Great Stories of the Great Plains: Spring cleaning in 1881 Jamestown
There is an old joke that the north lands have two seasons, winter and road construction. That was true more than a century ago. The Jamestown Alert in early April of 1881 noted that the last snowbanks were melting and street crews were already a...
There is an old joke that the north lands have two seasons, winter and road construction. That was true more than a century ago.
The Jamestown Alert in early April of 1881 noted that the last snowbanks were melting and street crews were already at work in Jamestown. About 15 wagons and teams were working on adding gravel to the streets that ran parallel to the railroad tracks in town.
The writers at the paper also noted another sign of spring was near.
“Soon will be heard the gentle yelp of the festive mosquito,” wrote the Alert. “If some of the sink holes in town were filled up, they would not be quite as numerous or their bills quite as long.”
The editors of The Jamestown Alert editorialized that a little cleaning in Jamestown could make the the community healthier.
“… If something is not done in the way of removing the rubbish and clearing the street, the doctors will soon have their practice increased by several fever or smallpox cases,” the paper said in a brief on its local events page.
Graveling streets and cleaning up outhouses weren’t the only activity in Jamestown in the spring of 1881.
The beer brewery had just added the region’s first windmill to pump water more efficiently. After all, the brewery was making 30 barrels of beer per day and hand pumping that much water would require a lot of labor.
There were a lot of things happening in Jamestown in the spring of 1880. A new tin shop was opening, giving people a place to have worn buckets and household items repaired.
Also boosting the Jamestown community were large numbers of farmers coming to the area that spring.
“Judging from the crowds of people who are hourly visiting our local land offices,” wrote the Alert, “one would think that all the land within an area of 100 miles of Jamestown would be gobbled up in a single day.”
That was probably a bit of an overstatement, but the “Dakota Boom” in the early 1880s did bring hundreds if not thousands of settlers to the region for homestead or railroad lands.
Not all the expansion plans of the 1880s were actually constructed.
In the spring of 1881, a Minneapolis company announced plans to construct a narrow-gauge railroad from Jamestown, south to Grand Rapids. Plans included a depot and hotel at Dickey Landing, now known simply as Dickey, and at Grand Rapids.
At Grand Rapids, people and freight were to be transferred to riverboats working the southern portion of the James River.
More importantly, the planned little railroad was anticipated to open the area south of Jamestown to settlement.
The narrow-gauge railroad never got built although the lands in that area were settled just like the rest of the region.
With all those things in the works, we hope that somebody in town took the time to clean up the outhouse areas before the heat of summer.
Keith Norman can be reached at