North Dakota State University is today an integral part of the city of Fargo. Yet that was not always the case. It was this month, January of 1889 that marked the beginning of a pitched battle between Valley City and Fargo over the location of the agricultural college, which later evolved into NDSU. Valley City won the first skirmish when the Territorial legislature passed a bill granting them the school. However, Fargo’s citizens refused to give up.
Writing in the Sanborn Enterprise following the vote which placed the agricultural college in Valley City, William McKean, the Sanborn’s editor, stated that “The Fargoites hold that the reason why Valley City got the college was that each sent a box of soil for evidence as to the fertility of each place and someone changed the labels.” Believing that their community represented a better location for the agricultural college, citizens from Fargo traveled to Bismarck in order to request that Governor Louis K. Church veto the legislation which granted Valley City the agricultural school. Their efforts were rewarded. The governor vetoed the bill.
Although Fargo had successfully blocked the legislation placing the agricultural college in Valley City that did not mean that they had won the war. It was later revealed that the governor’s veto was not a result of concern for the location of the agricultural college, rather he was unwilling to sign a bill for an educational institution that the territory had no money to build or sustain. Valley City may have been beaten in this round, but Fargo had not yet won the war to secure the new agricultural college.
Although the Territory of Dakota may have not had funds readily available to support the creation of new educational institutions inside its borders, the state of North Dakota was not in the same financial bind. Besides granting statehood to North Dakota in 1889, the US Congress provided funding for a variety of state educational institutions. Knowing that several new colleges would be built, Fargo’s citizens made it known to Valley City that they would support their bid for any state educational institution other than the agricultural college. Valley City, concluding that their claim to the agricultural school was on less secure footing agreed to Fargo’s proposal. Therefore, in North Dakota’s constitutional convention held later that year, Valley City supported Fargo’s bid for the agricultural college, and Fargo supported Valley City’s bid for a teachers’ college.
As a result of the battle between Fargo and Valley City, which began this month in 1889, the permanent location of two of North Dakota’s universities was secured; North Dakota State University in Fargo, and Valley City State University in Valley City.
Dakota Datebook written By Lane Sunwall
Welsh, Donald H., Cornerstones: A Centennial History of Valley City State University 1890-1900. Valley City, North Dakota: Valley City Times Record, 1900.