Glynn E. Breuer, Minot
Recently, the historically cordial and mutually beneficial relationship between the North Dakota State Fair and the Ward County Historical Society has become strained. The Pioneer Village, located within the boundaries of the fair, has been a welcomed presence since 1953 when the original Ward County Courthouse was moved there from Burlington. Numerous other buildings were moved to the current location over the years, resulting in a priceless collection of structures and artifacts that tell of the rich historical and cultural heritage of the region. Now, the Pioneer Village is in danger of being destroyed.
When the Northwest Agricultural, Livestock, and Fair Association sold the fair grounds to the North Dakota State Fair Association in 1966 for the sum of one dollar, the Ward County Historical Society had already been in its current location for more than 12 years by permission. The warranty deed that transferred the property between the two fair associations included several agreements that were in place, and were to be recognized and maintained by the North Dakota State Fair Association. One of those pre-existing agreements was the right of the Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fairgrounds. The Pioneer Village occupies a mere two acres of the fairground’s total 164 acres.
The North Dakota State Fair Association no longer wishes to honor that agreement made in 1966, demanding that the Historical Society remove all Pioneer Village buildings and property from the fairgrounds within five years. This is financially and logistically impossible, and would essentially spell the end of the Pioneer Village.
The State Fair and the Historical Society need not be adversaries. Whether or not the Fair eventually establishes a legal right to remove the Pioneer Village, there are many larger considerations that need to be addressed.
Both entities are responsible to the people of the region, not to themselves. The State Fair was chartered by the North Dakota Century Code for the purpose of exhibiting agricultural, stockbreeding, horticulture, mining, mechanical, industrial, and other products and resources of the state. In a complementary fashion, the Ward Country Historical Society seeks to promote public awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the history of Ward County and the region.
The Ward County Historical Society has not, and does not hinder the operation of the State Fair in any way. The single overarching concern of the Society has been, since the flood of 2011, to finance, contract, and effect repairs against the severe damages sustained by the buildings and property of the Pioneer Village. The extensive repairs already affected, as well as ongoing efforts, have been financed by federal, state, local, and private sources. The Historical Society has a legal and moral responsibility to spend this money wisely, and likewise has the responsibility to donors to maintain and preserve the property entrusted to it.
In a letter this length, it is impossible to even mention all the considerations, legal and otherwise, that may play a part in deciding the eventual fate of the Ward County Historical Society in relation to the North Dakota State Fair. But since both these organizations are public trusts, the opinion of the people of this region are relevant. Petitions are being circulated that address the fate of the Historical Society, including the effort to bring in a little red schoolhouse to a waiting foundation within the Pioneer Village. If you are given the chance, please let your voice be heard by signing one of these petitions. In the end, the citizen is paying for both the State Fair, and the Historical Society.