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St. Vincent


Barbara Bostrom

Today, cities have taken the place of the many small townsacross the country. In the cities a person may live for years in the samehouse and never know the names of his next door neighbors. There are veryfew small towns left. Even St. Vincent, Minnesota, the oldest town in KittsonCounty, is dying. There are approximately 170 people still left in St. Vincent,most of them old people. There are few evidences of the type of town St.Vincent once was.

The Great Northern Railroad brought most of the peoplehere. The first people came as traders, because of the Red River. That wasin the 1870's. They used to cart the furs up the river on barges. But sincethe fort was built at Pembina, North Dakota, most of the fur traders, andnearly all the other residents of this northern area, lived there. Partof the reason they would want to live in or near the fort was as protectionagainst Indians. Especially after Fenian's Raid in the 1870's, people usuallypreferred to live by the fort. When the Sioux Indians were forced out ofthe state, the danger of Indian attack was reduced to nearly nothing. Butthey were not far away. Around l880, the talk of the town was Chief SittingBull's camp across the Canadian border in Emerson Manitoba.

Pembina was the "big town" when St. Vincent wasborn. Pembina, along with the rest of the valley, gained attention in boththe United States and Canada, "owing to the so called rebellion inManitoba under Louis Riel and O'Donhue, of Fenian fame, and many who wereon their way to Fort Garry that year... were forced to make an unwillingsojourn at Pembina, waiting for the submission of the rebellion in orderto go on to their destination. The quelling of the insurrection in Juneby British troops restored the tranquility and the noise attached to thewhole affair seemed to have drawn the attention of the outside world andcaused quite a stream of emigration into the valley."

Fort Pembina was built in 1870 and abandoned in 1897. Atthe time the fort was built Hills, Griggs & Company, of the Red RiverSteamboat Company, opened an extensive general store which usually carried$100,000 worth of merchandise. Henry MoKinney opened a saw mill in 1871near the junction of the Red and Pembina Rivers, opposite St. Vincent. NathanMyrick of St. Paul, opened a trading post near Ft. Pembina.

Saint Vincent is the oldest town in the county. The firstmeeting of the township board was held on May 15, 1880. R.W. Lowery, G.A.Hurd, F.M. McLaughlin, L.A. Nobels and F.M. Head were the township's firstofficers. Hardly a year later it was reorganized as a village, on April16, 188l. The first president was James L. Fisk, possibly the son of theHon. Charles J. Fisk, who was an associate justice )f the supreme courtof North Dakota; recorder, J. W. Morrison; assessor, John A. Vanstrom, whoafterward served as register of deeds, and later was elected sheriff.

In 1910 St. Vincent had a population of about four hundred.It is located in the northwestern part of the county, directly oppositePembina, North Dakota. It was the terminal between the Great Northern andCanadian Pacific Railways, and also a port of entry for the purpose of collectionof customs duties. Near Lake Stella, on the eastern side of town about amile from the Red River, there had been a roundhouse, for trains, whichburned down in 1905. There was the train depot in the middle of town. Inthe west end of the building was the customs office. From 1900 to 1905 J.A.Noyes was the head customs officer there. In 1905 he succeeded in havingthe customs office moved from St. Vincent to the Canadian border acrossfrom Emerson, Manitoba, where the town of Noyes is now.

There were three hotels in the St. Vincent of those days.the Thedore, the Ontario House, and the Northern Hotel. The Thedore wasin the west end of town, on the main street. The Ontario House was ownedand operated by the Ryan family. Mr. Ryan managed the hotel, but when hedied, one of his daughters, Elly O'Connor, took over. The Northern Hotelwas north of the railroad tracks that ran through town just south of whatis now Highway 171, and it was owned by the Great Northern Railroad.

Until 1925 there was a black smith shop about a block eastof the Northern Hotel, and earlier there was another in the west end oftown.

There were four stores: Nelson Greene's Store, which soldnearly everything under the sun; a large store west of the Ontario Housewhich sold mostly candy, and was owned and operated by a Mr. John Reynolds;and another store in the west end of town. This store contained the postoffice, which was run by Richard Lapp's father.

There were two beer distributing companies, one next tothe tracks in the west end of town, and one a block from the other company,also next to the tracks. The first was Hyland's Low Start Lagger, the lattercompany was a Hamms Beer distributor.

Next to the Ontario. House was the Catholic church. Itwas purchased from John Reynolds and made into a church.

There was also an Episcopal church and a Presbyterian churchin town. The Episcopal church was the first church built in the territory,and the lumber was all hauled in from eastern portions of the territoryby oxen cart. It still stands today, on the "outskirts" of town,north of the railroad tracks. There was also a Methodist church in St. Vincent.

Between the train depot and the Hylan beer distributor,was the St. Vincent fire hall; which still stands today. It is a small,wooden frame structure with a bell tower in the southeast corner. St. Vincenthad two fire engines, and a carriage that, I believe, carried fire hose.

The school was built in 1903. It is a two-story, square,white frame building which originally held grades 1-12, but now has classesfor only kindergarten, and second through fourth grades.

It looked like St. Vincent was blessed with everythinga good town needs: easy transportation, jobs, and good soil, and water.But somewhere they lost whatever it was they had had. For St. Vincent isno longer a little town with a lot of growing to do-- but now St. Vincenthas little to look forward to except a slow death. In 1909 these words werewritten:

"Today we have abundant evidence that we are standingat the threshold of a new dominion that is to arise on this plateau of NorthAmerica...

With unshackled hands, free thought and liberty of conscience,the people of the valley of the Upper Mississippi and Red River of the Northmay add much to the luster of the Great Republic, born on the 4th of July,1776. Let us pursue no narrow policy. Let us welcome the Dane, the Swede,the Norwegian, the Russian, the German, and all newcomers.:"

Somewhere along the line we forgot how to use this potential,and now we are paying for it. We will probably never regain our way of lifeand the promises it showed, but this area will always be rich with the memoriesof the bright past.

way of lifeand the promises it showed, but this area will always be rich with the memoriesof the bright past.