TREASURE ISLAND - COINS AND PRECIOUS METALS
Drive south from Stanley, ND, for eleven miles or so on State Highway 8 and you will come to the almost-deserted hamlet of Belden. Like many towns in western North Dakota before the oil boom, Belden had withered in recent decades from out-migration. The post office closed August 27,1986, and the Belden store closed its doors October 30, 1993. Neither exist today. The once busy village still shows signs of life, however, when the Apostolic Lutheran Church meets on Sundays. Otherwise, only the prairie wind keeps company with the ghosts of decades past.
Continue down State Highway 8 another half mile or so and you will arrive at a site on the east side of the road that once harbored the remains of a medium-sized, one-story building. Like other buildings in the Belden area the skeleton of the old Belden Hall fell victim to progress. Not long ago the weathered and decaying wood of collapsed walls and the remnants of a roof lay helter-skelter mingled with the prairie grass. In its heyday, this former building served as the hub of a thriving communist community. Then, one day, the decaying remains were gone. The surviving hallmark had been cleared away, the casualty of the oil boom, highway improvements and pipelines.
Beginning in the early 1900s and spanning the next few decades, several counties in the northern plains witnessed the rise of intense communist activity. Focal points for this activity in Montana included Valley, Daniels, Roosevelt, McCone and Sheridan Counties; in North Dakota they included Burke, Williams and Mountrail Counties; and in South Dakota they included Brown and Roberts Counties. Prior to this time the Socialist Party maintained an active following in these areas. As early as 1912 some counties elected local officials on the Socialist ticket. Later, during the Great Depression, the Communist Party under the leadership of “Mother” Ella Reeve Bloor of Minot, ND, took advantage of the farmers’ plight and effectively organized cells on the northern plains.
Constructed before 1917, Belden Hall’s original location was a mile south and a mile west of what was then the Belden store. By 1917 the Finnish Farmers Association wanted the hall relocated to the town proper. Moving a building the size of the Belden Hall was no easy task. Using long cables, a windlass turned by a team of horses and heavy moving wheels the relocation proceeded slowly. Many citizens in and around Belden, however, opposed the presence of a communist meeting hall in town. Consequently, the hall ended up at its final location one-half mile south of town.
Communists used the hall for a variety of purposes. In November of 1930, under the leadership of “Ma” Bloor, a large crowd gathered to celebrate the eleventh anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party USA. In October 1932 the hall sponsored a dance and farewell party for Matt Kuffal upon his departure for the Soviet Union. Some Finns from the Belden area, while visiting the Soviet Union, became purge victims in the late 1930s. One of my relatives, a retired Stanley school teacher, personally knew of three Belden residents who visited the Soviet Union. By her account one person returned, one escaped from Soviet captivity and one was never heard from again.
This same relative also spoke of the Belden Hall hosting athletic and gymnastic activities for the Young Communist League, or YCL. Some township schools countered the communist effort by establishing their own YCL, or Young Citizen’s League.
Belden Hall reached its zenith in 1933 during the depression years. The administrations of President Roosevelt and Governor William Langer provided relief to the farmers that undercut the communist “bread and butter” issues. Many communist supporters eventually migrated to the Non-Partisan League and eventually the Farmers Union.
Following the demise of the communist presence, Belden Hall continued to serve the community as a social center hosting dances, meetings and other non-political social gatherings. In 1953 the structure was sold to the Sikes Farmers Union.
If the ghosts of old Belden Hall could speak, what tales they would tell! The dilapidated wreck of a building belied its colorful, if checkered, past. Belden Hall, or what remained of it until recently, was a far cry from its heyday of the 1930s. Today the vanquished hall is best remembered as a metaphor for the demise of the communist presence on the northern plains.