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Thursday, October 19, 2017

House fire claims a little piece of history

This and That By Avis Anderson

The little house on Towne Street that burned recently was an historic home.  I am sure if you know the house and its location you might scratch your head at my statement.  It was just a small, old house.  But Eileen Melby and I included it in our book on historic homes of Glendive because it was an example of a type of home, lived in and lived in lovingly.  

The lady (now deceased) who owned the home at that time had lived in it all her life.  “It seems like every other house along here was railroad people and even up until after the war ...” she remembered (meaning World War II).

“When I was a little girl I would wake up in the morning and lay in bed listening to the sound of doors slamming up and down the street as the men went to work,” she once said.  It was a blue-collar neighborhood whose men worked for the Northern Pacific railroad and the sound of slamming doors meant they were heading down Towne street to the roundhouse to go to work.  

Her father had come from Norway to Glendive because he had an uncle here.  Working a six day week, each day ending at 4.30 p.m., he worked 33 years for the Northern Pacific railroad.  “I remember my dad would come home on Saturday night and always bring home the funny papers — the Chicago Herald Examiner — and always brought us each a candy bar in his lunch bucket.  That was a ‘Leaping Lena’.  It had cherries in it.”  In 1909, the house was purchased by the family for $2500. 

Hard times in Norway brought the next generation to America in 1928.  The woman’s father-in-law was working on a section crew in the Glendive area.  Her husband worked for the NP on the building and bridges crew for almost thirty years.

The house was in an area that had a number of Norwegian families.  Glendive was like that in those early days.  There was a section called “little Italy” and there was a German Hall, all on the East side of the tracks known as the ‘South side’.  Another person remembered the older ladies in those days, with their head scarves on, cutting through the railroad yards on their way to mass at the Catholic church.  The blue-bloods, the professional folk, lived on the ‘other side’ of the tracks and rarely did the two groups cross paths.  One disappointed land developer called Meade Avenue ‘horse thief row’ declaring that is how those folks had made their money.  Actually he was disappointed because they had not bought land he was trying to develop in another part of town.

Lincoln School was the school for those living on the east side of the tracks.  Built in the early 1900s it served as a neighborhood school for many years.  I remember the kids from my neighborhood walking six blocks to school.  We walked in bunches moving together up the street.

What Eileen and I learned as we did our research was that every home has a story to tell.  When it was built and where it was built tells you what was happening in the life of the community at the time.  The house on Towne was very modest, but it served three generations of a family and served it well.  I visited the lady of the house often and we laughed together and I even tried out a few Norwegian phrases with her.  It was a neat little house, showing some wear as we all do as we get older.  But it wasn’t just an old house, it was a home, with a history.

Avis Anderson lives in Glendive. Her online blog can be found at www.prairienewdays.com.

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