A quick detour for an amazing history lesson
It’s easy to drive by one of the region’s historic markers. It’s the Grassy Butte Post office.
I’ll tell you why you’re missing an engaging piece of regional history.
About 1900, people predicted Grassy Butte to be a powerful and thriving community. It’s main street included a bank, a lumber yard and a general store. 100 years ago, it had a restaurant, newspaper and a telephone cooperative.
The little town was centrally located between Watford City, Killdeer, Belfield and Dickinson. Several other smaller towns were scattered nearby, but Grassy Butte was the most promising.
Grassy Butte grew
So, in 1916, when news of a new stage line was coming through, people were even more encouraged about Grassy Butte’s future. The new stage line would bring mail from Killdeer through Grassy Butte to the town of Mary. Since the railroad at the time only went as far as Killdeer, getting mail from Killdeer was tough. So from that Killdeer depot to points west, a stage line was contracted for $1,400 a year. A local rancher made the trip.
The stage ran from Killdeer to Mary in 12 hours. It overnighted in Mary, and then returned to Killdeer the next day after a 12 hour run.
Grassy Butte grew as a powerful influence in traffic flow. In 1917, the Auto Trail Blazing Association mapped out the area. It determined the “Black Trail” (similar to the “Red Trail,” a designation assigned a color code before highway numbers were used) should extend from Grassy Butte to Killdeer. The plan skipped Watford City altogether.
Killdeer? Watford City? Grassy Butte?
Grassy Butte and Watford City residents banded together to make sure the “Black Trail” did not skip Watford City.
And so, the first hint of what is today “Highway 85” was established.
The post office started in 1913. It was key to the growth. You notice it looks like an adobe or mud hut, but it’s actually a pioneer structure that has stood for more than 100 years. It’s built with the techniques and styles of a Russian building. That’s because settlers from that country hauled in the logs and built it.
Here’s how the National Historic Registry describes the architecture:
The post office building became a local gathering point. In fact, in 1929, when the Extension Service wanted to teach teach techniques for culling a poultry flock, the demonstration was held at the post office.
Why it is noteworthy
Historic photographs indicate more than one entry room has been built for the west entry.
The interior of the post office is divided into three spaces by two shiplap wall partitions. The mail room and public post office space are located at the west end and is comprised, approximately: 150,.mailboxes and a clerks window over a makeshift shelf.
The main central interior space is heated with a wood burning stove and is furnished with an easy chair and cupboards. The eastern-most space served as a kitchen area when the post office became combination post office and living quarters ‘for the postmaster and postmistress. The floors are wood plank and the walls are exposed log. Paneled doors and four-panel windows are all original.
In 1966, concrete foundation was laid by the McKenzie County Historical Society in an effort to maintain the building. In 1968, two deteriorating logs were replaced in the walls and the entire roof was rebuilt in cedar. The present structural composition of the roof duplicates the original. At the same time, the original clay straw plaster with calcimine wash was removed from the interior walls. The central interior square brick chimney was removed and some new floorboards were laid to replace rotted members. The east-end exterior shed entry was removed but not rebuilt,leaving that entry exposed.
You can visit it
Today, the building stands as a testimony to the craftsmanship of the pioneer builders. You can wander around the exterior and if you connect with the McKenzie County Historical Society, you can arrange a visit to the interior.
Grassy Butte is still a vibrant community with local happenings such as Christmas Parties, Fireman Fundraisers, and Easter Egg hunts.
The traditional church building next to the post office is now a residence.
You may have driven right past this historic landmark. Have you driven past the historic landmark west of Minot on Highway 2 near Blaisdell? That rail car in the gravel pit is amazing!
Geological formations such as Chimney Butte and Devils Pass attract visitors They all have their stories and we like to tell them. Invite us to speak to your group and we’ll open the history books in exciting ways!
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Library of Congress photos used by permission: Reproduction (photocopying, hand-held camera copying, photoduplication and other forms of copying allowed by “fair use”): Permitted; subject to P&P policy on copying.