Town and Farm Life
The town was the center of activity not only for those who lived there but also for those who lived on nearby farms. Towns were the creations of the railroads and townsite-development companies. The frenzy of townsite development peaked during the Second Boom. In 1915 the Soo Line laid tracks across the state between the Great Northern’s mainline and the Canadian border; in 1912 the Great Northern established its “Surrey cutoff” that ran diagonally across the state from the southeast into the northwest. As was the case during the Great Dakota Boom, towns were established every seven to ten miles apart along the tracks. Sixty new towns sprang up just along the new Great Northern line. Towns were platted close together because a farmer, in the days before many motorized vehicles or good roads, needed to have grain elevators, banks, implement dealers, and general stores within a few miles of the farm. Each town became a trade center, an important place for the isolated settlers.
The towns also provided culture and entertainment. Many had an opera house and later a movie theater. Sports activities, especially baseball, took place mostly in the towns. High schools and colleges were located in the towns.
The prosperity of the era, 1898-1915, made life easier for both town and farm folks. By 1915 towns had telephone, electrical, and water services. Such was not the case on the farm where kerosene lamps provided light and wells provided water. Trips to town were infrequent, even after the appearance of the automobile; roads were little more than ruts. It was a major undertaking, especially in winter, to travel to the nearest town.
Among the news stories from The North Star Dakotan are two interviews which describe early life in the towns: Christina Styles Dunn and Carrie Harbison. Both are in their own words. Their complete interviews, conducted in the late 1930s, can be found at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.