Thursday, June 27, 2013

Lots to See and Do at Highway 83's 'Magic City'

Happy Birthday, Minot, North Dakota!
Incorporated this week, June 28, in 1887, it is the first major city encountered on Highway 83 — if one is starting at the top and driving south.
“The Magic City,” as it is known, received its nickname when it sprung up seemingly overnight as railroad magnate James J. Hill’s Great Northern Railway made it to the town. Construction stopped there in a onetime wheat field owned by Norwegian immigrant Erik Ramstad.
Minot would remain a main stop as the railway made its way to the Pacific. The rival Soo Line arrived six years later, and further cemented the town’s reputation as a transportation hub.
Minot later became the front line in the Cold War when Minot Air Force Base was built a few miles north of town along Route 83. 
The Souris, or Mouse River, has played a part in the town’s history, although not in the way the Missouri did for the development of Bismarck, ND and Pierre, SD. It has spilled its banks several times. The latest flood came two summers ago when the town suffered widespread damage.
Despite the disaster that reportedly damaged more that 4,000 homes, the town’s population is growing at a rapid pace because of the North Dakota oil boom.
With the advent of the automobile age, U.S. Route 83 became a vital, north-to-south road, connecting the town to the state capital, Bismarck. That is where it today intersects with the closest Interstate, I-94.
For that reason, Highway 83 is four lanes from Minot to Bismarck. And Highway 83’s place in the town’s history is still being written as it has become a main road for the transportation of equipment and workers making their way to jobs in the oil fields.
Minot has not lost its railway roots. Amtrak’s Empire Builder, a nod to James J. Hill’s nickname, passes through town once a day from Chicago to Seattle, and back. The station had been “de-modernized” and restored to what it looked like in the golden age of railway passenger trains, when it was severely damaged in the 2011 flood. But after a year, it was restored (again), according to this article in the Minot Daily News. The Railroad Museum of Minot — a few blocks away between the river and the charming downtown area — pays further tribute to the town’s legacy.
Erik Ramstad came from the absolute lowest rung of Norwegian society, but he envisioned a better life for himself in America. He settled in the area as thousand of Scandinavians were coming to the Dakotas to farm.
The Norsk Hostfest every year celebrates the region’s Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish and Icelandic roots. Organizers brag that it is North America’s largest Scandinavian festival.
The 2013 festival, which runs from Oct. 1-5, will feature singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson as the headline performer. Although it is surely coincidence, Kristofferson was born along Highway 83 as far away south on the road as one could get from Minot in Brownsville, Texas. He also wrote one of the great American road songs, “Me and Bobby McGee.”
For a full schedule and more details, CLICK HERE.
Those who aren’t in town during the festival can still stop by the Scandinavian Heritage Park alongside Highway 83 it passes through town. It has replicas of buildings from all five countries and a huge Swedish Dala horse (left).
Minot also hosts the North Dakota State Fair. It will run from July 19-27 in 2013.
Travelers making their way north will find a lot to see and do in Minot.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at
Stew Magnuson (stewmag (a) is the author of Wounded Knee 1973: Still Bleeding: The American Indian Movement, the FBI, and their Fight to Bury the Sins of the Past published by the Now & Then Reader. It is available as an eBook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iTunes. Buy it in paperback on Amazon or bookstores such as Plains Trading Company Booksellers, in Valentine, Neb., on Highway 83.

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