With the end of the Minnesota Uprising and the establishment of reservations, wary settlers began making their way to the Red River of the North. The Civil War had ended, and landlocked farmers in the East were looking toward the West to start a new life. In 1872 the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the river at Fargo, and settlers, encouraged by the Homestead Law, began pouring into the newly opened lands, and settlements began springing up along the line.
Further north, the fledgling city of Grand Forks was developing as a steamboat port, but James J. Hill and Alexander Griggs had seen the potential in pushing another railroad line further north, connecting the cities along the lower Red River, such as Winnipeg and Pembina, to the markets in St. Paul.
On this date in 1879, crews of the St Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad, later to be known as the Great Northern, had completed the grade for ten miles of track stretching from Fisher’s Landing to the Red River, directly opposite the City of Grand Forks. Work on the bridge was progressing rapidly and most of the piles had been driven. The pile-driver was set to be moved to the west side within a few days and completion of the bridge was probably only a few weeks away. An additional six miles of grade was being worked on running west of Grand Forks, but little grading had taken place within the city limits. The railroad was having difficulty obtaining the right-of-way through the city, which had many Grand Forks residents concerned. The delay could make it necessary to build warehouses and docks on the Minnesota side of the river to handle the freight traffic. That in turn might encourage the erection of stores and other businesses on the east side.
To help make sure that didn’t happen, a committee of influential citizens was formed, including Capt. M. L. McCormick, George H. Walsh and W. H. Brown. Within a week, the committee reported favorable progress. Grading was approaching Third Street allowing for completion of the bridge. Other right-of-way holdouts were encouraged to sign, and the railroad soon completed the line to the western edge of the city.
As a result, Grand Forks was successful in obtaining the freight depot and the docks. From a population of 30 in 1870, Grand Forks continues to thrive, and it is much more than just a steamboat town on the Red.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Grand Forks Herald September 25, 1879
The Grand Forks Herald September 18, 1879
The Grand Forks Herald October 2, 1879