Rural Infrastructure and Dalrymple Farms

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Photographs: North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies

In order of appearance: sh2012P039, US Indexed County Land Ownership Maps (, rs000976, rs005651, rs000630014, rs005710, rs000988, rs005655, rs005650, shA4263, rsL00007, rsL00008

Narration: Laura Egland

Tent Cities

View of a tent city with wooden hotel building (Headquarters Hotel) in the background. A few men stand around the fronts of the tents to the left.
[shA3315 – North Dakota State University Archives]

Tent cities traveled with the railroad because they were easy to assemble and could be moved quickly as the railroad developed. They existed because of the construction of the railroad and the building of the city of Fargo. The men that stayed in these cities were accustomed to hard living conditions, as tents did not keep heat very well in the cold area of Fargo.

The men that resided in these tents were originally located in “Fargo on the Prairie” but were banned and moved to “Fargo in the Timber.” They were construction workers and survey crews who were banned from residing in the limits of “Fargo on the Prairie” for their recreational activity which included: liquor, prostitutes, and more.[1]

The tents that the men lived in were mostly made of canvas. This canvas was either packed solely for the tent or was thrown from a covered wagon and over tree boughs to create a temporary living structure. The tents were handy for construction workers because they were able to move at a moment’s notice, especially with the construction of the railroad.

– Jenna Clawson, Digital History, 2012

[1] Danbom, David B. and Claire Strom. Images of America Fargo North Dakota 1870-1900 , 2002, p 11.

Sod Homes

While large-scale farming was the major goal of the Northern Pacific Railroad and its successors, small scale-farming was in full swing. Immigrants and settlers from other parts of the Eastern United States moved westward to claim land along the Northern Pacific way. Many of the smaller farmers who came to the Red River Valley claimed land and built sod homes. Resources in the Red River Valley were sparse on the open frontier and sod was one of the only readily-available building resources for people, mostly immigrants, with limited income.

Because the first settlers claimed the limited land by the river, the flood of settlers that came later were reliant on the prairie and used sod as their primary building material. Sod houses were built by plowing up segments of prairie held together by the system of roots from the prairie. The roots of grasses and other plants would hold the sod strips together. Through stacking and molding these strips, walls were built up to create a one roomed home. The walls of an average sod home would have been about five feet to seven feet tall. “The first block of sod was laid grass side down…Subsequent blocks were also laid grass side down and the grass acted as a sealant…to seal sod to sod.”[1] Generally, when people were building sod houses they would stick together beams and rails with mud, grass, bison hair, etc., and lay it across the roof before covering it in sod.[2] Many family members could live in one sod home that averaged 12×20 feet in size.[3] In order to expand a sod home after it has been built, lean-tos were often added as extra rooms.[4]

Railroad expansion in this era also meant that more materials arrived daily for settlers in the area. Sod homes were a stable enough structure for families to survive and it was a form of building that was familiar to immigrants and other settlers alike. People began to abandon sod homes, however, for structures such as a claim shanties or tar paper shacks.

– Jenna Clawson, Digital History, 2012

[1] Bachelor, Rosemary. E. “Sod Houses of Pioneers on the Prairie” Suite 101, American History, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Midwest Historical and Genealogical Register, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies (NDIRS), Vol. 24, No. 2, 1989.

[4] Bachelor, Rosemary. E. “Sod Houses of Pioneers on the Prairie” Suite 101, American History, 2009.