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McHenry Loop


Today we continue our look at Historic Preservation in North Dakota.

The railroads played an important part in the development of Dakota Territory both to transport the people to settle the land and secondly, to supply the tons of building materials, farming supplies, food and clothing to this new market. It also served to ship out the agricultural products grown in the area. To accomplish this goal, the railroads were given large tracts of land on which to build the railroad and an even larger amount of land to sell to help finance the construction. As the railroads platted their routes across the territory, land speculators raced ahead to establish town sites along the path so they could profit from the sale of lots. When the routes were changed and the railroad failed to materialize, often whole towns moved to a new site or quickly became ghost towns.

The Northern Pacific Railroad had received 10.7 million acres of land in North Dakota and by the late 1890s, after suffering bankruptcy, saw a need to divest itself of as much land as possible, especially when the courts decreed that railroad land could be taxed. When the Johnson Land Company approached the NP Railroad concerning a tract of land in Foster County, the railroad agreed to supply the rail line needed to help develop the town, and with this agreement, the town of McHenry was platted this month in 1899.

Located in the northeast corner of the county, the little town of McHenry lay at end of the track. The Great Northern Railroad cut diagonally from Glenfield to Grace City, so a westward extension of this Northern Pacific track was not warranted. Normally, the end of track required a "turntable" or revolving platform on which the engine of the train was driven and then rotated to retrace its path down the tracks. Although the turntable approached required very little land, it did require significant expense both in construction and in upkeep and also required a crew to rotate the engine. With cost being problematic for the cash-strapped company, the railroad elected to construct a loop in the line thereby eliminating the need for the turntable, but still allowing the engine to completely turn around. The loop is 3,268 feet in a teardrop shape and the complex consists of 40 acres including the railroad yard and side track. Although most of the buildings are now gone, the McHenry loop stands as a reminder of a different age and is worthy of the National Historic Preservation status it holds.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


National Register Nomination File- McHenry County Loop