Boardwalks important in early Jamestown

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

Jamestown was booming, at least according to reports in The Jamestown Alert, in June 1882.

The newspaper reported crews had started work on what is now referred to as the 1883 Stutsman County Courthouse by saying “workmen have already made an extensive hole in the ground for the basement.”

The Stutsman County Commission had already sold what the county had been using as a courthouse to Sheriff Archibald McKechnie for $2,950. McKechnie agreed to rent the building to the county until the new courthouse had risen out of its basement hole.

There were a number houses under construction including a couple fancy enough to be considered mansions for bankers, according to the newspaper reports.

And the Klaus Brick Works was just completing construction and would begin producing bricks that summer.


But the real test of a community was the type of sidewalks it had, according to the June 16, 1882, edition of The Jamestown Alert.

“A visitor from a two-foot sidewalk town down in the states the other day, after looking up one side and down the other of our lang lines of 10- and 12-feet wide walks … opened his eyes and remarked that this must be a broad gauge town,” wrote the Alert.

Those 2-foot sidewalks in other towns would have been downright difficult to edge past people you might meet going the other direction down the street.

Gauge was the measurement between the rails of the railroad tracks of the day. Narrow gauge lines were sometimes built in difficult terrain or where traffic is light. It was also meant to mean a railroad, or even a town, that was built for a lot of activity.

Not only were the sidewalks of Jamestown wide, they were well constructed with lumber sometimes 2 inches thick.

In other words, Jamestown had what would be called boardwalks rather than sidewalks today.

There was also a lot of boardwalk construction going on in Jamestown in 1882. The city was constructing new boardwalks west from the business center along what is now First Street South to the west as far as the river.

And real estate developer S.K. McGinnis was building a boardwalk to the east in the hopes of developing interest in his property there.


Keep in mind, Jamestown had a population of about 1,200 people back in the 1880s with the bulk of the community centered along the railroad tracks and near the river. The community did not extend to anything near the current boundaries of the city.

McGinnis was trying to sell lots in the area east of the current downtown area but evidently wasn’t seeing much interest.

In June of 1882, McGinnis built a half-mile long, 10-foot wide boardwalk through his property that was “right out in prairie east of town,” commented the Alert.

The Alert said it was a wise business decision and expected new homes to spring up along the boardwalk.

In the meantime, anyone looking to take a walk out on the prairie had a broad-gauge boardwalk to make their stroll more comfortable.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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