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DSU campus becomes first historic district in Dickinson

The Dickinson Historical Preservation Commission has designated Dickinson State University’s historic campus — the Hill — as The Dickinson Normal School Historical District, marking it as the city's first historic district. We spoke with Robert Fuhrman of the Dickinson Historical Preservation Commission to learn more about this program.

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May Hall, pictured above, along with Klinefelter and Stickney halls make up The Hill on Dickinson State University's campus — which is the city's first historic district named by the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Walking up The Hill of Dickinson State University’s campus, the soaring structures of May Hall, Stickney Hall and Klinefelter Hall highlight an architectural splendor of the early 1900s. Though dirt has been repaved with asphalt, the historical presence lingers — which sticks out for not only the common eye, but also historians.

The Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission has designated Dickinson State University’s historic campus — the Hill — as The Dickinson Normal School Historical District, marking it as the city's first historic district. Additionally, three DSU buildings — May, Klinefelter and Stickney halls — received plaques identifying them as local landmarks.

When DSU was founded in 1918, it provided a local alternative for the Dickinson community and southwestern North Dakota, Dickinson Museum Coordinator and Historic Preservationist Robert Fuhrman said, explaining that before the university was established on the Western Edge, higher education students had to travel to the east part of the state.

“... Even though there's been some adaptations to them over time, they still retain so much of their original character and it points back to the era when Dickinson lobbied hard to get a state normal school here,” Fuhrman said to The Dickinson Press.

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Though DSU was approved as a local landmark in January 2009, the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission made it official this fall. This site also marks the first local landmark to display plaques at the entrance of each building — May Hall, Stickney Hall and Klinefelter Hall.

“Dickinson State University's historic campus, with its distinct and architecturally significant buildings, has always been a fundamental part of the surrounding neighborhood and the city of Dickinson in general,” DSU’s Department of Social Sciences Chair Steven Doherty said in a press release.

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The entrance sign to Dickinson State University is shown. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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Stickney Hall, pictured above, along with Klinefelter and Stickney halls make up The Hill on Dickinson State University's campus. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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May Hall on Dickinson State University's campus is pictured. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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As a historic preservationist, Fuhrman noted that DSU’s stewardship over the past century shows how the campus is still vibrant and going strong.

“The commission is really pleased, and I’m really pleased, personally, just how well this has been received, and DSU’s really embraced it,” Fuhrman said.

The Local Landmark Program was created by the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission in 2008 to acknowledge and honor properties that are historically significant to the local Dickinson community.

“We’ve been trying over the last five years to revitalize the Historic Preservation Commission. It was somewhat dormant for a while,” Fuhrman said.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota — which has oversight responsibility for local historic preservation commissions — does have a set criteria for the commissioners which made it sometimes difficult for the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission in years past. Some of the requirements include having specific backgrounds for commissioners such as architects, historians and/or archeologists.

But the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission has made a “pretty concerted effort,” Fuhrman noted. One step to further this initiative was enlarging the commission to seven members which passed in an unanimous vote by the Dickinson City Commission in May .

“It’s really helped revitalize (and) get some people in, who are interested in historic preservation and who have time to get together for an hour or so each month to discuss and look at strategies on how to make people more aware of our historic-built environment,” he said.

The Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission follows a general criteria in naming local landmarks as historic sites. Properties must be within the Dickinson city limits and may or may not qualify for the National Register of Historic Places. The structure or site should be at least 50 years old and have some type of relationship to either a significant historic event, historic person or historic era in the community, Fuhrman noted.

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“For instance, the last three that we did are the buildings that make up the new City Hall Complex. All three of those date between 1906 and 1915. And that's an era when the downtown is really kind of growing; it's becoming more of a retail hub and those are some of the most significant early developments on First Avenue West,” he said, adding, “... And of course, they're just really good looking buildings, they're solid brick construction and they're a really good example. I'm just so tickled that the city decided to use historic buildings for their new City Hall. They're a really good example of what people here in Dickinson's downtown do.

“They don't tear down old buildings for just clearing space to build something new. There's just so many of our old buildings that are still here because people just continue to adapt them and they realize that they have a unique architectural character, they have this feeling of early 20th century North Dakota and it continues on with us today because the people here in town care enough to take care of those historic buildings. It's very encouraging in terms of local landmarks and such.”

Though the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission has yet to nail a residential building to the list, Fuhrman said that he hopes those nominations will increase.

“... There's some really great neighborhoods just adjacent to downtown that you can take a walk through on a nice summer or spring day and you get a chance to appreciate those buildings. You look at the way the town developed just as you walk those streets and it's really kind of cool, and it's really humbling when you think of it that so much of our original architectural legacy has been maintained all these years. It's really cool, at least for me, as a historic preservation,” he said, with a chuckle.

Fuhrman said that he hopes more downtown landowners will participate in this Local Landmark Program and encourages the community to contact the Dickinson Historic Preservation Commission via dickinsonmuseumcenter.com .

“The process isn’t tough. The more buildings marked, the better. I love the idea of people being able to walk down the street and go past a marker and say, ‘Oh, this building’s been here since 1907. That’s so cool.’ It provides a chance for a little education that way too,” he added.

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A view of May Hall on Dickinson State University's campus is pictured. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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