Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Frontier Village, Jamestown, North Dakota

    Recently while cruising the internet I came upon a slide show on "21 Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next American Road Trip."   To my surprise one of those towns was my home town of Jamestown, N. D.
    A note at the site reports, "If you are looking for interesting, photogenic small towns, you've come to the right place! Here are 21 spots you should stop in, snap lots of pics of, and brag to all your loved ones about. Because these are downright awesome."
    Small towns are interested in getting visitors to stop.  It's good for business, and if you get the right combination of attractions, it can actually bring a dying town back to life.  What works?  I can think of five things they can do, and Jamestown has done all five.
    1. Get the biggest something to draw attention.  As you approach Jamestown on US Highway 94 from Fargo on your way to the capital Bismarck, you will see the "World's Largest Buffalo, " a concrete monument 26 feet high, 46 feet long and weighing 60 tons.  On my last visit I was told that as many as 175,000 visitors a year have stopped to see the town's major sight, and most have had their picture taken in front of it.

The world's largest buffalo in Jamestown, North Dakota
     2.Build a living history museum.  In recent years this has been very popular, and when I see a good one, I always stop to do a story about it. Frontier Village in Jamestown in close by the buffalo.   The village is one of those sites that grown over the years and finally ended up being a significant attraction.
Frontier Village a collection of old building from around the area.
     Someone donated a railroad station from one of the defunct towns in the area. Then a post office and jail were added, and a little later an one-room schoolhouse where a friend of mine taught in the dirty (dust storm) thirties, and a small Lutheran Church that another friend had been confirmed in (at least four varieties survive in North Dakota, mostly Swedish and Norwegian).  Soon came a fire department, saloon, barber shop, sheriff’s office, trading post and an art studio and sales room set up by a locally famous cowboy artist.  
    The original buildings were furnished just as they would have been in the early 1900’s.  Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, local volunteers will tell you histories and stories about each building.   
    A place I was connected with as a child has also been added, The General Store and Post Office from Eldridge .  In the early thirties my Dad used to take me on horseback (he didn’t drive a car) to Eldridge, a small town about 12 miles from Jamestown.  Our big thrill was watching the train rush pass and seeing the crew throw out the incoming mail sack and hook the outgoing mail bag off the post office hanger. 
    3. Find the most famous person who came from your town and put together a site with his/her name on it. Fans of Western writer Louis L’Amour donated an old house that he may have lived in.  
    For you non-western fans, thirty of L’Amour’s 89 novels have been made into movies, and his books have been translated into 26 languages.  University of Jamestown has a separate room at their library given over to his work, including books in foreign languages, and the local library also has a special display of his work.
    4. Find something that exists in few places and hype it up.  Albino buffalo had a special place in the Native Americans' traditions.  White Cloud, an albino that would have been considered sacred by the Indians of the area.  For years it was the only one in existence, but I understand two more have  been born.  With a little walk you can see the whole local herd of 50 buffalo.
    5. Have the only museum that gives the history of a person or event.  About a hundred yards from Frontier Village is the National Buffalo Museum open year around.  The museum features artifacts and artwork of the Plains Indian culture and a video showing the history of American bison.  
     Many of the visitors come in RV’s and trailers as there is a Frontier Fort Campground adjacent to the village.  You can get buffalo burgers at the chuck wagon restaurant above the gift shop on the  campground. 
    Jamestown has an excellent job putting all of this together to make it an attraction.  I realize that North Dakota is one of the least visited states in the union; but if you’re passing through, it’s worth taking a look at an important memento of America’s prairie history.

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