Pioneer Village told to vacate

The Ward County Historical Society has been ordered to remove most of the buildings in its Pioneer Village from the North Dakota State Fairgrounds by Jan. 13 or it will receive an eviction notice.

Bruce Brooks, treasurer of the Historical Society, said the historical society received the letter from Pete Hankla, attorney for the North Dakota State Fair Board. Brooks said the Ward County Historical Society will not be moving the buildings from the Pioneer Village, which would be logistically impossible in so short a time, and the dispute will likely end up in court.

The State Fair Board wants the Pioneer Village off the fairgrounds so the land can be used for future growth and for its current needs. The State Fair Board’s master plan includes a plan to eventually build a large events center on the fairgrounds in the location where the exposition and dairy barns, Jaycees Building and 4H building are currently situated. The fair board also wants to relocate the road that currently runs by the Pioneer Village Museum on the fairgrounds, which would require moving the museum off the fairgrounds.

Earlier this year, the Fair Board set a September deadline for the Pioneer Village to come up with a relocation plan. However, the historical society board contends that they are under no obligation to move, under the terms of a 1966 contract that states that “the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fairgrounds.”

The two sides also continue to disagree over the terms of the original 1966 contract. State Fair Board members have questioned whether the terms allow the historical society to maintain only one building or several buildings. At past meetings, State Fair Board members said there are no records of permission being given to move several other buildings onto the museum grounds over the last several decades. However, in May, the historical society’s lawyer, Herb Meschke, a retired state supreme court justice, told the State Fair Board that there is some ambiguity in whether the word “building” refers to one or several buildings, but case law generally favors the precedent that has been set up until the time of any disagreement over a contract and the historical society has operated its historical buildings on the fairgrounds for 47 years. The State Fair Board disagrees with that interpretation of the contract. Hankla said Wednesday that the 1966 contract agreement was also between the historical society and a different organization than now exists.

Hankla said Wednesday that the State Fair Board does not recognize that the Ward County Historical Society has the right to leave any of its buildings on the grounds, but it is only asking the Pioneer Village to move the buildings that were moved to the Pioneer Village after 1966.

“The State Fair Board has always been willing to meet with the Ward County Historical Society to come up with a plan for their relocation off of the fairgrounds property and have offered assistance in doing so,” said Hankla on Wednesday. “We have been repeatedly rejected out of hand and there have been no meaningful attempts on their part to explore options for their relocation. We have asked them for their input and their options and they have not brought one option to the table that doesn’t involve them staying on the fairgrounds property and that doesn’t work for us because we need the property for current activities and events and for current planned expansion. We are left with no choice but to move forward with an action to free up that land.”

A group of Minot community leaders had attempted to broker a deal last summer that would have provided the historical society with financial assistance to move the museum to city-owned land not far from the Minot Air Museum, near the Cameron Indoor Tennis Center, or to two acres of land owned by the Minot Park District north of Roosevelt Park. Both properties were suggested as sites that would allow the Pioneer Village to further expand and, in the case of the land near the Air Museum, perhaps attract similarly historically-minded visitors. After touring both areas, historical society members rejected both offers as unsuitable for the historical society’s needs.