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November 23: New Hradec

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On this date in 1979, The Bismarck Tribune reported that the tiny town of New Hradec was long past its glory days. The grocery store, bar, and gas station had long ago closed. The school only had 22 students, and the church that once had 250 families now had 90. The population was still about 50, down a bit from its high of 57 in 1940. The outlook for this tiny town was dire, but it was strong in its Czech heritage.

In the 1860s a group of Czech people had moved to Crimea. Like the many Germans from Russia who also lived in the Crimea, they began to immigrate to North Dakota in 1887, settling the area around what is now New Hradec. The word “hradec” means castle in Czech.

After rotating church services in their homes, a church was built in 1898, named Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. The wooden church burned down in 1917 and was replaced with a brick church and a boarding school. Nuns from Mankato, Minnesota arrived the following year to teach school and look after the boarding students. The student body peaked at 143 in 1943, 92 of them being boarders. The nuns taught the children Czech, and the last Czech speaking nun left in 1969, when the school was turned over to the Dickinson school district and converted to a public school.

The Catholic Church helped preserve the Czech heritage of New Hradec. Most of the priests were Czech, such as Father Ladislaus Brydle, the parish priest from 1934 to 1984. The Church cemetery has many traditional grave markers in Czech. The community also had a chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Workmen Hall, and a Catholic War Veterans organization. The Church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 1998 with a large reunion, celebrations, and parade. The church held daily mass until 1998, when it was converted to a mission church and only had weekly mass.

As of 2022 the school and post office in New Hradec are long gone. The roads never did get paved. But weekly mass is still held at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa

Sources:

  • “National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form: Saints Peter and Paul Church,” National Park Service, December 20, 1985.
  • Author Unknown, “The Rev. Ladislaus Brydl,” The Bismarck Tribune, June 15, 1999, pg. 11A.
  • Herzog, Karen, “New Hradec Church Celebrates Centennial,” The Bismarck Tribune, June 25, 1998, pg. C1.
  • Johnson, Larry, “Like Castles of Old, Town’s Glory Past,” The Bismarck Tribune, November 23, 1979, pg. 17.
  • Sherman, William C., et al., Plains Folk: North Dakota’s Ethnic History, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies: Fargo, 1986.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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