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How Burlington Got Its Name

On this date in 1908, the Washburn Leader explained how the town of Burlington got its name.

The site for the town was prompted by a visit to the area in the spring of 1883 by Joseph Colton and James Johnson. At the fork of the Des Lacs and Mouse Rivers, they noticed a coal outcropping and thought the location was promising. Colton established a mine there.

By 1884, there were only five settlers in the area, so Colton’s mining business was off to a slow start. But by 1886 the number of settlers, and the demand for coal, had grown. And as the railroad moved west, coal became an increasingly valuable commodity. After Colton passed away, Johnson got the idea to establish a post office and name it Colton after his friend.

When Johnson submitted a petition, he learned there was already a Dakota Territory post office named Colton. The Assistant Postmaster General was the editor of a newspaper in Burlington, Iowa, and he suggested the name of Burlington.

Johnson set out on a mission to get the required number of petition signatures for the Burlington post office. He found it hard going. He even got a signature from Pat Connor who lived 75 miles away. Next he went to John Satterlund, who also signed. But another local settler, Charles Willer, refused to sign because he was planning to petition for a post office named after himself … Willer. There were few other settlers in the area and Johnson began to despair of ever getting his post office. Then Colonel Lounsberry, helped by rounding up signers from Bismarck, and the Burlington Post Office was born.

In the early days of the office, travelling settlers would often carry the mail. Finally, a carrier was hired for $50 a month. He delivered on horseback in good weather and by dog sled in winter. On one trip, the dogs got hungry and ate the harness, which interfered with the service.

Burlington became a growing concern, with coal mines, a brickyard, a spur of the Soo Line, a hotel, and boarding houses. The coal mines began to play out in the 1920s, and two fires destroyed most of the town. Two banks closed during the 1930s depression, but the Burlington Post Office is still located on Colton Avenue.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Washburn Leader. “How Burlington Came to Be Named.” Washburn ND. 11 September 1908. Page 1.

Burlington. “The Oldest City in Ward County.” Accessed 5 August 2019.

Postal Locations. “Burlington Post Office.” Accessed 5 August 2019.

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