Dog Team pulled International Falls-Ft. Frances
Ferry" when Rainy River was frozen
|Before the railroads and roads
were built, the early pioneers who came to the county hiked
over Indian trails
or whenever possible made use of the lakes and rivers to reach
their destination. The most common route was via Kenora, Ontario,
and then by boat across Lake of the Woods and up the Rainy
River to Koochiching Falls. Some of the steamboats that made
regular trips with passengers, mail and freight are: the Shamrock,
Chieftain, Keewatin, Keenora, Rover, Couchiching, Empress and
many others. According to old records, thirty-nine boats had
|In 1901 a Rainy River
steamboat the "Welcome" began to make voyages up the Little
Fork River to serve residents along its banks. Later, the "Itasca" and
the "Mud Hen", built for the Northern Navigation
Company, also made trips to the village of Littlefork. Another
vessel, the "Sea Gull" was only used on Rainy Lake.
The transportation of passengers and freight by steamboats
up the Little Fork ceased when the railroad reached Littlefork
|In 1901 the Canadian Northern Railroad (Canadian
National) that was being built from Port Arthur, Ontario (Thunder
Bay) to Winnipeg, reached Fort Frances. Thus those persons
seeking to make their homes on the American side of Rainy River
had another and more convenient means of travel.
In 1907, two logging railroads, one the Minnesota and International
(M & I) a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific, with its
origin at Brainerd, was completed to International Falls; the
other, the Duluth, Rainy Lake and Winnipeg, was completed as
far as Ranier. Its name has been changed to the Duluth, Winnipeg
Birchbark canoes made by Indians
were first means of travel here
|The Minnesota and
International reached Big Falls in 1905 and was to be completed
Falls. However, the Northern Pacific interests showed little
enthusiasm for building the last thirty-four miles of track
to the border city. Mr. Backus then organized the Big Fork
and International Railway Company in 1906 and began to lay
track from Big Falls north. Before that company completed its
task, the Northern Pacific had a change of heart, took over,
and finished the job. The M & 1 was later operated by the
Northern Pacific and is now part of the Burlington Northern
To give the Backus interests access to both the Duluth, Winnipeg
and Pacific and the Minnesota and International railroads the
Minnesota, Dakota and Western (M. D. & W.) Railroad laid
connecting tracks to both of those lines. The M.D. & W.
was extended west from Nakoda on the M & I to Loman and
was used for shipping timber to the mills in International
It was said to be Mr. Backus's dream that the MD & W Railway
be extended west from Loman to the Dakotas to haul wheat to
the flour mills to be erected in International Falls.
When the pioneers arrived there were just trails through the
woods. As the population grew, the settlers in the townships
began to build roads to the nearby villages and communities.
The cost was paid for by the townships. In many cases the men
donated their labor. The roads were narrow and practically
impassable when it rained.
With the passage of the Elwell Road Law, the state began to
help the counties finance road construction by paying one-half
the cost providing the highway built met state specifications.
The roads were maintained by the county. Under this law roads
numbered 5, 9 and 24 were built. Number 5 began at International
Falls and went west to the junction and then south to Northome
and the Itasca County line. Number 9 began at the border city
and south to the St. Louis County line and number 24 began
at the Pelland Junction and west along the Rainy River to the
Beltrami County line now Lake of the Woods.
The Babcock Amendment to the constitution provided for a state
highway department to be administered by a Commissioner of
Highways appointed by the governor, designated certain roads
as state highways, stipulated that all state highways be constructed
and maintained through the State Highway Department, that all
motor vehicles be licensed by the state at a fee set by the
legislature and only used for highway purposes. The state legislature
passed a law providing for tax on all gasoline sold for use
in motor vehicles. The state tax on gasoline will be seventeen
cents per gallon after January 1, 1984. Of the monies now collected
from the motor vehicle license fee and the tax on gasoline,
69% goes to the state, 29% to the counties and 9% to cities
having a population of over 5,000.
"Seagull" — hardworking
steamboat operated by Joe Lloyd plied Rainy Lake, hauling
for miners and homesteaders.
train at Littlefork
depot in early years of M&I
Falls to Bemidji Bus of 1920
passenger train pulls up to International Falls Station — 1908
are two federal highways serving the county: Number 53
south from International
Falls to Duluth
and Number 71 south to the Iowa Border. U.S. Highway 71
was Minnesota Highway No. 4 often referred to as "old
The state maintains six highways in the county. They are:
No. 11 beginning at Black Bay on Rainy Lake and west along
Rainy River and ends at the North Dakota Border; No. 65
south through the Nett Lake Indian Reservation and to Minneapolis;
No. 6 south from Big Falls to Deer River and ends at the
Junction of State Highway No. 18 near Mille Lacs Lake;
Littlefork to Ray connecting U.S. Highways 71 and 53; No.
1 giving the southern part of the county an outlet east
Superior and west to the North Dakota line; No. 46 from
Northome south connecting U.S. Highways 71 and 2; No. 332
International Falls and South International Falls, connecting
71 with Minnesota Highway 11 and is referred to as the "Truck
All of the federal and state highways in the county are hard-surfaced
except for a short distance of No. 65. Some improvements are
being made every year. In 1920 it took almost a day to travel
by car from Northome to International Falls, now a little over
The county also has a good highway system. Many of its roads
are wide, hard-surfaced and difficult to distinguish from the
federal and state highways. Those not blacktopped are graveled
and regularly maintained.
There is daily bus service between International Falls and
the Twin Cities via Duluth over U.S. Highways 53 and 35.
Since 1946 the airways have become an important means of travel
in the border area. The Falls International Airport located
just outside the city limits of South International Falls is
one of the finest in the state. Large jets can land on its
runways. A modern, air terminal building was completed in 1979
to replace the old structure. The terminal also houses the
U.S. Weather Bureau; The Crash-Fire-Rescue Vehicle, snowplows
and other vehicles are kept in a separate building at the airport.
Republic Airlines has three flights daily in and out of the
airport to Hibbing, Duluth and the Twin Cities during the summer
months, two in the winter. The airport is the third busiest
in the state during the summer. Many private individuals and
a number of corporations that have their own planes use the
airport for business and recreational travel.
For the sportsperson who wishes to take fly-in hunting, fishing
or sight seeing trips on either side of the American or Canadian
side of the border, there are Bohman Airways, Inc. with a seaplane
base on Rainy Lake and Einarson Brothers Flying Service with
its headquarters at the Falls International Airport. Rainy
Lake Airways Ltd. and Rusty Meyers Flying Service operate from
the Canadian side.
|There are approximately two million acres of
land in the county. Much of it is suitable for agriculture
but so far, most of the land is producing timber. Most of the
land that has been developed for farming is in the Caldwell
Brook, Little Fork, Big Fork, Sturgeon, Black, Rapid and Rainy
Grundmeir (Warren Twsp) Making Hay — 1919
A number of disastrous forest fires destroyed
hundreds of acres of timber, farm buildings, livestock
and lives. The fires, destructive as they were, made it
for the settlers to clear large tracts of land. In places
where the peat has been burned off the land, it is now
used for farming.
Much of the agricultural land in the county is especially suitable
for grazing. Hay grasses and clover grow abundantly. Many farmers
are raising beef cattle profitably which at present is more
extensive than dairy farming. There are a few flocks of sheep.
Horses are being raised for riding.
Some farmers have done well financially raising alfalfa and
clover for seed. Most of the crops raised are hay, small grains,
corn and potatoes. A few are experimenting with wild rice and
sunflowers. A number have combined their farming operations
with logging. In the southwestern part of the county, dairy
herd replacement stock is being raised.
|Farming in the county is following
the national trend. The farms are becoming larger, the small
farms are disappearing.
Before the regulations for selling
milk became so restrictive, almost every farmer owned milk
cows and sold cream. Creameries were in operation at International
Falls, Littlefork, Loman and Northome. There are now two
classes of dairy farms: Class A qualifies the farmer to sell
milk, Class B only permits the milk to be used for home consumption
or fed to animals. The Class A dairy farms are in the vicinities
of Littlefork and Ray. The milk from those farms is being
purchased by a large creamery in an adjoining county. All
the creameries in the county have been closed.
Thousands of acres of land that were once owned by the settlers
are no longer used for raising farm crops or grazing. During
the 1960s many land owners put their fields into the "Soil
Bank", a federal program whereby the owners were paid
for letting fields on which agricultural crops had been raised,
remain idle. This program took many acres of farm land out
of production. Some of it still is. The Boise-Cascade Company
purchased a considerable number of farms for reforestation.
Sports persons have purchased some farm property for hunting
and other recreational pursuits. Some of the land has reverted
to the state for non-payment of taxes. A few farms have been
sold to individuals who do not till the soil but prefer living
in a rural setting.
Ray area pioneer, tilled his land with 3 oxen — Tom,
Dick and Jerry.
THE JUDICIAL DRAINAGE DITCHES
|The Minnesota Legislature passed the Judicial
Ditch Law in 1909. This law provided that an individual who
wanted his land drained, could request the district court to
order the county to have the drainage ditch dug if the court
was convinced that there was a definite need for the ditch.
The county was required to assume the expenses for the ditch
Shortly after the county was organized, public opinion favored
a ditching project to drain the low lying areas in the county
to make the land suitable for agriculture and habitation. Judicial
Ditch Number One was dug in Dentaybow Township (T-66-N,R-25-W).
Other townships where Judicial Ditches were dug are: Townships
66 and 67 North, Range 26 and 27 West, northeast from Big Falls;
Townships 70 North, Range 23 and 24 West, south from International
Falls and Ranier; Townships 68 and 69 North, Range 25, west
from Littlefork; Townships 69 North, Range 23 and 24 West,
south from Ericsburg; Townships 156 and 157 North, Range 25
West, north from Big Falls and west from Lindford and Townships
154 through 160 North, Range 27, 28 and 29 West; in the western
part of the county was where most of the ditches were dug.
Today, about 75% of the area is uninhabited.
Note: State Ditch No. 60 was dug in Townships 69 North, Range
24 and 25 North, which lies several miles north and east from
Littlefork. The State Ditch differs from the Judicial Ditches
in that it was paid for by the State of Minnesota. State ditches
may have been dug in other areas in the county.
The ditching project began shortly after the law was passed.
Most of the judicial ditching was done from 1913 through 1917.
The project was abandoned in 1919 when three residents of the
county made a request to the district court to discontinue
the project. Bonds were issued by the county in the approximate
amount of $1,435,000.00 to pay for the cost of the ditching,
a tremendous financial burden for the tax payers to bear.
The ditches were generally dug at two-mile intervals in both
north-south and east-west directions. Large tracts of the ditched
lands are unfit for agriculture. However the ditches did provide
drainage for many acres of farm land west from Birchdale along
the Rainy and Rapid Rivers as well as for the farm lands in
the Lindford and Ericsburg areas. It is interesting to note
that in recent years some of the farmers have requested the
county to share in the expense of cleaning out the ditches.
Many of the ditch grades were leveled and made into roads giving
the settlers access to the interior of the county and in a
number of areas, large farms were developed. In some of the
outlying areas the ditch-grade roads are used for recreation
and hauling timber. Several of our hard-surfaced, county highways
were ditch grades at one time.
The ditching project, the construction of the jail and court
house, the building of roads and high tax delinquency all contributed
to the county going deeply into debt. Through special legislation
the State of Minnesota took over the payment of the county
ditch bonds in the 1930's in exchange for a large tract of
land in the western part of the county which was designated
a game preserve.
machine on the job. Dozens of them operated in the
county between 1913 and 1917.