Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Valley City Village


On this date in 1881, Valley City was incorporated as a village. It had four other names before getting its final version. It was called Second Crossing of the Sheyenne when the Northern Pacific Railroad founded it in 1872. Probably because that was a bit wordy, it was soon renamed Fifth Siding and then renamed again within the year. That name? Wahpeton.

For some reason, the hamlet was renamed again two years later, this time Worthington. But, that didn’t work, either; there was too much confusion with the town of Worthington, MN.

Joel Weiser, who later became mayor and state legislator, then suggested a name that made sense – Valley City – to reflect its location in the Sheyenne River Valley; the name stuck and became official on May 10, 1878.

At that point, the population of the village was right around 30, and the building count included twelve houses, a small store and a saloon. A newspaper business also started about that time. It was called the Northern Pacific Times, but later became the Valley City Times-Record, which is still in publication today.

During the next four years, the population of Valley City exploded, reaching almost 2,000 by 1883, when it left its village status behind and incorporated as a city.

A fledgling congregation of Episcopalians was growing in the valley as well. The first services began informally in 1878, but two years later, when Reverend Herbert Root came to town to open a bank, he and his wife donated money and land to build an official church building. The parishioners donated additional money, and by the following year, a building made of native fieldstone was going up. The congregation held their first service there on Christmas Eve, 1883.

Today, the All Saints Episcopal church is the only church of that faith in North Dakota that was built entirely by its local congregation. It’s also the oldest church building in Barnes County that’s still being used.

Fortunately, Valley City has held on to some of its other historic buildings as well. The town was designated the county seat for Barnes County, and a courthouse was built in 1884. It burned down in the 1920s but was rebuilt in 1925 using an architecture that blended classical and colonial revival styles. The exterior is faced with cut limestone, and the symmetrical front facade has a central portico fronted by freestanding Doric columns. Thankfully, the interior has been spared the remodeling efforts that have altered so many other historic buildings in the state. The courthouse still has it bronze doors, marble and terrazzo floors, and the interior atrium still glows with light admitted through stained-glass skylights.

Another architectural gem still intact in Valley City is the Barnes County Public Library, which came about on January 8, 1895, when the 20 members of a group called the Tuesday Club decided the town needed a library. In 1901, the club received $15,000 from Andrew Carnegie, the board secured a building lot across from the high school for $1,600, and construction began. The building was dedicated two years later.

There were only eleven Carnegie Libraries built in North Dakota, and only three have escaped remodeling. Valley City is fortunate to be home to one of these rare little beauties.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm