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The History Of Kittson County

Compiled by

Mrs. Ruth Easton, St. Vincent, MN

Mr. N. O. Folland, Karlstad, MN

Mrs. Lillian Lapp, St. Vincent, MN

Mrs. Mary McFarland, Northcote, MN

Mrs. Martha Roberts, Humboldt, MN


1972 finds Highways No. 75, 59, and 11 the major "life"lines in the Kittson County transportation system. Nestled between the RedRiver of the North which separates Minnesota from North Dakota on the west,Manitoba, Canada on the north, Roseau County on the east and Marshall Countyon the south, this northwestern county can boast only one kind of passengerservice - - the Greyhound Bus Line. The Greyhound bus travels both northand south on Highway 75, daily.

April 30, 1971 marked the end of passenger rail servicein Kittson County for on that day, the Burlington Northern pulled its lastpassenger car through the county. Only four years earlier, on March 25,1967, the Soo Line discontinued its passenger service.

The villages of Kittson County are all closely linked withthe passenger and freight service. St. Vincent, the hub of pioneer life,began its growth as the various transportation routes became a part of itsexistence and it declined as the services were withdrawn.

The St. Vincent settlement took root on the banks of theRed River in 1857 while Minnesota was still a territory. The fur trade PeterGrant had his headquarters here in the late 1700's. The XYZ Fur Companyerected a post in the early 1800's. So, by 1870, St. Vincent was an activefur trading center.

This village boasted a population of over 500 at one timein spite of the harassment caused by the floods of the Red River. Sincethe Red River has its beginning in Browns Valley south of Moorhead, thespring run-off finds ice and snow in the river channel as it wends its waynorth towards Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba. Flood waters often from five to fifteenmiles wide (more during a few recorded times) cover the country side. Dueto the flat prairie land, the water moves along very slowly outside theriver's channel. Naturally, it is very destructive. The flood of 1897 almostwiped out St. Vincent.

But since the Red River also provided many comforts andservices for the settlers, the village was rebuilt in spite of James J.Hill's offer to move the entire village out to the "Y" or whatis now the Junction of Highway No. 75 and 171.

The Flood of 1950 again literally destroyed the village,again it was rebuilt. Their greatest loss at this time was the railroadtrack, for the railroad company refused to rebuild the spur into the village.Instead, a depot was set up at the "Y".

Not until after the Flood of 1966, with the help of federalaid, an 18 foot dike above flood level was constructed. This dike literallysurrounds the village, and it is hoped that no flood waters will inundatethe village again.

This same river also provided communication for the area.Settlers came in on the steamboats which chugged from Fort Abercrombie,North Dakota to Fort Garry, Manitoba as early as 1870. Eight years later,on December 2, 1878, the steamboat traffic was officially discontinued.

The steamboats provided work for many people. Among themwas A. C. Tien who founded the village of Robbin in 1892 with his brotherGeorge's help. Robbin is located towards the southern tip of Kittson Countyalso snuggled against the Red River. Robbin was named after the many robinsin the community but a postal clerk in Washington, D.C. changed the spellingto Robbin (two b's). The village is still struggling along, but the competitionof the times is taking its toll. Presently, Robbin is linked with the easternpart of the county with Highway 11 which runs across the southern part ofthe county - Robbin, Donaldson, and Karlstad.

The ox carts preceded the steam boat travel in St. Vincent.In 1843, Joseph Rolette introduced the ox cart for transportation of fursto Mendota, Minnesota. Norman Kittson, for whom the County is named, reallydeveloped the ox cart enterprise. He guided as many as 500 ox carts to St.Paul at one time. This noisy, vile smelling train creaked along on severalroutes. One followed in about the same direction as Highway No. 75. Anotherroute was developed on the North Dakota side and another one on the Ridge.This ridge angles along towards the eastern part of the county. It is builtup and sandy for it is the edge of old Lake Agassiz.

The romance of the steamboat was replaced by the railroad.Railroad talk began as early as 1862 at which time a short track was builtbetween St. Anthony (present Minneapolis) and St. Paul - a distance of tenmiles.

By 1862, the railroad was extended from Glynden, Minnesotato the Snake River where Warren now stands. The tracks were later movedto Fisher which then made it both a railroad terminal and a river port.

Construction was delayed until 1877 when the leadershipof Norman Kittson and James J. Hill came into view. Under their leadership,the railroad tracks were laid to St. Vincent by the fall of 1878. At thesame time, a Canadian railroad, the Manitoba, was being built from Winnipegto Emerson, Manitoba. On December 2, 1878, the two roads were joined andthe St. Paul, Minneapolis, Manitoba Railroad was born. A continuous roadnow extended from Winnipeg to St. Paul. St. Vincent became the internationalterminal. By 1888, a district custom collection with a labor force of threewas established.

St. Vincent boomed. Hotels, saloons, stores and other kindsof services sprang up. As a result, St. Vincent has many firsts for thecounty: first doctor, first newspaper, first school and the first churchbuilding. The Christ Episcopal Church was built in 1880.

Changes were inevitable. The port of entry was moved toNoyes at the extreme northern part of the County in 1905. Noyes became theport of entry for both the railroad and the highway. The present customsbuilding was completed in 1932. The Noyes depot still employs eight menand processes freight for the Soo, Canadian Pacific, Burlington Northern,Canadian National, Midland Railway of Manitoba railroads. Even though Noyeswasn't utilized as a port of entry at first, a lively community existed.In fact, they organized the first Kittson County School district on January7, 1880.

As the railroad made its trek through the County, severalvillages followed its wake. Entering the County from the south, the firststop is Donaldson. The Davis Township was organized on July 24, 1882. Afew years later the village established itself close to the tracks. Theychose to call themselves Donaldson after Captain Hugh Donaldson, a CivilWar officer who became very prominent in the area. He was the manager ofthe Ryan bonanza farms near Kennedy. These Ryan bonanza farms were financedby the same Ryan who built the Ryan Hotel in St. Paul. Donaldson was alsomanager of the Hill farm near Northcote at one time. The village of Donaldsonwas organized on November 20, 1903.

Only five miles farther north is the village of Kennedy.The Kennedy Land and Town Company consisted of 65,000 acres and was managedby Captain Donaldson. Kennedy's beginning traces back to bonanza farming.

Kennedy's name sake is John Stewart Kennedy who had connectionswith Hill. This community was settled by people of the Lutheran faith. ThreeLutheran churches, East Emmaus in 1884, Maria in 1893, and West Emmaus in1899 - were built. The village was incorporated on June 15, 1899.

Hallock, the county seat, is twelve miles farther northon the Burlington Northern. Hallock has a rather unique background for itwas actually begun by a sportsman and writer, Charles Hallock of New York.Hallock had made extensive hunting trips to this part of the country longbefore the railroad arrived. He considered this a sportsman's paradise andconsequently he interested some rich sportsmen to help his finance his projects.

Hallock purchased 5 acres of land and built Hotel Hallockin 1879. The hotel was constructed in an "L" shape, 85 feet longwith an addition of 25 by 25 feet on the north end. It was three storieshigh with the ground floor housing four stories. The hotel was destroyedby fire on Christmas Day, 1892.

The village of Hallock had its first meeting on August18, 1880. Even though Hallock has never been acclaimed a boom town, it hasexperienced steady growth and at the present time appears to be continuingin that direction.

The Kittson County Enterprise which is now operated byLouis R. Kill was founded by J. E. Bouvette and sons in 1881. Many otherprojects have been developed, among them is a modern hospital and nursinghome, modern schools, a recreation center with a swimming pool and manyother business developments.

The once thriving boom town of Northcote marks the southernboundary of the vast James J. Hill domain. The town site was filed on December21, 1880 by the Railroad. The village was named after Sir Henry StaffordNorthcote who was never connected with the area, but it appears he assistedHill with finances.

James J. Hill, the railroad empire builder, farming enterpriserand promoter of wheat farming built his business holding, farms and homehere. Just north of the Two River Bridge on the west side of the highwayare the remains of his huge farming complex. The former Hill Home is nowprivately owned but it still projects the faith of the builder of dreams.In addition to his home, he had many homes for families he brought in asworkers.

Hill brought pure bred stock in from Scotland. He alsobrought in all of the latest machinery. He tested new kinds of seed crops.He helped many farmers improve their farming techniques and helped themestablish pure bred herds.

Since the Hill farms were so well known, they brought agreat deal of outside interest into the community. they also recognizedtheir spiritual needs and built the present Northcote Presbyterian Churchin 1897.

The Hill holding which consisted of 40,000 acres extendedinto what is known as the Humboldt area. In the early days, it was knownas Hill Town. Later, however, it was changed to Humboldt after the Germanscientist Baron Alexander von Humboldt, in honor of the many Germans whosettled here. Humboldt was designated as the wheat shipping center and atone time had five elevators.

Edward and James Florance developed the village. Edwardorganized the Humboldt State Bank which survived the Depression of the 30's.Later it was moved to Hallock.

James is credited with providing the first movies and thefirst electric lights in Kittson County.

All of the towns along the Burlington Northern have sufferedrecessions since their "golden" era days except Hallock.

The eastern part of Kittson County didn't have river largeenough to sail, neither did they develop the ox-cart but they developedthe stage coach as early as 1885.

This cross country route established several stopping places.Mrs. Margaret Bronson's farm became one of them. In fact, so many settlersstopped there that it became necessary to turn their home into a Road House.A post office was also established on the farm. It was called Percy afterthe township in Ontario, Canada from where Mr. Bronson's husband had migrated.Later, the post office was moved to the town site along the Soo Line andwas called Bronson.

The main station was Pelan located in the extreme easternpart of the County on the banks of the South Branch of Two Rivers. Pelanprospered and furnished many services to the early settlers. It had a generalstore, newspaper, a bank, two doctors, a flour mill, rooming house, threestory hotel, eating places, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable and severalbars. It also served as a relay station for the stage coach horses.

Twin Lake City, as it was called at first, was incorporatedon April 1, 1901. Later, the village was named after Charles Pelan. Thestage coach provided the link between the Northern Railroad and the easternpart of the county into Roseau County.

However, as early as 1905, only a year after the Soo Linewas built, the stage coach business declined and the village with it. Today,the beautiful spot is a camp ground along Highway No. 11.

When the Soo Railroad failed to include Pelan along itsright-of-way, it soon lost its momentum to Karlstad and other points alongthe railroad. The railroad services were available in 1904 - 1905. The townsites along the Soo Line are Karlstad, Halma, Bronson, Lancaster, and Orleans.A study of the town sites reveals that its planners may have had a whiffof motor vehicle exhaust because all of them provided for 100 feet mainstreets as compared to the narrower ones in the older town sites. Anotherinnovation apparent is that no important street lies adjacent to the tracks.

Karlstad was a natural place for a town site for it wassituated at the cross roads of the stage line and the Pembina trails betweenWinnipeg and the Cities. Clayton was the name of the original town sitebut after a year of available railroad transportation services, it was incorporatedinto the village of Karlstad. This was a Swedish settlement and the namewas chosen partly because of its namesake in Sweden and partly because thename of the original owner of the land was August Carlson.

Within about three years from the railroad operations,nearly all types of pioneer services were available. Business people andcraftsmen scrambled for choice locations. Records indicate that within ashort time the village provided services in printing, banking, merchandisingand services of all kinds, three hotels, livery stables, a saloon, barbershop and miscellaneous other services including a medical doctor. The doctorwas not a Swede but was well accepted in the community. He married a localgirl of Swedish ancestry and continued to serve the area for about fortyyears. By 1951, young doctors came and a modern hospital was provided.

Naturally, the stage coach discontinued but horses wereavailable for cross country traveling. Within a few years the automobilemade its impact and spawned other business establishments including garages.

Throughout the early years, agriculture was the main supportand still remains the leading industry. Other industries are emerging andnow Karlstad boasts a garment factory, (a branch of Arctic Enterprises)which employs about two hundred people.

Telephone companies were first organized on a very localbasis but finally they consolidated into a large company with its home officein Karlstad. They serve a large rural area in three counties and more thana dozen villages. Other industries have contributed to the local economicactivities. Perhaps the largest junk and used parts business in NorthwesternMinnesota is located here. In later years, this has evolved to include franchisefor new trucks and other items.

Halma, supposedly named after the wife of the presidentof the Soo Line, is a few miles north of Karlstad. The settlement tracesits origin back to 1883. The village was incorporated in 1923. This is theonly predominately Norse settlement in Kittson County.

One of the Halma area natural resources, namely large graveldeposits, lay dormant for many years and only in the latter twenty yearsor so did it emerge as an important industrial factor. Halma now has a concreteblock factory, a gravel washing plant, and some other gravel enterprises.Another natural resource for this area is the abundance of underground watereasily accessible for industry and irrigation.

The next stop is Lake Bronson, formerly Bronson. This nameemerged since 1937 when the State Park was constructed just two miles eastof the village. This 327 acre lake was created by a dam on the South Branchof Two Rivers. this artificial lake with its irregular shoreline is in themiddle of open farm country in the vast Red River Valley - - "The breadbasket of the world." The 745.62 acre park is Bronson's greatest assetfor it attracts tourists from both the United States and Canada. The originalvillage of Bronson was incorporated in February, 1905.

This eastern part of the County was populated by the ChippewaIndians. They taught the settlers many hunting and trapping techniques aswell as how to dig the snake root. These three activities provided a livingfor the early settlers, especially in the Lancaster area.

Poppleton named after local trees, was the earliest postoffice about three miles from the present town site. For about thirty years,Lancaster was a booming railroad town.

Orleans is the final town site on the Soo Line, as it windsits way from Thief River Falls to Emerson, Manitoba.

The fertile land around Orleans was developed the hardway. Much of the land was covered with brush, so it had to be grubbed outbefore it could be cultivated. It too two men to do this, one to hold theplow, the other to drive the oxen or horses.

Wallie Nelson, a local pioneer, tells about working forfifty cents a day. Later his wages jumped to a dollar a day.

He also pointed out how the railroad affected their communitylife. For example, two musicians, a violinist, and a harpist, boarded thetrain at Winnipeg and arrived just in time for the dance. They providedthe music and then returned the next morning again by train. The boys paidtwenty-five cents each for the admission fee and the girls provided thelunch.

Nelson also told about one occasion when he boarded thetrain to Emerson, and then took the boat to Pembina in order to attend acircus.

As early as 1863, the Burbank system covered 1,300 milesby stage and several hundred miles by pony express. Before than, in 1850,the half breed Joseph R. Brown of Henderson had a contract to carry mailfrom Crow Wing to Pembina, ND. During the winter, he did a great deal ofthe traveling on foot using snowshoes to cut through the brush country.He also used the pony and dog team at times.

Hill also used these kinds of transportation facilities.In fact, he even did some of his business by ox cart, stage coach and thepony express. In 1871 - 72, Hill and Kittson invested in the steam boatbusiness. All of this was before 1873 when he went into the railroad business.

Gone are the romantic days with passenger service on thestage coach, steam boat, Soo or Great Northern Railroads, but people stillneed to move from place to place. Some go by the only method available tothem, the Greyhound Bus on Highway 75 which almost parallels the ox carttrail and the Burlington Northern Railroad. But most of the people go bymotored vehicles on either Highway 75 or 59 which parallels the Soo Lineto Lancaster where it continues on in to Canada or No. 11 which cuts acrosssouthern Kittson County. In addition to these three main roads, many minorcounty and township roads have been developed.

Transportation was the "life" line for the pioneerand it is the same for the man in today's society. For no man is an island,he is a part of the whole and only he is able to communicate can he develophimself and his community.




Bouvette, J. E. & Sons. Anniversary Number KittsonCounty Enterprise. 1932

Clippings from Local Papers

Collection of tidbits from local residents

Humboldt High School Students. Historical Essays 1967,68, 69, 70, 71, 72

McFarlane, Mary Mrs. Scrap Book (a priceless collectionof clippings and photographs she has kept for about 50 years)

Clippings from Local Papers

Collection of tidbits from local residents

Humboldt High School Students. Historical Essays 1967,68, 69, 70, 71, 72

McFarlane, Mary Mrs. Scrap Book (a priceless collectionof clippings and photographs she has kept for about 50 years)