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Centennial Towns


This is a big year for Centennial celebrations. Fairdale held festivities last week. A notable Fairdale citizen was Al Van Hal, editor of the Fairdale Times; he later achieved success in OR, where he published The Western Stamp Collector, a national magazine for philatelists.

Towns who are celebrating their centennials this weekend include Streeter, Mercer, Max, Hettinger, Fordville, Sarles, Egeland, Alsen and Garrison... and possibly a few others. Garrison, Max and Mercer are clustered in McLean County between Bismarck and Minot.

Garrison was named for Garrison Creek, where soldiers from Fort Berthold were garrisoned. The post office was established in 1903, but it was 100 years ago that the town moved five miles to a new Soo Line Railroad townsite. The old townsite is now beneath the waters of Lake Sakakawea.

Paul Freitag was Max’s first postmaster. He named the town for his son, Max, who later became a Colonel in the U.S. Army; he was stationed in occupied Japan after World War II. In 1947, Max incorporated as a city, and another Freitag – H.R. – became the first mayor.

Nearby Mercer was named for William Henry Harrison Musser, who came from Pennsylvania to ranch near Painted Woods in 1869. Although the spelling of his name was actually M-u-s-s-e-r, it eventually came to be spelled M-e-r-c-e-r. Mercer is one of those towns that doesn’t actually exist in the county of the same name – which was also named for William Henry Harrison Musser.

Down south of Dickinson is the town of Hettinger, which is the county seat of not Hettinger County, but Adams County. When it was first founded, it actually was part of Hettinger County, but it was split off soon after. One of Hettinger’s notable citizens was Ole Abelseth, who was one of the last remaining survivors of the sinking of the Titanic when he died in 1980 at the age of 96.

Streeter is southwest of Jamestown in German-Russian territory. The history regarding the naming of this town is a bit hazy; some same it was named for Col. Darwin Reed Streeter, editor of the Emmons County Record in Linton. Others say it was named for a man named J.B. Streeter, and a third group says the town was named after Streater, IL – which is spelled with an e-a instead of an e-e.

In northeastern North Dakota are the other four towns celebrating their centennial this weekend. Alsen was named for several of its pioneers’ homeland – Alsen Island, off the coast of Denmark. Mike Wipf was the postmaster; he is also remembered as the founder of the Mirolene Company, which manufactured pharmaceutical medicines.

One almost wishes this next town had been named for its first homesteader – Rasmus Rasmussen. Instead Egeland was named for a Bisbee banker, Axel Egeland, who was also an official of the Soo Line Railroad and therefore had a bit more clout than Rasmus Rasmussen.

Fordville’s original name was Medford, which caused confusion for the post office. Five years after the town was founded, the name had to be changed. A rural post office named Belleville had merged with Medford a few years earlier, so the town’s new name took parts of each: MedFORD and BelleVILLE – Fordville.

Sarles was Governor Allen Olson’s hometown, but it was named for a different governor, the recently elected Elmore Yocum Sarles. The town actually competed with another community for the name. The other town was renamed Adams – after the president.

Source: Wick, Douglas A.. North Dakota Place Names. Bismarck: Sweetgrass Communications, 1988.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm