Garrison Dam dedicated 60 years ago

RIVERDALE Sixty years ago this month, the Garrison Dam that was being constructed at Riverdale was dedicated. The day after the ceremony, work continued on at the site.

The Garrison Dam was planned as the world’s largest rolled earth dam, with a lake (now Lake Sakakawea) extending 200 miles upstream. 1953 was the year the construction work had reached the point of closing the Missouri River diverting the water through several tunnels and closing off the present channel.

The dedication ceremony on Thursday, June 11, 1953, brought to North Dakota President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower. During his visit here, he stayed at the Clarence Parker Hotel in Minot, giving that facility the notoriety of having a U.S. president stay overnight there.

A special car, an open, 7-passenger Chrysler Imperial, was brought to Minot at no expense to the local arrangements committee by De Soto Motor Corp. in Detroit, for Eisenhower to ride in from the airport to the downtown Minot hotel so thousands of people could see the president.

Hal S. Davies, publisher of The Minot Daily News, served as chairman of the Invitations Committee for the dedication, a group that sent out more than 250 persons, including members of Congress and officials of Missouri River basin states.

According to The Minot Daily News files when the dedication ceremony took place:

Addressing a crowd estimated at from 5,000 to 20,000 people at Riverdale on June 12, 1953, Eisenhower said the federal government must work in partnership with state and local governments and private industry to develop the nation’s natural resources.

The ceremony marked a stage of completion of the federally-financed $305 million dam.

Listening to Eisenhower’s 15-minute informal speech, the crowd sat in the bright sunshine on the green, grassy slopes of the dam’s west embankment.

He told the group that it is almost frightening to project our minds 50 years in the future and try to see what it will bring in the way of improvement. He said the improvements in cultivation, control of floods will become commonplace.

He said all branches of government and all people have a part to play in the future developments such as the Garrison Dam.

He said both the federal government, with its reserve of money, must participate as well as the state having a distinct function. Otherwise, he said, too much power will be concentrated in Washington.

Too much power in Washington, Eisenhower declared, could result in telling the people what they can and cannot do. And Eisenhower told his listeners there is always a place in this country for private enterprise.

The crowd at the dedication applauded when Eisenhower remarked: “Garrison Dam was built with the people’s money and its benefits shall go to the people.”

Eisenhower urged his listeners not to forget the spiritual strength of America, and that the people must stand fearless and unafraid.

Members of the Three Affiliated Tribes, from whose reservation was taken much of the land to accommodate the Garrison reservoir, had a special part in the program at Riverdale, The Minot Daily News reported.

Marilyn Hudson, of Parshall, administrator of the Three Tribes Museum near New Town, said her father, Martin Cross, who was chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, was at the ceremony. She said a color guard from Fort Berthold Reservation met Eisenhower when he arrived in Minot. The color guard members were war veterans.

Besides those at the dedication ceremony, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said another 10,000 people had gathered along the route of the presidential procession, with 25 North Dakota Highway Patrol and 175 members of the National Guard stationed at intersections between Minot, the dam and Bismarck. Some of the Guardsmen also had served under Eisenhower during World War II.

But the day after the dedication, the machinery roared back into action, to work on building the dam that was still only half completed.

Work on the dam had started several years earlier.

On Oct. 4, 1947, the first shovel of dirt for the dam was turned on the excavation of the dam proper, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers information. This was preceded by about one year of preparatory work, during which some temporary housing, the connecting highway and railroad, and the construction bridge were built. By Dec. 31, 1951, about 46.9 million yards of material had been excavated and 34.4 million yards of the material segregated and placed in the dam, The Minot Daily News reported. The newspaper reported in August 1952 that employment by contractors at the dam in 1952 had been fluctuating between a high of 2,500 and a low of 2,200 that summer. Contractors had hired every man they could get from common labor up through the various skilled trades. Iron workers and carpenters were needed most.

The dam’s huge reservoir was expected to take three to 10 years to fill.

According to the Corps, the dam was completed in 1954. It has a volume of 66.5 million cubic yards of rolled earth fill. The dam is 2 1/2 miles long, 1/2 mile wide at the base and 60 feet wide at the top and 210 feet high. It would require a train 16,000 miles long or 2 million freight cars to carry all of the fill in the dam.

The dam’s first generator went into hydroelectric power production in January 1956. Other generators were added. In 1960, the Corps announced the fifth generator was put on line and the dam was considered finished completing a 13-year project. The fifth generator increased the power potential to 400,000 kilowatts and made the dam the largest power producer at that time operating in the Missouri River valley.

Close to 400,000 acres of land were acquired to provide space for the huge reservoir, and thousands of people had to give up their homes and land bases to make it possible, The Minot Daily News reported in 1960.

Hudson said about 152,400 acres of the land taken for the reservoir was Fort Berthold Reservation land according to official documents. She said the majority of that reservation land was owned by individual tribal members and the rest was owned by the Three Affiliated Tribes. The Fort Berthold acreage for the Garrison Dam project amounted to about 25 percent of the reservation land, she said.

An editorial in The Minot Daily News in 1960 said: “But for North Dakotans the task of realizing substantial benefits from it (Garrison Dam) in the form of water for irrigation and for municipal and industrial use, has barely begun. We have a lot of human engineering ahead of us most of it to be accomplished in Congress before the blue waters of Lake Garrison (today’s Lake Sakakawea) mean something more to us than a surface to go boating on.”