Many towns in North Dakota are named for someone, and the city of Regan is no different. J. Austin Regan was an early businessman and mover-and-shaker in North Dakota. He was born in 1870 in Ontario, and grew up in Missouri. He came to Carrington, North Dakota when he was twenty-one and worked for an implement dealer for two years before moving to Fessenden, where he established a machinery business with a partner. He also formed an elevator business in 1896. Regan became sole owner of the implement dealership, but in 1899, the store burned, along with others in a great fire in 1899.
In addition to his business dealings, Regan was the Fessenden postmaster for ten years. The post office was located in a store at the time. Regan also had his hand in politics. He chaired the Wells County Republican Central Committee, was a state senator, and served as president pro-tem of the Senate in the 1907 session. He married a Fessenden schoolteacher and they had one son.
Regan was an agent of the Dakota Land and Townsite Company, which platted the town of Regan in 1911—then “an empty spot on the prairie” before the railroad came the next year. Regan also had a hand in platting other towns along the rail line -- like McClusky, Turtle Lake and Mercer.
The first building in Regan was an ice house intended to serve a creamery that local farmers hoped to build, but the creamery never materialized. A church was built next, using wood from Wilton, North Dakota. There’s some discrepancy as to when the post office was established, but this date in 1911 has been given, though its operation probably didn’t start until early 1912. Lillian Ong was the first postmaster. She commuted three miles in a buggy from a farm to town until finally obtaining living quarters in Regan.
Stores, banks and other businesses followed, and Regan’s population peaked with two hundred residents in 1920. Today, there’s about forty or fifty people. As for J. Austin Regan, he’s remembered for his business acumen and, of course, the town that bears his name. He died in 1924 at age fifty-three.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
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Compendium of history and biography of North Dakota. (1900). Geo. A. Ogle & Co.