Sunday, October 17, 2010

Old Highway 81

Red line shows route of Old Highway 81
Highway 81 as it was prior to the Interstate age, was the main highway through the Pembina area, the North Dakota 'twin' to Minnesota's Highway 75, as Pembina was the twin to St. Vincent, in a manner of speaking.

I often heard the term "Old Highway 81" used in passing, by my parents and other older residents of the area, growing up. I caught on that part of it was the road that went into an area I never knew that well (not knowing anyone that lived there) called South Pembina. South Pembina was the area south of Pembina proper, across the Pembina River. It was where the old museum was, and where the park, baseball field, and grandstand still are.

However, there was a lot more in South Pembina at one time.

On the southwest corner of Stutsman and Beaupre Streets, across from the park and museum, used to be a filling station (a Mobil, if I remember correctly - I see a flying horse in my mind's eye...) Further south on Beaupre (Old Highway 81 - but now called by many different names dependong on what stretch you're talking about) you can still see St. John's Ukranian Greek Orthodox Church. If you keep going, you'll eventually see the Pembina Airport, once a regional hub for Northwest Airways Airlines in the early days of aviation. The last time I was on the South Pembina section of the road, in the mid 1980's, the further south you went, the worse shape it was in, full of dangerous potholes. Gone were its glory days as a well-traveled and important highway, now relegated to a secondary status.

Recently, I have been in contact with a descendent of former area residents. In discussions with him, we figured out how U.S. Route 81 went through Pembina and exited again towards the border.

Today, '81' is a secondary designation given to I-29. You'll see it on many maps. But what most people don't know is, the section by Pembina that is called '81' or I-29, is not the route that the historic Highway 81 took. Prior to opening of I-29, Highway 81 came up from the south along the current I-29 most of the way, but at a certain point it diverged from the present route and was further east. It went north and eventually passed the Pembina Airport, the church, the ballpark, and ended at Stutsman Street, then it turned west (left) and went through town to North Third Street. At that corner, it turned north (right) and went to the border, about 2-3 miles away. It would leave town and proceed into the country, where it would pass another filling station (a Texaco station), this one owned by the above-mentioned descendent's grandfather, Frank C. Myrick, Jr. Further along was the older border station. That was the station that Clarence Bingham once worked at.

Frank C. Myrick, Jr.'s Texaco station, with old border station.  Customs can
be  seen in bottom left in background; bottom right shows closer view of
customs from a different angle.  [Photo Credit:  Kent Myrick]
By the time I was growing up, the Texaco station was long gone.  I never even knew about it until the owner's grandson recently contacted me. I continue to learn more and more about the area I grew up in.

I have a feeling there are other businesses or landmarks I am not aware of. To anyone reading this who knows of such oversights, please let me know - I'll do what I can to acknowledge "those that went before..."

Inspection at the old Pembina border station... [Photo Credit:  Digital Reflections]
Northwest Airways hanger - Pembina Airport 1931
Do YOU remember the 'Northwest Orient' jingles I do!
[Photo Credit:  Minnesota Historical Society]
Pembina Airport Trivia:  Northwest Airways began service Twin Cities - Winnipeg via Fargo on Feb 1, 1928. That service was canceled about three months later as the Canadian Government objected. A comprise was reached and the service was reinstated February 2, 1931 with Northwest flying only as far as Pembina where a connection was made with Western Canada Airways for the Pembina/Winnipeg segment. The service was interrupted 2/1/1934 when all US airmail contracts were canceled. Northwest Airways was then incorporated as Northwest Airlines, Inc. and service was reinstated with the Pembina connection. On October 10, 1938 direct service by Northwest to Winnipeg was begun following Canadian agreement and service at Pembina ceased.

Source:  Pete Patzke, NWA History Centre