The townsite of Williamsport, Emmons County, Dakota Territory, was established by Mr. Alex McKenzie not later than the year 1880 and most likely prior to that time, as Williamsport was one of the first towns established in Emmons County. Mr. McKenzie was recognized as a great political leader and one who worked hard at promoting land sales in the northern part of the county.
Williamsport was named for Mr. Daniel R. Williams, one of the county's early settlers, its first Register of Deeds, and the first warden of the State Penitentiary.
In 1880 there were about 38 settlers in the entire county, and by 1890 the population had increased by 1,933 persons to make a total of 1,971. Most of the increase in population took place after the year 1886.
The original plat of Williamsport was filed August 17, 1883. The town was located about 3 miles NE of the present town of Hazelton. The plat of Williamsport comprised eighty-four blocks. There were two main streets, namely Broad Street., running due north and south, and Market Street running due east and west. At the center of the intersection of the two streets there was to be erected a stone monument. What that monument was to represent is unknown.
Block seven at the extreme north end of town, on the east side of Broad Street, was reserved for administration buildings. It was in this block that the county building and jail was constructed, from native stone, by the Healy Brothers of Bismarck at a cost of $3,300 completed September 16, 1885. This building faced Broad Street on the west and Arch Street on the south.
Some of the businesses were: H.D. Connor Store, D.R.Streeter Printing, H.A. Armstrong Law Office, Peter Farrell Blacksmith Shop, Well Drilling Shop and the Woodman Lodge Hall. A school was also built about one half mile south of the city limits.
Williamsport did have a colorful and eventful career as evidenced by the struggle it had to retain the County Seat from 1883 until November 1898, and the events that transpired subsequent to the murder of six members of the Thomas Spicer family by Indians in February 1897.
The decline of the town started when the Northern Pacific RR proposed the construction of a branch line, McKenzie to Linton about 1897 it was to by-pass Williamsport. A perusal of the township map causes one to wonder why the railroad turned west away from Section 15, then swinging back east, south of Section 15 to the same section line that bordered Williamsport, because the land lays exceptionally flat.
Williamsport continued to decline. The wooden buildings were all moved away. The Woodmen's Lodge hall was moved to Hazelton, where it was converted into Hazelton's Today all that remains of Williamsport is a pile of rock and stone, a dim reminder of where the courthouse and jail stood first Catholic Church.
Williamsport (our first county seat) was located less than ten miles from the northern boundary of the county and therefore very unfavorable to the settlers in the southern parts of the county. At the time of the election of 1884, the location of the county seat was voted upon. The settlers in the southern section favored Winona, a town opposite Fort Yates, on the west bank of the Missouri river, but because these southern settlers were less experienced in playing the game of politics, Williamsport received the largest vote, and remained the county seat.
The question of relocating the county seat was again voted on at the November 1888 election. The town of Winchester, being more centrally located than either Winona or Williamsport, had great hopes of obtaining the distinction of becoming the county seat. Winchester was located 4 miles west and 1 mile south of the present day city of Linton, On highway 13.
Winchester received 235 votes, just half of the total vote cast, therefore the county seat remained at Williamsport.
The final battle was fought in the election of 1898. The southern end of the county had pooled their strength by naming 'No Town' to which the county seat was to be removed, but the ballots simply designated the SE ¼ of Section 7: 132-76, the center of the county. There was no town at this place, therefore one had to be built. The county commissioners made arrangements for the county officers at the new location, and set January 16, 1899, as the day to begin business there.
Charles A. Patterson built a two storey hotel, with a 20 x 22 feet lean-to on the west side to be used as the first court house, the county leased the lean-to at $10.00 per month.
W.E. Petrie had the original town laid out, the plat was signed and dedicated December 29th, and filed for record December 30, 1898.
Although a plat had been made, no name had yet been given to the new county seat. The names of Petrie, Lynn and Muench were suggested but these men all refused the honor of having the town named after them. Finally H. W. Allen suggested shortening 'Lynn' and 'Town' to 'ton'. So the town was named 'Linton' and the plat filed.
One hundred years ago Linton became the new Emmons County seat of government, but not without a struggle. From a WPA Historical Project written by Leonard Jellema, who interviewed John A. Bartu, we get John's version of the episode. It reads as follows: About 1898 he was appointed a county constable, but this did not deter him from taking an active part in the seizure of the county records in January of 1899. At this time the county seat was still located in Williamsport at the extreme north end of the county, which it is now conceded by all, was a very illogical location. Several elections had been held to change this location, but “we”, says Mr. Bartu, always lost. The election of 1898, however, was won by a large majority. The people were all for bringing the change about immediately, but the officials at the north end of the county obtained a restraining order. This enraged the people of the south and central parts of the county, who under the leadership of Charles Patterson and others, determined to steal the county records and bring them to Linton by force. Farmers from all over the county met at Pattersons one evening in January 1899, some coming with team and wagon and others on horseback. Mr. Bartu says there must have been about sixty wagons, beside about twenty horsemen in the party that left Linton. However, about half of the horsemen in the party that left Linton. However, about half of the wagons and their less hardy occupants turned back before reaching Williamsport. The others continued on and when about seven miles from the town, a party of horsemen were sent ahead to surround the county jail building, in which the records were kept. The leaders feared that the officials in Williamsport might barricade themselves inside the building and prevent them from attaining their objective. These men surrounded the jail and Fred Geil's house and allowed no one to enter or leave this circle. Mr. Geil said his wife was in the town and he feared for her safety, but Mr. Bartu assured him that neither she nor any other woman would be harmed.
The main party soon arrived and the jail broken into. All the records were loaded on the wagons, including the 2 ton safe, which the pickets continued to mount guard. Some of the men fired their guns into the air, but Mr. Bartu told them to stop. His constableship was respected, even though at present engaged in an unlawful project.
The records were taken to Linton and deposited in the lean-to, built on the Patterson hotel. Of course the news of this adventure was soon carried to Judge Winchester at Bismarck, who refused to render any decision in regard to the county seat location until the records were returned to Williamsport. Therefore they wee reloaded on wagons, including the safe, and Mr. Bartu took them back. After the Judge's decision, Mr. Bartu was commissioned to bring them to what was to be called Linton.
Author unknown. From the files of Ronald Kremer. Contributed by his daughter Cynthia Maier.
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Bismarck Daily Tribune, 7/29/1897
History of Emmons County, 1976 - More History of Williamsport, Page 73
See article in Prairie Public Broadcasting