July 10, 2019 — Although the railroads are credited for bringing growth and prosperity to many small North Dakota towns in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was the steamboats that first served as the major Red River lifelines.
From the 1870’s to about 1885, the steamboat companies platted many communities along the Red River and contributed to the development of the valley. Perhaps no two towns became more prosperous during that time than Frog Point and Caledonia.
Even before it was incorporated as a town, Frog Point served as an important docking station because of its location at the foot of the Goose River Rapids. Its unusual name came from steamboat captain Samuel Painter when his boat was stranded on the point in 1860. He went ashore, and was surprised to find hundreds of sunbathing frogs. He painted Frog Point on a board and nailed it to a tree and remained the name of the place until 1875 when it was renamed Belmont.
Frog Point owes its early prosperity to its location. As Captain Painter found, low water made it difficult to pass the sandbars and rocks at the foot of the rapids. Boats had to dock at the point and transfer cargo from the boat to wagons to be hauled further up river. Walter S. Traill of the Hudson’s Bay Company recognized the opportunity in the location and built a trading post at Frog Point. The post was constantly filled with settlers, trappers, boatmen, traders and Metis.
Traill also recognized the need—and opportunity—for a post at the head of the rapids. First known as Goose River, because of its location at the confluence of the Goose and Red Rivers, it was later changed to Caledonia by Asa Sargeant. Caledonia was not only frequented by boats on the river, but it also became a station for a stagecoach line that traveled to Fort Garry in Canada. When Traill County was incorporated in 1875, Caledonia became its county seat. By that time, however, the end was already near.
The Hudson’s Bay Company closed its U.S. posts in 1875, but Frog Point remained a major grain market until it was destroyed completely by a fire in 1912.
When Jim Hill began building in the Red River Valley, the railroad was built through Hillsboro, bypassing both Frog Point and Caledonia. The steamboat industry floundered in the wake of the railroads, and the stagecoach line was also abandoned for the faster, more efficient railroads. Caledonia’s golden era fully faded when the county seat was moved to Hillsboro in June of 1896.
Caledonia continued to survive as a small village for several more years, though today nothing remains of it or of Frog Point. While Caledonia completely disappeared, the Belmont Old Settler’s Association reincarnated Frog Point as a park, complete with a bandstand, picnic shelters, and a monument dedicated to the old settlers of the Red River Valley.
“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, or subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast.