County is a rural, sparsely populated area in the northeastern
part of North Dakota. The population today is just a little under 4,000
people. However in the 1950's more than 10,000 people lived here. Since
then there has been a steady loss of population and this has accelerated
in more recent years. On a visit I made to the county in the summer of
2007, there were many changes that were evident. I had not lived here
since the early 1960's and had visited the area briefly only twice in
the past twenty-five years.
The most striking change in the countryside has to be the large
number of farmsteads that have disappeared. The farms are much larger now and
the open spaces between the farms is greater. Some shelterbelts have also been
removed and the overall impression one gets now is an openness that might resemble
what the area was like before the white settlers arrived. The windmill in the
accompanying photo is symbolic of what has taken place. It is almost the only
surviving structure on what once was a thriving farm in South Michigan Township.
Agriculture is, and since the county was settled in the 1880's,
always has been the only major industry here. For the first sixty or so years
after the first settlers arrived the mixed farming practices of small grains,
and livestock for meat and dairy prevailed. By
the mid twentieth century most farms were concentrating on just the raising of
small grains such as barley, durum wheat, hard spring wheat and flax. In recent
years the mix of crops has again changed. Now in addition to the previously mentioned
small grains, one sees the yellow blooming canola fields, sun flowers, corn and
soybeans. Interestingly the newer crops are not so much for food production as
they are for ethanol based fuels.
There is an air of prosperity in the farms that are left.
For the most part the farm buildings are modern, neat and well kept up. The crops
in early July appear lush and bountiful.
The plight of the towns here is a rather mixed bag. Several
have almost completely disappeared, but the others appear to be hanging on and
are adapting rather well. All of the towns here had, and continue to have, economies
that are almost totally dependant on the agricultural community. As the people
disappeared from the farms, there was a corresponding drop in business and population
in the towns. The residential neighborhoods all appear prosperous and neat. The
business districts haven't fared as well, but people's attitudes are upbeat and
With such a sparsely populated region as this, and with population
still declining, one would not expect to see a strong preservationist
movement. However, the Stump Lake Pioneer Village
is one of the best examples I have ever seen of rural history preservation
and restoration. It's remarkable that it could arise from such a small population