Monday, November 28, 2005

St. Vincent Boom Times, Part II

From what was popularly known as 'historical essays', written mostly by high school students throughout Kittson County over a period of many years, comes this piece about St. Vincent's better days...
St. Vincent
by Barbara Bostrom

Today, cities have taken the place of the many small towns across the country. In the cities a person may live for years in the same house and never know the names of his next door neighbors. There are very few small towns left. Even St. Vincent, Minnesota, the oldest town in Kittson County, is dying. There are approximately 170 people still left in St. Vincent, most of them old people. There are few evidences of the type of town St. Vincent once was.

The Great Northern Railroad brought most of the people here. The first people came as traders, because of the Red River. That was in the 1870's. They used to cart the furs up the river on barges. But since the fort was built at Pembina, North Dakota, most of the fur traders, and nearly all the other residents of this northern area, lived there. Part of the reason they would want to live in or near the fort was as protection against Indians. Especially after Fenian's Raid in the 1870's, people usually preferred to live by the fort. When the Sioux Indians were forced out of the state, the danger of Indian attack was reduced to nearly nothing. But they were not far away. Around l880, the talk of the town was Chief Sitting Bull's camp across the Canadian border in Emerson Manitoba.

Pembina was the "big town" when St. Vincent was born. Pembina, along with the rest of the valley, gained attention in both the United States and Canada, "owing to the so called rebellion in Manitoba under Louis Riel and O'Donhue, of Fenian fame, and many who were on their way to Fort Garry that year... were forced to make an unwilling sojourn at Pembina, waiting for the submission of the rebellion in order to go on to their destination. The quelling of the insurrection in June by British troops restored the tranquility and the noise attached to the whole affair seemed to have drawn the attention of the outside world and caused quite a stream of emigration into the valley."

Fort Pembina was built in 1870 and abandoned in 1897. At the time the fort was built Hills, Griggs & Company, of the Red River Steamboat Company, opened an extensive general store which usually carried $100,000 worth of merchandise. Henry MoKinney opened a saw mill in 1871 near the junction of the Red and Pembina Rivers, opposite St. Vincent. Nathan Myrick of St. Paul, opened a trading post near Ft. Pembina.

Saint Vincent is the oldest town in the county. The first meeting of the township board was held on May 15, 1880. R.W. Lowery, G.A. Hurd, F.M. McLaughlin, L.A. Nobels and F.M. Head were the township's first officers. Hardly a year later it was reorganized as a village, on April 16, 188l. The first president was James L. Fisk, possibly the son of the Hon. Charles J. Fisk, who was an associate justice )f the supreme court of North Dakota; recorder, J. W. Morrison; assessor, John A. Vanstrom, who afterward served as register of deeds, and later was elected sheriff.

In 1910 St. Vincent had a population of about four hundred. It is located in the northwestern part of the county, directly opposite Pembina, North Dakota. It was the terminal between the Great Northern and Canadian Pacific Railways, and also a port of entry for the purpose of collection of customs duties. Near Lake Stella, on the eastern side of town about a mile from the Red River, there had been a roundhouse, for trains, which burned down in 1905. There was the train depot in the middle of town. In the west end of the building was the customs office. From 1900 to 1905 J.A. Noyes was the head customs officer there. In 1905 he succeeded in having the customs office moved from St. Vincent to the Canadian border across from Emerson, Manitoba, where the town of Noyes is now.

There were three hotels in the St. Vincent of those days. the Thedore, the Ontario House, and the Northern Hotel. The Thedore was in the west end of town, on the main street. The Ontario House was owned and operated by the Ryan family. Mr. Ryan managed the hotel, but when he died, one of his daughters, Elly O'Connor, took over. The Northern Hotel was north of the railroad tracks that ran through town just south of what is now Highway 171, and it was owned by the Great Northern Railroad.

Until 1925 there was a black smith shop about a block east of the Northern Hotel, and earlier there was another in the west end of town.

There were four stores: Nelson Greene's Store, which sold nearly everything under the sun; a large store west of the Ontario House which sold mostly candy, and was owned and operated by a Mr. John Reynolds; and another store in the west end of town. This store contained the post office, which was run by Richard Lapp's father.

There were two beer distributing companies, one next to the tracks in the west end of town, and one a block from the other company, also next to the tracks. The first was Hyland's Low Start Lagger, the latter company was a Hamms Beer distributor.

Next to the Ontario. House was the Catholic church. It was purchased from John Reynolds and made into a church.

There was also an Episcopal church and a Presbyterian church in town. The Episcopal church was the first church built in the territory, and the lumber was all hauled in from eastern portions of the territory by oxen cart. It still stands today, on the "outskirts" of town, north of the railroad tracks. There was also a Methodist church in St. Vincent.

Between the train depot and the Hylan beer distributor, was the St. Vincent fire hall; which still stands today. It is a small, wooden frame structure with a bell tower in the southeast corner. St. Vincent had two fire engines, and a carriage that, I believe, carried fire hose.

The school was built in 1903. It is a two-story, square, white frame building which originally held grades 1-12, but now has classes for only kindergarten, and second through fourth grades.

It looked like St. Vincent was blessed with everything a good town needs: easy transportation, jobs, and good soil, and water. But somewhere they lost whatever it was they had had. For St. Vincent is no longer a little town with a lot of growing to do-- but now St. Vincent has little to look forward to except a slow death. In 1909 these words were written:

"Today we have abundant evidence that we are standing at the threshold of a new dominion that is to arise on this plateau of North America...

With unshackled hands, free thought and liberty of conscience, the people of the valley of the Upper Mississippi and Red River of the North may add much to the luster of the Great Republic, born on the 4th of July, 1776. Let us pursue no narrow policy. Let us welcome the Dane, the Swede, the Norwegian, the Russian, the German, and all newcomers.:"

Somewhere along the line we forgot how to use this potential, and now we are paying for it. We will probably never regain our way of life and the promises it showed, but this area will always be rich with the memories of the bright past.