North Dakota’s ties to our nation’s leaders
Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, next Monday, Feb. 19, is Presidents Day, and Feb. 22 is George Washington’s birthday. Not only is February a presidential month, but the state of North Dakota has many ties to the presidents.
In Minot alone, there have been four, potentially five, schools named after presidents at one time. The presidents include Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, George Washington, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson was being proposed as the name for the new elementary school according to an article published by the Minot Daily News in 1958.
Currently in Minot, Roosevelt Elementary School, Washington Elementary School and McKinley Elementary School are still standing.
Lincoln Elementary School was damaged in the 2011 Souris River flood and was subsequently torn down.
There is also a Lincoln Avenue, located just south of Minot State University and University Avenue, that is yet another public space named after a president.
So why are there so many landmarks named for presidents?
“I think one thought would be just because they are the leader of our nation,” presidential historian Rick Collin said. “It’s an honor for a school, building, or street to be named as such. It brings with it their story and their message.”
Collin, of Bismarck, is a presidential historian who coordinated the 2008-10 observance of the Lincoln Birthday Bicentennial in North Dakota.
Collin grew up in Washington, D.C., and has always been interested in presidents and the presidency. Currently, Collin works for Congressman Kevin Cramer’s office. He’s had 15 total years of teaching experience between Bismarck State College and University of Mary where he used to teach classes on presidents and the presidency.
Over time, 16 total presidents have visited North Dakota while in office. The first was Rutherford B. Hayes who visited Fargo in September 1878. Back then, the area was the Dakota Territory.
Some of the earlier presidents, including Chester A. Arthur and Theodore Roosevelt, visited the North Dakota area as part of a train tour of the West. Other presidents stopped through for various turning points in the state’s history.
Woodrow Wilson stopped in Bismarck in the fall of 1919 during a national speaking tour to rally support for U.S. admission into the League of Nations.
Charles Curtis, vice president to Herbert Hoover, visited Bismarck in 1932 to lay the cornerstone of the new, and current, state Capitol building.
Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Devils Lake in 1934 to view drought conditions in the area. At the time, 35,000 people were there to hear him speak.
He also visited Grand Forks in October 1937 where he dedicated a new fairgrounds grandstand – and also became the first president to visit Grand Forks.
Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the state in in 1953 to dedicate the Garrison Dam. When he visited that June, his plane landed in Minot and he stayed in a downtown hotel.
John F. Kennedy visited North Dakota as part of a “conservation tour” in 1963 where he encouraged the conservation of the nation’s natural resources. Kennedy also visited the University of North Dakota, less than two months before his assassination, to accept an honorary law degree.
George H. W. Bush visited the state in April 1989 to help celebrate the the state’s centennial. He planted a tree on the Capitol Grounds in Bismarck that died not too long after being planted.
Bill Clinton visited in April 1997 to visit Grand Forks following the Red River flood disaster.
George W. Bush visited North Dakota twice, once in March 2001 and once in February 2005. The first visit was to promote a proposed tax cut program in Congress. The second was to promote his proposed changes in the Social Security system. Both talks were part of national speaking tours and were held at the Bison Sports Arena at North Dakota State University.
Barack Obama visited the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in June 2014 as part of ongoing efforts to highlight challenges in Indian Country and his administration’s efforts to address them.
Finally, Donald Trump visited the Andeavor Oil Refinery in Mandan in September 2017 to promote tax cuts and tax reforms.
“If you know presidents or know about presidents, you know a lot of our nation’s history,” Collin said. “What happened during their administration happened in our national history.”
There’s no doubt North Dakotans love to claim Theodore Roosevelt as their own. Roosevelt first came to North Dakota as a birdhunter in the 1880s, and returned many times as a cowboy-rancher. He was quoted saying while president: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” It’s no wonder we have a Roosevelt Park in town with a statue bearing his likeness.
One president who has some unexpected ties to North Dakota is Lincoln, since he passed away before North Dakota was a state. Lincoln passed significant legislation that directly impacted our state.
Lincoln signed the Homestead Act in May 1862, which had a major impact in the settlement of the Northern Plains. He also signed the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 that provided grants of land nationwide for the establishment of colleges specializing in agriculture and engineering.
Lincoln also signed legislation approving the first transcontinental railroads. This included the Northern Pacific Railroad which was completed from Duluth, Minnesota through Bismarck and eventually ended in Oregon.
Though Lincoln was never actually physically in North Dakota, his actions as president helped our state become what it is today.
Throughout history, many presidents have had significant impact on the nation and, specifically, North Dakota. It’s no wonder we would want to name landmarks after the people who helped develop and grow the country we live in today.