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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Double Ditch Bank Stabilization to Begin Summer 2017

Extensive bank erosion since the 2011 flood has seriously impacted an important state historical site managed by our agency (http://blog.statemuseum.nd.gov/blog/saving-double-ditch). After a long process to determine possible alternatives for funding and a stabilization plan, we’re relieved to have the engineering work begin.

Situated on the east bank of the Missouri River nine miles north of Bismarck, Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site is one of the best preserved examples of an earthlodge village on the northern plains. The site was a regional trading center occupied for nearly 300 years (AD 1490-1785) by the Mandan people. At its peak the population of Double Ditch has been estimated to have been 2,000 or more people, with a richly developed culture based upon agriculture and seasonal bison hunting. Due to its archaeological significance, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bank Erosion at Double Ditch

Bank Erosion at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, October 2016. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

The Missouri River is powerful, perhaps never more so than when it’s in flood stage. This stretch of the river lies between the Garrison and Oahe reservoirs. Those living along the Missouri know this firsthand, as we’ve seen rising floodwaters on more than one occasion impact lives, property, and cultural and natural resources.

Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site was unable to escape the effects of the Missouri River’s catastrophic flooding in 2011. Large sections of the river terrace edge shifted in a process called rotational erosion. Rotational erosion simply means that large blocks of sediment at the site were rotating and shifting as slumping occurred along the river bank. This erosional process destabilized the bank and threatened a portion of the site, including parts of the public walkway/bicycle path.

Aerial view of geotechnical coring rig

Geotechnical coring rig operating on rotational erosion area at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

To make matters even worse, the active erosion at Double Ditch has continued in an area known to contain human burials. Since 2013, 18 burials have been disinterred at the site as a result of this erosion. Because Double Ditch village was occupied for 300 years by thousands of people, more burials would be disturbed if erosion continued.

During the 2015 Legislative session, the State Historical Society of North Dakota partnered with the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation to raise awareness about the immediate threat posed to Double Ditch by erosion. Project funding was allocated during the 2015 legislative session to stabilize the site.

Geotechnical coring rig

Geotechnical coring rig operating on rotational erosion area at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site , October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

A geotechnical study performed in October 2015 confirmed that the erosion was a result of the 2011 flood. The study further determined that the existing threat to the site was even more extensive than originally thought. A new crack was developing below the surface, with the potential to progress 400 feet into the heart of Double Ditch Village. Left unaddressed, this newly identified erosional fault could be catastrophic, causing twelve acres (half of the site) to be lost.

Geotechnical coring rig

Geotechnical coring rig operating at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

Geomorphological trench being excvated

A geomorphological trench being excavated at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site as part of the geotechnical study, October 2015. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

As the engineering plan was being developed in 2016, the project faced delays from a challenging permitting process. Thanks to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, project funding not able to be used during the last legislative session was carried over into this biennium. We’re also grateful to tribal members from the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and other groups and individuals who supported efforts to keep this critical project moving forward.

Stabilization plans involve terracing the slope and building a Rock Key and Pipe Pile Wall to prevent further erosion. Site improvements include a new nature trail and the addition of native plants. Construction will take about five months.

Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site bank stabilization diagram, March 2017. SHSND.

Various geotechnical studies and modeling were critical in developing plans for the bank stabilization. Ultimately the plan involved reshaping the bank by removing weight from the upslope and adding weight to the toe. The rock key/trench and pipe piles will provide mass and strength to stabilize the slope.

The riverbank will be revegetated with a variety of native grasses, forbs, shrubs, and trees. Interpretive signs will be installed along the bank highlighting natural resources. The stabilized and reshaped bank will protect the Mandan village and enhance fishing access to the river, bird/wildlife watching, and provide a non-motorized landing for kayaks and canoes. In addition, this will prove a safe walking/bicycle trail.

Construction fence

Construction fence at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site, June 2017. Photo courtesy Tim Reed, SHSND.

As of the date of this blog, the bank stabilization at Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site is anticipated to begin in late June. Construction should be completed in about five months. We’ll keep readers informed in this blog as the project progresses.


*Fern Swenson, Director of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, and Kim Jondahl, Director of Communications and Education, were contributing authors to this post.

Advocates of Save Double Ditch

Advocates of Save Double Ditch, a grassroots organization, brave the cold in March 2017 to voice their support for bank stabilization funding. March- 2017. Courtesy Tom Stromme, Bismarck Tribune

Augmented Reality Brings Former Governors to Life

Have you heard about the hottest new couple? No, it doesn’t involve a Kardashian, but the duo certainly has a knack for turning heads. Their names are History and Technology. Wait — don't yawn and walk away yet.

Okay, it is true that History and Technology are always together, both sharply at odds and wonderfully collaborative (like any couple). But this pairing now has something to offer that has previously been inconceivable: augmented reality (AR).

Remember the View-Master? Put it to your eyes, point it toward light, and a magical, three-dimensional scene appears, bringing you right into it. Fast forward to today, and imagine the scene being in the Former Governors’ Mansion.

In the Mansion, portraits of governors hang on the walls.  The house includes a 1910 Steinway piano, architectural features such as a widow’s walk, and mysterious burn marks on the kitchen floor. What if you could point a device toward a governor’s portrait and hear his inaugural address? Or hear the Steinway playing “Bicycle Built for Two,” a song popular in 1893 when the first of 20 governors lived in the Mansion? Well, this summer you will be able to.

An app that features elements of AR allows visitors to point their phone to a “trigger” and watch or listen as history comes to life. Let me walk you through an example.

Augmented reality at the Former Governors' Mansion

Using a portrait of Governor Shortridge as a trigger, I can access his 1893 inaugural address (read by historian Dr. Barb Handy-Marchello) on my tablet (Johnathan Campbell).

Governor Shortridge, the first governor to occupy the Mansion, gave a memorable inaugural address in 1893. I would like our visitors to be able to hear it. Unfortunately, there appears to be no recording. AR to the rescue! This is how we make it happen:

Step 1: Take a picture of a trigger. In this case, Governor Shortridge’s portrait.
Step 2: Invite a voice actor to read and record a snippet from the inaugural address. Save the audio file.
Step 3: Find a few photos from the State Archives of Governor Shortridge and his family and the old Capitol from 1893.
Step 4: Using iMovie or a similar program, upload the photos and the audio file. Create a slideshow with the photos to match the length of the audio file.
Step 5: Upload and save this movie to Aurasma Studio, free web-based software.
Step 6: Visitors who have downloaded the free Aurasma app to their device can open the app and point the device to the trigger, Governor Shortridge’s portrait.
Step 7: Look at the screen of the device: The movie/slideshow with audio of the inaugural address begins to play!

But wait — there’s more!

Window lock

This original window lock dates to 1884. It is one of many objects that could be a potential “trigger” for your AR experience at the Former Governor’s Mansion (Johnathan Campbell).

That is a very basic Aurasma “aura” (projects in Aurasma are called auras). For something more exciting, what about the view from the roof? Johnathan Campbell, site supervisor and photographer, shot panoramic footage from the Mansion roof. After uploading it to my laptop, I obtained archival photos showing aerial views of Bismarck from the early 1900s. I arranged the video footage and photos in an iMovie file and uploaded it to Aurasma Studio. When visitors point their device to the trigger (an image somewhere inside the Mansion), they can enjoy a beautiful panoramic rooftop view from the past and today without scaling the 133-year-old attic ladder.

If you’d like to step inside the AR time machine (figuratively speaking) and catch a glimpse of today’s hot new History and Technology couple, you will be able to starting in July at the Mansion. In addition to the ones described, some of the AR adventures will include piecing together what caused the burn marks on the floor, watching the original Capitol fire from the Mansion back porch, and watching the demonstration in 1934 in protest of Governor Langer’s removal from office.

Johnathan interpreting

Site supervisor Johnathan Campbell interpreting burn marks on kitchen floor (Johnathan Campbell).

So keep your teleportation device at home and bring your phone or tablet to the Former Governors’ Mansion. We are finding ways for you to go back in time!

Guest Blogger: Kris Kitko

Kris KitkoKris Kitko is a teacher, children's performer, and an interpreter at the Former Governors' Mansion State Historic Site. In addition to giving tours, she enjoys developing programming at the Mansion, especially for young children.