Grand Forks is a city in Grand Forks County, and serves as the capital of that municipality. It is the third-largest city in the state of North Dakota, after Fargo and Bismarck, with a population of 52,838 as of the 2010 census; in addition, the outlying Grand Forks metropolitan area’s population is 98,461. Originally populated by French fur traders from Canada, steamboat captain Alexander Griggs later founded a community that would one day grow into modern-day Grand Forks.
While heavily dependent for many years on local agriculture, the city’s economy has evolved and changed over the years and now features a greater focus on higher education, defense, health care, manufacturing, food processing, and scientific research. It is also known as being the home of the main campus of the University of North Dakota.
Grand Forks is located on the western banks of the Red River of the North in the Red River Valley; due to the flatness of the region it is often prone to flooding. The Red River Flood of 1997 caused a great deal of damage to many buildings and homes within the city limits.
Long ago, the land that would one day become Grand Forks served as an important region for local Native American tribes, who would often meet and trade goods there. French explorers soon began to settle in the area to trade furs and other items, and called the area Les Grandes Fourches, which translates to “The Grand Forks.” Initially established as a French territory, the United States acquired The Grand Forks as part of the Treaty of 1818; however, the region was mostly populated by Native Americans until the late 1800’s, at which time the U.S. government – first through conflict, then through treaty – established the territory as wholly their own.
A U.S. post office was erected on the site of The Grand Forks in 1870, with the name being shortened at the time to simply “Grand Forks.” Steamboat captain Alexander Griggs is considered one of the founding fathers of Grand Forks, having first been essentially marooned there for an extended period during a winter storm when his ship became stuck in the frozen Red River in late 1870. Griggs founded a community in Grand Forks in 1875, which was officially incorporated on February 22, 1881.
Many settlers set up successful farms in the area – wheat as an especially important crop – but it was the arrival of the Great Northern Railway that created a massive spike in the local population; before long, Grand Forks had grown into a large and prosperous city.
Modern Grand Forks has several distinct neighborhoods, with many historic properties. The economy of Grand Forks is diverse, featuring businesses specializing in agriculture, as well as public and private employers in sectors such as education, defense, health care, manufacturing, and food processing. The state and federal governments are two of the largest employers in the Grand Forks area. The University of North Dakota, in the heart of the city, is the largest employer in the metropolitan area, and Grand Forks Air Force Base, just west of the city, employs a large number of civilian workers in addition to its military personnel.
In part to the presence of the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks offers a variety of arts and cultural events. The North Dakota Museum of Art, on the UND campus, brings many nationally touring exhibits to Grand Forks as well as the work of regional artists. In addition, university students as well as private theater troupes stage theater productions each year at many venues throughout the city.