Posted 6/24/14 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
One hundred years ago, when the early settlers of the Watford City area were building the first homes and businesses in the newly-formed community, one has to wonder what was going through their minds. Obviously, it was a time for optimism and excitement back in 1914 when Watford City officially became a city.
The vast majority of the businesses that sprang up in the early days of Watford City came from the nearby communities of Schafer and Arnegard. They moved to Watford because it was at that time the “end of the line” for the Great Northern Railroad that was making its way east across McKenzie County. However, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the need for steel in the military, the railroad’s eastern journey was never completed.
From those humble beginnings, Watford City has turned into a community that I’m sure would make those early day settlers not only proud, but shake their heads in disbelief at what is going on today.
None of them could have imagined that beneath the soil that the farmers and ranchers worked lay oil and natural gas deposits that would ultimately change the community forever. They didn’t know anything about oil and gas. They only knew that Watford City provided them with a good opportunity to work and raise their families. It was a place that valued neighbors and friends and hard work.
They, like those that have followed in their footsteps, embraced the community for what it was, and for what they dreamed it could be.
But it has not all been easy for Watford City and the people that have chosen to call this place “home” the last 100 years. There were the good times when abundant rains resulted in bumper wheat crops and outstanding range conditions for cattlemen. But there were also the terrible times, like the “Dirty 30s,” when farmers lost their land and families had to move to other parts of the country.
We’ve seen the booms and the busts of the oil industry in the ’50s, the ’60s, the ’70s, and the’80s, and witnessed all too well how the oil industry has impacted our community, both for the good, during the booms, and the bad, during the busts.
We’ve witnessed the impacts that the turndown in the nation’s economy in the 1980s had on our community as we saw the closure of our implement and car dealerships, and saw many longtime businesses close their doors.
While times were tough, the tenacity and the vision of the people of Watford City was never lost. Just as city leaders and businessmen in 1914 dreamed of a bigger and better community, so did the people that followed them. And that vision of a bigger and better community has been the story of Watford City for the past 100 years. In good times, as well as bad times, the community has invested in itself by building community buildings and facilities, revitalizing its Main Street and encouraging new business development.
Today as the city celebrates its 100th anniversary, thanks to that continued vision by the citizens of Watford City and the development of the Bakken Shale oil and natural gas deposits, we see a community emerging that no one in the past century could have ever imagined possible.
We now know that Watford City will no longer be that small community of 1,500 people that we once were. Will Watford City grow to become a town of 7,500 people? Or will it become a city of 15,000 to 20,000? We don’t know.
But one thing is for certain. And that is that Watford City is still filled with the same optimism and excitement that was present 100 years ago.