Walsh County, North Dakota
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Acton Village (Historic)

Population (2010 Census): 67
Peak Population: 400 in 1881
Total Area: 0.3 square miles
Founded: 1871
Location: NW1/4 Sec. 25-157-51
Township: Acton
Other Names: Kelly’s Point, Kelley’s Point is an erroneous spelling.

“Jacob Reinhart and Antoine Gerrard first explored what has since become Walsh County, in the year 1866. They returned to McCauleyville, Minnesota, and when Carpenter & Blaikie commenced running their stage, Mr Reinhart drove one of them. In 1877, he and Mr Gerrard settled down on land near Acton, which was then called Kelly’s Point, and was in Grand Forks County. Mr Gerrard was appointed Postmaster, and Mr Reinhart was his deputy. Mr Reinhart opened a store in 1877, and Mr Gerrard kept a tavern.” 1

“Postmaster Antoine Girard changed the name to Acton on May 27, 1879, commemorating his home town of Acton, Ontario, Canada, which was named for Acton, Middlesex, England, a suburb of London, that had its greatest fame during the Oliver Cromwell regime in the 1600’s.” 2

“The Settlement was augmented by the arrival of Mr B. S. Kelly and his family, from whom it took its original name. Three or four saloons were opened. In 1879 Mr Wm. Budge opened a store and for a time it bid fair to be quite a town, but in the year 1881, the railroad entered the county twelve miles distant, and business and people followed it. By 1884, the settlement consisted of the tavern of E. F. Schumann, the store of John Bouldic, and the post office, of which Antoine Gerrard, who was still postmaster. 2
The village of Acton published a weekly newspaper, “The Acton News,” edited by Frank M. Winship. It was chosen as the first official newspaper for Walsh County. Volume 1, no. 1, was printed on May 26, 1881. The last volume (Volume 1, no. 17) was printed on September 15, 1881, after which it was continued by the “Grafton News.” 1

“It is said that the town had a population of over 400 in 1881, but when it was bypassed by the railroad, it declined rapidly, with an 1890 population of just 25. In 1913 the post office moved across the section line to NE 1/4 Sec. 26-157-51, the home of the new postmaster, Emil Hoenke, but operated here only until September 30, 1913, when mail went to Fork, MN.” 2

 

THE TOWN OF ACTON

“Walsh Heritage” Vol 1, pgs 30-31

 

     As early as 1866, a Canadian from Montreal named Antoine Girard had explored along the Red River of the North. At a bend in the river where Acton is now located lived a Norwegian wood chopper named Larson, who supplied the ever-hungry steamboats on the Red with fuel. In June, 1871, Girard pitched his tent on the historical ground of Acton and called it “Rose Point.” In 1872 he was followed by Ed (Doc) Kelley, and in 1875 by Jacob Reinhardt, who later became Walsh County’s first sherrif. These were the first business men. Girard had a tavern, Kelley operated a stage station which he sold to Girard later, and Reinhart had a general store with a few goods to sell to Indians, half-breeds and an occasional white customer. The site was now known as “Kelley’s Point.”

     By 1879 immigration into this area was increasing rapidly, and Girard, the owner of the town site, had Robert Lynn, the Pembina County Surveyor, plat out the original townsite and later a small addition. The town had 10-1/2 blocks, 190 lots, with First, Second, and Third streets running parallel to the bend in the river, and with six streets running east and west, some named after his children. They were Rose, Ama, Molly, Girard, Levee and Ellen. Technically, one may walk along these streets now, although most are farm fields, but they have never been legally vacated, which is also true of the lots. The town was now called “Acton,” named after Acton, Ontario, Canada.

     Acton, as “Rose Point” in 1871, was granted a post office, but it was never brought into operation. A post office was established under the name of “Kelley’s Point” on August 23, 1878, with Antoine Girard as the first postmaster. By 1879, Acton, as it was then known, had weekly mail service from Grand Forks. Settlers from the north, south and west came here for their mail, some walking as far as 20 miles across the prairie. Postmasters were: Antoine Girard, E. Scott, Eliza Scott, and Emil Hoenke. The post office was closed September 30, 1913.

     In the spring of 1879, Budge, Eshelman and Anderson opened a large store, and Acton began to grow. The stage coach, but mostly the steamboats, brought hundreds of immigrants weekly, all heading westward to occupy the timber land along the Park and Forest rivers, and later the prairie land.

     Acton, or Kelley’s Point as it was then known, was the midway station between Grand Forks and Pembina on a stage line that ran between Fort Abercrombie and Pembina. The line was originally established in 1871, and was owned by Blakely and Carpenter. With enough fresh horses and no unforeseen long stops, the trip could be made in one day. The stations were about 20 miles apart, a convenient distance for a change of horses, with meals for the passengers and, if needed, shelter for the night or in case of storms. Four horses were used, and the coaches were usually painted yellow and had canvas tops. They carried mail express and passengers. There was room for 10 passengers, and a few more in a pinch. Among the passengers riding the coaches were fur traders, homesteaders, teachers, adventurers, priests, ministers and businessmen. Riding was rough over the prairie trails. No paved four-lane highways existed then.

     Acton, being the midway station, was reached by about noon and gave the passengers opportunity to have a meal at one of the town’s hotels. The Acton House was owned by E.F. Schumann, and the Dakota House by John Scott. The Acton House had three stories, the third used as the laundry. Two of the maids at the Acton House were Bertha Wolfgram, later Mrs. Emil Hoenke, and Amelia Schrank, later Mrs. Nicholas Dipple. They would nearly freeze their fingers hanging sheets in the icy third floor laundry rooms in the winter time.

     The Acton house gave parties when the steamboats came. Oyster stew parties were held for their guests on Wednesday nights in the winter. The stages for Grand Forks, Pembina and west started from this House. There was a good stable with plenty of hay. Wines, liquors and cigars were available in the Sample House connected with the hotel. Meals were 35 cents, room and board was $5 per week.

     It was river navigation that built Acton. The Red River was the main traffic lane and the steamboats, Grandin, Selkirk and Pluck, brought immigrants lumber, provisions, farm machinery and everything needed for a new country. Farmers in the area came many miles to Acton to get the supplies they needed and brought their grain to be taken to market. There were two elevators, and from these grain was loaded into the steamboat barges. Some barges had a capacity of 5,000 bushels of wheat. The elevators were torn down when the steamboats stopped running after 1910.

     There was a ferry on the river about a half mile south of Acton. The steamboat would blow its whistle at a distance before it came to the ferry so the ferry cable could be dropped to let the boat pass. The sound of this whistle brought many activities in the town. The hotel staff prepared meals, and dances and parties were held while the boat was in port. The children from the schoolhouse were dismissed and ran to the landing. The saloons became busy places.

     The first steamboat, the Anson Northrup, sailed the Red River from Fort Abercrombie to For Garry in June of 1859. In the spring of 1871, Captain Alexander Griggs and James J. Hill built the steamboat Selkirk at a cost of $5,000. It was launched at Fort Abercrombie April 4, 1871, with Capt. Griggs in charge. There were two decks with cabins on the upper and the engine room and freight on the lower. The Selkirk towed three barges, one on each side and one ahead. (It was a stern-wheeler so could not tow one behind.) In October, 1877, the Selkirk transported a railroad locomotive on a barge from Fisher’s Landing to Winnepeg for the Canadian Pacific Railroad. This was the famed “Countess of Dufferin” now on display in Winnepeg.

     Between 1879 and 1881, Acton grew rapidly with a population of over 400 by the summer of 1881. The legislature of Dakota Territory had authorized Walsh County, commissioners had been selected, and Acton, the largest town in Walsh County at this time, was a candidate for the county seat.

     On May 26, 1881, Frank M. Winship published the first edition of “The Acton News,” the first newspaper published in Walsh County. The issue sets forth the policies of the paper, a little history of Acton, some locals of the time and advertisements of the town’s business and professional men. Some of the items of local interest: business is booming, croquet is in order, at least 100 immigrants have come into town the past week, the steamers Grandin and Selkirk were by, and a new saloon was being erected by Dickson and McClintock.

     The ads list the Acton House and the Dakota House as the two hotels in town. J. Boulduc and Bro. dispense wines, liquors and cigars of superior quality at Salon Francais. A grocery is operated by William Brunelle and a general merchandise store is operated by A&H Zuelsdorf who bought the stock and good will of Budge, Eshelman and Co.  Stoves, tinware, hardware, and Singer Sewing Machines can be had at C. Hendricksen and Co. There were two farm machinery dealers, Strong, Thomson and Vaughn, and Johnson, Holmes and Co.  Ed Boussey and the Olafson Brothers sold shoes and boots. Robert Lynn and Nathan Upham had Law, Loan and Land Offices. Alex Ross was the blacksmith, and Dr. N.H. Hamilton was the physician and surgeon and owner of the drug store. There seems to be no real record of the number of residences, but no doubt there were may.

     The summer of 1881 was the peak of activity in Acton. But even then the fingers of fate were writing on the wall, as the railroad, steadily pushing northward was being surveyed about seven miles to the west of Acton. On Sept. 14, 1881, the county commissioners selected Grafton as the county seat. On September 22, 1881, the “Acton News,” after publishing about four months in Acton, moved to publish its weekly paper from the county seat. On December 21, 1881, the first railroad train reached Grafton, and in a few months this  frontier village became the third largest city in North Dakota. After the first snow many of the Acton businessmen moved their buildings into Grafton or Minto, drawn on heavy sleighs by oxen.

    Acton was still an active village for 20 or more years. The steamboats and elevators operated until 1910 and the post office until 1913. F.T. Kieley became owner of most of the townsite. He operated a blacksmith shop and garage and owned a store. Mr. Kieley had two steam threshing outfits. There were 8 or 10 bundle teams, 2 water tank teams, a straw wagon team, and from 25 to 30 men with each machine. Mr. Kieley lived in Acton until 1923 when he moved to Grafton where he continued to operate a garage. In 1936 he was elected sheriff of Walsh County and was elected again in 1938.

     Transportation was changed and Acton ceased to be a commercial center and began to fade into a mere historical fact. Now, almost a century since the first settlement, there is very little material evidence of the booming river town of 1881.

     Indians were frequent visitors to Acton, possibly camping outside the city limits, as arrowheads have been found across Third Street, while empty gun shells have been found on the townsite. Most of Acton is still original prairie. Here there is located an early burial ground with about 25 graves of the early settlers. The area is known, but it is not possible to locate the exace place of the graves.

     Now the southwest corner of the northwest quarter of section 25, township 157 N, range 50 W, consisting of about 40 acres is owned mainly by Alfred Hoenke, who bought it in 1934. He and his wife, Louise, live on the original town site and are keenly interested in its past history. Submitted by Alfred and Louise Hoenke and Gloria Thompson.

 

ACTON TOWNSHIP SCHOOL OFFICERS

School District 30

Becker, George: President, Treasurer, Director

Brabender, H.W: President and Director

Conlon, Thomas: President and Director

Elder, Mrs. G: early teacher.

Goulet, George: Director

Gray, Adam: Clerk

Greer, W.T.: President

Grier, James A: Director

Parr, J.H: Director

Rasmussen, Christian: Director

 

School District 57

Dipple, John: Treasurer

Dipple, Nick: President and Director

Drane, Mrs. H: Early Teacher

Ebbighausen, H.G: Clerk

Parr, George: President and Director

Schrank, August: Director

Schrank, Ferdinand: Director

Steinky, Mrs: Director

Tank, Gustave: President and Director

 

School District 15

     In 1879, Lot 19 in the townshite of Acton was sold by Antoine Girard, and School District No. 15 was organized. In 1882 Carl Wolfgram built the schoolhouse. Classes began that year and were in session for 74 consecutive term. Records of how many attended school are not available, but there would be a large number. The earliest teacher report lists Rosa Creek as teacher. In 1890 Mrs. L.A. Drane was the teacher. The term was from April 14 to November 7. The number of pupils enrolled was 33, and the teacher’s salary was $35 per month.

     One of the teachers in the school was Viljhamer Stefanson, the well-known arctic explorer. He taught in 1900 and 1901, each a term of seven months at a salary of $40 and $50 a month. In April of 1900, Mr. Stefanson rode his wheel (bicycle) from Grafton to Acton, where he signed a contract to teach school the coming summer. On the return trip to Grafton he had a flat tire on his wheel about halfway between Acton and Grafton and had to walk the remaining eight miles leading his wheel.

     Mrs. Emil Hoenke (Bertha Wolfgram) whose father built the school, attended the school, as did all her children and three grandchildren. One teacher (Matilda DeSautel) taught two generations, returning for a second term after about fifteen years. The final term ended in May 1956, the last teacher was Adeline Dipple.

     The schoolhouse is still standing on the same lot it was built. The building is now owned by Alfred Hoenke, a grandson of the builder, and is kept primarily as a family momento and old landmark. Would it not be interesting if those walls could talk?

 

Officers:

Altendorf, Herbert: Director

Kingsbury, Henry: Treasurer

Schumacher, Otto: Director

Scott, Maggie: Early Teacher

Weinlaeder, Christ: President and Director

Welter, N.P: Clerk

Welter, Nicholas: Director

Wolfgram, C: President

 

A photo taken in 1912 shows the following students standing outside of the schoolhouse. This is a list of the families represented:

Altendorf, Hubert

Currie, John

Dundas, Thomas

Ebertowski, J.

Erickson, Edward (superintendent)

Frame, A.

Hoenke, Emil

Kieley, F.T.

Korczak, Frank

Matilda DeSautel (teacher)

Maxwell, Thomas

Schumacher, Otto

Schumann, J.B.

Trost Family

Zinke, John

 

ZION ENGLISH LUTHERAN CHURCH

     In 1879, when this area was still known as part of the Dakota Territory, a number of settlers in Acton Township called the Rev. Frieke of Hillsboro to conduct services in their midst. He served for six years. Pastor H. Brauer of St. Thomas, traveling by horse and carriage, ministered to these early settlers for a period of five years. It was during this pastorate that the congregation was organized. This took place July 25, 1887, with 14 charter members. The first elected officers were: Henry Kamper, President; Henry Ebbinghausen, Secretary; August Schultz, Treasurer; Gottlieb Zinke, William Schrank and Henry Feldmann, Trustees.

     The first services were held in a small school house located in the southwest quarter of Sec. 3 of Action Township. In 1886, Henry Feldmann deeded a small plot of land to the congregation on the southwest half of section 10. In 1890 the congregation erected a two-story house on this plot. The first floor was used for a dwelling and the second story for worship. It was 24 feet by 30 feet and was built at the cost of $1,200. Carl Wolfgram and Christ Weinlaeder erected the building. The dedicatory services were held in November of 1890 with Rev. Honek preaching the sermon.

     In 1896 this building was moved from Sec. 10 to Sec. 15 to center the church for the congregation. Twenty-nine years later, in 1925, a second church was erected at this location and the former church was used as a parsonage.

     The pastors who served faithfully during these early years of our church’s history up to 1930 were: F. Honek, C. Malkow, H. Bauman, E. Stark, R.H. Buegel, R. Beck, and A. Bauchanz.

 

THE FLOOD OF 1897

As told by Mrs. Emil Rasmussen

     In the annals of North Dakota history the flood of 1897 will always hold a prominent place, and many tales of personal experience, loss and near tragedies will never be written. My family, pioneers of the Acton community, lived through the harrowing experience, and the stories of that period were often recalled in our home. When the floodwaters entered the first floor of the house the family, consisting at that time of my parents, two uncles, and six children (I had not yet joined the clan) retreated to the upstairs. Mother continued cooking on the first floor, wearing rubber boots. When this was no longer possible, what cooking was done was accomplished on a small heater, which also gave a minimum of heat to the cramped quarters.

     Easter Sunday marked the most nerve-wracking day of the period. Strong winds and rain whipped the swollen river into huge waves which coursed through the timber area and became eddies of almost whirlpool strength. Boats, small buildings, dead animals and other ususal debris of a flood flashed by. Big trees, uprooted, missed the house by narrow margins and were a prime cause for anxiety. Foundations were weakened by the water and should a tree have struck the house it could have been set afloat.

     Finally, the small fire had to be abandoned for fear the chimney would catch fire. It was then my mother put the children in bed and spent the time singing to them and telling them stories almost to the limit of her resourcefulness. About 4 o’clock there came a bumping noise, and the men sprang to the window to see what it was. At first they saw nothing, but when someone claimed he had heard a shout, a more careful check was made, and they saw a hand clutching the window ledge. Opening the window they pulled in a man near exhaustion from the cold and water and fright.

     Dry clothing, food and human companionship all helped him (Joe Grandchan) to regain his strength. He was a French woodcutter from up the river whose shack had been swept away, forcing him to take to his boat. It seemed that he had been exposed to the elements for several hours before he had driven his boat into our house. To our family he became “Joe.” For many years he was an annual visitor in our home, and each time the story of his rescue was retold. We younger children would listen while the terrible Easter was relived and to our delight the ending was always the same. Joe would rub his bald pate ruefully and say in his broken English, “When Bill (our dad) pulled me through dat window he scrape off all my hair.” With W.E. (Ed) Balkee, as told by Mrs. Emil Rasmussen in March of 1968.

 

SETTLING IN ACTON TOWNSHIP

Stories of George Cochran

“Walsh Heritage” Vol 1, pg 33

     In the settlement period in the valley a great many Scotsmen were included among the pioneers, and among these were George Cochran, whose farm home is near the banks of the Red River, four miles north of Acton.

     Mr. Cochran was 24 years old when he came to the future Walsh County in 1879. He was born at Renfrew, Ontario, Canada on December 1, 1854. In 1879 he went to Winnipeg. He had bought a team and wagon and he and two companions drove about in the vicinity of Winnepeg looking for homesteads. They rented a farm in that section and put in a crop and continued their search for land on which to file.  They found none suitable, and he and one of his companions, “William Greer, decided to try the American side. The other one, Joseph Morrison, refused to leave Canadian soil but later did make the change.

     “Greer and I walked from Winnipeg to the American boundary,” Mr. Cochran recounted, “and when we reached Pembina we were told that a man named George Parr had asked that persons looking for land be directed to his neighborhood, as he wished to get that section built up. He was in the Acton district, so we came here and saw Parr. We looked the country over and I located on what became the northwest quarter of section 15 in Acton Township. Greer took land two miles north of mine. Greer is dead and his widow moved to Idaho.”

     “A man named Henry Howe had ‘squatted’ on my quarter and built a log house. I gave him $60 for his relinquishment. I went back to Winnipeg and returned in the spring with a team and wagon and farming equipment.”

     In the first years of George’s residence on the farm, steamboats passed on the river nearby. Stage coaches “rocketed” along the trail not far from his cabin. Settlers were coming in rapidly and the young homesteader witnessed the rapid transition from the waning frontier days to the period of settlement and agricultural development.

     He knew Kelly’s Point, later Acton, when it was a stage landing, boasting a lone structure – a log tavern. He remembers the beginning of Acton and the tavern kept by Antoine Girard. Joseph Dechenes had a store at Acton then and Alec Ross was a blacksmith there. Dr. Hamilton was already established there.

     Mr. Cochran recalls assisting Dr. Hamilton and a Grand Forks surgeon with an amputation. The patient was none other than Joseph Morrison, his former companion, who had in the meantime located near Drayton. “Morrison had shot himself accidentally in the left shoulder while preparing to go hunting. It was found necessary to remove part of the left arm. It was a neat job and turned out alright.”

     Among Mr. Cochran’s early neighbors were Louis Gereau, Gust Huard, John Rasmussen, Louis Carpenter, and John Boutlang, together with the French and Kemper families.

 

 

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