Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Purdy Horgan & the Pembina Museum Saga

I was just informed yesterday, that the items I requested from the State Historical Society of North Dakota in Bismarck, was picked up in Bismarck last Friday, and is now available for my perusal at NDSU's Institute for Regional Studies here in Fargo, where I live. To say I am excited is an understatement! I'll be going in tomorrow afternoon and taking my first look at the contents, and spending all day Friday (which I am taking off as another vacation day especially for this occasion) at the Institute taking a closer look. This weekend, if not before, I'll definitely be posting my first take on what I find, right here...

Today I received a response to a letter of inquiry to a Purdy Horgan from Cavalier, ND. I had never heard of Purdy, but was put on the trail to him via a lady I found thanks to a fellow Freecycle Fargo person (long story, but let us say, it pays to network!)

Purdy is an elderly man who has had involvement in the historical preservation community in the area I come from, on the North Dakota side of the Red River, in Pembina County. I had asked Purdy what he knew about the contents of the former Pembina Museum, how they were dispursed, since I knew I didn't know the whole story yet.

I will quote his letter in full, since it is an interesting and colorful read...I think I would really like this Purdy...
Cavalier, N.Dak.
April 27, 2006

Dear Ms. Lewis:

If you have a couple of seconds to squander I will be happy to tell you all I know about the "Icelandic Museum".

The Museum you refer to is the Pembina County Historical Society Museum. DUe to building deterioration and lack of handicap accessability it was necessary to abandon the old location in town. Consensus of the opinion of many people OK'ed the selection of a site in the Icelandic State Park (what a misnomer - this is not an Icelandic State Park...it is a North Dakota State Park) five miles west of Cavalier, at Lake Renwick.

Four hundred feet north of the Museum complex and across Highway #5 is the entrance to the park. The park offices are located there within the Northeastern North Dakota Heritage building, which is often mistaken for a museum - which it is not. It is a Pioneer Interpretive Center covering the settlement days to the present, in the northern Red River Valley of Pembina County. It is difficult to keep these enterprises in their proper perspective.

There is one more Museum in the county - the North Dakota State Museum at Pembina.

Elmer Barry's collection was on display in the old Pembina City Museum for many years. Due to possible Red River flooding every spring, it was necessary to move all the artifacts to higher ground. The transportation was furnished by high school students excused from class for the chore. It was a blast for those who were capable but age and responsibilitiy allowed a certain amount of horse play resulting in like amount of carelessness and toll on the objections of salvation.

One spring - perhaps ten years ago - the City, unwittingly asked the North Dakota Heritage Association [Note: I may be wrong here, but I think Purdy actually means the State Historical Society of North Dakota here - I searched extensively online and cannot locate a North Dakota Heritage Association anywhere...] for help while there was still some unbroken artifacts left. Of course the NDHA was more than happy to help. In a few days several trucks arrived, loaded the entire collection, and took it to Bismarck.

Now - with the exception of a few items donated by other people, the rest of the stuff belonged to Elmer's daughter, Mrs. Cummings, living a long ways from Pembina County. Try as she might there was no way NDHA would relinquish control of the exhibit. THey did make one last seemingly safe offer. She was informed the exhibit would be returned if she had a safe place for it to be stored. In desperation she contacted the NEND Heritage Assocation.

Ninety percent of the exhibit would not be used by the local HC but there was a brand new full basement under a recently renovated Town Hall on the Center grounds. A deal was made between the PCHS and the NEND HC whereby the museum would take the exhibit and the Heritage Center would store it temporarily (it is not difficult for the two entities to deal - most of the members of the Society belong to the HC and vice versa...)

I was working in the HC the day a large truck came in from Bismarck with the load of the smaller items of the Barry collection. Being the Vice President of the Historical Society at the time, I was honored to sign for and also unload the truck, plus put all the stuff in the basement of the old Town Hall. Although there were several items missing (that is ANOTHER story...) Mrs. Cummings was so happy to have the exhibit back in Pembina County where it belonged she donated the whole shebang to the museum and made a substantial cash donation besides!

About the only way you could borrow anything from either place would be if you formed and registered a non-profit organization with an excellent credit rating. All of the books, papers, documents, and artifacts either on exhibit or in storage are available for research at all times but not to be removed from the premises. For further information you might need or clarification of my offer, contact:

Zelda Harje - Curator
PCHS Museum
13571 Hwy #5
Cavalier, N.Dak. 58220

Rosemarie Myrdal, President
NEND Heritage Assn.
13571 Hwy #5
Cavalier, N.Dak. 58220

Sincerely,
Purdy Horgan