Bismarck church could join National Register of Historic Places

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Emily Sakariassen remembers admiring the stained-glass windows at St. George’s Episcopal Memorial Church as a kid.

“I would get kind of distracted looking at the borders of these windows, and there’d be a little eye or foot because these are salvaged glass,” Sakariassen said.

Years later that fascination fueled her work as an architectural historian. She’s played a big part in nominating St. George’s to be part of the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s truly a gem here in Bismarck,” Sakariassen said.

The church was built in 1949, designed by a Bismarck architect who, at the time, defied expectations of what an episcopal church should look like. Instead of a stone or timber exterior, the outside is made of pumice concrete — the first time that material was used in a building in the northern U.S.

“This is a time right after the war when availability of resources and funds is a little more difficult. But also you have new technological advancements that came about during the war effort. That’s something that’s really striking,” Sakariassen said.

But the 45 stained-glass windows are truly unique. The glass that makes them up was salvaged from churches bombed in England during WW2.

“You might find windows like this in the UK, maybe northern Europe. They are the only known example of this firm’s work here in the U.S.,” Sakariassen said.

The church also serves as a memorial for veterans of World War I and II, as well as the pioneers of the Dakotas.

Canon Hal Weidman says one of his favorite parts is the woodwork.

“This particular color of the wood, the intricate carvings to me is unique, and it just adds to the ambiance of the worship experience,” Weidman said.

To make the National Register of Historic Places, the building has to be deemed architecturally significant. Sakariassen has been compiling research for about a year, which will eventually be submitted to the State Review Board, then to D.C. for national approval.

That could in turn mean funding for further preservation of the church.

“The church might be able to access funds or grants but also the public will have a document that nicely conveys the meaning of this place for them to enjoy,” Sakariassen said.

The final draft of the nomination will be presented to the State Historic Preservation Review Board on Aug. 27.

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