Wednesday, September 25, 2013
In 1871, the Northern Pacific became the first railroad to enter Dakota Territory. The company had been created by an Act of Congress under President Lincoln to build a northern route from the Great Lakes to Puget Sound. As an incentive, the government granted the Northern Pacific more than fifty million acres of land, the largest land grant ever made to an American railroad.
Owning all of that land was not a problem until 1898, when the North Dakota Supreme Court found the railroad liable for taxes on the unsold land. With two bankruptcies under its belt, the railroad needed help unloading the millions of unsold acres. One tactic was to build towns, which attracted new settlement. To build the towns, however, they also needed to build branch lines, such as the Sanborn branch, which extended north from the main line just west of Valley City to Sandborn and then on to Cooperstown.
In 1898, the D.S.B. Johnston Land Company of St. Paul purchased a large tract of land northwest of Cooperstown with the promise that the Northern Pacific would extend the Sanborn branch and build a new town. By the following year, a “…thriving community of about twelve businesses and …a hundred residents were already on hand awaiting the promised railroad, and the first train rolled in on October 26th, 1899.”
The residents named their town McHenry, after the Northern Pacific’s chief engineer. Unique to McHenry, however, was the manner in which the rail line ended: rather than the usual turntable, which would simply rotate the engine 180o and cost about $500, the railroad constructed a massive loop, which became known as the McHenry, or End-of-the-Line, Loop at a cost of $5000.
After decades of popularity, however, train service began to decline, and in 1981, the Sanborn branch was discontinued. McHenry residents, however, hoped to save the loop as a historical landmark. They banded together to form the McHenry Railroad Loop Association and worked out a deal to lease the loop from Burlington Northern for $1 a year. On this date in 1986, the loop was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a protected landmark, and today residents proudly offer visitors train rides on the McHenry Loop.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job
Bailey, Walter L. April 9, 1986. National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: McHenry Railroad Loop. National Park Service.