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December 20: Alfred Dickey: The Last Good Work of His Life

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1879 was a good year to purchase land in Dakota Territory. The Northern Pacific Railroad had gone bankrupt. The company was money poor but land rich, so it was selling land to raise funds for extending its railroad line. Land could be had for as little as fifteen cents per acre.

Alfred Dickey purchased land near Jamestown. Each summer he traveled from his home in Indiana to check on his investments and develop business connections. He became a familiar part-time resident. His comings and goings were listed in the Jamestown Alert.

Dickey permanently moved his family to Jamestown in 1884 and he became a respected local figure. He served as North Dakota’s first lieutenant governor from 1889 to 1891. While he never served in office again, he continued in public service. In 1892 he planned the North Dakota exhibit for the Chicago World’s Fair.

But his most lasting legacy began with a public reading room. Memberships paid for much of the cost, but Dickey personally paid for janitorial services and bought magazine subscriptions. Dickey wanted everyone to benefit and knew some people couldn’t afford a membership, so in 1901 he announced plans for a free reading room. Dickey never lived to see it, however. He passed away in January 1901, only weeks before the room opened.

Dickey considered the reading room the “last good work of his life,” but there was more. His son, Alfred E. Dickey, passed away in 1910, and on this date that year, the Bismarck Tribune announced that the younger Dickey’s will had been read, and there was a surprise for Jamestown. The will included a bequest for the city of twenty thousand dollars for the construction of a public library, with an additional fifteen-thousand-dollar endowment for its operation.

Alfred’s legacy extends even further. The town of Dickey and the county of Dickey are both named for him. Yet the honor that would likely have pleased Alfred even more occurred on February 27, 1919, as hundreds of people attended the opening of the Alfred Dickey Public Library in Jamestown.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


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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