By Robert Lucke
Arguably, Simon Pepin is known as the father of Havre. That may or may not be so, but Highland Park has a father for sure and he is alive and well.
Noel Davidson is his name, and to this day he can tell you who bought one of the hundreds of houses he built in Highland Park, who traded one for a larger one, and how many times he bought and sold each one in the after market. He tells by memory right down to the street numbers of each one. Unbelievable? No more so than his story which starts in Eldon, Mo. He spent just a lot of his life looking around the country for just the right opportunity and came back to Havre three times before the Highland Park adventure came knocking on his door.
"I worked construction from Kansas into Wyoming," Davidson said. "I came to Montana because I wanted to look around. I met my wife-to-be, Viola Simon from Hingham, in Great Falls. We were married. I remember I was just going to come here for the season. That was in 1941 and I am still here."
Davidson joined the Navy during World War II, serving from 1943 to 1945. While in the Navy, he had bought a house for Viola in Havre and returned there in 1945.
"When I got back, we sold that house and bought a duplex on 12th Avenue and one on Montana Avenue. Then we sold them, bought a trailer and started touring the country. We went to Idaho, Washington, Canada and ended up working in Los Alamos, N.M.," continued Davidson. "Well, there was a terrific explosion and fire there, so we came back home to Montana. When we got back to Havre, we had only a rocking chair and cedar chest, and it was 25 below zero. I'll never forget that."
Davidson found there was not much land for home building and not much lumber in the lumberyards. But there were lots in Highland Park.
"I felt the need for a shop, so I built one in Highland Park. It was never a shop. In fact, it was larger than our trailer, so soon we moved into it. Know how big it was?" asked Davidson, laughing. "It was 20 by 24."
Davidson bought a few lots which sold for $30 each and built his first house in 1947. It was a different Highland park than now. No water, no gas and no sewer. For water, Davidson built cisterns and the city hauled water to them twice a month for $2 per thousand gallons.
An old Havre subdivision, Davidson related that the east half of the area was plotted in 1915 and the west half, which was called the Uplands Addition, was plotted in 1917. There were 560 lots in each subdivision and most of the streets were non-existent or trails. All, but Wilson, which started out on West Second Street as the road to Fort Assinniboine. And then there was Highway 87 to Great Falls which, while Davidson was building his houses, ran right straight through Highland Park, splitting it north and south.
"Around that time, Mrs. Ben Stromberg was a great help in establishing the Highland Park Improvement Association," Davidson reported. "North of 11th Street, for instance, was a large dumping ground. I remember that in 1952, with Mrs. Stromberg as the sparkplug, we had a big cleanup. In two days, we hauled 127 truckloads of trash to the dump."
Around that time, even though the Davidson children - Joe Noel Q., Marie and Millie - had gone through elementary school, Davidson realized there was a pressing need for an elementary school in Highland Park. Thanks to some dedicated land and more lots made available by Davidson, the Highland Park School is there to this day.
Average cost for a house and lot in Highland Park was $16,000, although many sold for around $9,000.
Davidson built hundreds of houses in that area of Havre and to this day remembers his last. It was in 1972 and he sold it to Alex Nagel.
"One of my best memories is of building College Park which was the park in Highland Park," Davidson said. "Around 1953, Viola had the second largest Cub Scout troop in the United States in Highland Park and one spring they planted all the ash trees that you see today in that park."
So does Davidson drive proudly up and down the streets of Highland Park these days marveling at what his dream has turned into? He is modest about that.
"It is what I envisioned, if I think of it at all," he answered with a smile.
But a look in his eyes told more of the story. He is very proud of that part of his city that he can call his very own.