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Happy Centennial Birthday, Fillmore!

By Staff | Jul 13, 2012

The population of Fillmore swelled a thousandfold and more this past weekend as the community celebrated its 100th birthday.

Donald (Red) Peterson is the town’s lone permanent resident but he had plenty of company during the three-day bash.

Centennial committee members estimate nearly 2000 people showed up for the event which featured a parade, meals, a beer garden, historical exhibits, dances, musical entertainment, children’s games, a church service and many other activities.

“It was a tremendous weekend,” said David Rendahl, a third-generation Fillmore farmer, and one of the organizers. “It went far beyond my expectations.”

“We had a wonderful turnout,” said committee member Deb Gigstad Mack. Attendees came from such diverse places as Alaska and Florida, and

Deb’s son, Jared, even travelled all the way from the African nation of Tanzania.

A brief history

The original townsite of Fillmore was nothing more than a country store and a post office, and was a stop on the stage route from Esmond to Knox. It was founded in 1904 one-half mile south of the current town.

In 1912 the Soo Line Railroad built a line from east of Devils Lake to Drake and the town was moved to its present location.

In its heyday it had a school, churches, a post office, three elevators, blacksmith shops, a large hall, a bank, livery stable, two grocery stores, a cafe and pool hall, a bar and more. It also was home to about 150 people. Over the years businesses and population dwindled, and the 1950 census listed 95 residents.

The high school closed in 1960, with the grade school hanging on until about 1972, according to David Rendahl. Fillmore Lutheran Church discontinued services that year also, and St. Ann’s Catholic Church closed in about 1980, committee member Kathy Peterson Halvorson said. The remaining grocery store and the post office closed in the early 1980s. They were run by her mother, Lois Peterson. The last elevator, managed by Kathy’s dad, Walt Peterson, closed in the 1970s. Pete’s bar, owned by Peter Goetz, was the last business in town, closing in 1995.

Trains stopped running in the early 1980s and in 1988 the rails and ties were taken up, leaving only the railbed. The large wood railroad underpass on the west side of town, a Fillmore landmark, was later removed by Kenny Vetsch.

Preparing to party

None of these dismaying facts deterred the organizers of the celebration, however. The centennial committee, made up of area and former Fillmore residents, billed the party a “Ghost Town Centennial” and plowed ahead. But it was the innumerable volunteer hours that really made the weekend a success. One of Deb Mack’s uncles, Kenny Peterson, of Longview, Wash., made several trips to Fillmore in the months preceding the party to help with the planning and the work necessary to get the town ready.

“Uncle Ken was instrumental in everything,” Deb said. The extended Peterson clan was involved in the event from start to finish according to David Rendahl.

Kathy Peterson Halvorson agrees. “To have a vision and to see that it (the celebration) could be that big was their doing,” she said.

But they had lots of help from other area and former Fillmore people. The Jaegers, Hofferts, Simonsons, Voellers, Volks and others combined to raise funds, contact vendors, locate history, book the musical acts, and attend to the one thousand and one extra details, right down to garbage removal and porta-potties.

Historical photos and stories of the school and churches as well as of individual pioneer families were rounded up for display in the former Lutheran Church. An area for motor homes and campers was prepared. Several buildings, deemed hazardous, were burned prior to the weekend. Street signs bearing the original street names were erected, complete with flags and hanging flower baskets. Vacant lots were mowed and trees trimmed. The streets were gravelled. A large covered bandstand was built and a huge tent put up. Seemingly not one detail was forgotten.

By July 5 all was in readiness for the big weekend and it went off without a hitch. “It was just a wonderful weekend and a wonderful experience to work with all the committee and volunteers,” said Susan Hoffert, a committee member.

“We’ve had nothing but compliments on the whole weekend,” Deb said. “The children’s games were fantastic, and we could not have been more pleased with the vendors. The washer woman, the rope maker, the blacksmith, all were wonderful. We did very well on the demolition derby.”

She was also appreciative of the Hawk Museum shuttle, and the horse-drawn wagon from the Warwick/Sheyenne area, both which gave rides all weekend. In spite of the heat and humidity no one needed the paramedics or the fire truck, which were standing by. “And there was not one skirmish,” Deb said with a smile.

Saturday’s parade featured 52 entries plus dozens of horses according to parade chairman, Angel Hoffert. 92-year-old Marion Thompson Zimmerman of Devils Lake, great aunt of many in the Peterson and Thompson families, served as the grand marshal and delighted the crowd with her enthusiasm. She was the oldest former resident of Fillmore registered for the celebration.

Kathy Halvorson turns a bit wistful when she recalls visiting with attendees. “It was the theme of so many conversations that ‘when will we ever get together in Fillmore again?” she said.

Monsignor Joseph Senger of Minot, who served as the parish priest at St. Ann’s Church in the early 1970s, spoke at the church service Sunday morning. His words were particularly meaningful for the families whose history goes back to the early days of the community.

“Monsignor Senger’s service was fabulous,” said Deb. “His message was that the wealth the current generation gets from the past generations is not money but the family histories and community connections. He called it the prairie spirit.”

That spirit was on full display in Fillmore this past weekend.

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