This morning I read a story in the Fargo Forum on how numerous business owners in the historic heritage tourism town of Medora, southwestern North Dakota, said no, they will not be razing a couple historic buildings from the 19th century to make way for shiny new construction. The story reminded me of Jonathan Twingley’s The Badlands Saloon: A Novel (Scribner, 2009), at least how Jon lays out the “fictional” town of Maryville (which is based off the reality of Medora).
In the Fargo Forum story, Loren and Jennifer Morlock were present at the Medora Planning and Zoning Board meeting (held at the Badlands Pizza Parlor), and their Dakota Cyclery bicycle shop has been a long-standing fixture in one of the historic buildings. In the article, Loren said, “In our building, people come in with video cameras just to look at the structure and the building… People think it’s one of the coolest places for a bike shop that there is — we get that once per week. It works so well. I think there needs to be more research done before we just knock this stuff over.” Loren is spot-on here.
Now contrast this with one of the opening chapters in Jonathan’s novel, The Badlands Saloon. The main character finished his first year of art school in New York City, and returned to take a summer job in “Marysville,” aka Medora. He called his long time friend, Tank Wilson, who he knew from Bismarck, to see if he could fix flat bicycle tires for a summer at his bike shop in Medora — I mean “Marysville.” Jonathan further describes Marysville as follows (compare this with the Fargo Forum story as well):
In town there was the Old West Shooting Gallery and bumper cars, everything done up in an Old Western style. The sidewalk that ran past the Badlands Saloon and the old-timey pizza parlor was a wooden boardwalk like the ones in the John Wayne movies. The town had become a strange version of itself, the old and the new functioning in some sort of syncopation, a generic vision of what towns once looked like when there were cowboys and Indians and wagon wheels and campfires. But there was an authenticity to it all, too. Marysville had been around for so long that it embodied several pasts at the same time, each one elbowing out some room for itself among the newer versions of the Old Town. (Twingley, 2009: 15)
These are the fixtures in a nationally-published novel by a local Bismarck artist and writer who lives in New York City (Twingley’s blogspot is linked in the Blogroll sidebar to the right) and Loren Morlock and others are spot-on when they oppose the razing of historic structures. I just thought I’d share some of what came to me when I read about their efforts this morning. Medora has a soul, and it is best not to gut it, lest we raze and smother the deep culture intrinsic to historic buildings, and historic preservation. Development is good, but there are an infinite number of ways to go about it without having to crush the material culture of yesteryear.