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The Last Spike


The Northern Pacific was the second transcontinental railroad. President Lincoln signed the charter in 1864. Investors from the northeast and Chicago were eager to build a railroad linking the Great Lakes to the American northwest. Josiah Perham was the force behind the effort, but he had difficulty getting it financed. In 1866, with a construction start deadline fast approaching, Perham was struggling to put the railroad in motion, but new investors came to the rescue. They got the deadline postponed until July 4, 1870 with a completion date of July 4, 1877. Jay Cooke and Company provided the additional financing, and the first rails were laid in 1870 at Thompson Junction, near Duluth. Construction also began in the west, with track laid at Puget Sound and working eastward, roughly following the route taken by Lewis and Clark. However, the financial panic of 1873 threw the entire project into chaos. Once again, it seemed uncertain if the railroad would ever be completed.

Financing and infighting were ongoing problems, prompting the board of directors to elect a new president in 1882. Henry Villard quickly raised sixty million dollars and boldly predicted that the railroad would be completed within two years. Indeed, it was completed on this date in 1883 when former president Ulysses S. Grant drove the final spike at Gold Creek, Montana.

The Northern Pacific was known as the “Main Street of the Northwest.” It had about 6,800 miles of track stretching from Wisconsin to Washington. The railroad also ran a branch to Winnipeg, Canada.

People had started moving into the Dakota Territory before the arrival of the railroad, but the railroad had a dramatic effect on what was to become the 39th state. Towns far from the railroad withered and died. Towns along the rails flourished.

The Northern Pacific was originally headquartered in Brainerd, Minnesota, but later moved its offices Saint Paul. In 1970, a merger between the Northern Pacific and other lines formed the Burlington Northern Railroad.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


American Rails. “Main Street of the Northwest.” "http://www.american-rails.com/northern-pacific-railway.html" http://www.american-rails.com/northern-pacific-railway.html Accessed 9 August, 2015.

Minnesota State. “Railroads Built the Red River Valley.” "http://web.mnstate.edu/shoptaug/railroads%20and%20the%20RRV/railroad.htm" http://web.mnstate.edu/shoptaug/railroads%20and%20the%20RRV/railroad.htm Accessed 9 August, 2015.

Northern Pacific Railroad. “Construction Era of the Northern Pacific Railroad.” July, 1964. "http://www.nprha.org/Pages/Home.aspx" http://www.nprha.org/Pages/Home.aspx Accessed 9 August, 2015.