A sprawling community…..
Several weeks ago my wife and I attended a party that was essentially the christening of a new bank in Bismarck.
By Marvin Baker
It was the First Western Bank & Trust on South Third Street, and officials were showcasing the state-of-the-art lending institution. Loan officers, tellers, IT folks and even janitors were showing people around, giving them a glimpse of the latest and greatest construction in the capital city.
We visited one of the loan officer’s offices. He is a huge baseball fan and has a bat autographed by the Bismarck Larks mounted on a wall, and right next to it is a huge photo of the Municipal Ball Park in Bismarck. I stared at that photo for the longest time trying to figure out when it might have been taken. For two years, in 1985 and 1986, I played in that park while I was on the Bismarck Junior College team, so I was somewhat familiar with its layout.
After awhile the loan officer said to me, “I suppose you remember the park that way?” I told him I did from the ‘80s, and he said that the ball park has been changed to where we knew home plate to be is now deep center field. I was actually aware of that from watching high school baseball highlights on the TV news.
But the picture? I couldn’t guess because I couldn’t find a clue to tip me off as to the year. He said that it was taken in 1951, and he pointed out that the capitol was also in the aerial photo and that nothing but farmland was north of it.
The population of Bismarck in 1950 was 18,640, about what Mandan is now. We then talked about the growth of the capital city since that time. Every decade, Bismarck has continued to grow and in 1974 was listed with Denver as one of two of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Nothing north of the capitol- that meant no K-mart, no Gateway Mall, no Century High School, no Menards, nothing, but maybe a few Herefords grazing on the prairie. By 1976, Gateway and Century were in operation and Century Avenue, running adjacent to both, was becoming a busy road.
But that’s only part of the story. Bismarck expanded south, or as far south as it could without infringing on the airport. It expanded north and is now approximately 3 miles north of Century Avenue. It couldn’t expand west because of the Missouri River, but it has certainly expanded to the northeast. Bismarck has grown so much that its 2017 population was estimated at 73,000, essentially quadrupling in size in the past 60 years. Mandan’s growth has been more subtle, but the Morton County seat continues to grow nonetheless.
The real story of the suburbs, if you will, is Lincoln. Started in 1977 as a housing development, Lincoln had approximately 650 people. By 2000, it had grown to more than 1,700 and felt some of the growing pains as other rapidly expanding communities have felt. By 2010, Lincoln was the 15th largest city in North Dakota and was still growing. Some of the local residents who had moved there from Mott some years earlier, said in 2010 there were more people from Mott living in Lincoln than the entire population of Mott.
Today, Lincoln is projected to have 3,700 population and is now competing with Grafton to be the 13th largest community in the state. The rate of growth of the Bismarck metro area has surprised a lot of people in the past 30 years, but it still lags far behind Fargo and its metropolitan area that seems to be growing at just as fast a pace.
Some people say Bismarck has changed, and it isn’t the same place it used to be. Some say Bismarck grew up and lost its innocence sometime between 9/11 and the oil boom years. Regardless, Bismarck remains one of the best places in the United States that call a state capitol a home.
Back to baseball in the mid ‘80s. In 1985 and 1986, the BJC Mystics and two American Legion teams played on Municipal Ball Park. Today, there are eight teams that call that park home, commensurate with growth of the city. One of the local baseball teams, Shiloh Christian High School, built its own park, so theoretically, there could be nine teams using it. In 1951, there were two baseball teams in Bismarck.
Incidentally, it’s the same ball park where Satchel Paige played in the 1930s. After leaving Bismarck he went on to play with the Cleveland Indians.