Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


State comes of age in 1920...

Posted 4/06/21 (Tue)

By 1920, there were 91,000 vehicles registered in North Dakota, which was up from zero in 1900. Today, there are almost 400,000.

Infrastructure changes happened as fast in those 20 years as did the number of vehicles.

You have to give the state Department of Transportation credit because by 1920, you could get just about anywhere in the state by car. There were roads leading to and away from every community. Unfortunately, some of those roads weren’t in very good condition.

One of the roads that did have good driving conditions, even back then, was U.S. Highway 2, which at the time, was one of only two roads that could get you from the Minnesota state line at Grand Forks, to the Montana state line near Bainville.

The other was U.S. Highway 10, which crossed the state from Fargo to Beach. In the late 1950s, U.S. 10 became Interstate 94.

U.S. 2’s route is much the same as it was then. You could go from Grand Forks to Rugby on paved or gravel surface. West of Rugby, however, you had to deal with dirt or poor roads, as the map describes them, to Granville.

From there it was smooth sailing to Minot and all the way west to the Montana state line.

There were only two noticeable differences across the entire state. The first was at Larimore, where you had to go north 11 miles. Now it goes straight west.

The other was that U.S. 2 took you right into the city of Tioga. Now, U.S. 2 is located 3 miles south of town.

U.S. 10 was a little more interesting and you can see on the 1920 map that traveling wasn’t streamlined like it is today on I-94.

The first example is having to go north from Valley City, then west to Sanborn and on to Jamestown.

From there it followed the same path it does now to the Montana line. Unfortunately, there were poor roads between Driscoll and Tappen, Mandan and New Salem, Richardton and Dickinson and from Medora to Belfield.

There were some other items of note on this 1920 map of North Dakota. First, most of the improved roads were not around Fargo or Bismarck, but were in the Devils Lake Basin.

You could get from Devils Lake to Jamestown on good “highway” as well as north to Rock Lake and Starkweather.

North Dakota Highway 21 was pretty much the same as it is now, going from the Highway 6 junction east of Flasher west to North Dakota Highway 22, which is west of Regent.

Ironically, there were three short sections of that road that were paved;  a few miles west of New Leipzig, about 5 miles east of Carson and from Regent to N.D. 22.

Another example of change is in Highway 4, that took you from south of Ellendale on the South Dakota state line straight north to a junction on N.D. Highway 13, about 8 miles east of Edgeley. Now, it’s a straight shot from Ellendale northwest to Edgeley and on to Jamestown.

At the time, there were only six ports of entry. Today there are 18 of them.

They included Portal, Northgate, Sherwood, Westhope, Sarles and Pembina.

Winnipeg to the border was the same as now, however, when you got to Pembina, the road took you east right on the border to Emerson, Manitoba, where you would turn south and you could go as far south as Ada, Minn.

Of course, there was no Interstate 29, but even more primitive, there only short roads from one community to the next and didn’t connect.

The second major route into Canada was north of Westhope. When you passed through the port of entry, the road would take you all the way to Virden, Manitoba, where the Trans Canada Highway is now.

There were no roads north of North Portal, so if you crossed the border there, you were going into the Saskatchewan wilderness. Today Provincial Highway 39 connects you to Estevan, Weyburn and up to Regina.

There were a number of small communities on the 1920 map that don’t exist today. They include Tagus, Temple, Baden, Lark, Hull, Concrete, Oakdale, Elbowoods and Schafer.

There were also communities that didn’t exist then but do now. They include Kindred, Mandaree, New Town and Riverdale.

And finally one of the stark realities of 1920 is that railroads were plastered all over the map. A railroad led to every town and city crisscrossing the state.

Today, many of the short lines have been abandoned and the two major railroads; Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian Pacific roll on main routes.