Williamsport, Dakota Territory…
Information about this former county seat is hard to find. A variety of sources, including the Emmons County Museum and the Emmons County Record archives in Linton, were used to create a mosaic of information.
Williamsport, was established by Alex McKenzie around 1880 and was one of the first towns established in Emmons County.
McKenzie, who also owned the McKenzie Hotel in Bismarck, 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 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 38 settlers in the entire county, about the size of Rhode Island, and by 1890 the population had increased by 1,933 persons to 1,971. Most of the increase in population took place after the 1886.
The original Williamsport plat was filed Aug. 17, 1883. The town was located 3 miles northeast of Hazelton. The plat was made up of 84 blocks. There were two main streets - namely Broad Street, running 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 remains unknown.
Block seven, at the extreme north end of town, was significant because it was in this block that the county building and jail was constructed from native stone at a cost of $3,300 and completed in 1885.
Some of the businesses included 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 just south of city limits.
Williamsport had a struggle 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 railroad proposed the construction of a branch line, McKenzie to Linton, in 1897 that was to bypass Williamsport. The railroad turned west from town then back east, because the land lays flat.
Williamsport continued to decline. The wooden buildings were all moved away, and the Woodmen’s Lodge Hall was moved to Hazelton. Today all that remains of Williamsport is a pile of rocks, a dim reminder of where the courthouse and jail stood.
Williamsport was located less than 10 miles from the northern boundary of Emmons County and was very unfavorable to the settlers in the southern parts of the county. At the time of the 1884 election, 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, more centrally located than either Winona or Williamsport, had great hopes of obtaining the county seat. Winchester was located 4 miles west and 1 mile south of the present day city of Linton on N.D. 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 its strength by naming ‘No Town’ to which the county seat was to be moved in 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 Jan. 16, 1899, as the day to begin business there.
Charles A. Patterson built a two story hotel, with a 20 x 22 foot lean-to, that was to be used as the first courthouse; the county leased the lean-to at $10 per month. W.E. Petrie had the original town laid out, the plat was signed and dedicated Dec. 29, and filed for record Dec. 30, 1898.
Although a plat had been made, no name had yet been given to the new county seat. Finally, the surname of Lynn and town came together to form the name Linton. So the town was named Linton, and the plat filed.