Today I travelled to Hettinger in the middle of the work week in order to photograph the residential neighborhood that surrounds the Hettinger School. The population of Hettinger is only about 1,100 people currently, so there is only one school for K-12th grades.
The school is located approximately one block east of main street, two blocks north of Mirror Lake Park, and four blocks south of Kennedy’s Grocery Store. School enrollment is 150-300 students. The student-to-teacher ratio varies between 10:1 and 12:1.
The neighborhood surrounding the Hettinger School consists of, in my estimation, 60% of houses constructed prior to 1960, 30% of houses constructed 1960-1990, and 10% of houses constructed after 1990.
Like many towns in southwest North Dakota, the town was planned and created by the railroad. I am almost certain that Hettinger was platted and deeded by the Milwaukee Road Land Company, the same railroad company as Mott, Regent, and New England. Here is the plat map of Adams County from 1917, showing the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul railroad passing through the town of Hettinger http://usgwarchives.net/maps/northdakota/adams/outlineofcounty.pdf
Even though there is quite a bit of variety in the houses in Mott, Regent, New England, and Hettinger, there is also a similarity, because the majority of the houses that were built prior to 1940 were Sears, Roebuck & Co. kit homes. There were 370 different Sears kit home designs available https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sears_Modern_Homes
Before viewing the seven videos below, I would like for readers from elsewhere in the country, to understand that the population of Hettinger is 1,100 people, the average house price is about $120,000, and the cost of living is 25% less than the U.S. average. Here are some of these statistics https://www.bestplaces.net/city/north_dakota/hettinger
In the following videos, the faint clacking noise is the sound of my motorcycle running, so that I can flee:
In my previous blog post, I spent some time listing other cities that I have visited in my lifetime, and in comparison to each of these cities, I wrote that I would rather live in Hettinger, North Dakota. For each of these other cities, it’s not just a matter of them having higher crime, worse traffic, or more expensive housing, that causes me to say that I would rather live in Hettinger. There are bits and pieces of these other cities that I miss, that I see in Hettinger.
The pictures and videos that I included in my previous blog post, that were taken on the south side of Hettinger, I hoped to show how much open space there still is, that there has been no hurry to develop everything. What I have been looking forward to the most, is showing the houses in downtown Hettinger. It is not so much that time has passed Hettinger by, it is that Hettinger has moved at its own, slow, peaceful pace.
I like that the railroad yard is still in use in downtown Hettinger, just the same as it was 120 years ago. Many of the same buildings are there from the 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s. Unlike most other cities in the U.S., the downtown in Hettinger never became unpopular, abandoned, and allowed to decay. There never was a new “Mall”, shopping center, private community, gated community, or exclusive community that shone bright at one time, but later became outdated and undesirable.
Here are some pictures and a video of downtown, but these are all still on the south side of Hettinger:
I had driven to Hettinger this Sunday afternoon to take photographs of downtown Hettinger while most of the businesses were closed, to avoid photographing people and vehicles that might be passing by. Hettinger has a population of about 1,100 people currently, there are very few people downtown on Saturday and Sunday afternoon & evening.
However, the few people that did pass by, all had great trepidation and concern that I was photographing downtown, and had to immediately come to a stop in the street, block my photograph, then drive around the block and come back again. The women folk had to get on the phone and follow me, “I don’t know what he’s doing, he’s taking more photographs now.”
I was prepared to explain to people what I was doing, why I was taking photographs, asking them to please look on their phone for the article, “An Appreciation For Hettinger North Dakota, Part I”. But I began to get the feeling that voluntarily explaining what I was doing, would give each of these people the impression that I needed their permission. Instead, I began to think of other things to say, “Yeah, all of this right here is going to have to come down.”
In preparation for additional photography, I spoke to the Adams County Sheriff about what I am doing, and I said that I would call his office ahead of time prior to my next visit, because I am expecting him to receive complaint calls from residents.
This is a difficult article for me, because I want to get this right. I strongly believe that if I can’t convey exactly what I mean here, neither the local people or people from elsewhere will come away with any understanding or see what it is that I want them to see.
It’s so complicated and subtle, that I can’t explain everything in just one part. Today, I am going to begin with a little bit of an overview and preface, and share a few photographs and videos from the south side of Hettinger, which is only about six miles north of the border with South Dakota.
I am 53 years old now. I was born and grew up in Florida. I went to college for three years in Virginia, and another three in Florida. I have lived and worked in Colorado, Texas, Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and North Dakota. I have visited these cities which have some fame, notoriety, or significance: Key West, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Cocoa, Daytona, St. Augustine, Gainesville, Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, Savanah, Washington D.C., Madison, Philadelphia, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Colorado Springs, Denver, Aspen, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Sedona, Flagstaff, Salt Lake, Uintah Mountains, Teton Mountains, Butte, Bozeman, Billings, Laramie, Bismarck.
At least 90% of the time when I visited these cities that I mentioned, I was looking at houses and neighborhoods to see and understand what these areas were like, trying to take in the character, attributes, features, impressions, observations, feelings, house by house, street by street.
To save time, I will just come out and say that even though I can understand the appeal of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Clearwater, Santa Fe, and Paradise Valley because of their geographical environment, there are just too many people, and it takes having more than a million dollars to afford a residence with privacy, safety, and security.
Key West, Cocoa, St. Augustine, Sarasota, Savanah, Sedona, Flagstaff, Bozeman, Uintah Mountains, and Teton Mountains are picturesque, with a beautiful environment, and many fun things to do, but they can only be enjoyed long term if you either earn more than $100K per year or already have a tremendous amount of money.
Every place that I have ever tried to live as an adult, eventually I felt compelled to move away because what I earned, was not enough money to afford a residence that was pleasant, safe, and peaceful. There was nothing in my price range in Tampa or Flagstaff, though my employment was steady. In areas that I liked where houses were affordable, I could not get good, steady employment.
I left my house in Idaho in 2011, to come work in western North Dakota during the 2007-2014 Oil Boom. Though I didn’t have much difficulty finding employment, housing was extremely expensive due to price gouging. It wasn’t until several years after the oil boom ended that I moved into my own apartment in Dickinson, instead of living in someone else’s house or sleeping in a camper on employer property.
The 2011-2020 years that I lived in western North Dakota, were some of the most painful, difficult, depressing, frightening years of my life. The people in the oil towns of Williston, Watford City, New Town, Dickinson, Belfield were for the most part, the worst people that I have ever been around or dealt with in my life. The majority of out-of-state workers who came to North Dakota during the oil boom, came because they weren’t doing well where they were, due to the consequences of their own actions, decisions, mistakes, failures, crimes, character, and lack of ability. The majority of the local people were mean and unfriendly, both because of the unwanted changes brought on by the oil boom, and because North Dakotans aren’t friendly to begin with.
When my father died in the spring of 2020, he left me enough money that I could have started over anywhere that I wished, or I could have gone back to my home in Idaho. From everything that I had learned and experienced first-hand in my life thus far, combined with everything that I had been reading and seeing in the news for the past several years, especially the Coronavirus pandemic, I didn’t know of anyplace better to go. I had had a really bad time in western North Dakota for the past nine years, but a lot of that had to do with being at the mercy of other people: property owners, roommates, employers, co-workers, Police, local people.
Suddenly, I was no longer so affected by property owners, roommates, employers, co-workers, Police, and local people in North Dakota. Additionally, I had not known that the value of my home back in Idaho had more than quadrupled. Looking back, I went from sleeping in my $500 truck-bed camper, or my 7’x14′ utility trailer on company property, or living with an unpleasant roommate, or low-rent apartment downtown, to being able to buy the most expensive house in Dickinson if I wanted to.
I bought an old, small, plain house outside of Dickinson, one of the lowest priced houses available, because I expected housing prices in western North Dakota to continue to drop following the end of the oil boom. Once I got moved and settled into my new house, and was no longer so fearful of losing my employment and my place to live, and no longer burdened with other constant financial worries, I began to explore western North Dakota a little bit more.
I finally found the secret hidden Pine Forest of western North Dakota, which only three local North Dakotans had ever accidently mentioned in front of me, but then shut up, and never would answer my questions about it. The first and second time that I went there, the adjacent landowners and Game & Fish Officer acted protective of it and wary of me being there.
Western North Dakota is very barren and treeless, it was astonishing to find a large hidden dense pine forest, with rocky tree-covered hills and valleys. It reminded me of Flagstaff or Billings. It would be an excellent place to have a house. The trees provide shade in summer, a wind-break in winter, a barrier to noise, and provide privacy. Only a dozen property owners in that vicinity, and they make sure the property stays within the family, keeping outsiders out.
After having travelled as far north as Williston, northeast to Jamestown, as far west as Sydney MT, east to Bismarck, and southwest through Bowman into Wyoming, besides the Killdeer Mountains, I had not known that the terrain of western North Dakota could be anything other than dry badlands or flat treeless prairie. The hidden Pine Forest was a surprise to me.
In 2018 I drove to Hettinger, North Dakota to buy a Dodge Van. I was so mentally focused on inspecting and buying the van, that I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings. In 2020 I went to Hettinger to buy a BMW motorcycle, and again I was so mentally focused on inspecting and buying the motorcycle, that I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, but when I had to drive into a residential neighborhood on the south side, I was surprised at how nice, tidy, and quaint it was.
The third time that I drove into Hettinger, was to buy a Ford F250 truck. After concluding this purchase, I could not help but note that these people that I had bought the van, motorcycle, and truck from, were very honest, truthful, no-nonsense, to-the-point, and fair. With these good experiences that I had had, liking the looks of the town more and more, I began shopping more regularly in Hettinger at the Runnings Farm & Fleet store, and at Kennedy’s Grocery store, rather than Dickinson.
Soon, before shopping or after shopping in Hettinger, I began to turn down different streets to see what the rest of Hettinger was like. On the north side of town, there were a couple of hills, with pine trees, and custom homes that were built in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, that very much reminded me of Flagstaff and Billings. The small plane airport was just to the west of this very nice, pleasant neighborhood.
In downtown Hettinger, about half of the streets are uphill/downhill, through smaller or longer hills. The way that these downtown houses were built in the 1890s through present day, to account for the terrain by using basements, retaining walls, terraced yards, house-over-garage, house entry at street-side, reminded me of Lynchburg VA, Trinidad CO, Pueblo CO.
On the south side of Hettinger, along the railroad tracks, lake, and river, I found the largest, oldest trees that I have ever seen in North Dakota. This section along Mirror Lake, is so shady with large trees, and old buildings, that it reminded me of old small towns in Florida and Georgia.
I have been thinking for several months now, that if I could live anywhere in the World, (realizing that financially I actually can, and will have to decide one day), that I would pick Hettinger. In another, future article, I will have to explain that the people in Hettinger are not very friendly, but even so, I would still pick Hettinger to live.
In the very beginning of this article, I wrote a list of the noteworthy cities that I have visited. Adding together and considering the attractiveness, pleasant environment, peacefulness, safety, small amount of crime, low traffic, low cost of living, low housing cost, quality of life, close availability of healthcare, easy access to shopping, isolation from disasters, no chance of riots, conservative community, I would pick Hettinger to live, versus anywhere else in the World.
For this article, Part I, I am going to share some videos and photos from the south side of Hettinger. For these three videos below, please try watching them expanded to full screen.
For these four photographs below, Please Click On Each Image and Use The Enlargement Icon