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Town Squabbles Over Proposed Monument To Mark Continent’s Center

November 1, 1987

RUGBY, N.D. (AP) _ City leaders are reviving plans for a new monument to mark Rugby’s one claim to modest fame - its location at the geographical center of North America.

The privately owned cairn that sits in front of a restaurant won’t suffice, they say. The North Dakota Centennial Commission agrees, backing their proposal for a new, more prominent marker.

But the business community’s grandiose plans for a $1 million, 160-foot tower were scuttled, and some townspeople still scoff at the idea of building a new monument.

″I don’t think you can find 5 percent that would be for it,″ said one businessman, sipping coffee at the Rugby Coffee Shop recently. ″If you can find enough suckers to donate the money, we’ll buy it,″ said the man, who didn’t want his name used because of the controversy.

″I don’t think you’d find a farmer who would quit swearing at you if you mentioned that monstrosity,″ added retired businessman Pete Kraft.

The original proposal was too extravagant and drew ″tremendous opposition″ from residents who believe the 54-year-old, 15-foot-high cairn is sufficient, said Bill Parker, a banker and former state senator.

Rugby’s economic development corporation, which formed a foundation to raise money for the original proposal, still is paying the bill for the architect’s plans, said Parker, chairman of the city commission organizing a local celebration of the state’s centennial in 1989.

The centennial commission recently resurrected the project and assigned it to a committee, which is working on a more modest proposal, Parker said.

″There’s going to be problems with this one, too, no matter what you do,″ said Parker. ″Our community is not oriented toward tourism and there is that thing that a fellow built back in 1933 . .. and there are those who think that’s good enough.

″Then there are those of us who think we should have something else that will get people to stop,″ he said.

Added Mark Carlson, publisher of the Pierce County Tribune, ″We have always promoted our status as a geographical center and we’re looking for newer and bigger ways of doing that.″

About 12,000 people a year stop in Rugby, a town of 3,300, to see the stone monument, according to a regional planning council study. The study estimates 100,000 people would visit a new monument during the state’s centennial and that visits would average 20,000 people a year after that.

Visitors to Rugby, which took its name from an English town, find it impossible to overlook the community’s status as the center of the continent, even though the actual site is 14 miles south of town at a government marker underneath a lake.

Besides the cairn, there is the Heart of America Medical Center, Heart of America library and Center Motel. Mayor David Shelver, an outspoken backer of the monument project, passes out lapel pins that have Rugby marked as a star at the center of a map of North America.

Two years ago, the monument was one of the first projects sanctioned by the North Dakota Centennial Commission, which also is looking at making it one of about a half-dozen major projects it will help pay for.

″What we’ve been doing is encouraging them to go forward, because we like the project very much,″ said Hal Gershman, chairman of the commission’s major projects committee.

The monument envisioned by the Rugby commission would be made of laminated wood, said Parker. It would feature an observation deck on top and a visitor’s center at the base that could house displays of Mexico, the United States and Canada, he said.

The group has talked to an engineer about its ideas, but it has no cost estimates, timetable, site or firm plans on the size or construction of the monument.

So far, the commission has not even announced that it is looking into the project for fear of stirring up renewed opposition, although officials say they are optimistic a new proposal will fly and prove an economic boon to the community.

″There’s only one geographical center of North America and that’s here,″ said Shelver. ″If you have one-of-a-kind, you should be able to sell it.″

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