Angel Laws recently sent us some photos of a place outside Williston that we had never heard of. We asked visitors to our Facebook page for information, and we received a photo and some useful links that helped to reveal the history of this place.
Someone sent us this photo of the place we’ll refer to as the Little Muddy Creek Power House and Irrigation Plant (if anyone knows the official name of this place, please comment below). The State Historical Society of North Dakota has this photo in their collection, the work of photographer Bill Shemorry, with the following description:
During Williston’s emerging days, irrigation was thought to be a panacea for the farmers and a great effort was made to organize it under a new law passed by Congress. Out of this grew the Williston Irrigation District encompassing about 15,000 acres of land along the Little Muddy Valley and the north bank of the Missouri River. Water flowed into the canals for the first time in mid-summer 1908 and for more than a decade and a half after. The 3,000 horsepower lignite fired electric power plant powered the irrigation project.
In 1913 the United States Department of the Interior published the “Eleventh Annual Report of the Reclamation Service, 1911-1912” and described the project like this:
The plan of the Williston unit provides for a series of motor-driven, centrifugal pumps on a barge in the Missouri River; a settling basin receiving the water from the barge, and a main canal of 100 second-feet capacity extending along Little Muddy Creek to the power plant, where two sets of steam-driven turbines operate centrifugal pumps to lift water 51 feet into E canal. From the main canal, about midway between the river and the power plant, electrically driven pumps raise 35 second-feet 28 feet into B canal, and from this canal 20 second-feet are raised an additional 28 feet into C canal. The main power station is located close to a 9 foot vein of lignite coal from which fuel is obtained.
In short, this was the power and pumping station that took water from Little Muddy Creek and directed it to neighboring crops. It was powered by coal which was mined in a nearby vein. Unfortunately it lasted only about 20 years before it was gutted by fire in 1929 (see comment from David D. below) and has been abandoned since then.
Angela Laws sent us her photos of this place. It is located outside of Williston, east of Little Muddy Creek, about a third of a mile west of the intersection of County Road 9 and 53rd Lane Northwest.
From the appearance of this place, it’s obvious that young people have been coming here for decades. It is just outside the fence of a neighboring farm, which Angel tells us was vacant and for sale at the time of her visit. It goes without saying that anyone with plans to visit should be careful and try to get permission from the property owner, whomever that might be.
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See more of the Little Muddy Creek Powerhouse:
Photos by Angel Laws, original content copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media
9 thoughts on “Little Muddy Creek Power House”
This is on Army Corp land now
Hi, I’m doing an article on this site, and was curious if you knew who owned the place and knew anyone that knew any information about it. Thank you.
We’re told this site is now owned by the government and managed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Would you know anything about the place? The history of it or anything like that.
Everything I know is in the post above.
I wrote about this plant in my book Ninety Years a Pilgrim. I don’t know if you read my comments on fb, but here are a few facts. It is on Corps land. I have done a lot of fencing for the Corps, some of it around the old power plant so I have seen many of the remaining irrigation ditches. Funding for it came after a delegation from Williston went to Washington D.C. to apply for funding. J.J. Jackson (that names sticks in my mind, but might have been someone else. I can look it up) wore the biggest stetson he had. T. Roosevelt saw the hat in the crowd and upon recognizing the delegation said “North Dakota. I owe my life to that state. I will make sure she gets everything she deserves.” (probably not a quote but a ‘something like’). All the steel in the building was removed during WW2 to support the war effort. That’s off the top of my head. I am sure I can look up more since I still have the research material from the book,
This is definitely the old US Bureau of Reclamation power plant. This was built around 1906, but this plant also started serving the municipal utility in Williston in October 1912 (I have no date as to when the city built its original plant – ca. 1907 for sure). The USBR was having enough trouble with this project by 1914 they would have thrown in the towel if not for the Williston muni contract. The USBR finally left in 1926, Montana-Dakota Power then came in and ran the plant until it burned down in 1929. The company then purchased the Williston muni and built a plant in town (that was just torn down a few years ago).
My grandfather always said that the power plant was struck by lightning and there was a large blue flash, followed by loss of power. He also said that there was a eerie glow over town along with a heavy smell. Does this sound accurate?
Working on my family history I found that a Charles O’Toole was a cook working for the USRS in 1910 in Wagner MT… but by 1911 he was in Williston ND… newspaper article in The Williston Graphic, notes that his son was born in 1909 at the camp at the “Government Power House”. I am trying to determine if this the same place as the Government Power House. Any other place in the area that fits that description? Anyone know anything about this camp and if employees and families moved around from project to project?