Kempton, North Dakota                                                 TT00008




01/24/2000  8:27:00 AM

Mark Meyer

Here is some railroading trivia from the Grand Forks Herald on line. Each  week, they feature a "Community of the Week", and since I suppose 95% of  North Dakota towns were founded along a railroad, it almost always mentions  some railroad that led to the creation of the town, so if you're into  Flickertail state history, visit their website periodically at  ****  Community of the week: Kempton, N.D.   GF County town was once major grain shipping point  Location: Kempton, N.D., is in Avon Township, Grand Forks County. Take U.S.  Highway 2 west of Grand Forks about 30 miles to Larimore, N.D. Then take  North Dakota Highway 18 about six miles south to Kempton, which is served by  a branch of the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway.   Why Kempton has been in the news: Last summer, because of flooding caused by  heavy rains, Kempton lost nearly half of its population when two families had  to move. The Kelly Lenz and Emil Peterson families moved to Northwood, N.D.   Name: The town was named for W.S. Kemp, roadmaster for the former Great  Northern Railway.   About the town: Emil Peterson, who lived in Kempton for 47 years before  moving to Northwood last September, says: "It was a nice, quiet place. You  never had to lock your doors. It was a great place to raise kids."   History: This former Great Northern Railway station was founded in 1884 in  Avon Township, about six miles south of Larimore, N.D. The reason was simple:  A grain shipping point was needed between Larimore and Northwood when the  Mayville branch was completed in July of 1884.  Eventually, Kempton had five grain elevators, making it one of the largest  grain shipping points in North Dakota. The farmland around Kempton was ideal  for growing hard red spring wheat; especially rich was the land in the Elk  Valley.   But there were problems. Two disastrous hailstorms swept through the Kempton  area in July 1885, causing considerable losses to crops. County residents and  officials assisted the stricken farmers until they could put in another crop.   Kempton originated when two men donated 50 acres for the town site. GN  accepted both tracts for a fee of $2. They were recorded in July 1885. The GN  later transferred ownership of the land to the community in separate actions  in 1891 and 1907.   The construction of the branch line between Northwood and Larimore was  controversial in the early 1880s. The former Northern Pacific Railway began  construction of a northbound branch from its main line at Casselton, N.D.  This line would eventually reach Mayville. Plans were to extend the line  northward to the international border, giving the NP access to Winnipeg.   The Fargo, Larimore & Northern Railway was to build the track between  Northwood and Larimore, and the company may have been a subsidiary or had  connections with the NP. James J. Hill and his St. Paul, Minneapolis &  Manitoba Railway, which evolved into the GN later, thwarted the NP's plan by  constructing a competing line through Portland, N.D. The NP sold the Mayville  line to the GN, which also built the connecting line. The NP would eventually  construct a Winnipeg line through Grand Forks.   The completion of the line to Larimore was celebrated Aug. 3, 1884, with a  special train carrying 800 to 900 passengers, including Hill, the line's  president.   The Cargill Elevator opened for business in the summer of 1886. The second  elevator, built by the St. Anthony & Dakota Grain Co., was ready for the 1887  harvest. A 50,000-bushel annex was added to the main 30,000-bushel Cargill  Elevator that year. By 1888, another elevator was built in Kempton.   Unlike the other elevators, Cargill remained open in winter, selling coal,  firewood, ground feed and even fresh vegetables. Oak and maple firewood sold  for $5 and $5.50 per cord, respectively, while soft and hard coal sold for $8  and $10 per ton, respectively.   The elevator farthest north was the Farmers Cooperative Elevator. When the  large Cargill elevator burned -- a fate of several Kempton elevators -- in  1936, it purchased the two northernmost elevators in town.   The two southernmost elevators were sold to Kempton Grain Co. in 1950. In  1971, three business partners purchased the company and began buying and  processing confectionery sunflowers. AGP Grain Ltd. later acquired the  elevator, which is now leased for private storage.   J.W. Smith opened a blacksmith shop in 1890; he also sold Oliver plows. Tom  Lloyd opened a blacksmith shop in 1903, shoeing as many as 40 horses per day.  George Austin opened a grocery store in the early 1890s.   A bank was started in 1904, closing during the Depression. The GN built a  railroad depot in 1906 when the community still boasted having rail  passenger, mail and express service. Joe Weber built a hotel and livery in  1907; the barn burned in 1931. In 1941, the hotel was sold to Olaf Storaker,  who operated a grocery in the building. In the mid-1950s, Oliver and Zelda  Cannon purchased and operated the store.   There were two potato warehouses in Kempton -- one in operation for 30 years  and the other for 20 years. A lumberyard was located across the road from the  original Cargill elevator.   The Mutch family operated an oil business in Kempton for many years, later  moving the entire Mutch Oil Co. to Larimore in the 1960s, where it remains in  operation.   For many years, Kempton had a combination recreation, confectionery and  grocery business, which included a bowling alley and community hall.   Kempton was renowned for its excellent baseball teams years ago. It also had  a good trap shooting team, which competed with the best teams in the state.    Economy: Kempton has an agricultural economy. While hard red spring wheat  once dominated crop production in the Kempton area, today farmers produce  sunflowers, all kinds of dry edible beans (including pintos), potatoes, sugar  beets and specialty crops.   General: A post office was established at Kempton March 16, 1887, with Elmer  Bickford as postmaster. Bickford had arrived in the community the previous  year as manager of the Cargill Elevator.  The Kempton Post Office became a rural branch of the Northwood office Aug. 2,  1963, and it closed altogether Oct. 31, 1970, with mail then going to  Northwood.   When the Kempton School District was organized, students went to classes in  either Northwood or Larimore.    Population: Kempton was a thriving village in the early part of the 1900s,  reaching a reported population of 216. However, some people have speculated  that the population never exceeded 100. It is estimated now that there are  six people living in three houses. Ten other houses are unoccupied.   Notable: In 1887, Avon Township, which includes Kempton, voted 33 to 1 in  favor of Prohibition, which would become state law when North Dakota joined  the union in 1889. The single individual who voted against Prohibition was  never determined.  A deep well was installed in 1972 in the Elk Valley aquifer, which provides  water to the Grand Forks -Traill Water Users Association.    Attractions: Vickie Guertin raises exotic chickens in her backyard. She has a  chicken coop with about 40 colorful chickens of several breeds.   Churches: While there never was a church in Kempton, the Kempton School No.  100 was used for Sunday school classes. There are several rural churches in  the Kempton area.  Compiled by Darrel Koehler, Herald staff writer, and based on interviews with  Kempton residents. Sources were "North Dakota Place Names" by Douglas Wick,  the 1976 bicentennial history of Grand Forks County and a story published in  the Sept. 22, 1999, Grand Forks Herald.  **** I had always wondered why GN had separate rail lines through Mayville and  Portland, two North Dakota towns VERY close together. Evidently, according  to the article, the GN line from Erie Jct (on the Surrey cutoff) through  Galesburg and Portland was built to counter the line from Casselton through  Vance and Mayville, which was originally constructed by an NP subsidiary. As  the article states, the GN acquired the competing line from the NP before it  was complete, which would explain why the two routes become one north of  Portland Jct. (to Larimore). It also could explain the alignment of the NP  line to Winnipeg, which is circuitous at best, especially the part between  Crookston, Grand Forks, and Honeyford. (Between Crookston and Grand Forks,  the NP route weaves its way around the more-direct GN route, though roughly  paralleling it.) Perhaps the intent of the NP was to serve North Dakota's  second-largest city, Grand Forks, which would evidently not be the case for  the line constructed north from Casselton. I always wondered why the NP line  to Pembina took a mostly-west route out of Grand Forks, and then turned  sharply due north at Honeyford. (After all, such routes are rare on the flat  prairie..after building a parallel line to the GN from Crookston to Grand  Forks, one wonders why the NP route didn't simply continue paralleling it to  Grafton, or run due north to the vicinity of Drayton...) If you let your  imagination go, the alignment of the line north from Honeyford when exteneded  south, would indeed tie into the NP-constructed GN line from Casselton north  to Mayville. Was this originally supposed to be the NP route from its main  to Winnipeg? Sure looks like a good possibility.  Today, neither of the routes through Mayville or Portland are through routes.  Both towns are endpoints of a branch from Larimore (through Kempton) that  splits at Portland Jct. The Portland line is abandoned between Portland and  Galesburg, and the Mayville line is abandoned between Mayville and Hunter.  In spite of these lines no longer being through routes (the main north-south  route in the area is the ex-GN line from Fargo to Grand Forks paralleling  I-29), GN routes in Northern and Central North Dakota remain an anomaly in  U.S. railroading. Where else in the country is there such a cluster of  grain-gathering rail lines that have made it to the year 2000 without being  mostly-abandoned, shortlined, or regionalized? They still are operated by  BNSF. Compiler  C Frissell