After a long day working on — or for — the railroad, numerous men and women of Mandan’s yesteryear found solace in their homes, where they hung their hat, washed up, consumed a hot meal and rested before returning to work the next day. Many of these homes still exist and are included in the Heritage Home Walking Tour.
Since the spring of 2008, the Mandan Historical Society has been installing plaques in front of Mandan homes that bear an association with the railroad. Each plaque contains historical information about the home, such as the year it was built, past occupants and architectural design. Also conveyed is the home’s connection with the rail industry — perhaps a conductor once lived there.
Historic properties that are associated with other means of transportation, such as steamboat and stage line, are also given consideration for the program.
Thus far, 14 homes have been marked and are featured on the self-guided tour, which aims to provide a central city destination for visitors drawn to the North Dakota Railroad Museum, in north Mandan, and Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, located to the south.
The project, a cooperative effort between the historical society, Mandan and the North Dakota Department of Transportation, also recognizes a wide variety of individual property owners who have invested time and money into preserving a portion of the city’s heritage.
“I feel the tour is important because it gives homeowners recognition for the efforts and costs necessary to maintain these wonderful slices of our history,” said Kathye Spilman, secretary of the Mandan Historical Society. “They don’t make houses like these anymore.”
Twenty-one years ago, Craig Haug and his wife, Kristin, acquired the McGillic Home, 500 Third St. N.W., after he fell in love with the 102-year-old house’s charm at a garage sale the previous owner was hosting.
“Old houses are cool. Every room has so much more character than what you find in new homes,” said Haug, adding, with a chuckle, that his “wife doesn’t let me go to rummage sales anymore.”
The property has a rich history. Based on information provided by the historical society, Charles F. and Estella (Cummins) King owned a small home on the parcel in 1883, occupying it with their three children, Charles’ mother and a domestic helper. At the time, the property encompassed lots four, five and six of Third Street Northwest.
Charles King was Morton County’s superintendent of schools from 1883 to 1885, as well as a physician. Estella King was the daughter of Isaac Cummins, a telegraph operator for Northern Pacific Railway and Western Union Telegraph Co.
In 1913, James McGillic, who with John O’Rourke, ventured to Mandan from Malone, N.Y., purchased the property, sold the west half and, in 1916, constructed the existing home on the east half of lots five and six.
Upon their arrival to Mandan in 1879, the duo started a grocery and meat market known as O’Rourke and McGillic. Three years later, a fire, originating in the Northern Pacific restaurant, destroyed the store as well as the Commercial Hotel, the Sam Lung Chinese Laundry, the Strong and Hackett Furniture Store, the Mandan House and the Pacific House.
According to the historical society, the fire is considered to be Mandan’s biggest conflagration, based on the number of buildings burned.
McGillic’s son, Patrick, eventually took over the grocery business, operating City Grocery for many years.
The McGillic Home cost about $4,000 to build and encompasses a 33-by-38-foot area. Constructed with 18-foot studs, its style is Craftsman, which was popular from 1905 to 1930.
The 2½-story home has a large front gabled dormer and a second-story balcony over a full-width porch that features square columns to support the roof.
Quarter-sawn oak is used extensively in the main floor's interior. The staircase, built-in china hutch, beams and moldings were all constructed from the material, which Haug says gives his home the wow factor.
“Quarter-sawn oak is just beautiful wood,” he said. “None of the original woodwork has been painted … all of the main floor quarter-sawn oak hasn’t been touched. It’s hard to find homes like that.”
The interior of the house, featuring four bedrooms, one bathroom and two half-baths, had domestic quarters and a maid’s staircase, used by the domestic help to access the kitchen.
Haug said the house hasn’t changed much over the years, aside from the recent addition of a garage. When performing repairs and upgrades, he said measures are taken to ensure the home’s history is preserved, such as paying $1 per square foot for hard-to-find siding for the new garage.
“We tried to make sure we matched the garage with characteristics of the house,” he said, noting possession of a “really old house with no insulation” is a lot of work.
But with the labor comes priceless stories and treasures. Haug said, while completing projects, he’s found many interesting mementos in the nooks and crannies.
In the attic, which has an 8-foot ceiling, he found the homebuilders’ signatures. A bedroom wall contained a 1940s baseball card, while a Wrigley’s Spearmint gum wrapper was found in a separate wall. Haug also uncovered a buffalo head nickel.
“Everything we find will stay with the house, if we, one day, decide to sell it,” he said.
Well, maybe not everything. Haug returned a painting he found in a dark corner of the attic to its rightful owner, Bill Engelter, whose grandmother created the artwork.
Haug said the tour hasn't increased traffic in front of his house, but he appreciates the individuals who take the time to stop and read the plaque.
Two additional Heritage Home Tour properties can be found on the 500 block of Third Street Northwest.
According to Spilman, the city hopes to expand the tour, but volunteer help is needed.
“We would love to expand the program, we just need a couple of volunteers to step forward,” she said, noting the historical society has been approached by additional owners of historic homes.
For more information, call 701-663-5200 or visit www.mandanhistory.org/heritagehomes.html.