The Grand Forks Herald
January 17, 2000


Talk of missiles could bring jobs back to area

  • Location: Concrete, N.D., is an unincorporated town in Beaulieu Township, Pembina County. The town is about 90 miles north of Grand Forks. Take Interstate 29 north to the Hamilton, N.D., interchange and then head west on Highway 81 and then Highway 5. The town is no longer served by rail.

  • Why Concrete has been in the news lately: There has been talk of reopening the now-closed anti-ballistic missile site at Nekoma, N.D., which would also impact the Cavalier (N.D.) Air Force Station at Concrete by increasing employment.

  • Name: The town was named by the wife of Webster Merrifield, a past UND president who was one of the owners of the area's clay mines. The name "Concrete" was a natural, as cement clay is one of the ingredients of concrete.

  • What a Concrete resident said about his community:

    -- Richard Heck, who has lived in Concrete since 1976, said: "It is a nice, peaceful community. If you like to hunt, it's really a great place to live."

  • History: Earle Babcock, an early UND professor, discovered clay used in making cement in the Concrete area in 1891. A settlement known as McLean was begun in 1892 just across the line in Cavalier County, and that evolved into Concrete.

    The first post office in the area was established March 20, 1882 at a site called Young. The post office was moved to Concrete June 16, 1915, taking that name. It was housed in Concrete grocery stores over the years, finally moving to a small house where it remained until it closed Oct. 15, 1982.

    Cement clay needed

    The E.J. Lander Co. opened up the new town site of Concrete on July 21, 1908. A dependable supply of cement clay was needed for the Pembina Portland Cement Co., which had been founded in 1899. The cement mines operated near the source of the Tongue River, and at the height of production, 500 barrels were turned out per day.

    The cement company was founded by Tom Campbell and Daniel Bull, Grand Forks investors, who sought help from area farmers to build a railroad through the area with a terminus at the mill site of the cement company. The two businessmen impressed on area farmers what such a railroad could do for them in getting their crops to market and urging them to purchase stock.

    The North Dakota Railway Co. was incorporated Oct. 7, 1907, with construction beginning the following May. The main line of the railroad totaled 20.07 miles; there were 2.36 miles of branch line. The railroad's rolling stock consisted of a steam locomotive and tender, two boxcars and a passenger-baggage car.

    The locomotive, dubbed "Maude," was purchased from the former Great Northern Railway and delivered in October 1908. In the summer of 1909, the cement mines were out of business, with foreign importation blamed for the closure. The railroad and Concrete struggled to remain alive, but without the cement mines both faced severe problems.

    With the closure of the railroad, the locomotive bell was removed and used as a school bell for many years. The bell is now on display at the Pembina County Museum in Cavalier, N.D.

    Track torn up

    The track to Concrete was later torn up and the railroad equipment was either scrapped or sold. The depot was moved to a farm, where it was used for a granary and other storage. The Concrete grain elevator was torn down in the 1930s.

    Construction began in October 1909 on First State Bank, a brick building. In 1919, burglars blew open the vault and took $4,000 in War Bonds. John Creiman was bank cashier.

    The bank closed in the 1920s and the building was used later as a post office, grocery store, service station and bar. In 1986, the structure was converted into a mechanic's workshop by Eldon Gendron. The old bank burned Jan. 24, 1988, and only the brick walls were left standing. It was the last of the original buildings in Concrete.

    A fire in 1917 destroyed the hotel and stores, which were owned by George Kihne, Fred Creiman and Fred Fischer. Another fire destroyed the store, bar and pool hall in the early 1970s.

    Little remains

    Richard Heck said little remains of the cement era. You can still see portions of the railroad bed. The factory's smokestack stood for many years before collapsing about five years ago. You can see on the hillside signs of the mine from which the clay was taken. Heck has historic paper records, including plats, for Concrete.

  • Economy: There is only one business remaining in Concrete, Hank's Corner, a bar operated by Brenda Fletcher, rural Walhalla. The bar is a popular snowmobile stop in the winter. Years ago, there was a second bar in town, It'll Do Bar, which has closed. The Cavalier Air Force Station offers off-farm employment to Concrete residents.

    Concrete area farmers produce small-grain crops, oilseed crops and specialty crops such as pinto beans.

    One of the largest businesses in the area is Lorrich Industries, which makes grain bins. There is also a saw mill.

  • General: Years ago, Sandy's Place, operated by Alexander "Sandy" McKay, was many businesses rolled into one. It was a cream station, where farmers brought their farm-separated cream in cans, and a bar. Later it was a pool hall and a confectionery shop. When construction crews were building Highway 5, they often stopped for lunch. McKay was known to serve up a good hamburger. He was also a collector of rocks and wooden artifacts, which he displayed in his business. It closed in the 1970s.

    Spangelo Road Construction of Concrete was started by William Spangelo in 1927. The company began on a small scale the first year, but by 1928 it was doing considerable road work in Beaulieu Township and Pembina County. The Spangelo company also worked on North Dakota highways.

    The Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR) site, in Beaulieu Township near Concrete, was constructed in the early 1970s as part of the Department of Defense anti-ballistic missile system known as Safeguard. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the site, including the 121-foot concrete radar structure.

    Prominent structure

    Easily the most prominent building in the area, it was first operated by the Army. In 1977, the Air Force assumed operation following the ratification of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, which terminated anti-ballistic missile deployments. The Air Force then used it as a missile warning site.

    The PAR site has had two other names. It was known as the Concrete Missile Early Warning Site and later as the Cavalier Air Force Station. There was a sizable mobile home court in Concrete in the 1970s, until the number of civilian workers dropped.

    Concrete students attend classes in either Walhalla or Cavalier.

  • Population: Concrete reached a peak population of about 200 in 1920. Today, the unofficial count is 25 people with five inhabited houses in town and three just outside town.

  • Notable: In 1956, Alexander "Sandy" McKay of Concrete found in the Tongue River watershed the bones of the prehistoric reptile mososaur (swimming reptile), which lived 100 million years ago in the region.

    The search had begun 20 years earlier when a geologist began testing Fuller's earth, an absorptive material used in the petroleum refining process, which abounds in the area.

  • Attractions: In 1883, the Rev. Ransome Waite, a Presbyterian minister, left Minnesota to begin a church in the Walhalla and Beaulieu communities. It became known as the Old Log Church.

    The land for the church and Oak Lawn Cemetery was donated by Mary and William Gavin. The timber needed for construction was cut in the winter of 1884. The church was erected at the junction of North Dakota Highways 32 and 5 and was used by several Protestant denominations in the following years.

    The church was the oldest landmark in the community and one of North Dakota's oldest landmarks when it burned to the ground Nov. 6, 1954. On Oct. 11, 1963, a dedication ceremony was held at the site when former North Dakota Gov. Bill Guy unveiled a stone memorial with a bronze plaque.

  • Churches: The Methodist Episcopal Church began in the Concrete community in 1888. Church services were first held in the school on Saturday nights. Later they were held at the Old Log Church. The wood-framed structure with steeple that housed what would become the Concrete United Methodist Church was built in 1910 at a cost of $1,500. During the Depression, the Ladies' Aid raised the necessary funds to keep the church operating. Until the church closed in 1983, the Ladies' Aid continued to raise most of the funds to operate it. The building remains.

    Compiled by Darrel Koehler, Herald staff writer, and based on interviews with Concrete residents. Sources used were "North Dakota Place Names" by Douglas Wick and the 1989 Pembina County history book. Paul Olson, Alvarado, Minn., supplied information on Concrete.