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GOOD NEWS TAB PART 1 -- Bonanza Farm relic from the past

Buildings remain intact

Associated Press

MOORETON, N.D. -- F.A. Bagg's Bonanza Farm, with 21 buildings and 100 men to work the fields, was larger than most nearby towns in the 1900s.

The National Park Service plans a study to evaluate the Richland County bonanza farm's historical significance in U.S. agriculture -- the first step in determining if it should receive national historic landmark status, said Dena Sanford, a historian with the National Park Service in Omaha, Neb.

"It's one of the few remaining that are in very good condition, because it has its buildings intact," Sanford said.

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F.A. Bagg left Massachusetts in 1866 to work on his uncle's Red River Valley bonanza farm. He became a manager, then a partner and eventually started his own farm near Mooreton, about 45 miles south of Fargo.

In its heyday, Bagg Bonanza Farm employed 100 men who used mule-driven implements to seed and harvest 6,000 acres.

It was not the largest of the bonanza wheat farms that dotted the Red River Valley in the early 1900s, but Bagg's farmstead may be the best-kept vestige of a unique era in agricultural history, said Norma Nosek, president of the Bagg Bonanza Historical Preservation Society.

"It's an important part of our history, specifically for North Dakota, but also for the whole nation," Nosek said.

The preservation society, a nonprofit corporation, bought the Bagg farmstead in 1985. Since then, the group of about 150 volunteers has fully restored 11 of the farm's 21 buildings, she said.

To fund its restoration projects, the preservation society solicits donations from people and businesses. The volunteer group also charges admission for events at the farm every summer.

The Bagg Bonanza Farm, already listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985, draws about 3,000 visitors every year, Nosek said.

If the bonanza farm becomes a national historic landmark, grant money could be easier to secure, she said.

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The National Park Service will begin accepting contractors' bids Feb. 26 to evaluate the bonanza farm's historic significance, Sanford said. The study could take up to a year.

Sanford said she also plans to meet with members of the preservation society at the farm in April.

Once the study is complete, the park service's National Park System Advisory Board will decide if the Bagg Farm best represents the history of bonanza farming and if its historical significance is important nationally, she said.

John Wall, a member of the farm's preservation society, said a Park Service designation will be important in calling attention to the farm.

"It would be verification that what hundreds of volunteers have been working for is important," he said.

The Red River Valley bonanza farms rose from the ashes of a failed railroad venture. East Coast entrepreneurs who invested in the building of a Northern Pacific railway through North Dakota ran out of money before the railway crossed the Missouri River near Bismarck, Wall said.

When their project failed in the late 1800s, some of the investors traded their stock for land provided by the government for the railroad project, he said.

On the land, they built farms that, even by today's standards, were huge.

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The town of Mooreton, for example is named after Hugh Moore, who owned a 13,200-acre bonanza farm.

In their early years, the bonanza farms were operated without the steam and gas engines that revolutionized agriculture production.

"They were extremely labor intensive, requiring massive resources," Wall said.

The Bagg farmstead included bunkhouses, a dining hall, an ice house, granaries, an elevator, a blacksmith shop and barns.

"The bonanza farms changed the face of agriculture and not just in North Dakota," Wall said.

F.A. Bagg was one of the first North Dakota farmers to adopt steam engine tractors, Wall said.

Mechanization changed the big farms, and low wheat prices forced some of the big farm owners to sell off their land, he said. Others gradually sold their land to a growing immigrant population who kept demand and prices for land high.

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