"Little Town in the Heart of the Prairie"

SOME HISTORY ON BOWDON:  Bowdon is located thirty miles west of Carrington, very near to the geographical center of North Dakota. The "Little Town in the Heart of the Prairie" was established in 1899. An English officer of the Northern Pacific Railroad, named the settlement after his hometown of Bowdon, England.

In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France. The purchase, including over 800,000 square miles of land, stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border. In 1861, Dakota Territory, a part of this acquisition, was organized. In 1889, North Dakota became an official state.

Development was slow, but significant changes came for North Dakota with the building of the railroad. The Northern Pacific Railroad received large amounts of land from the US Government. Along and near the NP rail line, new towns sprang up to serve the settlers, the track-laying crews, and other "tame and tough" frontier citizens. Bowdon was one such town, and for many years marked the "end" of the railroad line. The great old locomotive engine was turned around on a "V" at the west edge of Bowdon. A switch arrangement turned the engine around and hooked it to the other end of the railroad cars, returning them to Carrington. The railroad's grand plan to settle the west became a reality. Now, immigrants of ethnic variety came in large numbers, and eastern merchants had a way to freight their goods to the western market.

The Homestead Act of 1862 also played a significant part in bringing settlers to the Bowdon area. People came on the "immigrant trains" and made their start on a parcel of land that was given free from the US government. To get their 160-acre farm, a homesteader filled out an eighteen-dollar application fee. He (or she) had to be the head of the household and at least 21 years of age. A dwelling had to be established and at least 10 acres of cropland cultivated. Established tree plantings were required. The homesteader had to stay on the land for 5 years before they could "prove up." Hopeful settlers from all walks of life came to North Dakota and Bowdon to meet the challenge.

There were farmers from the east without land of their own, single women, and newly arrived immigrants from Germany, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries. Determined not to be defeated by harsh weather conditions and hard times, the settlers that stayed worked extremely hard and sacrificed much. At the end of the five years, they had truly earned their "free" land. Those strong, courageous farm men and their families became the backbone of the Bowdon community.

Merchants, businessmen and doctors came to settle in Bowdon. Over the years, the little community boasted two blacksmith shops, a livery stable, a weekly newspaper (The Bowdon Guardian) and two hotels. At "The Golden West Hotel," 1905 rates were a bargain at $1.00 a day! Also in town were grocery and dry-goods stores, a drugstore, and a harness and shoemaker shop. There were banks, a Post Office, hardware stores and visiting "eye specialists." Homemaker clubs, Boy Scouts, 4-H groups and other civic organizations emerged. At one time there were five elevators, a cream station and a meat market. Later came three car dealerships, two gas stations and an electric plant.

Established churches held well-attended services and schools were built. The large, 3-story brick school building that still stands at the north edge of town, graduated scores of well-educated students. Nearly every rural township in the Bowdon area also had a school with 10 to 15 students in attendance. Bowdon's population peaked in the 1920's with about 350 residents. Around 400 rural folk also claimed Bowdon as their hometown.

After World War II came electricity and modem transportation. Tractors and up-to-date farm equipment replaced horse-drawn plows and buggies. Bigger, better equipment meant larger and fewer farms. Modern conveniences left once-necessary services no longer needed. The population and economics began to shift. An out-migration was seen as people sought jobs and services in other towns and other areas of the country.

Bowdon was among many small hometowns that watched with concern as its young people left. What would happen to the little town in the heart of the prairie?

We can tell you that roots remain deep, and today, Bowdon is still very much alive, with determined, hard-working folk still claiming it as home. Essential services remain along with churches and community organizations. A dedicated ambulance and fire crew are always on call. Area recreational activities abound and places of historic interest are not far away. Area entrepreneurs are offering their products and services to a larger-than-ever market. Bowdon's citizens are proud of its rich past and strong heritage ... just visit our volunteer-staffed Museum and Library. Bowdonites are striving to keep their "little town in the heart of the prairie" a friendly place for you to stop and visit. Who knows...you just might want to stay!

By:  James Fortney, 2004


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