History of Kathryn
By C. Norman Saugstad
Eighteen miles south of Valley City in the beautiful Sheyenne Valley lays the village of Kathryn.
The first settlers came to the valley in 1876. They settled along the river. The soil was fertile and there were trees so they had fuel and built log huts.
New Year’s Day, 1901, the Northern Pacific Railroad came from Fargo and went as far as Marion, North Dakota. A railroad man named the place Kathryn after his daughter.
Two brothers from Casselton came out on a box car load of lumber and started the first store. It was a general store with everything from crackers to shoes. These two brothers also started the first implement business and organized a telephone company.
The land was farm land and some of it was owned by a man who had homesteaded here. The railroad also owned land and sold lots. (The government had deeded land to the railroads.) As the railroad came and the store opened for business people started buying lots. One of the first men to buy a lot and build a house was a blacksmith. He also built a blacksmith shop.
Other businesses started and the town grew quickly at first. The town, at its height, had 3 grain elevators, 2 blacksmith shops, a lumber yard, 2 grocery stores, 2 hotels, a drug store, a jewelry store (The jeweler was an exceptionally fine goldsmith), a millinery shop, a barber shop, a town hall known as the opera house, a creamery, a meat market, a section house, a post office, a depot, a livery stable and a weekly paper known as the “Kathryn Recorder.” They also had a doctor. Once a month a traveling dentist and an optometrist came to town.
The people were mostly of Scandinavian descent. Some of the people came directly from Norway. They left Norway for economic reasons. You young men left Norway to avoid compulsory military training. Many people came from Wisconsin, Chicago, and Minnesota. Some came for adventure and others had relatives here.
In 1904, an old school building was brought into town and used as a school house It was brought in from a mile and half out of town and had been used as they Community Center in the country. In 1905 a school house was built on a hill. In 1913, two rooms were added to this building.
In 1903, citizens assembled together for the purpose of organizing a Norwegian Lutheran Church. They decided to hold meeting in a hall until they could build a church. The hall where they had their church meetings also served as a community center. They also held weddings, dances, basket socials, funerals and Sunday school in this building. The Church building was built in 1914.
The train brought the mail every other day and there was a post office. The post office was located in the general store. At first the train went west one day and came back went east the next day. Later on the train started running every day. Two rural mail carriers carried the mail out to the country.
Life wasn’t too hard. There were many community “doings” which people took part in. They had several doctors at different times; but doctors didn’t stay because there wasn’t enough business. There was some sickness; a diphtheria epidemic took place in the early 1900’s witch was not too severe. As a whole people were honest, thrifty and hard working.
Early blizzards were severe and common. In the winter of 1907 the train didn’t come from New Year’s Day until March. People ran out of supplies and had to go to Valley City to get the necessary provisions. The road wasn’t open so they had to go with horses. The road was 20 miles at that time. E. G. Strom went to Valley City with bobsled and got 9 sacks for coal. He went one day and came back the next. During this time the town appealed to Washington for aid in getting the roads open as supplies were running low. The railroads were slow in opening their roads; people claimed they didn’t especially care to get this line open as they opened their main lines first. Practically everyone in town had cows and chickens so people were quite self-sufficient along the line of food.
Another bad year for blizzards was the winter of 1917. The train didn’t run for three months, but once in a while someone would go over to Fingal and get the mail. A big moment of for everyone and especially the children was when the train came after such a long time of being blocked out. First the rotary plow came, and then the train. Children usually got out of school for this event. The minute someone heard the train whistle everyone grabbed his coat and that was the end of school or that day.
One cyclone and a flood hit the little village too. On a hot, sultry August afternoon in 1910 a cyclone hit and did considerable damage; it uprooted trees and barns were demolished, freight cars were blown off the track and scattered all over. No one was injured, but a few animals were hurt and had to be destroyed. Half of the town was flooded by a cloud burst in 1918 when Dog Creek ran wild. Small buildings, wagon boxes, chickens and pigs were seen floating down the creek. Wagon boxes from the implement store were found as far away as Lisbon. It frightened many people but no one was injured. People living in the little houses along the creek had to be helped out and taken to higher location.
In 1916 the town suffered its first big fire. The Farmers’ Elevator burned in March and in October four business buildings burned: the drug store, general merchandise store and the bank. The only fire protection was the bucket brigade. Tin pails were thrown out of the hardware store, filled with water and passed up the line to the fire (an artisan well had been dug in the summer of 1916). These building were replaced with brick buildings. After these fires people became concerned about fire protection and organized a fire department.
In 1917 Kathryn became an incorporated village. It had a town council which was elected by the people. A city constable was elected to keep order. The village at this time numbered about 400 inhabitants.
The two men who had come from Casselton and started the first store brought the first car to town. It looked like a high wheeled buggy with a straight handle .for a steering wheel and a rubber horn on the side. The car was topless and the center of attraction I the village. It was about a 1906 model.
The town had an athletic club in the early days. They had a baseball team and a wrestling team. Quite a number of young people took part. There were also two basketball teams, one for the girls and one for the boys. They played neighboring towns. The club held meeting once a week in the city Hall.
A town band was organized by an instructor form valley city Teacher’s college. It played for graduation exercises, 4th of July celebrations and put on concerts for the public.
The 4th of July celebration was held either in the village or in a grove of trees on half mile from town along the Sheyenne River. It was a community picnic with plenty to eat. Races were held and games played. It was a time for people to get together, enjoy themselves and visit. In the evening there was always a bowery dance which young and old enjoyed.
There was a Yeoman’s Lodge, Sons of Norway Lodge and later an American Legion Post located in Kathryn.
The hills in the winter time were a source of enjoyment. When the snow was on the hills children, young adults and sometimes old adults would get their skis, which included everything from real skis from the store to homemade barrel staves. They sometimes slid on cardboard boxes, shovels, pieces of tin or anything that could be used for sliding down the hills. Ski Tournaments were held on the hills south of town. It was considered to be one of the best ski slides in the state. The scaffold was on a high hill. People came from all over the state. Christmas eve, 1935, the scaffold blew down during a blizzard.
Dog Creek would overflow its banks in the spring, if there was much snow during the winter. Children would vault the creek. The creek was also used in the winter time for skating –bonfires would be built if there wasn’t moonlight. Sloughs were also used for skating.
During the summer berry picking was a source of enjoyment for young and old. Chokecherries, gooseberries, plums and June berries were plentiful.
There was an “old swimming hole” by the old Walker Dam. Many children learned to swim there by hanging on a log and floating across the river. They had medicines shows selling patent medicines at the town hall as well as “Big Ole” shows with a dance afterwards.
In 1917 the town received electric lights and they started showing silent movies at the City Hall on Saturday nights. School programs and amateur programs were put on by the people in the community. Card parties were held. Lyceum programs were held in the winter time. It was high class entertainment. Chautauqua programs were held in a large tent. They consisted of musical programs and good speakers.
In 1938 spring water was piped into town from the hills south of Kathryn. The town had lost many of its business places during the depression. By 1941, it had one grocery store, one general merchandise store and one meat market. In March of 1941 the general merchandise store burned which was a loss for the town as it never was rebuilt.
During the Second World War many people left to work in war industries and plants. The population of the village became smaller and smaller.
By Flora Walker Strand
According to history prepared by Flora Walker Strand, the land on which Kathryn now stands (about 18 miles south of Valley City) was originally the homestead of Jenson. Title in some way had passed out of his hands and the purchase of the town site was made from Frank Lynch of Casselton”
Extension of the Northern Pacific’s branch line to Marion gave Kathryn its impetus. The line as surveyed in 1899 and 1900, with construction beginning April 18, 1900. First train service began January 1, 1901, although a group of railway officials made an earlier trip on a special train.
On September 15, 1900, a civil engineer and John Runck surveyed the town site and laid out the plot, but this plot was not filed with the Register of Deeds until June 1, 1901, according to the history.
On October 20, John Runck came here with a carload of lumber on a construction train. The next day he unloaded the lumber and his carpenter crew followed shortly to erect the first mercantile building, Runck Brothers Store, and the Northern Pacific depot. With improved railway facilities, the little town mushroomed. By early 1901 the infant town was preparing for social life with baseball games, picnics and the first Fourth of July celebration at which Lee combs was speaker of the day.
The man who built the first home in Kathryn was Ole Venaas who came to America in 1890. He became the first blacksmith in Kathryn.