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Bismarck 150th anniversary series: the capital

Published: May. 11, 2022 at 7:35 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - We’re looking back at 150 years of history that shaped Bismarck, as the city holds a sesquicentennial birthday celebration this weekend.

Bismarck officially became the capital of the Dakota Territory in 1883, replacing Yankton in present-day South Dakota. This instantly sent Bismarck’s worth skyrocketing and ignited a development boom.

On the surface, Bismarck seemed like the obvious choice as capital. Northern Pacific Railway – and all its clout – wanted Bismarck. Plus, it benefited from its centralized location at the railroad and Missouri River confluence. Bismarck’s bid was the most competitive of all, doubling the land acreage required by the bill.

A nine-man commission was in charge of picking a new capital city.

Bismarck was one of a dozen cities being considered for the capital, including Steele, Mitchell, and Aberdeen. Fargo tried as well but didn’t meet the requirements because of its non-centralized location.

After thirteen votes by a commission, Bismarck won the majority on June 2, 1883.

Alexander McKenzie is credited with drumming up enough support for Bismarck, with Alexander Hughes casting the tie-breaking vote. These two commissioners would later become among Bismarck’s most notable historical figures.

The cornerstone for a new capitol building was laid on September 5th, 1883. Many VIPs attended, including Sitting Bull and former President Ulysses S. Grant.

The building served as the capitol, later for North Dakota, until it was destroyed by fire in 1930.

Thursday, in our series celebrating the 150th anniversary of Bismarck, we’ll take a look at the fire that destroyed much of Bismarck in 1898 and how the rebuilding process helped Bismarck become the modern city it is today.

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