Spanning 3 Degrees of Latitude…

Sep 21, 2023
Written by: Marvin Baker

There’s a 1941 school map of North Dakota that hangs in my garage. Knowing of my interest in geography, one of my wife’s friends gave me that map when she moved away.

I look at that map every day when I’m in the garage and after six years of hanging there, it still hasn’t gotten old (no pun intended).

There’s always something to look at and the most obvious to me; something that will not change over time is that North Dakota spans 3 degrees of latitude, from 46 Degrees North to 49 Degrees North.

That’s a lot of space and within that space is a diverse landscape, a diverse climate, a diverse transportation infrastructure and diverse communities.

When that map was printed in early 1941, World War II hadn’t started yet and the population wasn’t nearly what it is now. In other cases, the population has shifted drastically, at the expense of the small towns to the benefit of the cities.
In 1941, my hometown of Hazelton was still growing, peaking it’s population in 1960 at about 500 people. It now has 220 for its population. That’s been the fate of most small towns in the state with a very few exceptions.

At the same time, nearby Bismarck was growing rapidly and continues to do so. In the early 1970s, it was said that Bismarck and Denver were the fastest growing cities in the United States. We all thought Bismarck was going to catch Fargo in population, but the city of Fargo has seen it’s own continued robust growth.

West Fargo, which in 1960, had about the same population as Hazelton, is now the fifth largest city in North Dakota with 40,000 people.

The most radical population growth of a small town, however, had to be Watford City. In a matter of five years, it went from 1,300 population to 12,000. My wife grew up in Watford City and we went there to visit her brother during the oil boom and she didn’t even recognize it.

It has since stabilized, but is six times the population it once was.
To use the word diverse, agriculture personifies diverse. I’ve written numerous newspaper articles about the history of agriculture in North Dakota. In 1941, farmers grew wheat, oats, barley and rye with a smattering of other crops.
Wheat, which for years was king, is no longer at the top. It has been replaced by soybeans and some counties grow far more canola that wheat.

Really, the only downside to agriculture in all these years, has been the loss of dairy farms. Nearly every farm in the state in the 1940s was considered a dairy farm. My parents, who milked 10 cows, had a dairy farm, according to USDA.
Most of the cows have disappeared and fewer than 100 farms are considered dairies today. Instead of 10 or 20 cows, now dairies are 400, 600, 1,000 cows. But if you compare the numbers, there were more dairy cows in 1941 than now and more milk was being produced.

Power plants have sprung up since 1941, oil was still 10 years away from being discovered and now we are the second-leading oil producing state in the nation and tourism has become a top industry, something I doubt anyone thought about in 1941, before the war started.

The state capitol as we know it, was basically a brand new building, Garrison Dam hadn’t yet been built, nor did the Minot or Grand Forks Air Force bases exist. Each county, and in many cases, townships, had their own schools.
My oldest brother didn’t go to school in Hazelton until he was in high school. He attended a township school a couple of miles from the farm. When I started school in 1966, we were bused to school in Hazelton.

And when I look at that 1941 map, I think about those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, the despair and hopelessness for the better part of eight years, I can almost guarantee you they would prefer it like it was before December 1941.

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