History of Regan, North Dakota

This history is taken, in part, from an excellent article written by Frances Wold in 1987 for the 75th Jubilee.

Regan owes its beginnings to the coming of the railroad. Before the Northern Pacific started regular runs in1912, the town site was just an empty spot on the prairie.

The first building, Tolchinsky's cream station, quartered in a small shack, stood alone on the site for a time. Early settlers recall selling their cream there and then driving their teams to Canfield for groceries.

The village was named for J. Austin Regan, a Fessenden businessman who was also an official of the Dakota Land and Townsite Co. which platted the town on Section 35 of Estherville Township in1910.

An ice house was the next to go up, a cooperative effort of several farmers who hoped it would be the start of a creamery to which they could sell their milk. They filled it with ice from the creek north of town; however, the dream melted with the ice, and the creamery was never built. The ice house stood about where the ball diamond later was laid out. Then came the Congregational Church-the lumber was hauled by team from Wilton. The church, a mission effort for families who had settled in the area, was dedicated in the summer of 1911. The U.S. government anticipated the establishment of the town by appointing Miss Lillian Ong as postmaster on Oct. 5 1911, but it was the next summer before the post office opened. The last steel on the Northern Pacific Pingree-Wilton line through Regan was laid in November, 1911, and coal trains from the Washburn Lignite Coal Company mines at Wilton began runs the next month. With the advent of the first mild days of spring, the town "sprang up like a mushroom," as one early settler recalled. The sound of hammer and saw sounded forth from dawn till dark, with a dozen buildings under construction at the same time. William Uhde, Len Greenan and John Meggison dug basements all through that summer of 1912, going from one site to another, trying to keep up with construction demands. Among the builders were John Skei, Martin Strand, J.J. Rue, Jake Hoff, John Howe and John and August Lundberg. Small towns in those days were self-sufficient in that everything people needed could be found within their boundaries, and Regan's founding fathers were determined that nothing was to be lacking in the new village. By December, 1912, the Wilton News reported that the following buildings had been completed and were occupied: two general stores, a hotel, a butcher shop, a land office, a drug store, two banks, a livery and feed stable, a blacksmith shop, a pool room, a lumber yard, two elevators, and a dozen residences. That same month, mail service to Regan was established on the railroad, bringing about the discontinuance of the Wilton- Canfield rural route that had first served the town.

The next year, 1913, several important events occurred, including the arrival of the town's first (and only) physician, Dr. Phillip Reedy, the maiden issue of the first newspaper, the Regan Headlight and the settlement's first big Fourth of July celebration.

From the beginning, Regan was a baseball town. The first question asked of any young man seeking employment was, "Can you play ball?" If the answer was "yes," he was assured of a job. A player on an early team, Willis Gill, recalled that in 1914 the Regan nine played three games at McClusky on the same day-morning, afternoon and evening winning them all, with enough reserve on the bench for a different battery to take over in each game. Henry Magnuson, a bachelor who farmed south of town, often umpired. In 1916, the Regan Headlight stated that more than 800 people saw Wing and Regan play on the Regan diamond.

The town fielded a team every season except for the war years. When the men came back from World War II, they put together some pick-up teams, but kittenball soon took the lead as a favorite sport. Playing baseball and rooting for the home team had been important in building a community spirit.

The erection of the Farmers Union Hall in 1914 offered a place for gatherings important in the social life of the community. Construction was also begun on a new school building.

An excellent crop in 1915 brought a boom of sorts to the new settlement. For many farmers it was the first time they had ever had any amount of cash in pocket, and they spent most of it right at home. F.P. Homan, the local druggist, sold dozens of Kimball pianos that fall and winter-four of them in the same week. The next summer the editor of the Headlight was kept busy listing the names of farmers who bought new cars from agencies in town. Local dealers offered Ford, Dodge, Maxwell, Chevrolet and Studebaker autos to eager customers

In the fall of 1916 citizens voted to incorporate their village.

The entry of the United States into World War I deeply affected Regan. In April, 1917, the Headlight carried 35 names on "Our Honor Roll"-names of young men from the community serving in the armed forces; others enrolled later. Town and country alike rallied to support War Bond Drives, Red Cross appeals and knitting classes, and patriotic programs. They found a sense of solidarity in working together in such a great cause.

While much of the nation prospered from the war, North Dakota's economy suffered, as inflation drove the price of farm land up, and government policy kept wheat prices low. A drought over much of the state intensified the troubles. 1917 was the driest year then on record-a far cry from the bumper crop of 1915.  As always, debts incurred in the good times remained to be paid when things turned around.

However, Regan was still optimistic so much so that in the summer of 1918, a group of farmers organized a third bank for the little town. Unfortunately, the optimism was misplaced when hard times set in in earnest. The next year some of the earliest residents left, and others departed in the next few years. No population figures were available for the first few years of the town's history, but old-timers said that nearly 300 people lived in Regan before the war. Census figures show a steady decline: 1920-202 residents; 1930-168; 1940-149; 1950-129; 1960-104; 1970-74; 1980-71.  Strong political feelings during the hey day of the Nonpartisan League (1916-21) and in the years immediately afterward strained the bonds of community feeling that had strengthened during the war, a situation that was worsened by the continuing hard times. The closing of the Farmers State Bank and the Regan State Bank in the 1920s brought real hardship to many.

Then 1927 and '28 once again were good crops years in the area. Some businesses were renovated, two new garages were built, and the American Legion built a meeting hall (the Farmers Union Hall had become a church). Combines made their first appearance in the region, and the farm machinery business was good; many people still bought from local dealers.

Unfortunately, the good times didn't last. With the 1930s came the worst depression and the most severe drought in North Dakota history. Regan, along with the rest of the state, suffered greatly. Many farmers lost their land, and businesses closed. Thousands of people left the state. Those who stayed were later to say, "I don't know how we made it through."

The establishment of the Regan High School in the mid-'30s provided a focal point of activity with its basketball games, parties, programs and graduation exercises. The construction of the gymnasium in 1937 (with WPA funds and labor) gave a place for community gatherings that had been lacking since depression. The importance of the gym to the community cannot be overstated. In the late 1930s, some rain fell, and people began to think that perhaps the worst was over. This proved to be true when the first years of the new decade brought higher-than-average rainfall. Sad to say, however, it was not the forces of nature, but another war, that finally brought prosperity back to the state. Once again the young men of the community were called to military service, with many of them going overseas.

Again, Regan did its part on the home front. Rural and town people alike served on ration boards, conserved food and materials, conducted scrap metal and paper drives, and contributed to fund drives.

North Dakota historian Elwyn Robinson states: "In each decade after 1930 the rural population (villages and farms) declined by about 10 per cent.

Thus Regan found itself with one grocery store instead of three; with one filling station and garage; with no banks; and with the Farmers Union Co-op the dynamo that kept the town going.

Nevertheless, a sense of community survived, as was evident when the town celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1962, and its 60th ten years later.

Reorganization plans pushed by the county and state in the 1960s cut the size of the district from which the Regan School drew pupils, making increasingly difficult the task of maintaining the high school. When it finally closed in 1970, community life suffered and in the intervening years the town’s population has continued to fall, yet now as we celebrate our 100th Anniversary…a community still remains.


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