In Pembina, North Dakota, in the extreme northeast corner of the state, there were a couple of historic and significant places I particularly wanted to photograph — primarily, this beautiful Icelandic and Ukrainian Orthodox church — so I set out in April of 2015 to pay a visit.
This church was the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran Church from 1885 to 1937, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St. John from 1937 to 1987. This church is featured in our book, Churches of the High Plains, available now.
This church is now cared for by the Fort Pembina Historical Society.
The slab from a former structure next to the church. I don’t know what it was.
Tours of the church can be arranged by calling 701-825-6840
Pembina has another distinction. It’s hard to imagine looking at the crumbling road shown here, but this was once part of what was to be the most impressive highway in the Western Hemisphere. At the dawn of the automobile, before Route 66 and before air conditioning became widespread, some envisioned a transcontinental highway from the north to the south, a ribbon of highway intended to facilitate north/south migration with the seasons. The Meridian International Highway (in most, but not all places, one-and-the-same with Old US 81) was proposed as a route stretching from Winnipeg to Mexico City. Later, the proposal was expanded and referred to as the Pan American Highway, with plans to extend the road all the way to Buenos Aires in the south, and to the Alaska Highway in the north.
In North Dakota, the Meridian Highway lies mostly parallel to Interstate 29. Old US Highway 81 south of Pembina, and most other sections of the road, have been repaved several times, but this section of road north of Pembina is as close as you can get to seeing the original Meridian Highway.
I drove down this road in my car, heading north on the old Meridian Highway. I reached the end of the road, where it meets the US/Canadian border and got out to take a few photos. The Canadian Port of Entry was a stone’s throw away, and the border was marked by the typical pillars and an old, deteriorating cable fence.
I finished taking my photos and began to drive back down the road to Pembina when I noticed a black pickup approaching. The moment I passed it, it turned around and I thought, “Uh oh.” Moments later a white pickup from US Customs and Border Patrol showed up and wanted to know what I had been doing. I gave the gentleman a quick recap on the Meridian Highway, and he turned out to be a very nice gentleman. He said they saw me walking around near the border, so they came to see what I was doing. He also said if I had been driving an old farm pickup, they probably wouldn’t have been suspicious.
No border infiltration here. Just history appreciation.
Photos by Troy Larson