Clay County Histories
Markus Krueger | Program Director HCSCC
If you go to Moorhead’s Hansmann Park, near the corner of 12th Ave N and 13th St N, you might notice three short sidewalks branching off the main sidewalk. They disappear into the grass now, but 76 years ago they led to small homes built for World War II veterans and their young families.
America sent our boys to war in 1941. They served all around the world – Morocco, the Philippines, France, New Guinea, England, Australia, and more. They vanquished two of the cruelest war machines the earth has ever known. They came home as men…but they moved back into their teenage bedrooms at their parents’ house. There was nowhere else to put them. America had a massive housing shortage, and it was particularly bad in Moorhead, Minnesota.
Moorhead was one of the fastest growing cities in the region. The city’s population doubled between 1930 and 1950, but very few houses were built in that time. Few could afford to build a new home during the Great Depression, which began at the end of 1929 and lasted until we joined WWII. Even fewer people could build houses during the war because all the building materials were needed for the war effort and were thus rationed nearly out of existence. City records show only 3 houses were built in 1943. After we won the war, it took several years for our supply chains to get back on civilian footing, and building materials were still mostly unavailable until about 1949.
Meanwhile, young people were moving off the farm and into town. The booming post-war economy offered good-paying jobs in the city at the same time as increasing mechanization of farming reduced the number of agricultural jobs. And many young veterans flocked to the college town of Moorhead because the GI Bill gave them free tuition at Concordia College, Moorhead State Teacher’s College (now MSUM) and North Dakota Agricultural College (now NDSU). These veterans were not the typical 18-year-old students you can cram into a dorm – a lot of them were already in their mid-20s with wives and kids. They took up all the basement apartments in town and there still wasn’t enough housing to meet the town’s needs. Temporary housing projects consisting of small, prefabricated buildings were constructed throughout Fargo-Moorhead to help ease the housing shortage. One of them was the Veterans Housing Project in Hansmann Park.
In the summer of 1947, 26 two-bedroom housing units were completed at Hansmann Park and more than 200 families applied to live in them. A joint committee of the Chamber of Commerce and the city council picked families based on “hardship.” I don’t know of any good photographs of these homes, but they might have looked like the housing units built at the same time on NDSU campus at a housing complex they called «Silver City,” or the corrugated metal housing units built for faculty and married students at Moorhead State. The project at Moorhead State was nicknamed Fertile Acres for the number of baby Baby Boomers born there.