St. Vincent

by

Mrs. Dick Lapp

St. Vincent is the oldest city in Kittson County from the standpoint of settlement. The history dates back as far as 1857, when Minnesota was still a territory. A trading post on the village site had been named St. Vincent in honor of St. Vincent de Paul, founder of missions and hospitals in France.

As early as 1800, Fur Company XYZ started a trading post and before that, Peter Grant had maintained headquarters there as a fur trader. Selkirk settlers founded a colony in Pembina in 1812 and it spread into Minnesota. Later, the Swiss and other settlers settled to some extent in the St. Vincent community. The frontier customs and traditions of the lower Red River Valley on this side of the Red River are centered about this old town.

Ox-carts were the first means of travel in this area. Norman Kittson enveloped the ox-cart enterprise. Later steamboat traffic became important not only to the village but to settlement of the community. As early as 1862, railroad talk began. In Winnipeg, Donald Smith thought the Red River needed a lifeline to the east. He took his idea to Norman Kittson, the president of the steamboat line which held a monopoly on the river. Kittson referred the matter to his silent partner, James Hill. Hill had a dream of reviving the bankrupt railway at St. Paul and latched onto the idea immediately. In 1878, his dream was realized. He saw the first locomotive arrive in Emerson, Manitoba from St. Paul. It was the Great Northern Railway and later known as the Burlington Northern. The customs office and depot were in St. Vincent until 1905 when they were moved to the Canadian border at Noyes. In 1900, a roundhouse was built, James J. Hill backed the project. It was located by Lake Stella, east of St. Vincent. A turning table was included that was used to turn the trains around. Charles Gooding was the first depot agent. John McGlashen was the first man to take a carload of horses through from St. Cloud to Winnipeg. He also operated a saloon.

The first stores in St. Vincent were those of traders established far back in the pioneer period. Fur trade was the main business but later individual enterprise started.

The first bank was established in 1880 by J. H. Rich, E. L. Baker and F. B. Howe. It was later sold and closed. J. R. Ryan operated a livery and sales and William J. Mason opened a blacksmith's shop and also ran a wagon and carriage shop. The Firehall was built in 1903 by Edward Cameron and his three sons. It was on main street, east of the Red River bridge and housed fire engines run by steam. The Firehall was pushed over in 1972, the town hall demolished and a new hall built on original site of depot.

The first schools in the county were on or near this village. Eliza Moore, then age fifteen, taught all eight grades in a little one room school in the west end of town. She told stories in later years of the Indians riding their ponies around the schoolhouse and looking in the windows and frightening her and the pupils. The present school was built in 1903. It was a square two-story white frame building and originally housed all the grades from one through twelve. The school now houses grades from 'K' through grade four, the rest have become part of Humboldt School System consolidation making the change.

The earliest newspaper of the county was started here and was called the "St. Vincent Herald". It was the official newspaper of the county at that time. St. Vincent had a fair each year, called the Kittson County Agricultural Society, that title being changed later to Union Industrial Society in 1884.

At one time the population was about five hundred in spite of the floods of the Red River. The flood of 1897 almost wiped out the village. It was rebuilt on the present site in spite of James J. Hill, the railroad tycoon, offering to finance the moving of the entire village to the Junction of Highways #75 and #171, also known as the "Y". The floods of 1948 and 1950 were probably a determining factor in bringing St. Vincent to the present condition. About the greatest loss was the railroad. The railroad company would not rebuild here and set up the depot at the "Y".

The little village at one time included several hotels, saloons, stores, full school, two cafes, a jail, town hall, two gas stations, a grocery, dry goods store, machine and parts shop, firehall, blacksmith shop, five churches, and post office. The original Northern Hotel was torn down and rebuilt in Noyes for a residence. The Methodist Church was demolished.

The Green Store was rebuilt to become the Evangelical Free Church which later moved to Pembina. The Catholic Church combined with Pembina and the building here is now the Cote residence. Mrs. Wilhelmina Johnson bought the St. John's Church and donated it to the St. Vincent Historical Society in 1971, a youth group helping to renovate the building.

A dike has been built around the town and the fear of floods like those of the past is also of the past.

All that remains of the once lovely little village is the post office. Though the business places have disappeared there are many lovely homes in this historic little town.