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Boom but mostly bust in Mannhaven

River town was important landing for settlers, grain farmers

Birth and Death of a Town

Albers, Erv. “Book but mostly bust in Mannhaven.” Common, Supplement to Beulah Beacon and Hazen Star, 22 January 1981, 1.


They came from as far as Bessarabia, South Russia. Many came by train to New Salem where they unloaded their wagons and horses or oxen and finished their journey in this manner. Some followed in the hoof prints of the earlier cattle drives.

They came plodding up the long trail from South Dakota, their plows tied to the sides of their wagons and the animals that would pull these plows drawing the wagons that brought them here.

Hard, sturdy men and their equally sturdy and industrious women, they called themselves Germans from Russia and they all had a common goal. Land! Free! One hundred and sixty acres that would become theirs just for erecting a dwelling, breaking a few acres of sod and living on the land at least part-time for a period of three years.

To these people with a generations old hunger for land of their own this was an irresistible lure - and here in northern Mercer County they found, their “Golden Fleece”.

Too many to name, these German-Russians had been friends and many were related. They spread over the bleak, inhospitable looking countryside and began its taming and development. It wasn’t easy. The buffalo sod was tough and hard to plow, and most farms had rocks by the thousands that had to be dug and hauled from the fields. They were a tough and hardy breed, not easily discouraged. Under the bullsod and rocks was a deep and fertile soil, and under their skilled and loving hands the farms took shape and began to bloom.

When their immediate problems of survival and subsistence were solved, they broke more land. As their farms began to produce more and more wheat - always their specialty - they had to make the long haul to the railroad at New Salem to sell their grain and buy supplies. This was a four day journey with an overnight stop each way at Henry Albers (my grandfather’s) way station at Hannover. This was too great a waste of time so they began thinking of other ways and means - and this was how the town of Mannhaven came into being.

Backed by clay bluffs and high hills it grew up on a bench on the west bank of the Missouri River. It was then and is today a scenic and lovely spot. Mannhaven was born of necessity and built by men of vision to take advantage of the river with its potential to transport heavy loads at low cost. Built entirely with hand tools, some no doubt of their own manufacture, one marvels at the energy and enterprise of these early settlers. A great deal of skill must have been necessary to build the grain elevators and the steamboats to transport the grain down river.

How and where was this expertise acquired? This information is lost in the past? One can only speculate.

Mannhaven was named for Henry Mann of New Salem who along with Jacob Bohrer Sr. and Fred Bohrer in 1896 organized and sold stock in the Mannhaven Mercantile and Transportation Co.
In 1897 the town of Mannhaven built a store building and warehouse and also the steamboat, “Bismarck”.

In 1898 Henry Pfenning built a lumber yard, “The Mandan Mercantile Co” and a grain warehouse for the Lyons Elevator Co. This later became the Occident Elevator Co. The town was growing and flourishing. I can clearly see “in my mind’s eye” the wagonloads of wheat corning down the long “Mannhaven hill” with brakes smoking and the horses leaning back into the breeching! The jovial greeting and banter as they pulled into the elevator - maybe a bottle of “Schnapps”, perhaps of local manufacture, passed around to add spice to the occasion. These were occasions - to visit and catch up on the news as well as take care of the business at hand. No doubt lunch was eaten before starting the long trip with tired horses back to the farm. Hard times? Maybe. Most certainly good times too.

The wheat was at first bagged and carried on to the boat by hand. My father once told me that John Young could take a bag of wheat in each hand and carry them on to the boat - quite a feat of strength! Later facilities were installed to handle loose grain making it much easier.

In 1898 Young established the first newspaper, “The Mannhaven Journal”, a weekly. He was also the last resident of Mannhaven.

The post office with Henry M. Pfenning as postmaster was established January 15, 1898.

A blacksmith shop was built and operated by John Wee in 1989. No doubt his work consisted of sharpening plow shares, setting wagon tires, shoeing horses and so forth. Most metal work was done with the help of a hand powered forge - no spitting arc welders in those days. These forges used a special coal and knowing just how much heat to apply and when to douse the red hot metal into the water tank to preserve its temper, was an art in itself.

In 1900 Dr. L.G. Eastman established a practice here. Dr. Eastman was credited with being the first resident doctor in Mercer County. He later moved to Krem and from there to Hazen where he was everyones “Doc” for many years.

The Mercer County State Bank was organized by Adam Sailer Sr., Fred Bohrer, and an attorney named H.L. Van Benshoten. E.M. Thompson was the cashier. Their transactions were probably similar to todays with one noteable exception. The amount of a loan to finance a year’s farming or to build a new home probably wouldn’t buy a used car or a good saddle horse today. Surprisingly, interest rates were similar to today’s. Banking apparently was an attractive business because the county at one time contained fourteen. This attraction, however, was an illusion as many of them didn’t survive. As one source said, “They competed themselves to death.”

Adam Sailer, John Sailer, and Mike Zeiszler opened a general merchandise business which they called “The New Store”. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to prowl the aisles of such a store today? One source quotes the price of flour as 100 pounds for a dollar, coffee at eighteen pounds for a dollar, and good work shoes for about eighty-five cents a pair. On the other hand, the going wage for labor was about three dollars per month - no strikes nor negotiations.

In later years a sand bar formed and closed the landing at the elevator and another elevator was built farther south. Wheat was shipped from this point for some time. This was the start of Mannhaven’s decline. Some businessmen started the move to the “new” town of Krem. The completion in 1914 of the Northern Pacific Railroad up the Knife River and Spring Creek valleys sounded the final death knell for Mannhaven and most of the other small inland towns. The exact date of its demise eludes me. The post office did endure until March 15, 1928 when it was closed and the mail was sent to Krem. And so ended an era! If only we could turn back the clock and for a time live again those early days. What a great experience it must have been!

Erv Albers
Fishermen on the nearby Missouri River
Today, little is left of Mannhaven as shown in this photograph taken from the some hillside. Dark spots on the prairie is all that remain of many buildings that once composed the city of Mannhaven.

Reprinted with permission of the Beulah Beacon and Hazen Star.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller
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