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DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Hebron Brick

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

August 19, 2019 — In the early years of North Dakota, there was a severe shortage of building materials, which is why many people made their homes from prairie sod. In some areas of the state, however, a good grade of clay was discovered, and within a few years, at least 18 brick factories sprung up. It was on this date in 1904 that the Hebron Fire and Pressed Brick Factory was founded.

Hebron was settled as a spin-off of a successful campaign in New Salem, where the NP Railroad worked with the German Evangelical Colonization Society to recruit settlers. In 1882, Society pastors from Illinois and Wisconsin had sent recruitment pamphlets to other Evangelical pastors and also wrote optimistic letters to German-language newspapers.

An agent in New York caught German immigrants coming off the boat, promising them a town with a church, school, and “Christian hotel.” By the following spring, New Salem had two hundred new settlers, and in 1885, the Society established a second colony 33 miles west called Hebron.

The majority of those who ended up settling in Hebron were from Johannestal, Crimea, in South Russia. The town’s founder was generally considered to be 31-year-old Ferdinand Lutz. Less than ten years later, Lutz and his partner, Charles Weigel, started the Hebron brick factory. Within a few years, their proposed budget of $50,000 quickly escalated as equipment and other improvements were added.

The clay has been coming from the Bear Den Member of the Golden Valley Formation, which is about 58-64 million years old. At first, it was brought to the factory by horse and wagon.

A couple different methods were used to form bricks – some were dry-pressed and others were made of “stiff mud,” which used powdered clay mixed with water. The clay was cut into bricks and then fired – or “baked” – in large coal-burning kilns for many days before hardening into usable bricks.

In 1913, the plant expanded, and 12 continuous kilns were built into an outdoor embankment. With arched brick openings, the side-by-side kilns resembled an ancient Roman aqueduct.

That year, the factory turned out slightly fewer than five million bricks. By the following year, railroad cars replaced horse-drawn wagons, and 8,500,000 bricks were produced by 1916, with a potential to turn out as many as 13,000,000.

Market conditions during World War I hit the factory pretty hard, and it became almost impossible to keep the plant solvent. Bankruptcy looked likely, and the stockholders authorized the sale of the property. The “general and sales office” was moved to Fargo in 1921, and five years later, the sales manager, the plant superintendent and the president were all replaced. Disaster hit just a few months later when the major portion of the operating plant burned to the ground. Still, the company hung on. The factory was rebuilt, converting to gas-fired kilns.

Since then, the company has survived the Great Depression, another world war, has gone through five different owners, and is estimated to have manufactured one billion bricks.

After more than a hundred years of existence, Hebron Brick is not only the only surviving brick factory in the state, it is also the oldest manufacturing company, of any kind, in North Dakota.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.

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DAKOTA DATEBOOK: Early Oologists

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

August 20, 2019 — By the 1890s, Stump Lake in northeast North Dakota was a Mecca for waterfowl hunters, and a magnificent three-story hotel called the Wamduska House provided room and board to hunters from as far away as New York City. Oologists, too, found the area ripe for the picking. What’s an oologist, you ask? That’s a person who collects birds’ eggs – or used to, anyway.

One collector, Alf Eastgate, got married in 1893 and later wrote, “As money was not as plentiful as hard work, my wife said to wait until spring and she would go with me on a collecting trip.” The following year, the couple arrived at Stump Lake, and over the next months, they collected both eggs and bird skins. When Eastgate was injured in an accident in mid-June, the couple decided to stay and settled on the south end of Stump Lake.

A frequent visitor at the Eastgate farm was a Grand Forks county clerk and fellow collector, Holton Shaw. The two men had been collecting bird eggs together since 1892. In fact, in 1895, they and five East Coast collectors spent four months on an oology expedition, during which (they later said) they were “in the field every day collecting and noting the migratory and breeding species of this territory.”

During one of his expeditions, Eastgate wrote: “Found the nest and eggs of Ruby throated hummingbird It was a climb for your life up a small poplar leaning over the road on a dead branch leaning way out about 35 or 40 feet We got in to Carpenter Lake. . . takes about 5 hours to drive 12 miles by section line so you can guess how the road winds and twists around the hills with a mud hole or creek at the foot of every hill. . . It is my sorry work to look for a nest after driving over the prairies. . . We have been out 20 days and have 159 skins…driving 125 miles over as bad roads as you want to use but every thing else has been in our favor – fine weather and no mosquitos to speak of have not had to use our netting one night.”

The oologists provided documentation about each set of eggs found, including the collector’s name, date, weather conditions and location of where the eggs were found. In the early years, oologists would often kill and skin parent birds for proving the authenticity of the eggs. Interestingly, it was a matter of “scientific honor” to take every egg in the nest.

During his hunts with Eastgate, Shaw collected eggs not just for himself but also for selling and trading with other oologists. For example, on one day in June 1893, he found 29 common tern’s nests for a total of 85 eggs; 16 sets were to fill orders from other collectors, and 11 sets were for a “private collection” – perhaps his own.

Although the area had an abundance of birds, by 1912 Stump Lake was the nation’s last known breeding ground for the white-winged scoter, and needless to say, oologists got good returns on scoter eggs. Whether collectors were part of the problem or not, the bird soon disappeared from North Dakota. Bird enthusiasts noticed other species start to dwindle, as well.

Teddy Roosevelt recognized Stump Lake’s importance as a migratory breeding ground, and in 1905, he set aside five islands in Stump Lake – totaling 28 acres – as a national bird reserve. It was the third such reserve in the country. Eastgate, who was still living at Stump Lake, became the reserve’s first warden, and shortly after, both he and Shaw stopped the practice of collecting eggs. As opposition to egg hunting grew, oologists started using cameras to document their research instead of robbing nests. It’s pretty safe to say that our feathered friends have appreciated the change.

oldest building built specifically as a post office and still run by the U.S. Postal Service.

It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and was restored, inside and out, in 1997. The only missing pieces are beautiful metal grills that once covered the windows. Those were sacrificed to the WWII scrap iron drives, but remnants are still visible on the basement windows.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.





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