Things change. And that’s as true as true in Watford City.  When the Northern Pacific plotted the new town there were just a handful of businesses scattered on the west edge of Main Street. Today, traffic through and around town is a challenge.  103 years ago, the challenge was impounding stray horses and cattle, prohibiting pigs and chickens in town, locating hitching posts and keeping haystacks out of town.

Watford City 1916

The town was “Watford” in 1916. It had just a few businesses on Main street, most of them wooden.The population was less than 100.


Watford City 2018

The same section of Main Street. JL Beers and McKenzie County Farmer replaced the original buildings. Today, Main street can’t hold all of Watford City’s business. Main Street is just one business district in town. There are at least two other large business districts, one south of Main Street about a mile, and one east of Main street about 1.5 miles


When the town of “Watford” was plotted, businesses from Schafer, and today Schafer is a ghost town.  Dr. Vaughan G. Morris (1879–1940) for his hometown of Watford, Ontario. A year later the town added “City” to its name to differentiate itself from Wolford in Pierce County. By 2010, the town had grown to about 1,400 people. Today, thanks to the growth of the oil economy, Watford City is about 7,000 people.

In the early days, McKenzie County was known as the “Island Empire” due to the fact that it is surrounded by water on three sides. The Missouri River forms the northern and part of the eastern border. The Little Missouri River also runs along part of the eastern and southern borders. The Yellowstone River forms the western border.

Take a day trip in McKenzie County to experience these sites.

Here’s part of the business district on the east side of Watford City.

Click to see more “then and now” stories:

East Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Peaceful Valley Ranch


We’d love to see your old photos so we can duplicate them as a modern scene.  Just leave a comment below.

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