Alexander Griggs, of Hill, Griggs, and Company in St. Paul, first traveled the Red River in 1870 using flatboats to carry cargo downstream. Late that fall, Griggs and his crew stopped for the night at “Les Grandes Fourches” (as it was called by French fur traders), intending to continue to Fort Garry the following day. By morning, their flatboat was frozen in place. Griggs built a cabin for shelter during the winter of 1870-71 and became convinced that this site held great potential for a new town. Griggs registered a land claim for present-day downtown Grand Forks and encouraged friends and relatives to join him in this opportunity of pioneering a new community. He officially platted the town site in 1875.
Hill, Griggs and Co. launched its first steamboat, the Selkirk, in 1871 with Griggs as its captain. Soon, several steamboats were in operation on the Red River, including the Dakota, Cheyenne, Manitoba and Minnesota. Steamboats dominated Red River transportation until the arrival of the railroads. Their heyday lasted from 1871 to the 1880s, and then they were mainly used to transport grain short distances to the railroads.
North Dakota’s first railroad, the Northern Pacific, reached Fargo in 1871. James J. Hill’s St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway (later renamed the Great Northern Railway) arrived in Grand Forks in 1880. The Great Northern Railway was Grand Forks’ first railroad and also the most important to North Dakota because it had more lines serving the most populated region of the state – the Red River Valley. In 1887, the Northern Pacific extended a line through Grand Forks, connecting the Northern Pacific with Winnipeg. The railroads brought many new settlers to Grand Forks and provided good job opportunities.
Today, modern interstate highways and airlines carry most travelers to and from the city. Semi trucks handle most retail shipments. But the railroads still carry North Dakota wheat through Grand Forks to markets all over the world.
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