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Going to the Lake

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June is arguably the best month of summer for fishing and for “going to the lake.” Many North Dakotans flock to home-state lakes – Sakakawea, Lake Darling, Spiritwood, Stump, Metigoshe. Folks near the Red River often head into Minnesota.

Fargo, in North Dakota, and Detroit Lakes, in Minnesota, have had a deep connection since the 1870s, thanks back then due to the Northern Pacific Railway, which made it easy to slip-away for unforgettable weekends of lakes and fish, of rowboats and oars, and docks and shores.

It was on this date, in 1889, that the Bismarck Tribune related some of the happenings on Big Detroit Lake, when North Dakotans were in a whirl of lakeshore fun, jam-packed with boating, relaxation, bathing and angling.

Detroit Lake had been described as the “finest, handsomest, clearest, deepest and game-fishiest of all the lakes in the famed Northwest.” As early as 1880, well-to-do Fargoites established their own territory in Lakes Country, buying 1500 feet of frontage on Detroit Lake, naming it the “Detroit club of Fargo.” Each club member would build a handsome little cottage as a summer residence, and all contributed to a club house where meals were “served for the fashionable cottagers and their families.”

Located only 47 miles from Fargo, the cool breezes of Detroit Lakes were preferable to the sultry city days during the hot season, in late-July and August. The lake was an ideal spot to while away the moments before the chill of autumn sent vacationers back to school and to the humdrum workaday world.

Memories were made by “going to the lake.” The beauty of lake living could be seen in a vaporous fog on crisp early mornings; heard in the wavering calls of loons; or felt in the soul while espying deer dancing in a lakeside meadow.

Yet, above all else, North Dakota anglers dreamed of walleye heaven, available in the 1880s, when the lakes were “full of fish.”

Lakes-country dreams continue even today, when never-ending streams of people flow “to the lake.”

Dakota Datebook written by Professor Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department

“Detroit Lake,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, June 28, 1889, p. 5
“Detroit Lake,” Fargo Daily Argus, June 17, 1881, p. 4.
“Detroit,” Fargo Daily Argus, June 10, 1881, p. 4.
“Delightful Detroit,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, May 20, 1886, p. 5.
“Citizens of Fargo,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, August 10, 1880, p. 4.
Daniel R. Levitt, The National Pastime, 2012: Short But Wondrous Summers: Baseball in the North Star State (Phoenix: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), 2012).

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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