Wimbledon, N.D. museum to honor singer Peggy Lee, railroad historyWinbledon, N.D. is a step closer to honoring its historic railroad past and its most famous resident at the same time. Norma Egstrom, known to the world as Peggy Lee, was a product of the railroad.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
WIMBLEDON, N.D. — This town is one step closer to honoring its historic railroad past and its most famous resident at the same time.
Norma Egstrom, known to the world as Peggy Lee, was a product of the railroad. She did her father’s job as a depot agent for the Midland Continental Railroad when he was unable to. After she graduated from high school in Wimbledon in 1937, she quickly followed her own talents and became a household name with singing and songwriting talents.
“To look out of her window and look at the tracks and wonder where they went, she found out,” said Wes Anderson, curator of the Barnes County Museum in Valley City.
While Lee was born in Jamestown, she spent her high school years in Wimbledon. There, she won a state music contest and made friends in the community, said Ginny Lulay, local historic consultant with the Midland Continental Depot Interpretive Center Committee.
“Nobody realized then that this girl would be famous,” said Lulay, who was a seventh-grader the year Lee graduated.
So famous, in fact, that Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon has secured the rights to her life story and is working on pulling together a biopic.
Closer to home, Lulay and the rest of the depot committee have worked toward an interpretive center for Lee for years but really got the ball rolling in 2007 with a $20,000 donation.
Mryna Bultema, the late mother of Mary Orn, committee treasurer, left the money in her will.
“It was her wishes that the money she left would be to restore the depot, home of Peggy Lee,” Orn said.
The community of Wimbledon and those who were once part of it have picked up that dream, she said. About $45,000 of work in kind has been donated to the project.
“This is a real labor of love for the whole city of Wimbledon,” Orn said.
Take the case of Lonnie Laffen, a 1976 Wimbledon graduate who does architecture in the Grand Forks area. He provided architecture services for free.
Another example is 1973 Wimbledon graduate Rich Smith, now of Tibke Construction in Brandon, S.D. He jumped on the bid for the depot restoration.
A major part of the project was a grant from the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
“I knew it was going to happen, so I watched for it to come on bid on the DOT website,” Smith said.
Work on the restoration started July 27 with the relocation of the building for foundation work to begin. The foundation was recently completed, and the building was placed back in its original spot.
Work on the inside will now start with the first floor being devoted to what never fully materialized, the Midland Continental Railroad.
Originally designed to stretch from Winnipeg to the Gulf of Mexico, the railroad made it only 67 miles. Wimbledon is its last standing depot. Anderson called it “a dream ahead of its time.”
If the railroad was completed, he said, Jamestown could be the size of Minneapolis if the rail route bypassed the Mississippi River this far west.
“It became kind of a footnote in history,” he said.
When completed, the interpretive center will resemble the depot in its heyday, pre-1930.
“It’ll be like you were just back in the days of the Midland Continental when it was at its best,” Orn said.
Upstairs, where Lee lived, will be a tribute to the star, complete with gowns, stories and music.
Orn said she also feels that the interpretive center will be a positive addition for the town of about 200.
“It’ll be a real economic boost and put us back on the map,” she said.
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