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Griggs and Grand Forks

Few people would guess that Grand Forks came into being because of a keg of beer, but supposedly it’s true.

In 1858 – with necessity being the mother of invention – St. Paul businessmen offered $1,000 to anyone who could successfully establish a steamboat on the Red River, thereby improving travel from St. Paul to Winnipeg. In 1859, Anson Northrup beat out the competition by coming up the Mississippi River to Crow Wing, MN, where he dismantled his boat, hauled it overland to the Red River, rebuilt it, and successfully navigated to Fort Garry to win the prize.

Seeing a lucrative venture, railroad tycoon James Hill partnered with a steamboat captain, Alexander Griggs, to form the Red River Transportation Line. Griggs had learned the riverboat trade at an early age, going to work on the Mississippi River when he was only 15. By 19, he had earned his pilot’s license.

About 145 years ago, Griggs was participating in a flatboat race to Fort Garry. When his crew spotted a keg of beer that had fallen off another boat, they snagged it and ended up getting so drunk that Griggs had to tie up at the forks to spend the night.

He intended to finish the journey to Winnipeg the following day, but morning brought a rude surprise. During the night, the temperature had plummeted, and the boat was frozen in place. According to the tale, the men had to build a shelter for the winter, and with time on his hands, Griggs surveyed the land and became convinced the site would be ideal for a town.

So it was that on this date, in 1875, Alexander Griggs platted the town, and he has ever since been known as the “Father of Grand Forks.” And there’s a county named after him, too.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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