New England Picnic
A group of North Dakota residents celebrated their east-coast origins on this date in 1903. Carloads of folks met up in Fargo for a caravan to the annual New England Picnic in Detroit, Minnesota, which was later renamed Detroit Lakes.
Everyone in the bunch had migrated to the region from New England states, and the picnic gave them a chance to reunite, and eat the New England foods that they missed so dearly.
The North Dakota group stopped in Moorhead where twenty more New Englanders joined the procession. They then drove all day on the primitive roads of 1903 to reach Detroit, a drive that takes only an hour today.
Along the way, the merry bunch sang popular colonial songs from their past, including “The Sword of Bunker Hill.” They also used the occasion to catch up with one another, recalling the people and places they had known in New England.
Upon reaching Detroit, the group met an additional thirty New Englanders from Minnesota that had come for the picnic. The following morning, Captain West conducted tours through the lakes using a small steamer and a gas-powered boat. The group served lunch at noon, which consisted of many northeastern dishes. The meal was a pot-luck of sorts, with each individual bringing a basket of New England delicacies to share. Mr. Perley of Moorhead entertained the group by singing several eastern tunes. At one point, “it was declared that no banquet for the New England people could be complete without codfish,” and so a codfish was passed around. Afterward, many of the New Englanders shared stories from the Civil War, as most of them had been soldiers in the Union Army. The picnic was considered a complete success. Later, the North Dakotans said good-bye to the New Englanders of Minnesota, before heading back to their Dakota homes, already planning next year’s picnic.
Dakota Datebook by Jayme Job
Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). June 19, 1903: p 8.