Cathedral Area Historic District
The Cathedral Area Historic District (also known as The Hill) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2012, The Gombach Group.
The Cathedral Area Historic District is situated on and just below the crest of a hilltop four city blocks north of the west edge of Bismarck's Central Business District. To the north of the district rises another hill, which provides a degree of shelter from winter winds. The protected hilltop location, which, in the early Twentieth Century provided home owners in the developing residential area with a panoramic view of the Missouri River valley, made it an attractive area in which to build.
The success of curbside plantings, primarily Siberian elm, hardy to the North Dakota climate, eventually eliminated the panoramic view but resulted in heavily canopied streets which embrace the neighborhood and contribute significantly to the ambience of the district as it exists today.
The hillside location accounts for another recurring feature in the district: the retaining walls necessary to keep residential lawns level enough to easily maintain as both north/south and east/west street cuts were made through the hill to serve the area. Retaining walls are primarily of concrete, but brick and stone are also in evidence. All streets within the district, including the city-owned curbside, are a uniform 80' in width. As initially platted most of the city blocks in the area were 300' x 300'; however, those blocks fronting on the east side of Washington Street, a north/south street which bisects the district, were 300' x approximately 460'. To the west of Washington Street, and forming the extreme western edge of the district is a block 300' x 600' formed when Avenue A, the southernmost east/west street in the district, was closed to provide expansion space for the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit complex, from which the district draws its name.
The Cathedral Area Historic District served as the area of residence for many of the most prominent and influential figures of early Twentieth Century Bismarck, several of whose fame extended far beyond North Dakota's boundaries. Secondly, the variety of architectural style and overall remaining integrity of the buildings within the district provide the City of Bismarck with its most architecturally diverse concentration of residential structures.
The District is located on portions of two early Bismarck subdivisions—the Northern Pacific Addition, platted in 1879, and McKenzie's Addition of 1882. Little residential development occurred during the nineteenth century and the real genesis of the district can be dated from 1906 when Clarence Belden Little moved into his newly constructed cut-stone and shingle-style mansion at 304 Avenue A West. Little (1857-1941) arrived in Bismarck, Dakota Territory in 1882 as a young New England-educated attorney. He practiced law some years in Bismarck, but directed his energies primarily toward finance and politics. During 1885 he became a director of the Capital National Bank of Bismarck and two years later its president. He bought control of the First National Bank of Bismarck in 1895 and merged the two institutions into the First National Bank and Trust Company of Bismarck, making it one of the state's strongest financial institutions - a position maintained to this day.
Little was a staunch Republican and for many years held membership on the party's state central committee. In 1898 he was chairman of the Republican state convention. He served for twenty years in the North Dakota State Senate, 1889-1909, chairing the judiciary committee throughout his tenure. He was for many years president of the State Historical Society, Bismarck Public Library Board and a trustee of his alma mater, Dartmouth College.
C. B. Little had several good reasons for building on "The Hill," as the area was known locally. The location offered an unobstructed view of the picturesque Missouri River valley to the south; situated just a few blocks north of the western end of the business district it was within easy walking distance of the downtown area. Little acquired a substantial amount of property on "The Hill" which he was willing to sell to other prominent citizens who, following his lead, were willing to build new residences there also. During the years from 1909 until his death in 1941, Little owned from 25 to 40 per cent of that portion of the district which is residential today.
† Frank E. Vyzralek, State Archivist and Louis N. Hafermehl, Director, Division of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Cathedral Area Historic District, Burleigh County, ND, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.