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Memories of Brinsmade


In the early 1880s, many settlers who considered land prices in the Red River Valley to be unreasonably high pushed farther west where the land was free. One such seeker was John L. Solberg, who selected some land near Devils Lake. He’s credited with being the earliest homesteader in what would become Normania township. He arrived in the spring of 1883.

In 1889, the Northern Pacific Railroad extended a line from Minnewauken to Leeds, which encouraged even more settlers to venture to that area. That’s when Eugene Rolfe platted the town of Brinsmade, at about the half way along the railway extension. Rolfe named it in honor of his friend, the Reverend Brinsmade, a congregational minister from Wisconsin. When Ormsby McCorg opened a store and elevator, the success of Brinsmade seemed assured as other businessmen would surely follow. Brinsmade was incorporated as a village in 1904.

Fire was one of the common dangers faced by early settlers as the towns were built with wood. Ormsby lost his store and elevator to fire in 1891. But that wouldn’t be the last fire to strike Brinsmade. On this date in 1907, the Devils Lake Inter-Ocean reported a disastrous fire that started at 3:30 in the morning in the kitchen of the Hotel Brinsmade. Four main businesses were lost: the hotel, the Citizens Bank, the Brinsmade Butcher Shop, and the Jacobson Implement Company. The loss was only partially covered by insurance.

Brinsmade recovered and continued to thrive. In 1909, the completion of a new barn was the occasion for a barn dance. In 1913, Dr. Vigeland arrived in Brinsmade driving a brand-new Model T Ford, the first car in town. A new school opened in 1919. New businesses also came along.

But just as the railroad made towns, it also broke towns. When railroad service ended, Brinsmade began to fade. A school built in 1959 was used for only ten years, with the last class dismissed in 1969. And the latest estimate indicates the population has dropped to 35.

Brinsmade does have one interesting distinction. It was featured in Steven Spielburg’s 2002 TV series Taken as the site of a battle between the US Army and a UFO.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.

The Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “Desastrous [sic] Fire at Brinsmade.” 18 October 1907. Devils Lake ND. Page 1.

Ghosts of North Dakota. “Brinsmade, North Dakota.” "" Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Benson County North Dakota Genealogy. “Normania Township.” "" Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.