MARILYN HAGERTY: Remembering the Great Flood -- of 1897

The people of Grand Forks were cleaning up after flood and fire 15 years ago. And it was 115 years ago in April 1897 when early settlers saw cedar paving blocks washed away by the Red River.

The people of Grand Forks were cleaning up after flood and fire 15 years ago. And it was 115 years ago in April 1897 when early settlers saw cedar paving blocks washed away by the Red River.

Memories of dikes, sandbags and basements are relatively fresh in the minds of Grand Forks residents. Those who lived here in 1897 worried about steamboats on the Red River and whether the cedar blocks that made up paved roads would float away.

It's always interesting to go back to that first weekend of April 1897.

At the time, Grand Forks was braced for what was expected to be the worst flood ever to hit the area. An April 5, 1897, the Northern Pacific started using the Great Northern Bridge over the Red River. Merchants on Third Street were removing goods from their basements. On the flats -- the lowest areas of town -- residents were moving out. And in the afternoon, Art Turner put a force of men to work blasting ice from the river with dynamite. The channel gradually was becoming clear of ice.

On April 6, there was a report from Moorhead in the Grand Forks Plaindealer: "The scene from both sides of the river is a pitiful one. Houses, barns and all kinds of miscellaneous material come floating down the river. The cities of Moorhead and Fargo have combined to protect the wagon bridges."


The situation in Fargo was alarming.

Telegrams from the mayors at Fargo and Moorhead warned Grand Forks residents of the "greatest flood since the settlement of the country."

In Grand Forks, more dynamite was used to keep the ice from gorging and keep it moving. The Minnesota Avenue bridge was in shaky condition. Cables were put in place to hold the piers.

Northern Pacific had a crew of men working to strengthen the railroad bridge, and the wooden pier at the side of the center stone was built higher.

"East Grand Forks is getting her share of water, and the fact that the Minnesota side is lower than the Dakota side has caused water to spread over the lower ground in that city," the Plaindealer reported.

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"As far as the eye can see where the land is low, there is nothing but the broad expanse of water," the newspaper reported April 7, 1897.

In Crookston, the Red Lake River was rising rapidly.


In Fargo, the water was going down.

In Bismarck, the Missouri River was seven miles wide.

The English Coulee to the north of Grand Forks was on a rampage. It was probable the county bridge would be washed out.

Still on that day, the water was not expected to exceed the 1882 mark of 44.6 feet.

Then on April 9, headlines read: "Is Terrible."

"Nearly two blocks of paving ruined by the encroaching river water; it is still rising. Reports from below show a fall due here some time tomorrow."

The water had poured over DeMers Avenue. Pavement on the lower part of the street was covered with three feet of water, and the cedar block paving was floating.

When water level hit 46.5 feet, it was the highest the settlers in this part of the country had ever witnessed. Then on April 12, 1897, the headlines in the Grand Forks Plaindealer said: "Looks good. The waters of the Red are receding, but it is going to be very slow."


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There was so much going on.

There was great excitement because the government steamer, Ogemah, sank near Manvel, N.D. The steamer had gone down the river to help settlers who had been driven from their homes by the relentless waters.

Everyone on the boat was cool and calm and collected before the accident, the Plaindealer reported. "It was pretty hard for the heavyweights of the party to walk through the mud and water for two miles to Manvel and then pump a hand car from there to the Forks," according to the story.

"But they stuck to it, and we imagine today some of their muscles are strained and sore from the exercise."

The upper portions of the boat were above water, and the crew was living in the officers' staterooms.

On April 14, the DeMers Avenue bridge was found to be off its wheels and in danger of tipping over. Mayor Dinnie had it condemned, and no one was allowed to go across until it was repaired.

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