Pioneer Village Museum case delayed to 2018

Andrea Johnson/MDN The Ward County Historical Society Pioneer Village Museum on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds is pictured Tuesday morning. A trial over the location of the museum has been postponed to January 2018.

A civil trial over the location of the Ward County Historical Society’s Pioneer Village Museum will not be held until Jan. 30, 2018. The State Fair Association is trying to evict the museum from the North Dakota State Fairgrounds.

The trial in the long-running civil dispute had been scheduled to begin this week, but was postponed after North Central District Court Judge Todd Cresap recused himself, citing a conflict of interest. Other district judges in Minot also have excused themselves. Southwest District Court Judge Rhonda R. Ehlis has been appointed to take over the case. Ehlis pushed the trial date back more than a year.

The State Fair Association wants to evict the museum from the fairgrounds so it can use the property for other purposes. The historical society maintains it has the right to stay on the fairgrounds under the terms of a 1966 agreement between the North Dakota State Fair Association and the Northwest Agricultural Livestock and Fair Association that states “the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fair grounds.”

The drama between the State Fair Association and the historical society began in December 2013, when the State Fair Association served the historical society with an eviction notice. The two sides had held talks for months without any resolution being reached. The case then went to district court for the first time in February 2014. Judge William McLees stayed an eviction action in March 2014. He ruled that more court hearings were necessary to clarify the rights of the State Fair Association and the historical society. The State Legislature refused to get involved during the 2015 session. They rejected a bill that would have given the historical society the right to maintain its museum on the fairgrounds. The dispute returned to the district court, this time before Cresap, in 2015. Cresap refused in May 2016 to immediately rule in favor of the State Fair Association. He decided at that time that the issues raised by the historical society should be decided at trial. Cresap had set the case for trial this month but then recused himself on Dec. 23, 2016.