Dakota Datebook

Chaffee Founds Amenia

Monday, July 15, 2013

 

In 1875, an investment group of forty New England families purchased almost 28,000 acres of land in Cass County, North Dakota. This created the Amenia and Sharon Land Company, named for the towns of Amenia, New York, and Sharon, Connecticut. The Company sent their largest shareholder, Eben W Chaffee, to establish a bonanza farm and run the business. Understanding how fertile the land was, he ran the company as one enormous farming operation.

 

On this date in 1880, he signed an agreement with the Northern Pacific Railroad to build a rail branch to the company farm. During the first year, a railroad depot was built, followed soon after by a general store and a grain elevator. The town was named Amenia, after Chaffee’s home town in New York State.

 

Amenia was a company town, run by Chaffee for the benefit of the Amenia and Sharon Land Company. The company owned the general store, the grain elevator, the Hotel Amenia, most of the businesses, and many of the houses in town. Chaffee was determined to hold tight control over Amenia, in order to keep out “undesirable people or businesses.”

 

This desire was also driven by Chaffee’s devout religious beliefs. He established the first Congregational church in North Dakota in 1886. No farming was ever done on a Sunday, and Chaffee’s workmen weren’t allowed to hunt or play baseball on the Sabbath.

 

Chaffee’s close control over the business operations brought in enormous profit for the Amenia and Sharon Land Company, and not all of it just from crops. Other nearby farmers bought supplies from the company stores and sold their crops to the company elevators. The town of Amenia was a profitable business entirely on its own, making many times more in profit off sales and rents than it cost Chaffee to run the town.

 

Much of the bonanza farm was leased out after Eben Chaffee passed away in 1892, but Amenia remained a company town until the Amenia and Sharon Company was dissolved in 1922.

This Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad.

Sources:

Drache, Hiram M. The Day of the Bonanza. North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1964.

Helm, Merry. “Chaffee”, Dakota Datebook, http://www.prairiepublic.org/radio/dakota-datebook?post=19584, retrieved 6/15/13.

Williams, Mary Ann. Origins of North Dakota Place Names, Bismarck Tribune Press, 1961.

 

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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