|The History of
one-hundred years ago the City of Wilton was founded.
With only three or four buildings and a half dozen
residents at its start, the community eventually grew
into a town of both numerous residential and commercial
properties and over 800 people.
The community has been a melting pot of Ukrainians, Germans,
Scandinavians, and other nationalities.
It all began in 1898, when General W.D. Washburn, a
former U.S. Senator and surveyor-General from Minnesota
as well as a principal owner of the Washburn-Crosby
Flour Mills, purchased 113,000 acres of Northern Pacific
grant lands for the purpose of developing its resources
and promoting settlement.
Washburn was the brother of C.C. Washburn, a Wisconsin
governor and congressman, for whom Wilton's neighboring
city of Washburn was named.
To manage the area and to investigate the persistent
rumors that the land was underlain with huge coal
deposits, Washburn chose W.P. Macomber, a native of
Maine, with whom he had been associated in business for
Gen. Washburn, Mr. Macomber and Mr. Cassidy came from
the Twin Cities to investigate the newly acquired lands
in the early spring of 1899. Then on May 10 of
1899, Washburn selected a town site with four blocks in
Burleigh County and eleven in McLean County. He
named it Wilton; for a town in his home state of
Maine. On October 18th the plat for the town was
Washburn realized that if he wanted to populate the area
and develop the coal mines, it would be beneficial to
have a railroad cross his land. Therefore, he
began immediately to organize the Bismarck, Washburn and
Ft. Buford Railroad Co. (later the Bismarck, Washburn
and Great Falls Railroad Co.) which was completed in
1900. The coming of rails meant Wilton was no
longer isolated. In 1904 the railroad was sold to
the Soo Line. Today, the railroad is owned by
Dakota Missouri Valley and Western Railroad, Inc.
Wilton's Soo Line Depot still stands in the community only
a testament to its past, three blocks away from its
original site. The depot is on the National
Register of Historic Places and has always drawn
attention for its unusual construction, with the upper
story shaped like an oriental pagoda. It is
thought that Mrs. Washburn, after accompanying her
husband to china, was influential in its
architecture. It is now used as a railroad and
Soon after its birth, the community slowly began to
spring to life when a business office to accommodate
land seekers was erected. Cots and blankets were
placed in the building, with area resident Mrs. Kilian
preparing meals for Macomber, who stayed on, and the
hordes of would-be landowners.
In the summer of 1899, construction began on a 60,000
bushel grain elevator, one of Gen. Washburn's
investments in his new town. H.L. Michelson
(sometimes spelled "Michaelson"), a successful
Bismarck merchant, also began erecting a small frame
building for use as a general store. P.K. Eastman
a young businessman from Wadena, Minn. brought his bride
to this new settlement, and helped operate the
store. The Eastman's became the first permanent
residents of Wilton.
Then came a livery and feed stable. The Wilton
News, the local newspaper, made its first appearance in
December 1899 from the presses of the Bismarck
Tribune. The paper was edited by M.L. Hanson. The
town began to take on more residents. A restaurant
was built in February of 1900 -- a rough wooden structure
covered with tarpaper that was so cold that patrons
sometimes ate their breakfast wearing overcoats, caps
On Jan. 10, 1900, a post office was established with Mr.
Eastman as the first postmaster. By April over 50
people received their mail at the Wilton Post Office and
there were 10 buildings. By mid-1902, the
population of the town was estimated at 235.
In 1909 when Wilton celebrated its 10th birthday, there
were five general stores, five elevators, two drug
stores, two banks, three land companies, an attorney's
office, two hotels, two blacksmith shops, a barber shop,
a livery stable, a meat market, a millinery shop, a
restaurant, confectionery store, a grocery store, a boot
and shoe shop, a hardware store, a lumber yard, two
dealers in farm machinery and two doctors. By the
following year, Wilton's population was at 450.
In 1914, Wilton was the largest city in the county with a
population of 1,000 people. That year also saw Wilton
send off its best and brightest to service in World War I. Louis
Ousley became the first war casualty from North
Dakota. He died while carrying a wounded officer to shelter.
In its 100 years, Wilton would send its boys off to five wars.
In its early days, Wilton sat on the rim of one of the largest lignite deposits in
the world. In 1901 the mine, located one mile east of town, began full operation.
By 1907 it was the largest underground lignite mine in
the world. Many of the early miners were Ukrainians,
Austrians and Hungarians who brought with them their
talents, customs and religion.
At times the mine had more than 900 men on the payroll, which was as much
as $90,000 a month.
Because of the
coal mine, Wilton had electric lights before almost any
other small town in the state, as the coal company
strung a line into town from its plant in the mine.
When Truax-Traer took over the mine in 1930, they used
open pit stripping done by large machines, thus putting
many miners out of work. In the mid-1940s Truax-Traer
moved their equipment to Hazen, leaving behind huge
ridges of spoil piles as evidence of their existence.
The first baby to be born in Wilton was Edwin W. Aune,
son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Aune. The birth took place in
a tarpaper shack near where the N.P. Depot stood on Feb.
14, 1902. It was the first delivery for young R.C.
Thompson the town's first doctor. The baby was given the
middle name of Wilton in honor of the town. Except for a
short time spent in Chicago, this was Edwin's home until
be bought a farm a mile north of his parents' home where
he lived with family until his death in 1982.
In 1901, the first school with one teacher was built. It was located in the
middle of the block where the Presbyterian manse now
stands, with playgrounds on both sides. In 1911, a large
brick structure was erected. By 1952 it was-necessary to
expand so a new gymnasium with showers and some high
school rooms were added. By 1966, it was apparent that
more room was needed so a high school was built. In 1978
the old brick structure was razed and a new brick
elementary school replaced it. The school is often the
hub of activity in the community, with its basketball,
football, track, dramas, concerts, proms and other
The community is now situated on U.S. Highway 83, a
four-lane thoroughfare, connecting the city with
Bismarck, the state capital of North Dakota. In recent
years, the community has become a "bedroom
community," for some who live in Wilton but work in
Today Wilton has much to offer. It is also only 10 miles south of the
Painted Woods Golf Course. The community is also in the
midst of an excellent game hunting area, with deer,
pheasants, grouse and partridge being plentiful.
Wilton boasts four parks -two with shelters, picnic tables,
electrical hookups, modern playground equipment, rest
rooms and garbage receptacles.
Wilton also has the important assets of a volunteer ambulance and fire
department, that are on call 24 hours every day.
The business community includes a bank, post office,
convenience store/gas station, cafe, bars, basic care
facility, greenhouse, etc.
The community has a big and colorful past. It's a good
place to live - where neighbor knows neighbor.(Information
for the story was obtained from the Wilton Centennial History
Book and a story written by the late Charlotte Strand.)
Meet Wilton's Mayors|
its early history, Wilton was actually operated by a
Village Council. It officially took on a mayor-council
form of government in 1912 following a vote of the
served as presidents of the Village Council of Wilton
were: W. Hubbell, Charles Firn, Robert Cotton (1906 and
1908-10), R.W. Anderson, 1907, and E.C. Stocker, 1911.
Mayors under the mayor-council form of government were:
Robert Cotton, 1912-18; G.W. Stewart, 1918-24; Charles
W. Howe, 1924-30; A.D. Hitt, 1930, until the change to
commission form in 1935.
City commission presidents since 1935 have been Ross
Tibbits. 1935-44; C.T. Thompson, 1944-48; Floyd
Anderson, 1948-54; and Ole Staven. 1954-56. E.G.
Hilken was elected in 1956 and served until 1967.
Veron Peterson took his place and served until 1968;
Paul Bartholomew, 1968-78; Kenneth Werre, 1978-85;
Merton Hansen, 1985-86; Rodger Denny, 1986-88; Peter
Kassian, Jr., 1988-90; John Grey, 1990-94; Peter
Elichuk, 1995-97; Leroy Kambeitz, 1997-98; Timothy
Kellar, 1998 to 2002; Kyle Tschosik 2002 to 2010 and Ron
Peck 2010 to present.