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Hudson’s Bay Company Trading Post, Georgetown

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Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County
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Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse, Georgetown

The former Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse at Georgetown, Minnesota, with a bridge over the Red River in the background, 1959.

In 1857, the US government granted the Hudson’s Bay Company a license to trade furs and other goods in the United States. Since the company already had a factory (headquarters) on the Red River in Canada, it made sense for it to build a post on the Red River in the United States as well. This new post would help connect its Canadian fur trading operations with a global market.

The company chose a site near where the Red River meets the Buffalo River in northwestern Minnesota. There, in 1859, it built a fur warehouse, store, and boat landing. It named the post, and the town that grew around it, Georgetown, after Sir George Simpson. Simpson ran the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1820 to 1860.

Before building the post at Georgetown, the Hudson’s Bay Company and other traders shipped goods by ox cart from St. Paul to Fort Garry. After building the post, it could ship goods by cart or stagecoach to Georgetown before loading them on steamboats to make the rest of the trip to Fort Garry. This reduced the time it took to ship freight from about a month to closer to two weeks.

Although moving goods this way was faster in theory, bad weather often delayed the process. When the roads were dry enough for the stagecoaches to make it to Georgetown, the Red River was often too low for the steamboats to navigate it. The Red River north of Georgetown was barely navigable for steamboats at the best of times, and low water levels made it impassable. Inclement weather often stranded freight and passengers at Georgetown or Fort Garry for weeks. Additionally, the Red River’s frequent flooding meant that any crops the residents of Georgetown tried to plant were at risk; in 1861, after they planted their first crop, a flood destroyed it.

Legally unable to own property in the United States, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) hired St. Paul resident Anson Northrup to operate a steamboat on its behalf along the Red River south of Canada. Northrop built the company’s first American boat in 1859 and named it after himself. His namesake vessel, however—the Anson Northrup—was heavy and hard to maneuver; it struggled to navigate the winding and shallow Red River before sinking in 1861. Another group launched a replacement, the International, in the spring of 1862. The Burbank brothers’ Minnesota Stage Company (a second proxy for the HBC) operated most of the stagecoaches that transported freight and people from St. Cloud to Georgetown. It also bought the Anson Northrup and began operating it as the Pioneer.

In 1862, war broke out in the Minnesota River Valley between white settler-colonists and a group of Santee Dakota. When news of the battles of New Ulm and the deaths of some colonists spread to those living at Georgetown, they fled. The residents of Georgetown returned in 1864 and reopened the post.

The Northern Pacific Railroad connected Fargo–Moorhead to St. Paul in 1871. This was a boon for the steamboat business in Georgetown. The Red River steamboats transported colonists looking to move to Canada as well as supplies to extend the railroad to Winnipeg. The building of the railroad to Fisher’s Landing, Minnesota, in 1876 meant that Georgetown was no longer a convenient stopping point for stagecoaches or steamboats. After the rail connection to Winnipeg was completed in 1878, sending freight or passengers by steamboat was no longer the cheapest method. The Hudson’s Bay Company soon left Georgetown, but the town remained.

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den Otter, A. A. “Transportation and Transformation: The Hudson's Bay Company, 1857–1885.” Great Plains Quarterly 3, no. 3 (Summer 1983): 171–175.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2719&context=greatplainsquarterly

Dolin, Eric Jay. Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.

Engelhardt, Carroll. Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

“Freight Wagons.” St. Cloud Democrat, May 31, 1860.

Herriot, Marion H. “Steamboat Transportation on the Red River.” Minnesota History 21, no. 3 (September 1940): 245–271.
http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/21/v21i03p245-271.pdf

National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form. “Clay County Multiple Resource Area (Partial Inventory).”
https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/64000348.pdf

Turner, John, and C. K. Semling, eds. History of Clay and Norman Counties Minnesota: Their People, Industries and Institutions, With Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens and Genealogical Records of Many of the Old Families. 2 vols. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1918.

Related Images

Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse, Georgetown
Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse, Georgetown
Drawing of the Anson Northup from Harpers New Monthly, August 1860.
Drawing of the Anson Northup from Harpers New Monthly, August 1860.
Black and white photograph of the International tied up at Moorhead,early 1870s.
Black and white photograph of the International tied up at Moorhead,early 1870s.
Photograph of Georgetown
Photograph of Georgetown
Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse, Georgetown
Hudson’s Bay Company storehouse, Georgetown

Turning Point

In 1857, the government of the United States grants the Canada-based Hudson’s Bay Company a license to trade furs and other goods within its borders.

Chronology

1857

The United States government grants the Hudson’s Bay Company the right to trade within its borders.

1859

The Hudson’s Bay Company builds a fur trading post at the junction of the Red and Buffalo Rivers in Minnesota and names it Georgetown.

1861

The Red River steamboat Anson Northrup sinks.

1862

The International takes the place of the Anson Northrup.

1862

In August, residents of Georgetown abandon the post due to the US–Dakota War of 1862.

1864

The residents of Georgetown return to the post.

1871

The Northern Pacific Railroad arrives in Moorhead, bringing more business for the post at Georgetown.

1871

The Northern Pacific arrives at Fisher’s Landing, Minnesota, rendering the steamboat landing at Georgetown redundant.

1876

The Northern Pacific Railroad arrives at Fisher’s Landing, Minnesota, rendering the steamboat landing at Georgetown redundant.

1878

The Northern Pacific links Winnipeg and St. Paul, marking the end of the era of the Red River steamboats as the primary method of transportation and prompting the Hudson’s Bay Company to shutter its post at Georgetown.