Dakota Datebook

Burlington Subsistence Homestead Project, 1936

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

 

The town of Burlington, 8 miles west of Minot, was a coal-mining town since its founding in 1883. The first Burlington mines were small operations that provided lignite coal for the local area and some for shipment to Grand Forks.

By the 1920s, Burlington’s small mines struggled, due to competition from large strip mining operations and the underground mines at Wilton, but the small coal mines still gave employment to about 70 miners. Of these, 30 were immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe.

As the Great Depression hit in 1930, the coal veins near Burlington had nearly been depleted. The mines provided some income for miners during the fall and winter months, but demand for coal declined as the economy worsened and the miners worked only a few days per week. Summer work on farms for the men also declined, since rainfall dropped below normal from 1928 to 1934. The miners were reduced to living in rented shacks.

During the dry summer of 1934, two local men, coal-miner Bob Oliver and businessman Einer A. Madsen, developed a plan to help the demoralized coal-miners and their families. The men sought funding from the North Dakota Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, the state agency created to channel New Deal funding to worthwhile projects. Mr. Oliver and Mr. Madsen asked for authorization to establish “homestead units” for unemployed miners on land near the junction of the Des Lacs and Mouse rivers, just northwest of Burlington. Miners would grow vegetables, mainly potatoes, in the summer and work in local coal mines in the winter. The construction of a dam would provide irrigation for the vegetables.

The plan, dubbed the “Burlington Project,” gained approval in November, 1934. The project eventually consisted of thirty-five housing units on plots of land eight to ten acres in size.

On this date in 1936, a local newspaper reported that fifteen of the homesteads in the Burlington Project would be built by the Huston and Mackley Construction Company of Minot. Each of the homesteads consisted of a modest-sized house, a small barn “for a cow or two,” a chicken house, and a pig shed “for several porkers.”

This federal resettlement project assisted 35 families* until 1946, when the federal government ended its role in the Burlington Project, turning it over to the state of North Dakota.

 

*out of 7,000 families in the county

 

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources:

“Local Firm Will Construct Homes,” Ward County Independent [Minot, ND], January 30, 1936, p. 1.

 

Iver A. Acker, Project Manager, Report of the Burlington Project of the N.D. Rehabilitation Corporation (Bismarck: N.D. Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, February 15, 1938), p. 2, 3.

 

“Growth of Lignite Mining Industry,” Minot Daily News, June 25, 1935, sect. 5, p. 10.

 

“Mastermind” in Letter from Edward G. Boelter, Mesa, AZ, to Steve Hoffbeck, February 20, 1995, p. 6 (Boelter was the accountant for the Project from 1935-1940).

 

“Dreams Come True: Declare 35 Families as Federal Aid Brings New Hope of Security,” Minot Daily News, August 29, 1936, p. 3.

 

“Homesteading of a New Type At Burlington,” Minot Daily News, June 25, 1935, Section 2, p. 7.

 

“Gardening on Burlington Project Extensive Work,” Ward County Independent [Minot, ND], October 3, 1935, p. 1.

 

“Bill To Transfer Burlington Project Homestead Project to State For Disabled Vets’ Use Passes,” Minot Daily News, June 18, 1946, p. 1.

 

“Hearing Set on Petition To End Burlington Group,” Minot Daily News, May 17, 1947, p. 3.

 

“Burlington Township, Ward County” U.S. Census Bureau, Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920, Population, p. 2B-9A.

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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