Red River Dry
Thursday, October 4, 2012
On this date in 1897, the Grand Forks Herald ran an article that stated that the bed of the Red River was high and dry. In some respects, this was true; the river bed was exposed, but the river itself was not dry, just channeled into a much smaller area.
This was not a result of a lack of water flowing from the south. It was noted that a large area of the riverbed had risen up so that the actual bank along the river was higher than the old bank now many yards from the flowing water. The raising of the riverbed occurred on the west side, north of the new Northern Pacific passenger depot. This had forced the river into a narrow channel along the east side, which was much deeper but with a stronger current. What was more important, this was a man-made phenomenon.
When the Northern Pacific Railroad crossed the river the year before, it had deposited tons of clay and gravel on the approach to the bridge, filling a low area between the depot and an old mill beside the river.
Thousands of years before, Glacial Lake Agassiz had deposited various types of sediment in layers on the lake floor. Included in these layers was an area of sand, which over time had hardened to become a concave shelf of sandstone. It was situated above a less dense area of sediment. When the fill dirt was placed on top, the layer under the sandstone was compressed. This forced one end of the sandstone shelf down and, having the effect of a lever, the other end of the sandstone shelf began to rise. To add more dirt to the roadbed would only create more upheaval near the river, so the railroad was forced to seek another solution.
What was interesting, was the amount of debris already evident on the now exposed riverbed. Scattered all along the surface were tons of old iron scraps as well as bolts, nails and pipes. This was all that was left of a boatyard that had closed a decade ago, after flourishing on the site at the beginning of the steamboat trade. It was striking evidence that within several decades, man had already left his mark on the environment.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
The Grand Forks Herald October 5, 1897
Glacial Lake Agassiz by John Bluemle, North Dakota Geological Survey 2007