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An old building’s fate: First motor garage in Dickinson may come down

Photo Courtesy of the Dickinson Museum Center People walk by the first building in Dickinson built specifically for use as an auto garage, shown in these photos, may be leveled this year. 1 / 3
Press photo by Virginia Grantier2 / 3
Submitted Photo Dr. Victor Stickney3 / 3

A circa-1907 building in Dickinson may be coming down this year, along with more than 100 years of history.

Dr. Victor H. Stickney came to Dickinson in 1883 after graduating from Dartmouth College — and for a time was reportedly the only doctor for 150 miles, riding his horse through blizzards and other adventures to calls. Historians say he even treated Theodore Roosevelt.

The man also built the white, brick building that stands on 200 First Ave. W. American Bank Center owns the building.

The chairman of the annual Medora Car Show, Carl Larson, said recently that it was the first building in Dickinson to be built specifically for use as an auto garage and serviced some of Dickinson’s first cars.

The bank bought the deteriorated property several years ago because of its need to expand parking, said Bruce Dolezal, regional president for American Bank Center. Depending on the availability of contractors, the building could come down this year, he said.

American Bank Center has been involved in renovations of historic buildings in that area and, if there was something salvageable about the building, the bank would consider it.

“We love the history of Dickinson,” Dolezal said.

But the building is in such poor condition, he said, especially the roof. There is also a small amount of asbestos in it. The plumbing and wiring would have to be repaired, making it cost prohibitive.

Larson said recently he was told by a former tenant that the “only thing that’s holding it up is the paint.”

Larson, a retired college professor who also was the first president of the Dakota Western Auto Club, said for sentimental reasons if it were possible — and he doesn’t know if it is — he’d like to see the building preserved.

“I think it is certainly important to the automobile history of Dickinson,” Larson said about the building.

The man behind the building

In the early days, the circa-1907 garage would have serviced cars older than the garage — some 1905 and 1906 models — because that’s when cars started coming into Dickinson, Larson said.

Stickney probably built it as an investment, he added. The doctor was thought to have been a car buff, and in a May 7, 1910, Dickinson Press article it states that “the garage owned by Dr. V.H. Stickney and operated by the Dickinson Motor Co. is being fitted up with a complete set of the best machinery and being repaired and rebuilt throughout.”

The city doesn’t have many surviving older buildings, and it’s a shame to lose another one, said Dan Ingram, coordinator of Dickinson Museum Center and historic preservationist.

“I think it’s sad when we lose another piece of history,” said Ingram, who has a master’s degree in American history and certification in museum studies and public history. “(But) if it’s too expensive to repair, I guess we have to let it go.”

The “Heritage and Destiny,” a book published in 1978 by Stark County Historical Society, states that Stickney, born and raised in Vermont, and a graduate of Dartmouth College, came to Dickinson in Sept. 29, 1883, to begin his practice. His first office was at Davis and Fowler’s Drug Store.

Stickney immediately bought a horse and responded to calls throughout the prairie and into the Badlands, and traveled as far away as the Canadian border, Montana and what is now South Dakota. And he once treated the feet of a young man who called himself Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt told him he had just walked 30 miles from Medora to bring in two suspected boat thieves to the Dickinson jail at gunpoint, according to an account in “Openings and Closings,” a memoir by the doctor’s daughter Dorothy Stickney. The woman became a well-known stage and movie actress and Dickinson State University built an auditorium in her name.

Victor Stickney reportedly was treated to pioneer families’ hospitality, meals and lodging, his horse or team provided for — but sometimes if he was miles from a house he’d wrap in a tarp and sleep on the prairie.

If in a blizzard, he would seek shelter in a brush patch or near a butte or boulder. In Dorothy Stickney’s book, she quotes a description of her father by author Hermann Hagedorn from his book, “Roosevelt in the Badlands.”

“Dr. Stickney was the only physician within 150 miles in any direction,” Herman wrote. “He had a reputation for never refusing a call whatever the distance or the weather … The stretch of country he covered was not quite as large as New England but almost. And he covered it on horseback, in a buckboard; in the cab of a wildcat engineer or a caboose of a freight train on occasion, or a handcar. He was utterly fearless and, it seemed, utterly tireless. At grueling speed he rode until his horse stood with heaving sides and nose drooping, then at some ranch, he changed to another horse and rode on. Over a hundred miles or more he would ride relays at a speed that seemed incredible, and at the end of the journey, operate with a calm hand for a gunshot wound or a cruelly broken bone, sometimes on the box of a mess wagon turned upside down on the prairie.”

Victor Stickney waited two years — until he had enough money to support a family and a house to live in — to send for his fiancee, Margaret “Maggie” Effie Hayes, who had grown up near him on adjoining family farms in Vermont.

The house he bought was located — along with a yard, barn and corral — on Sims Street where the former Woolworth building is now.

That was also about the same area where American Bank Center is, and just south of the auto garage he built. They had two daughters, Dorothy and Marjorie, and the couple lived in that house “all of their lives,” according to information in “Heritage and Destiny.” That house was later moved to 7th Avenue West.

Maggie died in 1921 due to illness. He died in July 1927 from cancer. The first building for Dickinson State Teachers College — now DSU — was Stickney Hall, which was named in his honor. He also was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of fame in Oklahoma City in 1957.

The history of a garage

Over the years, the garage operated under a couple names, and different management, including the names Northwestern Motor Co. and Dickinson Motor Car Co.

In 1940, Paul Mann moved his business into the building and in the 1940s and 1950s sold Studebakers and International trucks there. It later would be used as business offices. Mann’s granddaughter, Patricia Grantier of Bismarck, told The Press that after World War II cars were hard to get, and the Studebakers were so much in demand that they would have to be unloaded into the garage in the middle of the night so her grandpa wouldn’t be deluged with orders.

She remembers her after-school routine was to stop by there every day because her grandpa, known for his kindness, always had candy in his desk — which was located in the building’s southwest corner — for her, her sisters, their cousins and school friends.

Flowers that Mann planted on the east side of the building still grow there.

“I want people to know about it, the history,” said Grantier, a former museum board member who wrote the grant that led to getting the nearby Dickinson Public Area Library on the National Registry of Historic Places. “At least I’m glad people will know something of its history and maybe take a drive by it and salute it before it comes down,” she said.