Fargo applies to put historic Oak Grove neighborhood on national register
Fargo - The Oak Grove neighborhood has seen many changes in the 33 years since Daniel Sullivan moved into his home along Short Street. But it's the characteristics that originally drew residents to Oak Grove that the 80-year-old Sullivan still ad...
Fargo - The Oak Grove neighborhood has seen many changes in the 33 years since Daniel Sullivan moved into his home along Short Street.
But it's the characteristics that originally drew residents to Oak Grove that the 80-year-old Sullivan still adores.
"I love this neighborhood because it's like being out in the country a little bit," he said, "But I'm walking distance from downtown."
Oak Grove, located just north of downtown along the Red River, was considered a suburb of the downtown business district back in 1895 when houses started going up along North and South Terrace.
Now, Fargo is working to get the area a place in history by applying for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
The three-year study process moves to the next step Friday when the North Dakota Historical Society reviews the application in Bismarck.
Oak Grove's historical significance is tied to the neighborhood's role in Fargo's residential expansion and the cohesive architectural characteristics of the homes, said Steve Martens, a North Dakota State University architecture professor.
Oak Grove was one of several residential neighborhoods popping up at the turn of the 20th century near downtown Fargo, said Martens, who is under contract with the city's historical preservation commission to study the area's historical significance.
"There used to be a lot of those little neighborhoods tight into downtown, but as downtown has grown and expanded, most of them have disappeared from the scene," Martens said.
Oak Grove's relatively secluded location on an oxbow of the Red River is one of the reasons it is the only one of these historic neighborhoods still intact, Martens said.
A streetcar that carried the mostly working-class residents in and out of downtown Fargo also helped expand Oak Grove, Martens said.
The neighborhood's homes, built mostly from about 1910 through the 1930s, are historical in that they share two distinct styles: modest "mechanics' cottages" and bungalows.
The area today is well-maintained and probably in better shape than even 20 years ago, Martens said. More than two-thirds of the homes included in the survey maintain the historic characteristics.
Fargo is hoping to register the neighborhood as a historic district that includes about 54 homes along North and South Terrace from Elm to Short streets.
Two important landmarks within the neighborhood - Oak Grove Lutheran High School and Oak Grove Park - are not included in the district.
Some of the school's historical buildings remain intact, but a number of new facilities and flood protection meant the campus was left out of the district.
But the Oak Grove school and park are still important parts of the area's identity, Martens said.
"Both the park and school really support the reason for the neighborhood to be there and the reason that it's held together to the extent that it is," he said.
Though many of the original homes remain, extensive and repeated flooding has defined Oak Grove's recent history.
Buyouts following the record 2009 flood limited the scope of the district originally studied in 2008, said Dawn Mayo, assistant city planner.
Fargo now owns several dozen lots in the hardest-to-protect areas of Oak Grove to make room for permanent flood protection, but Martens said the neighborhood's inner core maintains its historical integrity.
Oak Grove's historic status wouldn't affect future buyouts if they are necessary, Martens said.
"The National Register doesn't really provide any protections for properties other than it clearly says, 'This is an important feature of our community,' " he said.
If the state historical society OKs Oak Grove's historic status, the document is then forwarded to the National Parks District for final approval, expected by late June.
The designation would be a point of pride for both the city and residents, as it has been in Fargo's five other historic districts, Martens said.
"There are so many pressures and temptations to erase history and sort of replace it with something new, so it's sort of gratifying to see a neighborhood that sees the value in what they have," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511