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Minot, North Dakota


In 1886, James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway was pushing its way across North Dakota. As winter set in, the workers were having difficulty constructing a trestle across Gassman Coulee, so they decided to call it quits for the season. It was plain this would be the end of the line for a while, so the railroad chose the site for a town. The land was owned by homesteader Erik Ramstad. The railroad convinced him to relinquish his claim, and he subsequently became one of the town’s leaders.

The railroad named many of North Dakota’s towns. The town of Minot was named after Henry D. Minot, an ornithologist and railroad investor. He was also a friend of James J. Hill.

The population grew rapidly in the early 1900s due to the railroad construction and the availability of unclaimed land. The city was referred to as the “Magic City” because it seemed to spring up overnight. Minot is the county seat of Ward County.

The city developed an unsavory reputation during Prohibition having become a supply hub for Al Capone’s bootlegging business. A network of underground tunnels aided the hiding and transporting of illegal liquor smuggled in from Canada. The shady activity earned Minot the nickname of “Little Chicago.”

Another chapter in the town’s history began in 1956 when the Minot Air Force Base was built thirteen miles north of the city. This cold war activity spurred an increase in population and led to a boom in business and construction.

Like several other towns in North Dakota, Minot suffered from flooding. The Souris River devastated the city in 1969. After the flood, the Army Corps of Engineers straightened the river and build flood control structures.

A different calamity struck in 2002. A train derailment spilled anhydrous ammonia on the edge of the city. One man died and many were sickened and injured. It was one of the worst chemical spills in the country.

As of the 2010 census, the Minot population was about 40,000, making it the state’s fourth-largest city. Nearly 40% of the population is of Scandinavian ancestry, and the town hosts the Norsk Hostfest, North America’s largest Scandinavian-American festival. The Scandinavian Heritage Park features a magnificent stave church and a giant Dala horse.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Minot Home. "" Accessed 31 May, 2015.

United States Census. "" Accessed 31 May, 2015.

City of Minot. "" Accessed 31 May, 2015.