Connecting the Twin Cities: Memorial Highway and the Strip

Connecting the Twin Cities: Memorial Highway and the Strip

Aerial view of the Strip from the 1950s

Dustin White

The Strip has been an important part of the Bismarck-Mandan community for over nine decades. It allowed businesses, wanting to serve both sides of the river, to find a nice central location. However, there were many factors that nearly kept The Strip from taking off.

It was the Liberty Memorial Bride that became key to development of The Strip. Before the bridge, the only crossing over the river, for 500 miles in either direction, was the Northern Pacific Railroad.

During the winter, the river did provide an icy path between the two cities, but once the ice thawed, the only method to transport a car across the river was by ferry. Through the early years, the North Dakota Department of Transportation reported that 10,000 cars a year crossed the river between Bismarck and Mandan.

By 1917, the use of a ferry was no longer a viable option. Already in 1914, North Dakota had ranked fifth in the nation per capita in automobile ownership, and cars just continued to become more commonplace.

The 1922 completion of the Liberty Memorial Bridge made the cross-country Red Trail an interstate highway, finally connecting North Dakota east to west. Along with this completion came economic growth west of the Missouri River, which is what state leaders had been looking for.

There were still problems for The Strip though. Before the completion of the Garrison Dam, spring floods made the erection of buildings almost pointless. Those who did dare to open businesses were greeted by flooding most years.

For those who took the venture began a development that continues to this day. In those early days though, The Strip was neither a part of Mandan nor Bismarck. It was just the middle ground, an area connecting the two communities.

After the completion of the bridge in 1922, those who had homes or businesses on The Strip paid taxes only to Morton County. Each maintained their own wells and sewage facilities.

That quickly began changing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The North Dakota State Highway Commissioner at the time, Walter Hjelle, made the decision that The Strip needed to become a four-lane highway. Included in the proposed improvement was an underpass that would connect the Strip to Main Street in Mandan. He was met with quite a bit of backlash.

Alice Young, who was the owner of The Ranch House and Young’s Tavern on The Strip, led the opposition to the proposal. Instead, she favored keeping the two-lane road, and having it blacktopped.

“If a new super-duper highway and a new underpass area would be built it would be easy for Mandan to take us in for tax purposes. We don’t want to pay all those high taxes. It would be years before Mandan could gives us anything (such as a sewer and water service) for our money, Young said in a Dec. 2, 1969 Bismarck Tribune story.

On the other side was Robert Clifford from the Gourmet House and Roger Hardy of the PRS Tarp Manufacturing Co. 

“We felt we would not get anything (from the Highway Department) if we didn’t get the four-lane,” Hardy had said.

Hardy was also looking towards the future of the Strip, predicting much more growth. 

“I’ve been here since 1962 and I’ve seen the number of businesses on The Strip more than double,” he was quoted by the news.

As we know today, the underpass and four-lane highway were constructed. But that wasn’t the end to protests. On Feb. 18, 1975, the city of Mandan began the process of annexing The Strip.

The proposal began with a petition of 33 property owners who presented it to the Mandan City Commission. William Bartels, who was co-owner of the Midway Bowling Lanes made the request on behalf of the landowners. The motivation had been sewage problems in the area.

Less than three months later, the process was completed. There were protests though, largely fueled by the $1 million in special assessments that were spread to the owners of the property.

During the first public hearing, five landowners voiced their views. Nine more landowners would send their protests in, according the Bismarck Tribune, but they were late. In the end, these residents did not own the required 25 percent of combined property to stop the process of annexation.

On May 6, 1975, The Strip officially became part of Mandan, and in turn gave the city the distinction of having the longest Main Street in the state at the time.

Today, The Strip remains an important part of the Bismarck-Mandan community. Still connecting the two cities, the stretch of road has experience new life, while still nurturing some of the business that helped make it what it is today.

Looking out towards Mandan, the Memorial Bridge is the final connection between the twin cities. Along with the Strip, it has served as a way to bring the communities together. (Dustin White photo)