The Original 12 Settlers
In late March 1878 a group of individuals met in Drayton, Ontario, Canada, for the purpose of planning their migration to the newly explored lands of the province of Manitoba. Making the decision to leave Drayton on April 10, the original party consisted of J. Walter Fawcett, his wife and child, Ezra Healy, his wife and child, Albert Wallace, Wesley Patmore, James Healy, Harry Wallace, and George W. Healy. Alexander McCrea joined this small group along the way, and they traveled by rail to a point 12 miles east of Grand Forks, ND. Their baggage was shipped to Fisher’s Landing (then the northernmost end of the railway), from which they traveled on foot and wagon through the Red River Valley to Pembina, North Dakota. Impressed with the area, they decided to stay, and A.W. McCrea, as the eldest man in the company, was given the right to choose the spot for a new settlement. He chose the present location of Drayton, which they named after their Canadian hometown.
Other Early Settlers
Within weeks of the first settlers’ arrival, at least three cabins had been erected, and prairie was broken to begin farming on each of the claims selected by members of the little colony. The population was augmented by the arrival of other individuals attracted by letters from their settler friends, including Henry Healy, Frank Wallace, Rev. Almon Healy and his wife, A. W. McCrea’s family, William Mills, Frank Healy, Robert Tweedlie, Nathan Upham, James Bellamy, T.U. Henry, Ambrose Smith, Joseph Smith and his son D.K. Smith, R.B. Richardson, Isaac Mussel, and Charles, Frank, and Richard Edwards and their mother.
Some Early Events and Milestones
July 1, 1878 – First post office established (Ezra Healy, first postmaster), mail carried by stagecoach.
1880 – Drayton formally organized; first river ferry began operation; first school built (James Healy, first teacher); first stores, hotel built; year of big immigration as railroad extended to St. Vincent on Minnesota side of the Red River brought immigrants who either walked to Drayton or were met by friends with ox carts.
Oct 1879 – Disastrous prairie fire sweeps area, killing Michasel Duffy, Mrs. William Bellamy and her child. It also severely burned D.K. Smith and J.W. Fawcett. Considerable damage done to property.
1881 – First newspaper established, R.H. Young, editor
1882 – First church built, Methodist
1887 – Northern Pacific Railroad reaches Drayton
1888 – Community Club (later re-named Commercial Club and then Chamber of Commerce) organized; Drayton Echo newspaper established by J.K. Fairchild (name changed several times, finally to Drayton Express)
1889 – Drayton incorporated as a village
1890 – First pontoon bridge erected
1896 – Village of Drayton incorporated as a city
1902 – First hospital built by Dr. H.M. Waldren – privately owned and operated
1903 – Dacotah Curling Club (ND’s oldest curling club, later re-named Drayton Curling Club) built its first rink
Drayton, the Red River of the North, and Steamboats
Early on, the settlement where Drayton sits today was an important Red River boat landing located on the highest geographical point between present-day Grand Forks (ND) and Winnipeg, Canada.
Navigation on the Red River began in 1859 with the launching of the Anson Northrup at Fort Abercrombie. Steamboats became an important means of transporting people, equipment, and goods along the Red River. Some of the steamers’ names were the Minnesota, Dacotah, Manitoba, Alsop, Grand Forks, Grandin, Fram, Pluck, Selkirk, and Ogama. The last steamboat cruise from Grand Forks to Winnipeg was made with some fanfare in June 1909 and was hailed at the time as the beginning of a new era of pleasure excursions on that route. Unfortunately, it marked the death of such trips. By around 1912, the Grand Forks, and all the other steamboats and barges had long since fallen into disrepair and were disposed of.