Dickinson has more than lived up to its original name. It began as Pleasant Valley Siding when the Northern Pacific Railroad reached this point in a wide valley on the Heart River, halfway between the Missouri River and the Montana Territory border.
As Northern Pacific construction crews pushed westward, a way station was set up along the tracks at Pleasant Valley Siding.
D.R. Taylor, superintendent of the railroad, employed E.F. Messersmith of St. Paul to be in charge of provisions for the railroad crew as it worked its way into Montana. Messersmith soon tired of the long separations from his family. He severed his connections with Northern Pacific and took charge of the eating station planned for Pleasant Valley.
By the middle of August, 1881, some portable buildings were set up along the Pleasant Valley tracks. There was a water tank, depot station, a section house and a temporary eating house with several rooms to accommodate the Messersmith family.
The Messersmiths enjoyed their new home so much they sent for Mrs. Messersmith's brother and his family, the Moses Lennevilles of St. Paul. They arrived on September 7, 1881. The settlement's first private dwelling was built for them near the water tank and eating station.
Frame shacks rose on the prairie surrounding the railroad tracks during the ensuing months. The first private building, a saloon, was made of lumber with a canvas top. Another shack went up and became a store, supplying the buffalo hunters, rail workers and frontiersmen. The population of the settlement was estimated at 50 that first year of 1881.
One of Pleasant Valley's first visitors in the fall of 1881 was Wells S. Dickinson, who was in charge of land grants for Northern Pacific. Later that first fall, H.L. Dickinson, a cousin of Wells S., visited this prairie out post and realized the opportunities available in Pleasant Valley.
By this time, the name Dickinson was chosen for Pleasant Valley Siding and a post office was established on October 6, 1881. In early 1882, H.L. Dickinson returned with his family from Moria, N.Y. and bought land on Section 4 immediately west of the tiny settlement. His farm was located at about what is now Seventh Avenue West and Villard Street.
Wells S. Dickinson purchased land adjacent to the railroad and platted the townsite in the summer of 1882. The first lot was sold September 7, 1882, to Messersmith, who also purchased a lot south of the site of the Woolworth store. George Auld was second to buy lots at $225 and $250 each on Villard Street.
Growth and development of the small town was rapid. By the end of 1882, there were almost 100 different buildings of all sizes, shapes and colors spread out along the railroad tracks.
Buffalo hunters shipped out bales of hides and boxes of bones in those early days before the great beast disappeared from the land. These hunters bought their provisions from the early merchants, sending out their wagon teams in all directions to gather hides.
The spring of 1883 saw renewed activity in Dickinson. At this time, Dickinson was considered a part of Morton County. After months of negotiations, Stark County, Dakota Territory, was formally organized on May 30, 1883. The building that housed the newspaper was used as the first courthouse until one was constructed in 1886 with a $15,000 bond issue.
The Dickinson area experienced agricultural growth along with business growth throughout the 1880s. The first shipment of livestock from Dickinson took place in the fall of 1883. Records show that about 1,219 carloads of beef were sent to the Chicago market, representing about 26,818 head. These were sold for $1,206,710 and raising stock had now begun in southwest North Dakota.
Dickinson gradually became the main trade center within a 150 mile radius in the territory. The large cattle outfits dotting the countryside took on their supplies at Dickinson and shipped their stock out of Dickinson. At the same time, those in farming started to realize the potential for No. 1 hard wheat. More and more immigrants arrived to take on the challenge of raising grain for a living.
Dickinson became an established city in 1883. Its first mayor was Dan Manning.
Education was an important part of the community life then, and still is. The Dickinson public school system held its first commencement exercises on May 25, 1894, with Carrie Fowler being the only graduate and Dr. Stickney giving the address and presenting the diploma.
Several years later, in 1918, a new force was established in Dickinson when the North Dakota Legislature set up a State Normal School in the city. This meant southwest North Dakota had a college where its young people could be trained as teachers and in other fields. Samuel T. May, a school administrator from South Dakota, was named the first president of the school.
The period before the dawning of the 20th century was the day of great ranching spreads in Western Dakota. The influx of immigrants and settlers was only a trickle; the range was open and free for the use of the rancher and his large herds. The cowboy kept to a schedule of branding, herding, shipping and wintering livestock.
The Medora and Black Hills Stage and Express Line was operating in the 1880s. The Marquis de Mores opened up his various enterprises in Medora, from a packing plant to cabbage under glass. The western slope of the Dakotas was booming.
Statehood was achieved for North and South Dakota in 1889 after years of agitation. From this time on, immigration increased by leaps and bounds. Settlers from every part of Europe poured into the United States and North Dakota received its share. They gathered in communities of their own, providing a variety of cultural influences, and most of them came to farm the land.
By the end of 1910, Dickinson was the center of a golden circle of grain crops. Dairying and the raising of livestock continued their growth. With this growth in agriculture came the establishment in 1905 of the Dickinson Agricultural Experiment Station.
The Dickinson Horse Sales Company was one of the largest and best equipped in the country, selling thousands of horses a year, with buyers from every state in the union. Dickinson had become a center for the brick and pottery industry, as well as a shipping point for lignite coal. By the time Dickinson was 30 years old, it had changed from a shanty town along the railroad tracks to a strong, healthy, hustling town. With its two flour mills, bottling works, warehouses, hotels and business places, the city was a growing metropolis of the plains and well deserved its name "Queen City of the Prairies".
It has now changed it's name to "The Western Edge" because it truly is on the Western Edge of the Dakotas!
For more information on Dickinson History visit the Dickinson Museum Center.