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Pictoral history of Park River

PARK RIVER, N.D. -- Fred Hultstrand wasn't around when the community of Park River was founded 125 years ago. It just seems that way, judging from the massive pioneer prairie photographic collection he built during a 60-year career of documenting...

PARK RIVER, N.D. -- Fred Hultstrand wasn't around when the community of Park River was founded 125 years ago.

It just seems that way, judging from the massive pioneer prairie photographic collection he built during a 60-year career of documenting life in Park River and other communities throughout North Dakota and the Northern Plains.

This Walsh County community of 1,560 will pay a quiet tribute to Hultstrand during its 125th Anniversary Celebration Thursday through Sunday. It will host a Park River Historic Photo Display at the Federated Church.

While Hultstrand's work will be the star of the show, the display also will include other historic and simply old-time pictures of Park River and its people, according to Nancy Espe-lien, one of the organizers.

Many of the photos on display lack information about the people they feature.


"We're looking for more photographs, or information about the pictures we already have," she said. "We're hoping that they'll be able to help us identify some of the people in the pictures."

The idea, she said, is to build a photographic library of historic pictures of Park River that will help to preserve the community's history for another 125 years or more.

Much of Hultstrand's work and life already is well documented, according to the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State Universities Library in Fargo, which houses the Fred Hultstrand Collection, a vast archive of pioneer photography. The collection was a gift from his daughter, Donna Jean Verwest, who still lives in Finley, N.D.

Fred Hultstrand was born on a farm in nearby Fairdale, N.D., in 1888, the son of Swedish immigrants. As a teenager, he watched a neighbor develop film. He tried it himself that same year, 1905. Four years later, he paid $25 to become an apprentice of John McCarthy, a pho-tographer from Milton, N.D. He studied photography in Chicago and later worked at studios in Portland, Ore., and Saskatoon, Sask.

In 1916, he opened a photography studio in Park River. Fred and Evangeline Baker Hult-strand raised two children.

One of his photographs, taken in 1898 of the John Bakken family outside of their sod shanty eight miles north of Adams, N.D., was the reference used by artist Charles Chickering in his design of the 4 cent Homestead Act commemorative U.S. postage stamp, issued in 1962, 100 years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act.

"Fred Hultstrand's photographs capture the rich history of life in North Dakota during the late 19th and early 20th centuries," the collection literature reads. "Not only were the pho-tographic images vividly portrayed, but many of them also were meticulously hand colored by two of Hultstrand's lifelong assistants, Thelma and Sylvia Wick."

Hultstrand also was a community leader, serving as Park River's mayor from the late 1930s until 1945.


Community projects

Hultstrand and all of Park River's mayors through 125 years will be honored for years to come through the new Mayoral Park, a sort of pocket park built between two storefronts on Briggs Avenue, the main street. It's a 125th birthday project of the Park River Commercial Club and the family of the late mayor Russell Midgarden, which donated funds for a mayoral clock, the park's centerpiece.

The community that uses the slogan, "The Town with a Heart" also created a red-and-white theme for the 125th celebration. Townspeople decorated the town in red and white flowers.

But these aren't the town's biggest projects this year.

"That's our street repair project," current Mayor Dan Stenvold said. "It's a public safety issue."

The city spent more than $300,000 this spring to fix potholes left by frost boils that devel-oped after the severe winter. Officials rushed to complete the project in time for the 125th celebration, when several thousands of people will converge here.

That's probably not an exaggeration.

Park River is known for its annual July 4 fireworks display, which normally attracts 7,000 to 8,000 people, according to the mayor.


"We're proud of our little town," the mayor said, "and we can't wait to show it off. But you better get here early."

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to kbon-ham@gfherald.com .

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