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June 18: Richland County Courthouse

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The Dakota Territory legislature created Richland County on January 4, 1873. It was named for Morgan T. Rich. In 1869, Rich settled on the site of what would become the city of Wahpeton. Wahpeton serves as the county seat of Richland County, tucked along the Red River in the southeastern corner of North Dakota.

There were several bonanza farms in the county, including the Bagg Farm that today is a historical site. Fort Abercrombie, also a historical site, is in north Richland County.

With convenient access to the Red River for transportation, and containing vast tracts of rich farmland, Richland County grew rapidly. In 1886, Horace Crandall compiled a history of the county. He described people who settled there as “that class of persons who have the ambition to go and get to the front, using their combined labors to...erect cities, putting them on the great highway of prosperity…”

As the county grew, it became apparent that a proper courthouse was needed. Plans were made to build what county officials proclaimed would be “the finest courthouse in North Dakota.”

The construction got off to a rough start. When the contractor was placing a corner stone, the derrick tipped over. The boom hit him and knocked him down, but he escaped serious injury. The unfortunate accident was followed by a legal objection to the construction. Wahpeton had been chosen as the site of the new courthouse, but residents of Mooreton brought a lawsuit to stop the work until a special election could be held to choose the site of the county seat. When they were not able to prove the fraud that they alleged, Judge Allen dismissed the suit.

In November, 1913, the courthouse was complete. County employees began moving in and planning began for the dedication. Everyone in Richland County would be invited. On this date in 1914, it was reported that the courthouse dedication had been a roaring success. Large crowds attended the program and wandered through the new building. One thousand attendees partook of a lunch provided by members of the community. Perhaps the best news of all was that city officials had put money aside in a building fund, meaning the new courthouse was debt free as it opened.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


  • North Dakota Magazine Horace Crandall. “A Sketch of Richland County.” June, 1907.
  • Grand Forks Herald and Evening Times. “Richland Will Open Courthouse.” Grand Forks ND. 6/18/1914. Page 2
  • The Oakes Times. “Splendid New Courthouse.” Oakes ND 7/2/1914. Page 3.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Richland Courthouse Complete.” Fargo ND. 11/13/1913. Page 1.
  • The Evening Times. “Will Not Stop Richland Work. Grand Forks ND. 9/13/1913. Page
  • Devils Lake Interocean. “Has Narrow Escape.” Devils Lake ND. 6/28/1912. Page 4.
  • Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Building Will Start Early in Wahpeton.” Fargo ND. 5/14/1012. Page 2.

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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