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Grandin Brothers Bonanza Farmland Sold


The Grandin Farm was the biggest Bonanza farm in North Dakota’s history. At 72,000 acres, it was so large that it ran like a factory, with hired workers and managers tackling 1,500-acre subdivisions.

Located near Mayville and also near the town of Grandin in Cass County, Grandin Farms began in the aftermath of the terrible 1873 Depression. Banker Jay Cooke went bankrupt and sold off the Dakota farmlands of his Northern Pacific Railway to avoid economic collapse. Cooke owed $93,000 to the Grandin Brothers from Pennsylvania, led by John Livingston Grandin, known as J.L.

J.L. Grandin owned a bank in Tidioute, Pennsylvania, in partnership with brothers E.B. (Elijah Bishop) Grandin, and W.J. (William James) Grandin. The brothers bankrolled their Grandin bank with their own oil money.

J.L. Grandin had started oil-drilling in Tidioute during 1859’s “Oil Rush,” and the brothers bought and leased oil lands and built oil storage and pipeline facilities, eventually controlling a fourth of Pennsylvania’s oil-flow.

In 1875, after Jay Cooke’s finances failed, J.L. Grandin traveled to Fargo to consider accepting Red River Valley farmland to settle Cooke’s debt. As Grandin later recalled: “We had a lot of Northern Pacific securities which were worth practically nothing . . . and while the Red River Valley land was not considered of any great value, we thought still less of the stock, and were glad to make the exchange.”

“I knew nothing about the country,” recalled Grandin, but had heard that up in “Traill county a German [farmer] was raising wheat.”

“I drove up to see . . . and saw the little field where the grain had been raised,” and found the farmer had harvested “28 bushels per acre, which struck me as a pretty good yield.”

J.L. Grandin took 40,000 acres immediately; and “soon after another 32,000 acres,” at a “cost of 41 cents an acre.”

He returned to Dakota to inspect the wheatfields almost every summer for the next 37 years – until his death in 1912. Brother William Grandin had died in 1904; and Elijah in 1917.

It was on this date, in 1915, that the Grand Forks Herald reported: “Grandin Farm Changes Hands,” when the Grandin estate sold 1600 acres.

The Bonanza farm era in Traill County passed away as additional portions of the farm were sold. The last Grandin farmland changed hands in 1946.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Grandin Farm Changes Hands,” Grand Forks Herald , December 19, 1915, p. 3.

“Largest Farm In The State: J.L. Grandin, One of Owners of Grand Farm, Talks Interestingly, Grand Forks Herald , September 9, 1909, p. 10.

Hiram Drache, The Day of the Bonanza (Fargo: N.D. Institute for Regional Studies, 1964), p. 50-52, 64-65, 73-74.

John J. McLaurin, Sketches In Crude-Oil (Franklin, PA: Mount Pleasant Press, 1902), 3rd Edition, p. 200-203.

“Grand Farm Owner Is Dead,” Grand Forks Herald , September 12, 1912, p. 1; “Body In Tidioute,” Oil City Derrick [Oil City, PA] , September 12, 1912, p. 3; “Millionaire Grandin Dies At Battle Creek,” Oakland Tribune , September 11, 1912, p. 3.

“Died: William J. Grandin,” Warren [PA] Mail , December 15, 1904, p. 1; “W.J. Grandin Dies As Result Of Operation,” Titusville [PA] Morning Herald , December 9, 1904, p. 1.

“Pioneer Oil Man Died In Washington,” Warren [PA] Times Mirror , December 4, 1917, p. 8; “Death of E.B. Grandin,” The Petroleum Gazette 23, no. 9, December 1917, p. 4; “E.B. Grandin Dead,” Oil City Derrick , December 4, 1917, p. 3.

“Grandin Farm Sold To Woman,” Williston Graphic , December 23, 1915, p. 6.

“Famous Farms To Be Cut Up,” Arizona Republican [Phoenix, AZ] , June 19, 1917, p. 5.