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Bridge to the Future


As part of his dream for settlement of the western United States, President Abraham Lincoln knew that the steam locomotive and railroad lines could play a critical role. His 1864 Transcontinental Railroad Act put the power of the government behind the railroad’s potential.

After the Union and Western Pacific Railroads linked a southwest route across the country, attention turned to a northern route. The Northern Pacific Railway promised to run across the nation’s northern tier from Duluth, Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean. To that end, the NP was awarded the largest land grant in history.

NP President George Washington Cass was charged with expanding the opportunities for settlers and businesses, and with naming towns established along the route. When the railway reached the valley separating the State of Minnesota from Dakota Territory, it constructed the first bridge over the winding Red River. Begun in 1871’s early winter, bridgework continued until completion in June the following year.

Two eastern businessmen, who served among the directors of the railroad, would have their names used for the towns connected by the bridge. Thus, William Garroway Moorhead and William George Fargo became part of Red River Valley history.

On this date, June 6, 1872, the railroad proudly guided a locomotive, decorated with flowers, bows and flags, cars in tow, across the new expanse. Fargo and Moorhead became officially linked by the wooden structure created for the iron horse. The festive bridge crossing was the initial intrusion to Dakota Territory by locomotive. The Northern Pacific, in addition to literally laying the tracks into the new land, would play an integral role as a figurative bridge of development and opportunity for the territory’s future. The Northern tier, once equipped with rail service, would soon be home to the settlement, tragedies, joys and heritage that would follow behind the clickety clack of the trains.

The original NP Bridge would be replaced three times – in 1883, 1897, and 1927. But on this date in 1872, its promise was irreplaceable.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark


Englehardt, Carroll, 2007, Univ. of Minnesota press, Gateway to the Northern Plains Railroads and the birth of Fargo and Moorhead