 copies, according to City Planning Manager Kim Lee. The cost was covered by a grant through a National Park Service program under which municipalities become eligible for funding and other aid by committing to local preservation efforts, so future generations can be aware of their cultural heritage. The grant was administered through the State Historical Society.

Copies will be available for free at the release party -- with a limit of one per person -- and then available at the City/County Building. The group hopes to also have some at the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library, and to make copies available to schools. It's not yet known whether more copies will eventually be printed.

"We'll see how quickly the 2,500 go," Jackson said. "I think people will be pretty interested in it, will be impressed once they see it and will want a copy."

The online version is already available on the city website, at bit.ly/3ZzOi1G.

"The nice thing about the online version is it can be added to over time -- members of the public will be able to suggest things to add," Jackson said. "The online version will be kind of a living document, if you will."

Release party

The release party begins at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at Juniper Workantile, 122 N. Fourth St. The building is at the intersection of Fourth Street and Broadway Avenue.

The event is free and open to the public. There will be light refreshments.

"We thought it would be nice to have a public event to unveil the timeline and thank the people who worked on it," Jackson said. "A chance for people to get together and celebrate what we accomplished."

The Historic Preservation Commission meets at 3:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of every month in the Tom Baker Room at the City/County Building. For more information about the commission, go to bit.ly/3ZylE0M.