"It happens here."
- Courtesy of the Hankinson Centennial Committee -
Hankinson is located in the exact center of southern Richland County, North Dakota, 200 miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, 60 miles from Fargo, North Dakota, and 30 miles from Wahpeton, North Dakota (Richland County's seat). It was settled predominately by Germans, although through the years it has become something of a melting pot of nationalities.
Agriculture is still the mainstream of the community's life, the industries Hankinson has, or has had being generally related. Because of economics, farms have become larger. It is now common and somewhat sad sight to pass a deserted farmstead or an empty school house. Agriculture has become more diversified and corn, soybeans, and sunflowers vie with the wheat in acreage.
The area around Hankinson was fairly well-settled before the existence of the town itself. The question always arises as to why people came to this flat, treeless land. A number of factors did exist which offer some explanation. Following the Civil War, Dakota was spoken of as barren desert; adversely thought of in terms of blizzards and Indians, but little was said of the land itself. Bonanza farming in the 1870's and 1880's helped stir interest in Dakota. The acres upon acres of rolling golden wheat proved that the vast plain of ancient Lake Aggasiz was indeed fertile. People, however, had to be convinced it was a good place to live.
The railroad, which came in the 1870's, became the chief propaganda agent for selling to the rest of the world the benefits of living in Dakota. The bankrupt Northern Pacific had much to gain from settlement - selling land, shipping goods, and taking people to and from the area. Thanks to James J. Hill, the president of the N.P. and a personal friend of R.H. Hankinson, a massive campaign was waged in the East and in Europe. Publicity paid off, and settlers rushed to the area.
Most of the settlers came to acquire land. The owning of land seems to be an innate desire of mankind - to possess land was to obtain a piece for oneself in God's universe. Land could be purchased easily through the railroad, or obtained free under the Homestead Act or Timber Culture Act. Another option was the Soldier's Homestead Act. Most of the settlers came to stay - the quitters and those who expected to "get rich quick" left.
Colonel R.H. Hankinson came to this area in 1871 and settled on the shores of picturesque Lake Elsie. There he built his mansion and eventually owned 2,500 acres in that general area. He planned to build a town by the lake, and even planned the streets and avenues. A general store, a blacksmith shop, a post office called Kelly, and a school were soon constructed. Unfortunately, the railroads thought the Lake Elsie route too expensive and decided to move the town two miles north. The Hankinson News related very vividly what happened and why Hankinson is so often called Fort Hankinson.
"The original plat of Hankinson, comprising the territory between the railroad tracks and a couple of blocks south of the Soo, is known as Fort Hankinson, but few persons knew the significance of the "Fort" in the title. It originated because of a threatened battle between the Soo and Great Northern construction crews at the time the roads were built through here in 1886.
The roads were surveyed as they were later built, to cross each other a couple miles west of where the town now stands. Under the laws that existed at that time, certain advantages occurred to the road that first laid rails over the crossing point. The two construction crews raced the work along side by side for a distance of several miles, most of the time being within hailing distance of each other, and the rivalry engendered a bitter felling on both sides which was intensified by the anxiety of the officials of each system to reach the goal first.
The Soo was a few hours ahead of the Great Northern crew and when they seemed certain to win the opposition decided to resort to force. A part of the Great Northern gang was put to work throwing up breastworks that would enable them to protect the crossing point against the approach of the Soo's crew, and the others were rushed back, to Breckenridge for firearms and reinforcements. They returned the next morning with fresh men, arms, and other munitions of war, only to find that the Soo crew had worked all night and succeeded in laying rails over the coveted crossing point. Having lost out, the Great Northern abandoned the fight and threatened bloodshed was happily averted.
Colonel Hankinson had rendered the Soo all the assistance in his power and was jubilant at the outcome. A few weeks later he planned the original town site and decided to commemorate the threatened railroad battle, hence "Fort Hankinson." Elaborating the plan, the principal avenues were christened Cannon, Grape, and Canister. Grant and Sherman streets are named for military heroes, in keeping with the warlike title that precedes the town's common name of Hankinson."
Colonel Hankinson soon moved his store and post office to its present site, and the city of Hankinson has grown ever since.