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In remembrance of Vanish

Friends from Minnesota just returned from a 2-1/2 day sightseeing trip to North Dakota -- across the east tip of Lake Sakakawea, through the city of Garrison and through the Bakken Formation oil fields in the Williston area -- and back. Since they did not go through New Town, a bit of North Dakota history is in order to provide background on what they saw and what they didn't see.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Mighty Missouri River was known to cascade into serious flooding many springs. In order to control the flooding as well as to generate hydroelectric power and to provide water for irrigation and recreation, the construction of the Garrison Dam was authorized by congress in 1944.

The Dam, a rolled earth-filled structure, would be the largest of its kind in the world, was built in the early 50s. The reservoir created by the Dam (now named Lake Sakakawea) was to be huge -- 200 miles long and over 14 miles wide at some points with over 1,500 miles of lakeshore -- would be the second largest reservoir in the world.

That reservoir would flood many acres of fertile, productive North Dakota cropland along with a former cavalry fort (Fort Stevenson), three towns and numerous recreation areas. When I grew up in Garrison, a favorite picnic site for church, school and family picnics was Vetter's Grove. When my class was planning a picnic, Vetter's Grove was already taken, so I suggested another spot known only to me. Gordon, our class president, wrote that one on the board as "Hummel's Hedge" and we voted to go there. Vetter's Grove and Hummel's Hedge have been under water for years now, though there still are Vetters and Hummels in Garrison. Some will remember Vetter's Grove, but nobody will recall Hummel's Hedge.

More important, farther west, two little towns, Sanish and VanHook were to be inundated by the water. They had to close down and move to higher ground. They decided to unite in one new location and build a modern city. The Sanish-VanHook Relocation Company was formed and along with surveying and planning by the Army Corps of Engineers, a new site was chosen. What to call the new city? Somebody suggested the perfect name: VANISH. That's a great name for three obvious reasons. Another appropriate suggestion was Sanhook. The residents were told they would pick the name, but they never did. There never was an official proposal or vote. The town just became New Town by default. What a disappointment. What a lack of imagination. A beautiful little Indian village, Elbowoods (a great place to play baseball and football against some of the finest athletes in North Dakota history) also moved to New Town a few years later. I bring up VANISH again after all these years (New Town isn't even a new town anymore) with a tear in my eye because of the loss of a name that would carry its own history. This is my belated tribute to VANISH.

Pages and pages have been written about the gold rush to Williston. I haven't been there for almost six years, so I have nothing to add. But if you go there, check out the Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea and go through Garrison (our friends called it a clean, beautiful, impressive little city, a great place to raise a family), just out of the oil country and New Town, definitely in oil country. When you get to New Town remember its rightful name, VANISH. It shouldn't be forgotten forever like Hummel's Hedge.