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Mapes and Its Many Fires

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In 1882 Emery Mapes, originally from Illinois, moved to Nelson County in Dakota Territory. He platted a townsite next to the St. Paul, Minneapolis, Manitoba Railway. He hoped to build a thriving town named after himself that would become the county seat. A depot, grain elevator, and post office were soon built. There was population of 100 people by 1890, along with a school, grocery story, general store, hotel, saloon, blacksmith, and hardware store. Emery Mapes even published a town newspaper.

For over a hundred years the tiny town of Mapes valiantly survived many fires. The first fire that started Mapes’ decline happened in 1890 when Emery Mapes’ barn burned down, killing over 100 cattle. So, Emery Mapes packed up and left for Grand Forks, where he co-founded a milling company and created Cream of Wheat in 1893. He eventually moved to Minneapolis and died a millionaire in 1921.

Fire after fire plagued Mapes over the following decades. The first church in Nelson County was in Mapes. It burned down in 1902. The General Store burned in 1908, and the Hartin Grain Company elevator followed suite in 1911. Mapes Hall, built in 1913, was another victim of fire, but was rebuilt in 1929.

By 1960 the population was 55. In 1961 another elevator burned, and in ’63 the Mapes School closed. It was torn down in 1976. That same year, a family home that housed the post office burned down, and while the post office found a new location, it still closed for good in 1980.

By the early ’80s only 8 residents were left. The town limped along into the 90s, with the Mapes Hall hosting events and the Old West Tavern drawing good business. But the Mapes Hall eventually closed and the last grain elevator burned down in 1997.

On this date in 1998 the Bismarck Tribune reported that Old West Tavern burned. All that was left was Mapes Hall, which had closed years earlier, and Mapes became a ghost town.

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


  • Associated Press. “Blaze Destroys Mapes Elevator,” The Bismarck Tribune. August 25, 1961, pg. 13.
  • Associated Press. “Fire Leaves Scars of Dying Town,” The Bismarck Tribune. February 22, 1998, pg. 5E.
  • Associated Press. “Fire Takes Home Housing Town’s Post Office Facility,” The Bismarck Tribune. January 6, 1976, pg. 2.
  • Associated Press. “Sunflowers Cause Elevator Fire,” The Bismarck Tribune. November 2, 1997, pg. 9A.
  • Author Unknown. “Emery Mapes, Head of Cream of Wheat, Dead,” Star Tribune. October 11, 1921, pg. 17.
  • Author Unknown. “Over 100 Head of Cattle Burned,” The Hope Pioneer. February 7, 1890, pg. 2.
  • Langemo, Cathy A. “Cream of Wheat, a ND Invention,” Dakota Datebook. Fargo, ND: Prairie Public Broadcasting, September 4, 2007
  • Michigan History Committee. Michigan City Centennial, 1883-1983. Larimore, ND: World Printing Co., 1983.
  • Wick, Douglas A. North Dakota Place Names. Bismarck, ND: Sweetgrass Communications, 1988.

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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