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    Posted June 14, 2011 by
    Bismarck, North Dakota
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
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    Historic ND Train Depot Being Swallowed By Mega-Flood


    Watching the Missouri River Take Away a Piece of History

    An Inglorious End for the 100th Anniversary of the Wilton Train Depot

    June 14, 2011

    By Mark Armstrong


    Today, as I shot this video, I realized it might be the last time anyone will be standing on riverfront deck of Meriwether's Restaurant and Lounge.  This building was built in 1911 by the Northern Pacific Railroad and served the community of Wilton, 26 miles north of Bismarck. The depot was moved to the riverfront from Wilton in 1987.  For the last three weeks it has been slowly swallowed by the mega-flood waters of the Missouri river.  While shooting the above video, I heard cracking boards, rushing river water and felt the entire building listing to the east.  The once popular riverfront restaurant, lounge, ice cream shop and jump off spot for the Lewis and Clark riverboat is drowning and slowly dying.  Not the end anyone expected for her 100th birthday.


    The old train depot was moved south to Bismarck from Wilton, 26 miles to the north as the centerpiece of Bismarck's Centennial Beach.  The river access was dedicated as part of North Dakota's 100th birthday in 1989. This area of the river is where steam-powered paddle and stern wheelers once pulled up to the river shoreline in the early days of Bismarck. This riverfront area, now underwater was, and still is, the Port of Bismarck. In 1987, the mayor at the time, Marlan "Hawk" Haakenson set up a place for a riverboat named the Farwest to dock here and take on passengers with the old Wilton Train Depot as the ticket counter/ice cream shop.  Later it became the only eatery and lounge on the river in Bismarck.


    Hawk also spearheaded the effort to get recreational access for the river at this location. Over the last 20 years there have been numerous improvements, including a popular boat launch, parking, fishing area, picnic benches and a nearby paved bike trail.  And in 2006, huge colorful iconic statues of Lewis and Clark, along with Sakakawea were erected as part of  the bicentennial celebrations for their westward "Voyage of Discovery." There is even a replica keelboat that the explorers used on that voyage.  The keelboat once sat back some 50 yards from the river channel. Now the swollen Missouri threatens to take this keelboat down river.


    The former mayor,Hawk Haakenson, who survived the last great flood before the dam closed in 1952, has vivid memories of living through the floodwaters that poured into Bismarck's south side, "below the tracks." His Dad's house at 619 West Memorial Highway in Bismarck, just a mile from the riverfront, survived that flood and still stands to this day. The city required his father to pour a basement and remount the wooden structure on it. There are pictures of this house in the water in 1952 and as it looks today in my Facebook album marked historic Bismarck photos.


    In 1987, Hawk managed to bring down from the city of Wilton, that city's Northern Pacific Railroad Train Depot that was built in 1911. He had it moved to the spot where it is now floundering in the river.  Three weeks ago officials looked at trying to move it out of harms' way, but the sandy soils it sits in made it easy to put there and impossible to move as the waters quickly saturated those sandy soils.


    Many of us of have special memories at "Captain Meriwether's Restaurant and Lounge." It was the only place on this side of the river where you could grab a bite or a drink, sit inside or outside and watch the river go by. Now those patios are underwater and the historic building could be entirely lost by this historic flood.


    I have planned a reunion at a historic rock marker in front of the dying train depot building that should still be there after this mega-flood. Anyone is welcome to attend.  I promise to bring a box of cigars and anyone who wants to see what is left , can join me at 5:00 p.m. on Labor Day, September 5th.  I am calling the event, "Reclaiming the River."  By then, maybe we can begin to heal from all the wounds that our once beloved river is opening wider each day.

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