Centennials & Jubilees – Director’s Essay


Come summer, centennial and jubilee (quasquicentennial and other anniversary) celebrations go off across North Dakota like firecrackers on a string. These celebrations of community are full of meaning to the people involved and are loads of fun for visitors. Experiencing them and thinking about them, it becomes clear they are important to three groups of people associated with each community.


1.      Expatriates – native daughters and sons who have moved on to other places, but remain associated with their home communities by mystic chords of memory. Centennials and jubilees bring them home, not just sentimentally but also physically. Ties are renewed, spirits refreshed.


2.      Visitors – people with no particular tie to the community, but who enter into the festivities just for fun. Who doesn’t love a street dance?


3.      Residents – the greatest beneficiaries of all. Sure, after a celebration they are exhausted and swear they will never get involved in such a thing again, but the labor of love in which they have engaged embeds them in that “kind of freemasonry” of prairie town life of which Willa Cather spoke. Centennials and jubilees are community builders.


The Center for Heritage Renewal, North Dakota State University, provides a timeline and map of celebrations for the guidance of travelers and visitors. If you're having a celebration for your town, county, church, school, or other community, put a notice in the center's Facebook group, Heritage Trails. We'll pick it up and add it to our page. Put your town on the map! Then have a great celebration!


Naturally, too, we wish to encourage thoughtful reflection on community history as part of these heritage events. There are several distinct circumstances of history evident in our celebrations today.


·         We have a lot of quasquicentennials (125-year anniversaries) going on now. This is because we are on the 125-year horizon of what is known historically as the First Dakota Boom, a wave of settlement in the late 19th Century.


·         We also have a lot of centennials going on now. This is because we are on the 100-year horizon of what is known historically as the Second Dakota Boom, another wave of settlement in the early years of the 20th Century.


·         Centennials and jubilees really do go off like firecrackers on a string, the string being the historic railways that stimulated settlement across the northern plains. Railways generally were laid rapidly, with town-making taking place along the lines simultaneously, resulting in the same founding date for multiple towns along each line.


For now, the center is gathering information about celebrations and making it available to the public. Behind the scenes, too, we are observing and documenting centennials and jubilees in order to compile helpful hints about management; assemble a directory of experienced celebration managers willing to share their expertise; and develop how-to guides for infusing heritage content into a celebration.


Congratulations to all of you celebrating a centennial or jubilee this year! And thank you for your hard work, which gives us so much pleasure and joy.



Centennials & Jubilees \ Center for Heritage Renewal