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Ghost Town Boom Towns


With the construction of the railroad, towns blossomed every few miles along the tracks, and each was confident that it would soon grow from a village to a prosperous city. On this day in 1946, it was much the same as a super highway was being constructed for the Garrison Dam. Shacks and shanties were thrown up every few miles, and the state of each location was exaggerated with names like Gateway, Dakota City or Silver City. The same optimism of the railroad days prevailed, as each confident founder imagined the influx of construction workers coming to the dam and choosing his fair city as their new home.

It was not only each hopeful village founder that had this optimism, however. The newspapers, including the Sanish Sentinel looked confidently upon the boom towns. “Signs of the potential business boom are in evidence as the graders level the base of what will be the best highway in the state,” wrote the Sentinel. “From 40 to 50 structures are taking shape along the road. Well-known concerns are planning branch stores which will stand alongside as transient operators come to the dam area for the expected big money.”

Gateway stood at the intersection of this superhighway and Highway 83. Further down the road was Dakota City, made up of an unfinished gas station and a nightclub. Silver City was the first of all these boom towns, and the founder and self-elected mayor, O.A. Bergeson, bragged about his town. “This is a city, not a town,” he said, and already 40 to 50 businesses were planned for the city. But what is a town—excuse me, city—without a rival?

R.A.H. Brandt established Big Bend right across from Silver City, creating a friendly rivalry between the two towns. Yes, Big Bend was only a town, not a city, but as the slogan read, it was the “Best Dam Town.” Unlike Silver City and the other boom towns, however, Big Bend had already begun staking out lots for businesses. Many of the other cities were concentrating on building only nightclubs and rooming houses. Big Bend had already lined up a clothing store from Devils Lake, a barber shop and pool hall, a contracting office, a drug store, a confection and novelty shop, and of course, the Landstrom Jewelry Store so the well-paid dam construction workers could buy their girlfriends jewelry. The jewelry store was to be built of grain bins, much like many of the other businesses and homes of the boom towns.

Both Big Bend and Silver City were only a few miles off from the largest boom town of them all: Riverdale. Riverdale was federally built to accommodate the influx of workers to the dam, and one can easily see it has far outlasted the other cities that sprung along the highway. Rather than recycled grain bins and old shanties set along dirt streets, houses in Riverdale were built of beautiful red brick on curved, paved roads with a view of Lake Sakakawea. Of all the boom towns, only Riverdale has not become a ghost town.

By Tessa Sandstrom

Source: “Super highway approach to dam site and Riverdale feel boom,” Sanish Sentinel. May 30, 1946: 6.