History of Wahpeton

The first settler in Wahpeton was Morgan T. Rich in 1864. His plow turned the first furrow of rich, black soil. The city of Richville was officially founded in 1869 after other settlers arrived and formed a small community.

In 1871, a US post office was opened with Folsom Dow as Postmaster. At the same time, the town's name was changed to Chahinkapa, a Lakota Sioux word meaning "the end of the woods." Two years later, the county was organized and named Chahinkapa County.

Later that year the county was renamed as Richland County and the town of Chahinkapa renamed as Wahpeton, a Dakota word meaning "leaf dwellers."

Growth of the village of Wahpeton was quite slow during the first few years, but increased rapidly in 1872 with the completion of a railroad line into Breckenridge, Minnesota, a village across the Bois de Sioux River. The St. Paul and Pacific Railway had entered the region. The railroad generated a booming business in flatboat building in both communities. Flat boats could carry freight directly from the railroad downriver via the Red River of the North to northern parts of the state and all the way to Winnipeg, Canada.

The railroad line attracted many more settlers to the area - both migrants from the Eastern United States and new immigrants. Germans, Bohemians, Scandinavians, and Native Americans moved to Richland County to file for homesteads. In 1874, Jacob Morvin and Joseph Sittarich opened the first retail store in the county in Wahpeton. By 1876 the traffic between Wahpeton and Breckenridge had grown past the capacity of the ferry. A bridge was built across the Bois de Sioux River connecting the two towns.

Another flurry of growth occurred in 1880 when the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroad crossed the river and pushed its tracks on toward the northwest. Wahpeton became an officially organized town in 1882. That year, the city’s Board of Trustees held its first meeting. John Nelson was elected the President of the Board on May 2. By 1883 the population of Wahpeton was estimated to be as high as 1,400 people. The first city council met on April 13, 1885 and the first city charter was adopted that year. J. H. Miller was elected the first mayor. Later, Wahpeton was appointed as County Seat of Richland County.

In 1887, Wahpeton was incorporated under the new laws of Dakota Territory.

In 1888, the Northern Light Electric Company (NLEC) was organized here. It made Wahpeton among the first cities in North Dakota to be electrified.

In 1889, the Red River Valley University, now known as the North Dakota State College of Science, was established in Wahpeton.

In 1904, the United States Government established the Wahpeton Indian School, now called Circle of Nations School, for the education of Native American children from reservations and tribes in northern Minnesota, North Dakota, and northern South Dakota.

In 1912, construction on a new Richland County Courthouse commenced and the building was dedicated in 1914. It still serves as the courthouse to this day.