|River Towns Host Pioneer Elevators
Winistorfer, Jo Ann. "River Towns Host Pioneer Elevators." North Dakota Living, October 2005, 22-23.
They stood tall and proud on the horizon, the pioneer elevators
that sprang up along the waterways of North Dakota. Nearly every
hamlet had one or two, bulging at harvest with golden wheat gleaned
from early settlers’ fields.
The rivers were the lifeblood of the elevators and the towns that
housed them. They served as highways upon which barges and steamboats
carried the grain to rail points up or downstream. On their return
trip, they brought lumber and other commodities to keep the community
In the first decades of settlement, the Missouri River was a major
artery for the towns that sprang up along its banks. Far from the
railroads, these towns relied on the river for transportation of
grain, people, livestock, and materials.
Washburn was one such town. Its role as a Missouri River shipping
point is recounted in the July 21, 1892, edition of The Settler,
an early Bismarck newspaper: “The steamboat Abner O’Neal
while en route from Washburn to Bismarck with a cargo of wheat last
Sabbath struck a snag near Painted Woods and sank in about twenty
feet of water. Part of the wheat was saved, but 1,500 sacks went
down with the boat.”
Washburn sprang up on land eventually purchased and developed by
the town’s namesake, Gen. W.D. Washburn, ex-U.S. senator and
flour mill king from Minneapolis. Gen. Washburn purchased barges
and steamboats to carry lumber and other merchandise to villages
and farms upriver and to bring down grain to the Washburn elevator.
There, it was loaded onto railcars via the town’s railroad
terminal for shipment to market.
In 1893, one of the first riverboat navigators hired by Gen. Washburn
was the famous Capt. Grant Marsh. In 1876, Capt. Marsh, piloting
the steamer Far West, brought survivors of the Battle of the Little
Big Horn in eastern Montana back to Bismarck and Fort Abraham Lincoln
in record time.
In 1904, Gen. Washburn sold out his interests around Washburn.
The company was soon picked up by Capt. Isaac P. Baker’s Benton
Packet Co. of Bismarck and stretched from south of Bismarck to the
mouth of the Yellowstone River near Williston. Most business, however,
took place between Fort Yates and Fort Berthold and included towns
such as Cannonball, Washburn, Sanger, Mannhaven, Expansion and Ree.
Steamers operated by Benton at the time included the Washburn, Bismarck,
Weston, Imelda and Expansion.
The area around Williston was served by a steamboat called the
“O.K.,” built by George Stevens in 1906. A Sept. 13,
1906, Williston Herald article gave this account following
a promotional visit to area farmers by the steamboat’s investors:
“This is a great thing for the people living and raising crops
on the flats as they can handle their crops more easily and at the
same time get a price that will net them more than what they will
be able to get by hauling to railroad markets.”
MANNHAVEN RISES ON THE RIVER
The river elevator that sprang up at Mannhaven had a picturesque
setting, surrounded on the sunset side by high clay bluffs and gently
sloping hills and on the sunrise side by the Missouri River. Today,
its ghostly remains lie two miles south of Garrison Dam Power Plant
between Riverdale and Pick City.
Established in 1896, Mannhaven was named for one of its founders,
(William) Henry Mann of New Salem, co-owner of the Mannhaven Mercantile
& Transportation Co. In 1897, the booming town built the steamboat
Bismarck, as well as storage facilities along the river. A lumberyard
rose alongside the Lyons Elevator Co.’s grain warehouse (which
later became the Occident Elevator Co.). In 1900, Mercer County’s
first doctor—Dr. L.G. Eastman—established a practice
there. Other businesses included a newspaper, bank, store and post
Mannhaven’s decline began with a sandbar, which formed at
the landing of the elevator. Another elevator built to the south
couldn’t save the town when the Northern Pacific Railroad
branch tracks reached Mercer County in 1914. The town’s last
gasp came on March 15, 1928, when the post office closed.
TOWN OF EXPANSION COMES AND GOES
West of Mannhaven, around what was known in pre-Garrison Dam days
as the Big Bend of the Missouri River, the town of Expansion had
a similar experience. It was platted in 1889, the year North Dakota
became a state.
At its peak in 1905, the town boasted a population of 450. Businesses
included a grain elevator (later bought up by I.P. Baker of Bismarck),
a bank, a clothing and grocery store, lumberyard, real estate and
insurance office, drug store, combination pool hall-beer parlor,
post office and even a two story motel.
In 1937, area farmer Jacob Kruckenberg was interviewed as a part
of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) pioneer biographies project
of the Great Depression years. He recalled Expansion’s heyday,
noting that the grain elevator “brought as high as 300,000
bushels of grain in one season. Farmers came as far as 60 miles
from the west and 40 miles from the south…
“Expansion had one of the largest farming territories in
western North Dakota. Grain bought in Expansion was loaded on boats
and hauled to Bismarck on the Missouri River. Everything ordered
by the businessmen of that point was hauled by boat from Bismarck
The Northern Pacific branch lines, which arrived in Mercer County
in 1914, sounded Expansion’s death knell. As Kruckenberg put
it so long ago, “The people all moved out into railroad towns
… Hazen, Stanton, Beulah and Zap.”
Ironically, the river which served as the town’s lifeline
would eventually claim it: Lake Sakakawea, formed by the damming
of the Missouri River, now covers the old ghost town.
|The boom town of Expansion now lies
under the waters of Lake Sakakawea.
Jo Ann Winistorfer, retired associate editor of North Dakota
LIVING, does freelance writing from her farm near Pick City. She
and her husband, Nick, are members of Oliver-Mercer Electric and
West River Telecommunications cooperatives.