North Dakota is full of generations of history dating back to well before its statehood. Although we cannot go back in time (yet) to visit some of these historical moments for ourselves, we can visit where they happened at historical sites that preserve the memories as well as the physical buildings and objects that have stood in those places for centuries. These 10 historical landmarks are a big part of North Dakota history and are a must visit if you want to truly discover and explore the state.
1. Fort Union Trading Post - Williston
This fort was one of the first places declared a historical landmark in America. It was originally built back in 1828 and served as a very important fur trading post and in fact was the most prominent one on the upper Missouri for decades. The beautiful fort was partially reconstructed and restored into what it is today. You can visit the fort and catch a glimpse of the Missouri river flowing just beyond it, too. The sights and the history are well worth the trip.
2. Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin - Medora
Theodore Roosevelt attributed his success as a president to his time spent in the state of North Dakota. This cabin, however, has actually been all over the country. It was originally built in North Dakota and served as a hunting cabin for Roosevelt that he stayed at when he wasn't busy on the political scene in New York. During his presidency, the cabin was purchased for the World's Fair hosted in St. Louis, Missouri at the time. It traveled to Missouri, then to Portland, Oregon, and then back to North Dakota where it hung out in Fargo for some time before eventually moving to the state capitol grounds in Bismarck. The cabin was moved one last time in 1959 and permanently sits in the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora today. Now that is one well-traveled cabin! You can tour the cabin and its beautiful interior while visiting the scenic national park around it. I highly recommend it.
3. Fort Mandan - Washburn
The original Fort Mandan would have many, many stories to tell if it could. It was built way back in 1804 for Lewis and Clark to stay at in the winter during their expeditions. Lewis and Clark actually spent more time in North Dakota during their adventures than in any other place in the country. This fort in particular was very important for some of the first diplomatic relationships with the Native American tribes who lived near the fort, as requested by President Thomas Jefferson at the time. If you love to learn about American history, then this place is a must visit because it is packed with it!
4. Lawrence Welk Birthplace - Strasburg
In this home on March 11, 1903, one of America's most remembered musicians, bandleaders, and TV show hosts was born. That person was Lawrence Welk, who ran the Lawrence Welk Show from 1951 to 1982. The home is registered as a historical site and has been carefully kept up by the Welk family descendants and local volunteers for years. Lawrence Welk was the first inductee of the North Dakota Hall of Fame and continues to be a well-remembered ND native to this day. The entire farm is in a beautiful area near Strasburg and is well worth an out-of-towner trip.
5. Fort Abercrombie - Abercrombie
This fort known as the "Gateway to the Dakotas" was built as a military outpost in 1858, when both North and South Dakota were still just the Dakota territory. It underwent many attacks from the Sioux during the Dakota war of 1862 and later was abandoned. The town of Abercrombie was founded about a decade later and used the fort as an important hub for trade and transport. Today, the fort is open for visits to give everyone the opportunity to see and learn about the fascinating history of the area.
6. Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site - Cooperstown
One of the youngest historical sites in the state is also one of the most interesting to see. Walking around inside is almost like walking through a time capsule. Old computers and decor, as well as the missile launching facility, remain intact and are open for viewing. During the Cold War, the arms race led to many such missile sites being built in preparation for a potential nuclear war against the then-USSR. This particular site held missiles that were ready to destroy any incoming missiles on their way to the US before they could ever get close enough to do any damage. While the surface of the site appears mostly empty, the underground is full of hidden facilities you can tour today.
7. Fort Totten State Historic Site - Fort Totten
This fort has an interesting history through its use both as a military outpost and a boarding school, then specifically a boarding school for children susceptible to tuberculosis. Most of the houses on the grounds were built in the late 1860s. Today the site is host to tours, reenactments, demonstrations, and plenty of other fun activities. There is tons to see and none of it should be missed if you have the chance to go, so take the trip to see it!
8. Chateau des Mores - Medora
Medora would not exist today if it had not been for the Marquis de Mores settling the area and having this grand house built back in 1883. In fact, the town is named after his wife. He traveled to North Dakota from France with dreams of being a cattle rancher. He tried to revolutionize the meat packing industry in the US by shipping already processed meat in ice-filled train box cars to cities like Chicago instead of sending live cattle to Chicago's stockyards. The only reason this failed was because the city stockyards stopped buying his cattle or meat to prevent him from taking over their business. He was not only an entrepreneur, but a well-known duelist, having fought and won many duels all over the world. His history, the history of Medora, and a piece of North Dakotan history can all be found preserved here in this amazing house that is open to the public today. I recommend it for de Mores' history alone; he's a fascinating character with a story dramatic enough to be deserving of a movie franchise.
9. Fort Buford - Williston
Right near the Fort Union Trading Post is the remnants of the nearby military post Fort Buford. While the trading post was a busy hub for exchanging furs and other goods, Fort Buford was there to protect the people traveling to and from the trading post and those heading further west to settle the land. One of the most remembered occurrences at this fort was the surrender of Sitting Bull, the famous Hunkpapa Lakota leader. If you're going to visit Fort Union, take a stop at this fort as well.
10. Killdeer Mountain Battlefield - Killdeer
In the beautiful Killdeer Mountains, this historical landmark overlooks what at one point had been an action packed battlefield in 1864. The view is spectacular and the history is riveting. If you're in the area, stop by and experience it for yourself.
If you’ve been to any of these landmarks, share your experiences with us in the comments!