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Wells County Comes Together


The government of Wells County, North Dakota was organized on this date in 1884. The county was created 11 years earlier by the legislative session and named after fur trader Antoine Blanc Gingras. In 1881, Gingras County was renamed Wells County after Jamestown banker and legislator Edward Payson Wells.

Sitting in the center of North Dakota, Wells County is one of the state's most diversified farming regions, producing livestock, and crops such as wheat and corn. According to the 2010 census, about 42-hundred people live in Wells County, down from over 13,000 in 1930.

Sykeston was originally the county seat, but only because it was Wells County's only town when it organized. Fessenden was given the courthouse in 1894 following the November election. Sykeston residents were steamed, and a couple men prepared injunction proceedings. The county auditor, meanwhile, who hated the two-story store that was Sykeston's courthouse, campaigned tirelessly for Fessenden, distributing numerous pencils that said, "Vote for Fessenden for county seat." Fessenden received over 60 percent of the vote, and the courthouse's safes, records and furniture were immediately rounded up from Sykeston. The new Fessenden courthouse opened on New Year's Eve 1895, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The county came to national attention in May of 2014 when 10 cars of a train carrying crude oil from Tioga derailed and burst into flames near Heimdal. The town's 27 residents and several farms were evacuated. The explosive derailment was North Dakota's second such incident in 17 months. No injuries or fatalities occurred.

Despite that dark spot, Wells County has some interesting things to offer visitors. The James and Sheyenne rivers provide canoeing and fishing, and the eastern edge of the state's largest wildlife management area, Lonetree, juts into the western part of the country. For hikers, the North Country Trail crosses the northern part of the county, along the idle McClusky Canal. The scenic hiking route connects North Dakota with New York across 4,700 miles.

If the great outdoors of Wells County aren’t up your alley, there’s always the Wells County Fair, held every June in Fessenden, entertaining the masses for over 100 years.

Dakota Datebook written by Jack Dura


Seville, L. R., Federico-O’Murchu, S., Connor, T. (2015, May 6). Heimdal, North Dakota, evacuated after fiery oil train crash. NBC News. Retrieved from: