Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

Mature Settlement System 

By 1920 railroad expansion had opened all the land the United States needed, and more (Figure 17). In the Upper Midwest what remained was clearly too dry or rough for any kind of agriculture except the most extensive grazing of sparse, natural grass range; or it was too infertile or wet or stony for all crops except trees. In the western part of the region, the population density line of two persons per square mile now enclosed only the driest parts of Montana - the Powder River and Little Missouri country, northwest of the Black Hills; the Jordan country, northwest of Miles City; and the Missouri River country from the Milk to the Bear Paws. On the north, the line enclosed only the Big Bog and the future Voyageurs National Park and Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Indeed, at the urging of Minnesotans, President Theodore Roosevelt had established the Superior National Forest in that area in 1909. In the mid-1880s Roosevelt had ranched where the then two-year-old Northern Pacific Railroad traversed the Little Missouri Badlands. He had occupied his cabin at Chimney Butte when the Census Bureau frontier line was drawn at the Missouri River. It was only a quarter-century later when he moved to conserve one of the last remaining empty parts of the region and the Census Bureau had discarded the term "frontier."33

The Mature Rail Network

Between 1890 and 1920 the Milwaukee Road and the Soo Line augmented the Great Northern and Northern Pacific in the northern transcontinental corridor. James J. Hill had consolidated control of not only the GN and NP but also the Burlington, with a main line between the Twin Cities and Chicago. In reaction, the Milwaukee Railroad had made its disastrously costly decision to build its own line to the Puget Sound. The engineers virtually laid a ruler on the map from the road's major junction at Aberdeen, on South Dakota's James River plain, to Miles City, Montana, on the Yellowstone. From there they built westward up the Yellowstone and over the dry upland to the Musselshell. They pieced together local lines in west-central Montana and paralleled the Northern Pacific from Three Forks nearly to Idaho.

Earlier, the Canadian Pacific (CP) had taken control of the road from Minneapolis to Sault Ste. Marie and of another Minneapolis rail-building venture which had crossed southern North Dakota to Bismarck. The systems were consolidated to form the Soo Line. The Soo engineers drew another straight line, avoiding the Missouri Coteau, from southeastern North Dakota to the CP's major division point at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. That completed the initial Canadian-controlled all-rail route between eastern and western Canada, through Minneapolis.


Meanwhile, lines of competing systems nibbled at the southern margins of the corridor. Two of the lines between Chicago and the James Valley had been pushed westward across the Missouri to the Black Hills. New routes had reached Billings from Denver and also from Chicago through Omaha.

Until about 1910, branch lines continued to fill the voids between the trunks. The established branch line network, in the fertile prairie-drift plains, from Iowa to the eastern Dakotas, became still more densely developed. Such growth made it possible to fill the remaining open land with farm settlement in those areas. West of the James and Red River valleys, the dense web of branches had been extended beyond the Missouri and north to the Canadian border.  A distinctive, needlessly dense lattice had developed across northern North Dakota. It was the legacy of James J. Hill's counterattack on the Soo Line's invasion of that part of his empire around the turn of the century.34 In Montana, a few twentieth-century spurs pricked the edges of the country between the High Line and the international boundary, between the Yellowstone and the Missouri, and in the Triangle.


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Figure 17. The 1920 Map. Today's basic settlement pattern was in place. The railroad network was complete. Branch lines had reached and passed their economic limits in the semiarid plains, and the region's rail mileage was at its peak. Source: Rand McNally Commercial Atlas (Chicago: Rand McNally and Company, 1927).



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Another town on the Great Plains was beginning at Hettinger, southwestern North Dakota, in 1908—one of more than 2,000  places added to the map of the region between 1870 and 1920. The Milwaukee Road's new line west from Aberdeen, South Dakota, reached to the horizon. Families worked from tents or open-air camps to assemble their animals and load their meager goods into buckbpards and box wagons for the trek to a parcel of land on the frontier. With virtually no social organization or physical structures, they faced the task of building everything. Photo, State Historical Society of North Dakota (A1719-2).


In northern Minnesota, lines from Duluth and the Twin Cities cut through the forest to cross the Rainy just east of International Falls and to join the Canadian transcontinental corridor. On the Mesabi Range, where no tracks and no mines existed in 1890, a dense network had spread in 1920. It moved more than 75 percent of America's iron-ore production, more than 30 percent of all the iron ore produced in the world. The Mesabi lines were steel rail symbols of the steel rail epoch in American development.

In fact, in 1920, transportation both in the region and in the whole country was almost totally dominated by the rail system. The system was nationwide. Its equipment and operations were standardized. It carried 76 percent of the total ton-miles of freight moved in the United States, compared with about 40 percent today. Other than the railroads, the most important arterial routes were on the Great Lakes. The practical, awesome fleet of bulk cargo ships carried iron ore, coal, grain, and a very limited amount of packgage freight. Their bulk cargo accounted for 13 percent of the country's total ton-miles, and half of it originated or terminated in the Upper Midwest. The rivers moved 5 percent of the total ton-miles. Their cargo was mostly coal, some oil. Almost all of it moved on the Ohio and lower Mississippi, virtually none in the Upper Midwest.   Pipelines moved another 5 percent. But, again, virtually none of that movement was in the Upper Midwest. Wagons\and a few trail-blazing truckers hauled the Remaining one percent —much of it to and from the railways — on the country roads and city streets.35

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In 1915, seven years after the settlers were unloading at Hettinger, the Milwaukee Road yards at Aberdeen were dogged at harvesttime with trainloads of grain from the new farms to the west. Smoke poured into the autumn air from two dozen locomotives and the chimneys of the new metropolis of the James Valley. N. A. Brothers, photo, South Dakota State Historical Society.


In the Upper Midwest the railroads collected the region's widely dispersed production of commodities. They hauled grain, livestock, cream, and eggs to central markets from thousands of elevators, cattle pens, and creameries on sidetracks in the agricultural areas. They moved trainloads of logs from forest sidings to lumber, pulp, and paper mills in the forest areas. They carried trainloads of iron ore to the docks on Lake Superior and at Escanaba and to the blast furnaces at Duluth. They moved ore concentrate to the smelters at Anaconda, Helena, and Great Falls. The railroads also transported nearly all the products of the region's industrial plants to the major urban markets of the Midwest and Northeast. Lumber, flour, and meat moved by the train-load. Butter, paper, and the output from the small but growing, diversified industries of machinery, clothing, and furniture moved out by the carload.

Meanwhile the railroads accounted for virtually the entire flow of goods into the Upper Midwest distribution system. Main lines from Chicago and Milwaukee brought goods from the American Manufacturing Belt to Upper Midwest warehouses and mail-order houses. Local dray lines delivered the goods to stores and homes. Railroads also brought the supply of bulk commodities to the towns and cities. The main items were building material and coal. Lumber came from the sawmills of the North Woods, the Rockies, and the Black Hills. Brick and tile came from Mason City and lower Midwest kilns. Cement came from Mason City's limestone quarries and mill or from the slag byproduct plant at Duluth's steel mill. High-quality Appalachian coal moved inland from the docks at Duluth-Superior, Green Bay, Ashland, and Escanaba.  Some lignite came from local mines in North Dakota and soft coal from mines in Montana. The markets were mainly home furnaces or stoves and boilers in commercial buildings, factories, and creameries. Coal and lumber yards were ubiquitous. They lined the sidetracks in every town, beside the elevators, stock-loading pens, creameries, and freight sheds. The railroads not only held the region together and, for most purposes, linked it to the rest of the country, but also delivered all of the material to build and maintain the settlements.


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By today's standards the system was simple, stable, hierarchical, and slow. Goods passed through many hands as they moved up or down the size-rank order of urban nodes in the network. Freight trains averaged 10 to 20 miles per hour; mail trains, 15 to 25. The fastest passenger runs in the Upper Midwest averaged less than 40. Wagons averaged 3 to 5 miles an hour. The system was labor-intensive: at every point were many people lifting, carrying, shoveling, pushing, shouting. But, obviously, it worked, in its way. In fact, for some reason, no doubt complex, this system delivered goods with a smaller percentage of wholesale overhead on retail sales than we pay today.


Completion of Population Growth and Expansion


The region's initial population boom persisted from 1890 to 1920. The total number in today's banking region grew from 3 million to 5.8 million. But trends were changing. Farm population grew 900,000, while nonfarm growth was 2 million. The farm population increase slowed as the frontier pushed onto marginal lands. Net migration off the farms was under way. One-third of a million shifted to town in the three decades. Meanwhile, improved railroad trunk lines and more branch lines encouraged more and faster commercial exchange, more production, more real income, more savings, more construction, more employment, and more urban people. The mix of immigrants and homegrown population was beginning to change noticeably. Net migration from outside the region dropped from 1.5 million between 1870 and 1890 to 900,000 between 1890 and 1920. At the same time, natural increase changed from 700,000 to 2 million. A growing share of the Americans originated in the Midwest, while more of the Europeans came from the Slavic-language countries and Italy (Figure 18).36


Thus, by 1920 the half-century of great immigration and population growth was coming to a close. While the transportation network had expanded and the frontier had dissolved, the number of people in the region had grown from 500,000 to nearly 6 million. Net migration accounted for half of the gain. But more movement actually took place than that number showed. Perhaps 4 million had come in, and a million had moved out. Most went on to the Pacific Northwest or joined the stream of more than one million Americans who moved to the Canadian Prairies. Some returned to their origins farther east. For perhaps a fourth of the immigrants the Upper Midwest was a revolving door.

The region's modern settlement framework was completed, too (Figure 19). Farms, ranches, logging, and mines provided the setting for cities, towns, rural hamlets, and a regional metropolis. Except for suburbs few places have been added since then, and surprisingly few have been subtracted. The broad, basic pattern of today's Upper Midwest was in place by 1920.

Rural development differed vividly from place to place. The main farming corridor had grown from western Wisconsin and northern Iowa to northern Montana. Within the corridor/two factors had produced a wide range of average farm size and density of farmsteads. One was thetime of settlement. The smallest, most closely spaced farms were settled earliest. They were in the forest-to-prairie transition zone from western Wisconsin to northeastern Iowa and central Minnesota. Pioneers in those areas had, on the average, less free land, less capital, less machinery, and less mobility than those who came later and went farther west. Hence they started with smaller farms. A second factor was drought. In general, the farther west the settlement was, the greater the drought risk. Average yields were lower, and a farmer needed more land to make a living. But it is important to remember that, by historical chance, the drier lands were also settled later. By the time they were occupied, farmers had more opportunity to have the machinery needed to operate a large farm. As a result, average farm sizes were larger in the west, but later experience would show that they were still far from large enough to meet the demands of the evolving technology and economy.37


The famous bonanza farms of the Red River Valley were among the earliest large-scale, mechanized operations in the world. During the railroad's financial crisis in the 1870s, several Eastern investors had traded their Northern Pacific bonds for large tracts of the company's government land grant. They decided to break the prairie and establish farm units each of which would operate tens of thousands of acres. Each unit used a fleet of steam tractors, hundreds of horses, and scores of plows and planting and harvesting machines.   Some operating families supported experimental farms with vigorous programs of research and promotion. The bonanza operations peaked around the turn of the century. As the region developed, they were broken up and sold. As sales went on, average farm size in the area fell into line with neighboring parts of the region. But the episode gave a strong thrust and unique character to Fargo's early commercial, cultural, and civic growth.38

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Figure 18. National Origin of Foreign Born, 1910 Census. (2 pages) After 1890, increasing numbers of immigrants from Italy and the Slavic-language areas augmented the larger numbers who arrived from northwestern Europe over a longer period of time. Source: U.S. Census of Population, 1910.


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Figure 19. Density of Urban and Rural Development, 1920. The spacing of urban settlements was directly proportional to the size and spacing of farms, with the addition of mining cities in the Lake Superior district, the Black Hills, and the Butte-Anaconda-Helena area in Montana. The distribution of small towns and hamlets (not shown on the map) also followed the pattern of farm size. Sources: U.S. Censuses of Population and Agriculture, 1920.


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A dozen neighbors labored together at threshing time on this farmstead on the southern Minnesota prairie in 1917. The house with its additions, the shelterbelt, and the array of outbuildings represent a generation of work, saving, and investment. Corn had not yet replaced wheat and oats as the major grain crop; soybeans were unthinkable. Photo, Minnesota Historical Society.



The landscapes of rural development also varied with climate and age. Most farmers in 1920 were still general farmers. That is, they grew grain and hay both for sale at the elevator and for feeding livestock on the farm. They raised stock for milk and meat, poultry for eggs and meat. But differences in the mix were notable. The smaller farms in the better-watered eastern areas kept more livestock and raised more corn and oats for both feed and cash. They had more milk and eggs to haul to the local creamery, more hogs to load on the cattle cars at the local rail siding. They were more diversified, their income more stable. Although most farms in the drier areas were also still general farms, they kept fewer livestock and grew more wheat for sale. Greater rainfall fluctuation made feed supplies and pasture less dependable: livestock reeding was more risky.


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A farm clearing followed the logging frontier near the Canadian border south of International Falls, Minnesota, in 1919. The pioneer family's home is partly hidden by the pile of stumps and tall weeds in the foreground. Photo, Minnesota Historical Society (SA4.1 r4).



 In the areas settled before 1890, an additional generation favored families in their building, earning, and saving. Farmhouses commonly had wings and porches added to the original basic rectangle. Bigger barns and more outbuildings reflected not only more livestock but also a longer history. Taller shade trees and bigger shelterbelts reflected both more rainfall and a longer history. In the newer areas, settled around 1900 or later, the farmsteads were typically in their first generation of occupance.  A basic frame house had replaced the original sod shanty, but only infrequently had time or money permitted the addition of a wing. Barns and outbuildings were fewer, vegetation much more sparse, surfaces dustier. Again, these things reflected not only the drier climate but also the shorter history. The irrigated strips along the Yellowstone and Milk were a distinctive combination of the younger west and the better-watered east. In the Western Montana Valleys, the rural landscapes were a unique four-way mix of newer and older, drier and better-watered. Because immigration was so recent, so large, and so geographically differentiated, ethnic variations were profound from one district to another. There were the unmistakably distinct country churches, stubborn differences in livestock and field practices, and varied details in the architecture of many houses and barns. Yet, those were mostly second-order variations on the overriding gradients of age and rainfall. Meanwhile, the universals were horses, wagons, dirt roads, privies, and windmills.

Outside the main farming corridor, no county averaged more than one farmstead in one or two square miles—in some counties only one in 20 square miles. In the western cattle country, the wide spacing reflected the very large size of the operating units and also the tracts of remaining public domain mixed among the private holdings. Most of the settlement was in the first generation of occupance. Low, rambling, frame or log houses were commonly set in sparsely wooded draws or coulees, next to a spring or stream, sheltered below the windswept plains. Corrals and sheds were nearby, with a bottomland patch of alfalfa as large as available water could irrigate. Mowed wild-hay land followed the winding bottoms wherever the soil remained moist through at least part of the summer.

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In the forest country, the density of farmsteads was low, not because the farms units were large, but because so much of the land was not used for farming. In 1920 the forest in the mountain regions was mostly undisturbed except for the cleared slopes above the mining camps and along the routes of railroad construction. But the northern forests of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota were at the nadir of the notorious cutover stage of their history. Miles of stumps, slash, seedlings, brush, and burn surrounded remaining islands of virgin pine on the Indian reservations and other islands of bypassed hardwoods. Farm clearings, while clustered in only a few small districts, were more numerous and prominent than ever before — or since. Typically a small frame house or log cabin, with a small barn or a shed or two, stood between the dirt road and 20 or 30 acres of pastures and furrows plowed in ash-gray, acidic soil. Beyond that, windrows of smoldering stumps and heaps of boulders marked the zone of struggle between the farmer's commitment to crops and nature's commitment to forest. Farther in the background, a few cows might be visible among the stumps, or their bells might be audible through the brush. The deepest penetrations of the northern cutover followed the Lake Superior-Chicago and Twin Cities-Duluth rail lines, with lesser corridors along the train routes from the Twin Cities to Ashland, International Falls, and Lake of the Woods.

Altogether more than half a million farms and ranches spread across the region in 1920. In the forest-to-prairie transition zone, from western Wisconsin to central Minnesota, the northern Dairy Belt had emerged in the economic geography of the United States. The northern Corn Belt had taken shape on the prairie-glacial drift plains from northern Iowa to west-central Minnesota and the eastern base of the Missouri Coteau in South Dakota. And the American Hard Spring Wheat Belt was now established from the Red and James valleys across northern Montana. 


The Mature System of Commercial Centers


More than 3,000 trade centers were seeded among the region's half-million farms, ranches, mines, and logging camps. The centers ranged in size from Minneapolis-St. Paul to the crossroads general stores and post offices. Nearly 3,000 were hamlets and small towns, with less than the 2,500-minimum population needed to be called an urban place by the census. Hundreds of them had only a few score inhabitants. Others, especially county seats, were larger. It was still the age of small towns. Their share of the total regional population rose from 17 percent in 1890 to 20 percent in 1920. Farm numbers had grown because remaining land had been occupied both at the frontier and in the older areas. Farm income had grown with increased trade and commercialization; but continued reliance on dirt roads, wagons, and buggies sustained the multitude of tightly constrained local farm trade areas. Sinclair Lewis's Gopher Prairie was in the heyday of its stability and functional importance.

While the wagon and buggy preserved and even strengthened the small towns, the mature rail net nourished the regional metropolis. Metropolitan Minneapolis and St. Paul had reached a population of nearly 670,000. Their share of Upper Midwest population rose from 7 percent to 11 percent. They accounted for 31 percent of the nonfarm growth in the entire region in the three decades before 1920. The Twin Cities were now one of the nation's 10 leading rail centers. They were the northwest anchor of the nation's primary rail corridor between the Middle Atlantic Seaboard and the Midwest. Minneapolis was still the world's leading flour-milling center. Trade marks of Pillsbury, Gold Medal, King Midas, and Occident did give the place a clear national image.39

A remarkable corridor of rail yards and diverse warehousing and manufacturing extended nearly 20 miles from the north edge of Minneapolis through the two downtowns to South St. Paul. The downtowns were home to banks, department stores, brokers, clinics, advertising agencies, and legal, architectural, and engineering firms that served the region. One of the nation's model streetcar systems radiated from the downtowns and extended the cities across 100 square miles of glacial moraine-and-lake terrain. The industrial-trackage belt held two-thirds of all the manufacturing jobs in the entire Upper Midwest. Of course, it contained the flour mills, terminal elevators, stockyards, packing plants, and railway yards and shops. But it was also a vast entrepreneurial seedbed. Small firms served the regional market for farm supplies and equipment, country stores, and the giant milling industry. They spawned a constant stream of ideas, new products, experiments, successes, expansions, moves, and failures. They were manufacturing in diverse fields for not only the regional but also the national market. They made household heating and plumbing equipment, some of the earliest commercial refrigerators and light bulbs, generators and motors; paint, pumps, steam tractors and threshers; garments and shoes; printing presses, books, magazines, office forms, calendars, playing cards; pioneer brands of mouthwash and shaving cream.


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Dominated by 12-story monuments to the railroads, newspaper, bank, medical services, and hospitality, an urban skyline had grown above the historic riverboat landing at St. Paul by 1915. C. P. Gibson, photo, Minnesota Historical Society (2776).


Another downtown skyline had arisen in the steel rail era just west of the tall bank of flour mills and elevators at St. Anthony Falls. The major Minneapolis landmarks in 1910 were the city hall tower, the grain exchanges, banks, and insurance offices. Photo, Minnesota Historical Society.

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A Great Northern train pulls alongside the station at Tagus, North Dakota, for a flag stop in 1910. Dogs bark, and travelers from varied walks of life prepare to board. With broom and shovel at rest, the coal and lumber wagon doubles as the local mail shuttle between the depot and the town's tiny post office. In the background, the open prairie reaches from the far edge of the station platform to the distant horizon. Photo, State Historical Society of North Dakota (B0736-15).

The Twin Cities were the focus of railway freight, mail, express, and passenger traffic along the northern transcontinental corridor. They were also a powerful competitor of Chicago across northern Iowa and eastern South Dakota. That position was reflected in the strings of mail cars that rolled in and out of the St. Paul and Minneapolis terminals day and night (Figure 20). Beside mountains of mail bags were bundles of newspapers that brought a metropolitan version of the world to the region. Perhaps 400,000 papers each week moved out as a torrent on the main lines and finally trickled down scores of branch lines to distant county seats.40

    The postal terminals were the equivalent of today's long-distance phone-switching centers. The mail trains played the role of today's telephone long-lines and satellites. Virtually all intercity business communication moved by mail. Long-distance phone ties were negligible by today's standards, and telegraphic messages were confirmed by mail. Capacity of the mail routes was a good indicator of the flow. The amount of space the Post Office Department leased on the trains reflected the amount of mail that had to be moved. And the amount of business mail was probably proportional to the total of all mail. In general, the more people who lived in a place, the more business they conducted.

    On the map of mail volume, the flow of communication in the region resembled the gathering of waters in a river basin (Figure 21).You can feel the mail streams —the tiny branches, the bigger tributaries, the main arteries —swell as you trace them eastward across the prairies. The Northern Pacific stream widened at Dickinson and again at Fargo. Great Northern streams converged and widened at Havre, and the main stream east from there widened again at Minot.  mail streams from Canada on the Soo Line widened where branch lines joined them south of the border, at Kenmare and Thief River Falls, and widened again where the Vancouver and Winnipeg lines merged at Glenwood, Minnesota. And there were watersheds. In western Montana the main transcontinental streams widened westward toward Spokane, Portland, and Seattle-Tacoma. In Iowa and Wisconsin divides ran between the Twin Cities and Omaha or Chicago-Milwaukee.

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Figure 20. Flow of Railway Mail, 1924. The great preponderance of intercity communication moved by railway mail. The Twin Cities were the main focus along the northern transcontinental corridor and a powerful competitor of Chicago across northern Iowa and eastern South Dakota. Source: note 40.




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Train service to and from Tagus and the rest of the region's 3,000 hamlets, towns, and cities was focused at the Twin Cities terminals. Largest was the St. Paul Union Depot. Downtown office buildings loom to the right of the cloud bank of smoke and steam on this early morning in 1925. St. Paul Daily News, credit, Minnesota Historical Society (45529).



    However, there were two very important differences between the mail streams and a river system. First, the flow of mail was two-way: both from and to the tributary areas. The circulation system served an interacting community, not an assembly line. Second, the transportation divides were fuzzy, the watersheds overlapping. The probabilities and the averages favored the flow patterns and divides that appear on the map (Figure 21). At the same time, every place was to some extent independently connected to every place else. The system was open.

Within that open system, the flow of mail indicated that perhaps 55 percent of the Minneapolis-St. Paul basic economy depended on business with the rest of the region. The other 45 percent depended on business with the rest of the United States and the rest of the world. Of all the business done in the region, perhaps 60 percent represented exchange within the local communities. One-tenth was transacted with the Twin Cities, the remainder with a multitude of centers elsewhere in the country. The Twin Cities metropolis was indeed the region's largest city and largest commercial focus. Yet it was not the center of a regional command. It was competing in a pluralistic system of routes and nodes.  Outside the Twin Cities, the number of urban places had increased from 74 in 1890 to 128 in 1920. Most of the 54 newcomers were either county seats or railroad division points. In large part as a result of the increased number of places, the non-Twin Cities urban centers accounted for 46 percent of the total regional population growth. Their share of the region's population rose from 16 percent in 1890 to 22 percent in 1920. Meanwhile, the fortunes of each urban place continued to fluctuate.

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Figure 21. Twin Cities Dominance of Railway Mail Flow, 1924. Within the darker shaded area, mailcar capacity to and from the Twin Cities exceeded that to competing cities shown. Source: note 40.




Duluth and Superior had emerged as the second-ranking urban center in the region. The Zenith City and its Wisconsin partner were the world's greatest freshwater port. The harbor was the focus of rail routes to the Mesabi and the Twin Cities and of direct connections to the American and Canadian trans-continentals and to the Twin Cities-Chicago corridor. Sprawling facilities of national companies were loosely agglomerated among the marshes, scrub woods, and rock along 20 miles of harbor frontage. They included grain elevators; docks and storage for ore, coal, lumber, salt, and oil; the steel mill and two independent blast furnaces; rail shops and yards. A neighborhood of houses adjoined each separate industrial node. Outside the harbor, Duluth's upper-income residential spoke projected northeastward along the escarpment on the Lake Superior north shore. The downtown technical, professional, and small business corps lived on the slope of the escarpment; many of the city's sizable group of wealthy families occupied a line of mansions near the cliff at the water's edge. At the city's original point of development, next to the Northern Pacific terminal, impressive downtown and warehouse districts had grown. A highly efficient, nearly linear streetcar system linked the whole collection of settlements. The harbor was an exciting place — and a strange sight deep in the continental interior.  vestments, and the hopes that had brought the port from one-fortieth to one-fourth the size of the Twin Cities in half a century.

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Central Duluth at the end of the 1920s represented two generations of growth and building at the northwestern terminus of the Great Lakes waterway. The 1870 nucleus of settlement was located in the upper center of the picture, at the base of Minnesota Point. Hardware and grocery warehouses and freight sheds lined the slips which opened to St. Louis Bay (right). Predominantly white-collar residential areas spread northeastward between the Lake Superior north shore and the escarpment (top). Photo,  Northeast Minnesota Historical Center (NEMHC, Duluth, MN, permission required for use)

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Sioux City, Iowa, at the region's southern doorstep, was in the same size class as Duluth-Superior. Its direct rail connections with the James River plain and the Black Hills, coupled with its early river commerce, had made it the de facto metropolis of southern and central South Dakota. The growth period —not only rapid growth but much growth of any kind — was ending at both Duluth-Superior and Sioux City. But both city cores were already fine collections of railroad-era commercial architecture .


Thirteen urban areas were in the 19,000-42,000 population range. A mixed lot, they were smaller wholesale-retail-service centers than Duluth-Superior and Sioux City. Still they were the dominant centers of commerce for extensive parts of the region. The queen was Butte. A smoky collection of Victorian ostentation, warehouses, mines, mills, wealth, vice, and slums, the city sprawled over the "richest hill on earth." Since the opening of the copper mines in the 1880s, Butte had quickly become the metropolis of the northern Rockies, second in size only to Salt Lake City in the intermountain West. Upstarts such as Phoenix, Tucson, and Albuquerque paled by comparison.


In the size class with Butte, three other centers far across the region were creatures of the Lake Superior iron-mining industry. The cluster on the Marquette Range had grown slowly, although the balance had shifted from the mines to the faster-growing commercial center at the port. Meanwhile, on Minnesota's quarter-century-old Mesabi Range, the clusters centered on Ribbing and Virginia had just taken their turn as the fastest-growing urban areas in the Upper Midwest. Five cities with their historical roots in logging, waterpower, and water transportation had become centers of diversified manufacturing and railroading as well as strong local trade and service centers. Two of the five —LaCrosse and Wino-na—had been adapting and diversifying for a long time, first because of the decline of river packet traffic, later because of the decline of lumber milling. Marinette-Menominee had boomed as a sawmill and lumber-shipping point for the Chicago market at the turn of the century. Log and lumber trade at Wausau and Eau Claire-Chippewa Falls had peaked even more recently.


Three more centers in the 19,000-42,000 size class had boomed since 1880 as strong centers for assembling and shipping farm commodities and distributing manufactured goods on the prairies. Fargo served the Red River Valley, and its wholesale trade reached across much of North Dakota. Sioux Falls competed with Sioux City in eastern South Dakota. Mason City served northern Iowa and augmented its trading income with a regionally important cement, brick, and tile industry-based on the local bedrock. Far to the west, James J. Hill and Montana pioneer Paris Gibson had visualized the great falls of the Missouri as a powerful attraction for industry and commerce at the northern gateway to the Rockies. Hill's transcontinental line, at first, was routed to fit that expectation. The Anaconda Corporation located its copper refinery there. With railway shops, metallurgy, and Great Northern lines radiating to the four corners of Montana to carry its wholesale trade, Great Falls had passed Helena and climbed to second rank in the state.


Sixteen local trade centers had moved up to the 11,000-16,000 population class. Four in Minnesota had been well established for more than two generations. Mankato and St. Cloud continued to exploit their positions at important intersections in the regional rail network. Mankato's farm trade had grown with the shift from wheat to corn and hogs in the southern Minnesota prairie. The shift had been spurred by the collapse of wheat prices following the Spanish-American War. St. Cloud was the center of one of America's most extraordinary rural concentrations of Roman Catholic German immigrants. As a result of relatively high birthrates and low out-migration rates, it was the center of an intensifying livestock-farming area and the focus for a large local labor and entrepreneurial force to help the growth of industry. Faribault was continuing its long process of diversification from waterpowered flour milling to other lines.


Rochester had already become a special place. The remarkable clinic of the local Doctors Mayo was bursting at the seams of its three-story building, preparing to build the first of its skyscrapers, filling the town's two surprisingly large hospitals, and supporting an exceptionally large cadre of professional and technical people. Through Pullman car service tied the town to Chicago, thence to the Eastern cities and Europe, and to Kansas City, thence to California, Latin America, and Asia.41



   Meanwhile, the northern Michigan Copper Range towns were also more than two generations old. But their growth was slow. The mines were reaching more than two miles deep, into the hard rock, for lean ore. Corporate headquarters in the East were directing new investments to Latin America. It already seemed likely that the cultural community of the Finnish immigrant miners and the state college of mining technology would outlast the mines.


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Scenes in the commercial cores of St. Cloud and Fargo typify the changes during the steel rail era: St. Germain Street in St. Cloud about 1870 and 1920 (1st set) and Broadway in Fargo, looking north across the Northern Pacific railway tracks in 1881 and the 1920s (2nd set). 


(See description above) Top photo: St. Cloud, 1870: N. J. Trenham, Alexandria,  MN, photo, Minnesota Historical Society (9193); 

Bottom photo: St. Cloud, 1920: Guy's, photo, Minnesota
Historical Society



(See description above)  Top photo: Fargo, 1881: F. J. Haynes, photo, State Historical Society of North Dakota (A2938); 

Bottom photo: Fargo, ca. 1920s: Archie L. Dewey, photo, State Historical Society of North Dakota (C0223)



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The landscapes of Broadway in Rochester, Minnesota, about 1900 and 1920 reflected the quick and relentless onslaught of automobiles, as well as improvements in street surfacing and lighting. Photos, Minnesota Historical Society (29800),(9143-A).





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An instant landmark in the world of medicine in 1928, the new Mayo Clinic building towered above its three-story predecessor (left), Rochester's downtown retail area (right background), and the impressive new Kahler Hotel (far left). Photo, Minnesota Historical Society (29799).



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Figure 22. The Embryo Highway System, ca. 1925. The network was developing in about the same pattern as the advance of the settlement frontier 50 years earlier. The main nucleus was in the Upper Mississippi Valley, with a smaller core in western Montana. Only 340 miles were paved in the entire region, and rail mileage exceeded the number of miles of gravel road. Source: note 43.


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Other urban-economic outposts in the northern forest, in the same size class, werenewer and growing faster: the mining and service centers at Iron Mountain and Ironwood, Michigan; the lumber, ore-shipping, and railroad centers at Ashland, Wisconsin, and Es-canaba, Michigan; and the world-famous transportation service center at Sault Ste. Marie. A new family of fast-growing large shopping and service centers had emerged on the western farmlands. Grand Forks shared with Fargo the early momentum and rich farm trade of the Red River Valley. Spurred by exceptional rail accessibility and a strong railroad employment base, Minot's local business community had secured its leadership in distribution and services in northwestern North Dakota. Aberdeen had a similar position on the Milwaukee Railroad's new transcontinental line. At a major junction and division point, it emerged as the principal distribution center for the James River plain and as a market for grain and cattle from the newly opened country to the west. Elevators, stockyards, maintenance shops, and blocks of substantial mul-tistoried warehouses lined the new transcon-tinental's swath of tracks through the flat city. At the center of the largest, oldest irrigated oasis on the Yellowstone, where the foothills of the Rockies touch the Great Plains, the thriving local trade center of Billings had also moved into the 11,000-16,000 size class. Rail lines now tied it to the cattle- and wheat-ranching country to the north and south. It had direct rail access to the East through Omaha and Kansas City. Along the Northern Pacific's main street of the Northwest, Billings was the first point west of the Twin Cities with a competing direct link to the south. Oil still lay untouched beneath the plains. But here was the location for the metropolis of Montana in a future epoch.

In the  mountain valleys,   Helena had slipped from its position as Montana's largest city. But, the state capitol, ore refining, and remnants of a once-thriving wholesale trade kept the place growing slowly, as they did in 1890. At the western edge of the banking region, Missoula was sheltered in the spectacular Flathead-Bitterroot trench, and its economy was stabilized by the state university campus. The city was growing modestly as a distribution center for the farming communities in the valleys and the lumber industry in the mountains.

In the lowest size classes, the number of urban places grew from 54 to 99 between 1890 and 1920. The most pervasive reasons were the maturation of the rail network and the accompanying increase in farm output, commerce, and industry. Aside from the forestry and mining areas, the spacing and size of the emergent urban places depended on the density and productivity of farms. The older, more fertile, better-watered areas had the thickest crop of urban-sized farm trade centers growing up from the vast seedbed of hamlets and small towns.

   Some industries serving the local farm
trade had begun to expand into the Midwestern and national markets. Most of those were based on agricultural raw materials —the flour and feed mill, brewery, slaughterhouse, cannery, or creamery. Other industries were not directly based on farm products. Yet they were also in the areas of older settlement and more intensive agriculture. There were two main reasons. First, the passage of more time encouraged and permitted local people to get something started: there had been at least two generations to accumulate capital, labor force, management, and entrepreneurial experience in the community. And almost all Upper Midwest service and manufacturing industries were started by people in their local communities. Second, those communities were closer to the Twin Cities and other large, diversified Midwestern market centers. Thus, for example, local insurance companies went to the national market from Owatonna and Water-town; a railway-maintenance equipment maker reached national and world markets from Fairmont; foundries and machine builders marketed from Albert Lea, Winona, Red Wing, LaCrosse, and Eau Claire. Besides industry, other special functions —colleges, railroad division points, capitals—were bringing new basic income from other parts of the region or nation to some of the emerging cities. Nevertheless, the overwhelming flavor of urban growth up to 1920, in places of all sizes and locations —was imparted by the resource-based industries, the railroads, and the length of historical legacy.

merce, the population had become more than half nonfarm. Urbanization was well established and about to take off. Past were the bloodshed of New Ulm, Spirit Lake, Slim Buttes, and Wounded Knee; the brawls and brothels of Hay ward, Deadwood, and Virginia City; the sod-hut hardships of Rolvag's Giants in the Earth and the crude cabins of The Emigrants of Moberg. Most Corn Belt and Dairy Belt towns were now two or three generations old. In the Great Plains and mountain valleys, the towns had lived at least one generation of their histories. Time and money had replaced the clapboard false fronts and rebuilt the downtowns with brick; paved streets and sidewalks; built waterworks; improved parks and squares; put up solid schools, monumental churches, lodge halls, and courthouses; developed streets of fine homes; grown shade trees. To be sure, the region was still badly underbuilt by Eastern standards. But there had been time to get organized and to begin to get a vision of how things could look and feel.  In Main Street, Sinclair Lewis could write believ-ably in 1920 about Gopher Prairie and Zenith, where everything was patterned, ordered, established, hierarchical, predictable, boring. But, of course, the past-and the present -were prologue.

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The Embryo Highway Network


In 1920 the assembly-line outpouring of the American auto industry had just begun. So had the spectacular development of the nation's oil fields, refineries, oil companies, service stations, and garages. The good-roads movement had just begun, also. In 1920 there was not yet a set of road maps for the various Upper Midwest states that showed reliably and consistently the routes and types of surface. But by the mid-1920s highway departments were working in all the states, and maps were published.were published.43 What the maps showed is astonishing in today's environment. Almost no hard-surfaced roads ran between cities (Figure 22). There were 340 miles of paved roads in the entire Upper Midwest. Ninety percent of those were in the Twin Cities area, with the region's heaviest traffic, and in Duluth and the iron ranges, with the region's richest tax base. The gravel road network was less well developed than the railroad network, outside of parts of southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Except for the five-mile paved stretch over the new Missouri River bridge, Bismarck —the capital city of North Dakota— was accessible only by dirt road. It was 100 miles from the end of the gravel at Jamestown. Surfaced roads from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Fargo, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, and Mason City were circuitous.

But, in a way, the map of surface roads was deceptive. There was that massive network of dirt secondary roads not shown on the map. Some were only unimproved ruts; most were graded with varying degrees of care or neglect. No one thought of the piece of road on the edge of the farmyard as a route to a distant metropolis or to everyplace in the nation, as we do today. But everyone knew its importance as a link to town and the railroad line, thence to the nation. Surfaced roads on the map were only a limited selection of threads from the dense fabric. The thin and ragged pattern of surfaced roads reflects the way people were organizing in the mid-1920s to get the system paved. Some states were ahead of others. Some trade centers were ahead of others. Some counties had more money; some had more vision and leadership. A select few had both.

   Where there was no gravel, there was no reliable, all-weather alternative to rail trans
port. Nevertheless, the number of private automobiles and trucks was growing quickly. Fledgling trucking companies were hauling eggs, poultry, livestock, and farm supplies even on the unimproved rural roads. Where roads to town were not yet surfaced, irresistible pressure was mounting to "get the farmers out of the mud." Nearly everyone, at both ends of the road, backed the movement. Road builders were rapidly weaving a new transportation fabric. Of course, the auto and truck were only two applications of the internal combustion engine. In the spacious plains and great distances of the Upper Midwest, farm tractors, excavators, graders, and aircraft opened great new possibilities. Little Falls, Minnesota, native Charles Lindbergh would soon take his pilot training and begin planning his trans-Atlantic nonstop flight. Northwest Airways would soon fly the mail between Fargo, the Twin Cities, and Chicago. Radio broadcasting and rapidly improving telephone technology were tumbling onto the scene at the same time. Gopher Prairie, Zenith, and the Upper Midwest were heading from a period of development, rapid population growth, and maturation into a confrontation with momentous changes in the circulation system and with wrenching strains in the settlement system.


A Place in the National Pattern


The close of the Upper Midwest's epoch of development and rapid population growth was part of a much larger picture.was part of a much larger picture.was part of a much larger picture.44 The spectacular spread of railroads across the Upper Midwest was part of the development of a national system between 1870 and 1920 (Figure 23). Several great regional corridors made up the system. The oldest and most densely developed corridor extended from the emerging megalopolis, between Boston and Washington, westward to Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. It embraced the American Manufacturing Belt and the Corn Belt-the nation's core economic region. With the surplus capital generated in the core, other corridors were extended south and west in the steel rail epoch. They reached to peninsular Florida, to the Gulf Coast between Pen-sacola and Houston, across the plains and mountains to the Pacific ports, and through the Pacific valleys from Seattle to San Diego. The corridors between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Chicago and between the Twin Cities and the midcontinent were part of the core. The northern transcontinental lines between the Twin Cities and Pacific Northwest were part of the western corridor.


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Figure 23. National Rail System, 1920. Main routes linked all of the high-order centers with one another and extended to outlying resource regions and international border crossings en route to major cities of Canada and Mexico. Source: Rand McNally Commercial Atlas (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1927).



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The same epoch saw the rise of the great diversified industrial metropolis on the American scene. By 1920 there were 19 of them in the top three classes in the national urban size-ranking. metropolitan centers of the country. New York, with 8.5 million, was at the pinnacle. Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago each had populations over 1.5 million. Fourteen others, all larger than half a million, rounded out the high-order family, and as one of those, the Twin Cities had just joined the club. The 19 centers also fell into four different groups, each with distinctive regional, historical, and functional characteristics: the old port-industrial-commercial cities of the Northeast; the major industrial cities of the Great Lakes coal-iron-steel-heavy machinery complex; the commercial gateways on the western and southern edges of the economic core region; and the Pacific ports. The Twin Cities were one of the western and southern gateways, along with Baltimore-Washington, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

   The national steel rail system tapped natural resource regions in the South and West that had been poorly developed or untouched. It integrated them into a vastly expanded national economy. It laid the base for future high-order centers at critical southern and western locations — Atlanta, New Orleans, and the Carolina Piedmont; Seattle-Tacoma and Portland; Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix. The new national railroad network also created a system of regions. Each region was centered on the nearest high-order metropolis and defined by networks of trade, professional services, and banking. The Upper Midwest evolved as one of those regions.

The frontier was closed.  A national circulation network and a national system of towns and cities were in place. But great lags and inequities had affected regional development. Manufacturing was concentrated in the core region far in excess of that region's share of either the market or the resources of the nation. There were commensurate geographical inequities in income and related population characteristics—notably health, education, and construction. Now the complete national circulation system would permit accelerated, substantial regional shifts of capital and population. The new challenge was to use the network and further improve its speed, capacity, and efficiency. The time around 1920 opened not only a new epoch of auto and air transportation and electronic communication technology but also a new round of national internal change and reorganization.


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