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THAT REMINDS ME: North Dakota, UND blossom as statehood nears

Marilyn Hagerty

Since statehood was approaching in 1889, the suggestion was made early in the year that the legislature should merely meet at the territorial capitol in Bismarck and adjourn until spring.

The Herald said the men going to Bismarck were not traveling there for their health or glory — and certainly not for the money in it. The pay was $4 a day while $3 a day was charged for board at the best hotel.

Both Republicans and Democrats had voted for the Omnibus Bill of Feb. 22, 1889. And the late Elwyn Robinson in his “History of North Dakota” said it authorized the framing of constitutions for North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington.

Meanwhile, with a population of 7,000, Grand Forks was blossoming as statehood approached 125 years ago.

Minnesota, on the other hand, had become a state in 1858. But the region organized as Dakota Territory in 1862 was not admitted as two states until 1889. By then, Alexander McKenzie had become boss of North Dakota. He was a friend of Nehemiah Ordway – territorial governor. And historians say the real reason Bismarck became territorial capitol was that the Northern Pacific wanted it on the main line at Bismarck.

Even before statehood, the University was becoming established in Grand Forks. In January of 1889, President N.W. Roach of the board of regents and Messrs. James Twamley and Fr. Fulton had escorted three members of the territorial legislature around the University campus.

The University buildings were inspected and the crowded conditions were witnessed. There were 170 students enrolled and more than 30 had made applications.

“President Sprague and members of the faculty have done their utmost to accommodate all who came,” the Herald said.

“Mr. Roach promised to do his best. He has faith in North Dakota and believes that properly fostered, the University will be one of the greatest factors for good that the new state will possess.”

During the year of statehood, the population of Grand Forks was 7,000. The county had 25,000.

Grand Forks had gas, electric lights and a two large saw mills in 1889. There were nine church buildings, a U.S. land office, three large flour mills and one sash and door facility.

St. Bernard’s Ursuline College was here, along with a pop factory and four cigar factories. The city boasted the largest steam laundry in the Dakotas, eight elevators and grain warehouses. There were two daily and five weekly newspapers as well as Northern Pacific and M&M railroads.

The city had one foundry and several machine shops, four first class hotels and seven that were called “second class.”

The high school had two large buildings and a graded system. The volunteer fire department was described as the best in the Northwest. Railroads were said to be running from here to four cardinal points of the compass.

Lodges at that time included the Masons, Odd Fellows, Grand Army of the Republic and the Women’s Relief Corps. There were united bodies of Knights Templar and Knights of Pythias.

As the county seat, Grand Forks had a population of 25,000.

“Sitting at the junction of the Red Lake River and the Red River of the North, Grand Forks already is regarded the greatest metropolis of North Dakota,” the Herald declared.

“With an unlimited supply of timber coming down the Red Lake River, this city is becoming a great manufacturing center for lumber and all produced there from,” the Herald continued in a promotion.

“Energetic, reliable settlers have built a great city. Come and investigate.”

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at or by telephone at 701-772-1055