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November 29: Williston Great Northern Depot Grand Opening

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On this date in 1909, the city of Williston celebrated the opening of their new Great Northern Depot. There had initially been some concern that the new depot would be farther from the city that the old depot, but the local commercial club got involved to ensure that it would be built close to the original site.

In September, as the end of construction seemed imminent, Williston residents hoped James J. Hill, president of the railway, would come to the opening. He had plans to be in the area, but the depot wasn’t completed in time to coincide with his appearance. Nonetheless, Hill stop through on his way east and spoke to hundreds of people, including a gaggle of school children who had been dismissed from school to see him.

The new depot was ready by the end of November. A grand ball and reception was planned for November 30th, but the date was adjusted to accommodate the schedule of several visiting railroad officials.

The soiree was put on by the ladies of the Book and Thimble Club, using the event to raise money for a large public library. Close to 600 people attended the affair, and around $300 was raised. Amidst various prominent speakers, there was a grand march, music by the Williston Concert Orchestra, and dancing in the east room and baggage room, with cards played in the west room, “so all present could have their choice of amusements.”

And folks apparently dressed in their finest. A retail store in Williston advertised “one of the swellest and most exclusive lines of ladies’ fancy ball and party dresses ever exhibited in this section of the northwest,” offering a special discount for those attending the event.

The depot was also at its finest, described as “brilliantly illuminated and decorated with palms and cut flowers.” Newspapers reported that the new depot was one of the finest in the state.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 16, 1909, p2
  • Williston Graphic, April 15, 1909, p1
  • Williston Graphic, November 25, 1909, p1; p2 (ad)
  • The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 21, 1909, p4
  • The Ward County Independent, September 16, 1909, p1
  • Williston Graphic, September 30, 1909, p1
  • The Evening Times, November 17, 1909, p2 (Grand Forks)
  • The Evening Times, November 24, 1909, p2 (Grand Forks)
  • Williston Graphic, November 18, 1909, p1
  • Williston Graphic, December 2, 1909, p1

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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