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Historic trolley tracks found under DeMers, prompting temporary halt to portion of project

Cable car
This photo would have been taken on DeMers Ave. facing west, next to St. John's Block.
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Construction on a portion of DeMers Avenue has come to a temporary halt after trolley tracks from the early 1900s were found.

The track was built around 1907, said Paul Demers, of the North Dakota Department of Transportation Cultural Resources Unit, a unit of DOT employees who specialize in historic cases.

“The track ran all the way down DeMers,” he said.

Ernest Gerszewski, the project superintendent for Strata Construction, said the first indications of the historic track were found just prior to the Memorial Day weekend. The team has stopped work on the site where the tracks were found, but crews can do other work on different parts of the road, Gerszewski said.

“Since we’ve had to stop digging, we don’t know if we’ve found everything. There could be more,” Gerszewski said.


The Strata construction team will dig up the rail to be preserved.

Trolley beams
A portion of the historic trolley track sticks out on DeMers Avenue close to 5th Street.

Leslie Noehre, a project engineer for the state Department of Transportation stationed in Grand Forks, said there will be two segments of the track preserved. One segment will go to the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission and the other will go to the North Dakota Historical Society, according to Jason Peterson, who also works for the DOT in the Grand Forks District.

“You’ve got to balance historic preservation with construction,” Demers said. “They can work hand in hand. Construction exposes this kind of stuff so that we can study it.”

Noehre said the discovery of the trolley track shouldn’t hold up construction for more than a couple of days. He also doesn’t expect the discovery to cost taxpayers more money, but he said it is too soon to be entirely sure of that.

The first part of the track was found between Third and Fourth Streets. The first thing found was the original support structure, which Gerszewski described as looking like an “I beam” -- a beam shaped like a capital “i” that would have gone underneath tracks.

Strata then went to work on a different part of the road, near Fifth Street, and found more remnants of trolley track.


“Over the years people have run into this,” Gerszewski said about the newly unearthed trolley track. “I’m not sure why they didn’t take all of it out.”

Peterson said the DOT was anticipating to find something underneath DeMers because it is so old. Valerie Barbie, also with the DOT Cultural Resources Unit, said the DOT identified wood during pre-construction soil tests.

The ND DOT had a plan in place in case something like this happened. The Discovery Plan was reviewed by the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission and the North Dakota Historical Society.

“In previous projects they must have removed some of the track, left some of the support steel cross beams and put concrete over it,” Noehre said.

Strata will continue to work with Ed Stine, an archaeologist from Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, to monitor and record anything else that is discovered.

Meibers is the business reporter for the Herald. She joined the team in September of 2018. Have any story ideas, questions or concerns? Email her at bmeibers@gfherald.com or call her at (701) 780-1114.
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