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Exploring Historic Sites in North Dakota
The colorful history of North Dakota far predates its admittance into the United States in 1889. Many museums, heritage sites, and even the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail take visitors to the days of the Dakota Territory and Scandinavian influence – not to mention the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and General Custer.
Many cities feature – or are adjacent to – a historical site well worth the visit. Whether you’re heading to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota State University, or cities like Minot, Mandan, and Dickinson, there’s always something to explore in North Dakota.
The capital of North Dakota, Bismarck is a historic city first founded in 1872. As the capital city, Bismarck is home to several heritage sites worth visiting. The tallest building in the state, the North Dakota State Capitol is a 19-story structure set in central Bismarck. Surrounded by government buildings, walking trails, and monuments, the capitol building is the epicenter of this 160-acre campus.
Tours of NDSC are held throughout the year – Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and weekends during the summer. Found on the NDSC campus, the free North Dakota Heritage Center is the state’s official history museum, and is home to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Known as the Hub of History, the NDHC was opened in 1967, and features natural history exhibits like Corridor of Time – plus art displays and traveling exhibits.
The largest city in North Dakota, Fargo puts visitors in the footsteps of Dakota pioneers thanks to fascinating museums and historical state parks. Set near Hector International Airport, the Fargo Air Museum strives to preserve historic aircrafts in eastern North Dakota. The museum features a full replica of the Wright Brothers flyer, plus plenty of aircraft on display each day.
Another Fargo museum showcases the life of famed New York Yankee Roger Maris – a Fargo native. The Roger Maris Museum exhibits memorabilia and film on the man best known for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record. For a little outdoor fun in North Dakota, visit Fort Abercrombie State Park – just 35 miles south of Fargo. The Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site is known as the Gateway to the Dakotas, and was the site for the 1862 Dakota Conflict – just after the fort was established in 1857.
Set in western North Dakota, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located just west of Dickinson along Interstate 94. Covering 110-square-miles, TRNP is divided into three parts: North Unit, South Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch Unit. TRNP features an array of outdoor activity, including backpacking, wildlife viewing, and exploring Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin. Summer recreation includes fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and horseback riding, while winter activities involve cross-country skiing and snowshoeing – a favorite pastime of Roosevelt.
North Dakota’s fourth largest city, Minot is home to some unique historic sites for visitors and residents alike. Set in Minot, the Scandinavian Heritage Park is said to be the only park to represent all five Scandinavian countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. Don’t miss the Gol Stave Church replica, the Leif Eirikssen statue, or the Plaza Scandinavia – a large granite map of Scandinavia.
If you’re looking for a day trip, the International Peace Garden is less than two hours northeast of Minot. Set on the border with Canada, the garden features an 18-foot floral clock, the Carillon Tower, and even remains of the World Trade Center. Visitors may also explore the North American Game Warden Museum, or the garden itself – where 150,000 flowers are planted each year.
Set across the Missouri River from Bismarck in central North Dakota, Mandan is part of the Bismarck-Mandan Metropolitan Statistical Area. Founded in 1879, Mandan features nearby historic sites ideal for history lovers. Set seven miles south of town, the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park was established in 1907 – with President Theodore Roosevelt’s signature on the deed. This 1,006-acre park is home to the On-A-Slant Indian Village, and a full-scale replica of the General Custer House – hourly tours are available for both.
Set north of Mandan along the Missouri River, Double Ditch Indian Village is an earthlodge village and former home to the Mandan Indians. Visitors may see the remains of this village, and may discover walking paths and interpretive signage.
Camp Hancock State Historic Site
Originally Fort Greeley, Camp Hancock was established in 1872 in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was originally developed to protect workers building the Northern Pacific Railroad cross the state. Found along Interstate 94, the site features a steam locomotive and an Episcopal church are within the fort’s property. The headquarters, an original log cabin, still stands; it serves as an interpretive museum, offering artifacts and details about the fort’s – and surrounding area’s – history.
Chateau de Mores State Historic Site
Among the early and more dynamic settlers in southwestern North Dakota was Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores. He got to work owning and operating a plethora of businesses, including a beef packing plant, a stagecoach line, a freight company, refrigerated railway cars, cattle and sheep raising, and a new town which he called Medora – in honor of his wife.
Their summer residence was the beautiful Chateau de Mores, a 26-room house built in 1883. The Chateau, now an historic house museum, is located southwest of Medora near Dickinson, and still has many of the original furnishings and personal effects from the family. Chateau de Mores tours are available in the summer months.
Chief Looking’s Village Historic Site
The "looking" here is the view of great expanses of Missouri River and Heart River bottomland and the bluffs along them. Today, the Chief Looking’s Village Historic Site is located at Pioneer Park in Bismarck, North Dakota. Centuries ago, multiple Mandan tribe earthlodge villages stood here, holding perhaps 7,000 residents. Remnants are still visible by self-guided tours, all found along Interstate 94.
Double Ditch Indian Village
Former home to the Mandan Indians from 1490 to 1785, Double Ditch Indian Village is set in central North Dakota, just north of Mandan and Bismarck. This early earthlodge village is located on the Heart River, and offers interpretive signage and walking paths for visitors. Operated by the State Historical Society of North Dakota, Double Ditch Indian Village is open and free through the year. Visitors may stroll the grounds to see earth lodges, midden mounds, and fortification ditches from the early Mandan people.
Built in 1926, the Fargo Theatre is located in historic downtown Fargo in eastern North Dakota. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, this art deco movie theatre was restored in 1999. A non-profit management corporation, the historic Fargo Theatre showcases independent and foreign films. Encompassing two screens, this Fargo art house also hosts live music and performing arts.
Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site
Established in 1857, the Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site is set in eastern North Dakota, less than 40 miles south of Fargo. Known as the Gateway to the Dakotas, Fort Abercrombie was a military outpost on the Red River – and major player in the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Fort Abercrombie is now a historic site complete with a museum, reconstructed bastions and palisade, and original military guardhouse. The fort is open daily from May through September, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fort Buford State Historic Site
At the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers lies the site of Fort Buford, which went up in 1866 in northwestern North Dakota. It is most notable as the surrender site for Sitting Bull in 1881. You can still see original items such as a stone powder magazine, cemetery site, and a former officers’ quarters which now serves as an on-site museum. To get to Fort Buford, follow ND Highway 1804 about 23 miles south and west from Williston. The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center is located one half-mile to the west.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
A major post along the Missouri River – and a rather peaceful one at that – Fort Union operated from 1828 to 1867 as the principal trading post of the American Fur Company. Seven Native American tribes and European settlers converged here to trade everything from buffalo robes (over 25,000 annually) to blankets and beads.
Fort Union was literally dismantled shortly after the Civil War, by the U.S. Army constructing nearby Fort Buford, by steamboat crews passing by on the Missouri River needing the wood for their steam engines, and just by time. Today it’s been rebuilt to its original appearance from its 1850s heyday near Williston, North Dakota. Original items like arrowheads unearthed by archeologists are on display.
Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site
A National Historic Site since 1974, the Knife River Indian Village was a major Native American trade center before becoming a fur trading center in the mid-18th century in what is now known as Stanton. Set on Knife River, the site is also found on the Missouri River – just north of Bismarck, North Dakota and I-94. Along with the history of the village, interactive exhibits, and cultural sites, the 1,759-acre site includes exotic grasslands, archeological remnants, hardwood forest, and wetlands.
Also, Sacagawea was living at the Knife River Indian Villages when her husband joined the Lewis and Clark expedition as an interpreter.
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Located around Fort Mandan, this is the area where Lewis & Clark settled in for the winter of 1804 to 1805, and plotted the rest of their journey to the Pacific Ocean. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center features artifacts, an authentic wood canoe from the era, and even robe made of buffalo you can try on.
The Fort Clark Exhibit in the gallery showcases the steamboat era in the region along the Missouri River, and the Bergquist Gallery houses a collection considered among the most complete in the world on Upper Midwest Native American cultures. Three 12-foot statues greet you at the entrance (depicting Lewis, Clark, and Mandan tribal chief Sheheke), and a six-foot statue of Lewis & Clark’s dog, Seaman. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is roughly 38 miles north of Bismarck, North Dakota along U.S. 83.
Lewis & Clark Riverboat
How about a boat ride on the Missouri River? The Lewis & Clark Riverboat offers sightseeing, beverages, and snacks while you enjoy river bluffs and scenery of Bismarck, North Dakota and Mandan from the water. Some nights and during special events, full dinners are offered; call for visit their website for details. The Lewis & Clark Riverboat docks at Sertoma Park, near the Dakota Zoo.
Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center
Located 22 miles southwest of Williston, North Dakota and one-half mile east of Fort Buford State Historic Site, the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center tells the story of the confluence of these two rivers. The center also reveals the same view Lewis & Clark enjoyed when they visited in 1805 and 1806. Inside the rotunda, you'll find murals, paintings of the landscape, and more. Hours vary based on time of year.
North Dakota Heritage Center
Set in Capital City, the North Dakota Heritage Center showcases a vast collection of North Dakota American Indian artifacts in Bismarck. Stroll the museum to view the interpretive exhibits and permanent and temporary galleries to learn about the state's history from 9500 BC to today.
The hadrosaur fossil named "Dakota" – from a rare duck-billed dinosaur – is proudly on display. View the fossils and the millions of years of history in the main gallery's seven areas: Corridor of Time, Settlement Era, Birds of North Dakota, First People, Bright Dreams and Hard Times, Era of Change, and Dakota Kids. The Hall of Honors' photographs and artifacts from the USS North Dakota are a must-see.
Scandinavian Heritage Park
Established in 1988, the Scandinavian Heritage Park is located in Minot and commemorates Scandinavian heritage – representing Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. This northern North Dakota attraction is a must-see for those traveling in the state, so be sure to visit the Heritage Center to gather information about the park.
The Dala Horse, Leif Eirikssen Statute, Flag Display, Danish Windmill, Hans Christian Andersen Statute, Eternal Flame, and Nordic Pavilion for the Arts are among the highlights in the park. The Plaza Scandinavia, a granite map of the countries, honors Scandinavian immigrants.
Theodore Roosevelt Center
Pack up the wagon, buckle-in the kids, and make your way for North Dakota. Rich in history and heritage, North Dakota yields full days of sight-seeing, museums, and plenty of winter recreation for those who seek the snow. For historical perspectives, you'll want to visit the Theodore Roosevelt Center.
Found on the campus of Dickinson State University, the Theodore Roosevelt Center is a premier destination for those who enjoy history. Because Teddy Roosevelt does not have a presidential library like most other former presidents, his artifacts are spread out at museums around the country. The goal of the Theodore Roosevelt Center is to gather and digitize all of the relevant documents, art work, books, and historical paperwork associated with the Roosevelt presidency.
Ward County Historical Society
Set on the Souris River, the Ward County Historical Society is located on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds. This living musem features a Pioneer Village with antique cars, buggies, and sleds, and over a dozen historic and original buildings – some have been extensively renovated since a major flood in 2011 and others are in process. Be sure to check it out next time you're in Minot, North Dakota.
Lawrence Welk Birthplace
The iconic musician who delighted generations with his musical style (known frequently as “champagne music”) and his Lawrence Walk Show from 1955 to 1982 was born in 1903 on a farm in Strasburg, North Dakota, about 75 miles southeast of Bismarck.
His homestead is open to the public and was just sold by Welk’s relatives to the North Dakota Historical Society in 2014. Currently on display, you will see Lawrence Welk’s original accordion along with a bandstand and other accoutrements. From Bismarck, follow I-94 east to U.S. 83 southbound (exit 182) and Strasburg is a little over 50 miles down.