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North Dakota church, bank added to historic register

Agatha Frisby, a local architect, wrote the nominations to include the Forest River (N.D.) State Bank and the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pembina, N.D., also known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. John, on the National Register of Historic Places. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
The Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church, also known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. John, in Pembina, N.D., has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Submitted photo) 2 / 2

BISMARCK — It took more than a year to accomplish, but two historic buildings — a church and a bank — in northeastern North Dakota have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the federal government’s list of properties it considers worthy of preservation and recognition.

Nominations for the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pembina and Forest River State Bank to be added to the National Register were written by Agatha Frisby, Veseleyville, N.D., chair of the Walsh County Historical Society and a practicing architect.

The Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church, also known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. John, in Pembina is significant for its representation of two distinct ethnic Christian groups that are not widely represented in other regions of the country.

“It’s the second-oldest Iceland Lutheran church in the United States, according to the records that we found,” Frisby said. “The first is in Mountain (North Dakota).”

The church building, built in 1885, was sold to the Ukrainian Orthodox community in Pembina in 1937 and was renovated in 1956 or 1957, she said.

“They took off the original steeple from the Icelandic Lutheran church and put on an onion dome — so that really made it a combination of two different architectural styles,” Frisby said. “The onion dome is really symbolic in Ukrainian culture.

Classic example

The building that housed the Forest River State Bank, built in 1919, is significant for its architecture and construction. An excellent example of Prairie Style architecture, it exemplifies early 20th century, small-town bank architecture in North Dakota and the Upper Midwest, according to the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The Forest River State Bank, in Walsh County, is also a notable example of a commercial institution vital to the economic development of many small towns in North Dakota in the early 1900s, the state historical society said in a news release.

The building was the second location for that bank in Forest River, according to Frisby.

“The first one burned down in a series of fires that reshaped the town’s business district throughout the years," she said.

It closed as a bank in 2003 and, at some point later, was purchased to house Robert Woods’ law office, she said.

“It’s really a classic example of Prairie School Style architecture,” said Frisby of its rectangular shape “with really strong symmetrical geometry."

“Those two things alone don’t necessarily make a building Prairie School but, when combined with really intricate details that are seen in terracotta ornamentation, that’s what makes it a classic example of Prairie School Style architecture," she said.

Elaborate process

The process of gaining acceptance for structures to be placed on the National Register requires several critical steps, including the review of drafts of the nomination at the local and state level and responding to feedback, suggestions or requirements, Frisby said.

“The bank is the last remaining historic structure that was built prior to 1950 in the Forest River business district, which covers a two-block area where all the businesses have been over the years,” Frisby said. “It shows what the town used to be — or partially. It kind of echoes back to a different era.”

This is the first time Frisby, whose firm, Prairie Centre Architecture, is based in Park River, N.D., has written nominations to place buildings in the National Register.

“I’ve really enjoyed the process. I had great mentors in the past,” she said, noting Steven Martins of Fargo, a professor emeritus of architecture at North Dakota State University.

Historical due diligence

Parts of Walsh and Pembina counties are in an archaeological district called the Ridge Trail Historic District, which covers some of the Ox Cart Trail in the Red River Valley as well as land that owners agreed to be included in the district, said Lorna Meidinger, architectural historian for the state historical society.

Walsh County has 15 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, Pembina County has 12 and Traill has 21, Meidinger said.

Nominations for properties to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places are coordinated by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Contrary to popular misconceptions about the National Register program, listing in it does not prevent owners from altering their property or restrict the use or sale of the property. It also does not require establishing times that the property is open to the public.

Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places does give a property prestige, provides protection from adverse effects in federally assisted projects and provides eligibility for certain preservation financial incentives.

For more information about the National Register program in North Dakota, call Meidinger at (701) 328-2089 or visit www.history.nd.gov .

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