Big things were in the works for Jamestown in October of 1882.

Actually, most of the big things heralded in the newspapers of that month were in the future and few actually came to fruition, but it was the talk of the day.

“The subject of a straw board manufacturer at this place has been presented to the readers of the Alert during the summer,” the Jamestown Alert noted in its Oct. 13, 1882, edition. “It is almost certain that a manufactory (evidently that was a word in 1882) will be started here next summer and be in operation ready for the crop of straw.”

A “straw board manufactory” processed straw of any type, wheat, flax, oats even hemp, into a fiber that was pressed into thin, paper-like sheets. These sheets were then glued and compressed together to make boards that wouldn’t split, warp or rot.

An acre of wheat straw could be processed into somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 board feet of lumber. The process was thought to be a good way to utilize straw that accumulated in piles near the threshing machines of the era and was most commonly burned sometime during the winter when the threat of the fire burning up the entire countryside had passed.

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While The Jamestown Alert considered a great idea and wrote about it as if it were a sure thing, the Jamestown Straw Board Manufactory never got built.

Then there was the new rail line that was in the planning stage.

A company with $35 million in capital, real money back in 1882, was planning a new railroad line that would connect St. Louis, Missouri, to Jamestown.

Keep in mind, the Northern Pacific Railroad was still a year away from completing its transcontinental connection but everybody in the railroad industry would have known it was near completion.

After all, the NPRR was going to provide one of the best routes into the northwest of Washington and Oregon states from the Minneapolis area. New lines that could bring goods and passengers to that line from places further south might have an advantage.

This too, never came to be.

While Jamestown was hoping another railroad would build into the city, it was having troubles with its existing rail industry.

“The whole town is angered at the high handed manner in which the railroad company is conducting their yards at this point,” reported the Alert in its Oct. 20, 1882, edition. “At night especially, the different crossings are perpetually and most effectively blocked and as a result, about half the population of the city are compelled to walk from 40 rods to three-quarters of a mile around some trains in order to pass from one part of the city to another.”

A rod is an old form of distance measurement usually translated to 16.5 feet.

The viaduct, still in use in Jamestown, wasn’t built until 1917.

The rail yard, with all the sidings, depots and freight handling buildings, was still east of the James River in 1882 although work had started on a roundhouse and other facilities west of the river that summer.

If there was a train on the track, you walked, or rode, around it and that seemed to anger some people. The Jamestown Alert did have a solution. It asked the railroad to publish a list of times the trains would block the center of Jamestown.

“We do not as a rule permit our paper to do any kind of business without pay,” wrote the Alert. “For the sake of ‘harmony’ it will publish such a card for free.”

Author Keith Norman can be reached at