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Rivalry Between Bismarck and Grand Forks Over Toboggan Slides


Ever since territorial days, Bismarck, Fargo, and Grand Forks have been rivals for supremacy – in politics, commerce and leadership. But there was also Bismarck’s claim to have the best and longest toboggan sliding hill, far superior to those in Grand Forks and Fargo.

On this date in 1886, the Bismarck Tribune announced that the young people of Bismarck wanted to establish a toboggan club. Grand Forks already had a club and had built a slide along the Red River. Now Bismarck’s citizens wanted to be up-to-date in this “popular and fashionable sports of the times.”

Plans slowly developed, and workmen built the wooden foundations for the toboggan-slide in December. They assembled a 25-foot-high chute on the hilltop and angled it at a steep 45-degree pitch for a fast start.

The reported location for the sliding-course was on what became known as the “Mandan Street hill,” a long slope 2,000 feet in length. Located north of the Episcopal Church, situated at “Mandan Street and Avenue A,” the path of the toboggan slide’s path was sprinkled with water, which froze and iced the way down the hill.

The first test-runs came on December 29, and the results were astounding. An ordinary wooden-bottomed toboggan reportedly whizzed downhill at 90 miles-per-hour, and a steel-bottomed one went at the exaggerated-rate of “three miles in a minute,” which would be <b <i 180</i </b miles an hour.

The first official toboggan runs came on New Year’s Eve, and it was exhilarating. Tobogganists ascended to the top of the chute, piled onto a toboggan, and the sled was tipped onto the track to zip down the pathway.

When the frosty-faced participants reached the bottom of the hill, they faced a mile-long walk back to the top. There at the summit, a cozy warming-house got them ready for another fast and frigid ride.

The proprietor of the enterprise was Charles Napoleon Lewis, who proclaimed that Bismarck’s 2,000-foot-long toboggan-slide, was <i the longest in the world</i , and certainly longer than the 900-foot-long slide in Grand Forks, and <i way</i better than Fargo’s – in the Red River flatlands.

Was Bismarck’s “booster press” boast correct? Likely there were <i two</i longer toboggan-slides, in Wisconsin and New York, but no one ever <i proved</i Bismarck wrong.

The toboggan craze passed after several years, but winter memories of those glorious days when youngsters were “skimming the frozen hill” lasted long thereafter.

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

Sources: “A Toboggan Club,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, February 5, 1886, p. 3.

“A Toboggan Club,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, November 26, 1886, p. 8.

“Lumber Has Been Hauled,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, December 17, 1886, p. 8.

“Where They Whiz,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, December 31, 1886, p. 8.

“Toboggan Slide World’s Largest,” Bismarck Tribune, December 16, 1948, p. 1.

“Prospective Slides,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, December 31, 1886, p. 8.

“Mrs. Quain Recalls Girlhood And Games in Early Bismarck,” Bismarck Tribune, June 14, 1947, p. 17.

“Christmas in the City,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, December 31, 1886, p. 6.

“The Social Outlook,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, October 28, 1887, p. 5.

“Such Beautiful Sleighing,” Bismarck Tribune, March 13, 1891, p. 3.

“His Experience,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 7, 1887, p. 8.

“Points About Tobogganing,” Topeka Daily Capital, January 15, 1887, p. 6.

“Tobogganing,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 16, 1887, p. 10.

“Pierre Lorillard,” Topeka Daily Capital, January 5, 1887, p. 1.