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Buying Lots in Watford


Before it was even built, advertisers were proclaiming Watford, North Dakota, as the latest, greatest town in McKenzie County. A modern boom town today, it had its start as a terminus on the Great Northern Railway, sitting at the center of the state’s largest county.

Around this time in 1913, local economic developers were working to draw residents and merchants to young Watford. The McKenzie County Bank ran an ad in the Schafer Record newspaper. Shafer was the county seat back then. The ad said the new town of Watford would be a supply base for ranchers, with “miles of splendid territory,” fertile farm land, and established settlements.

The ad was a bit presumptuous in announcing Watford would be the new county seat, with “the advantages of a county seat town.” Regardless, people in Schafer were already scrambling to move to Watford, with some businessmen purchasing lots in preparation for a move in the spring of 1915.

The railroad never came to Schafer, and Watford’s beginning spelled the start of the end for that town. The McKenzie County Bank predicted that Watford would boom in 1915, and residential lots went up for sale – one-third cash with the balance due in two annual payments.

Despite the early prediction of a change in county seat, Schafer held on as the seat for nearly 30 more years, but the pronouncement in the ad was finally fulfilled when the 1940 election transferred the seat to Watford City. Watford had added “city” to its name in 1916 to avoid post office confusion with Wolford, North Dakota.

Watford City did well throughout the next century, with the oil industry providing a lift even as the railroad went away. The old rail bed still marks the path of the trains that helped bring people to McKenzie County, which carries the nickname “the Island Empire” because of the three rivers surrounding it.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Schafer Record. (1913, Dec. 18). Would a good business location interest you?.

State Historical Society of North Dakota. (1990). The WPA guide to 1930s North Dakota. State Historical Society of North Dakota: Bismarck, ND.

Wick, D.A. (1988). North Dakota place names. Prairie House: Bismarck, ND.