Washington Apple Country History

The Great Northern Railroad

 Great Northern Railroad

see also-
Great Northern Dining Car Recipes
The Empire Builder

One of two principal railroads which initially traversed this country from east to west was James J Hill's Great Northern. Formerly known as the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad, the company had been in receivership to territory of Minnesota for a number of years. Unable to meet the fiduciary obligations under its founding charter (c. 1857), the rail line was in chronic need of investors and operating capital.

In 1878 its holdings were reorganized as the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway Company, and James Hill assumed the reigns as general manager. Despite decades-long financial hardship, the railroad had been completed across the state of Minnesota and up to the Canadian border. It ran from St. Paul, in the east, to an area near Big Stone Lake, located on the boundary with Dakota's territory.

The language in the original charter, granted by the Minnesota legislature more than twenty years before, had set forth an explicit proposal to "construct a railroad in the direction of the Pacific." Hill was determined to turn that contract into reality. With funds from his partnership in a steamboat line, coupled with money from Donald Smith (at the time, commissioner of the Hudson's Bay Company), and Smith's cousin, George Stephen, then president of the Bank of Montreal, Hill undertook expansion of the railroad into Dakota Territory. Within a mere six years, by the winter of 1885, the system of main and branch lines had grown to almost fifteen hundred miles.

What factors ensured this nearly uninterrupted progress on the Great Northern (c.1878-1893) during the same period in which construction on the other transcontinental railroad, the Northern Pacific (c. 1864-1883), often languished, its production grinding to a complete halt for years at a time? The reasons may be directly attributed to the man in charge, James Jerome Hill.

This transportation pioneer of the American northwest was not only an astute businessman: he was a true visionary. Dedicated to the expansion of trade, industry and farming from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains and beyond, Hill understood that the success of his plans would depend upon concomitant westward colonization.