A Fargo Surprise: August 9-11, 2010

In the interest of touching each end of the state, we decided to start in Fargo, ND. Our campground was a parking lot with about 100 RV sites and strips of grass between some of them. You registered in the hotel, where you could also use the indoor pool and “facilities.” But the utility hookups were complete, the price was reasonable, and we can stand (almost) anything for two days.

Dot said, “We have to go to Bonanzaville.” “I said, Oh, gee, why?” I envisioned a hokey, amusement park kind of town complete with Hoss and Little Joe. But I went along for the ride.

Bonanzaville, in West Fargo, was indeed, a town. But it was hardly hokey; the name came from a combination of factors. In the early 1870’s, towns began to spring up in North Dakota from east to west, driven in large part by the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railroad out to Bismarck. At the same time, major improvements in farm machinery and the ease of farming large tracts of flat land spawned giant bonanza farms, created by entrepreneurs and stockholders. They attracted many migrant workers as well as a rash of settlers who wanted a similar but smaller piece of the action.

Bonanzaville is the product of a major effort by the Cass County Historical Society. It is a central museum building backed by the relocation of some 30 authentic buildings that could have comprised a rural village of the late nineteenth century. Examples: town hall, church, creamery, railroad depot, general store, apothecary, theatre/dancehall, barber shop, jail, fire house, schoolhouse, courthouse and, of course, St. John’s Church. There are five old residences, one of which was the first house in Fargo. Each building contains artifacts and many include exhibits supporting its purpose. The entertainment hall features stained glass windows celebrating Shakespeare, Ibsen, The Constitution and Lady Liberty. The church still holds weddings. The schoolhouse was visited by a “guest teacher,” Julie Nixon Eisenhower in 1972. In addition to the central museum highlighting the rural life of the times, there are five other museums in old buildings: autos, tractors, horse-driven vehicles, agricultural equipment and airplanes. Major coverage is given to Edward Gideon Melroe, son of Norwegian immigrants who founded Melroe Manufacturing to build farm equipment and bought the rights to develop the “Bobcat,” a small lightweight bulldozer/loader that is in use in many configurations throughout the world today. The company is headquartered in West Fargo.

The place is not “polished.” Neither is it falling into the ground. A major endowment might spoil its rustic nature, but it could use significantly more financial support beyond their meager admission fee. The pictures below — edited from about six times that number — will attest to our interest and fascination. What a find! Know what the cars are in the bottom row? A Simca and a Crosley! By the way, we did get into Fargo proper, but just for a quick drive around!

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