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Grand Forks, North Dakota
Aerial view of downtown Grand Forks in 2006.
Aerial view of downtown Grand Forks in 2006.
"The Grand Cities", "The Forks", "The Sunflake City"
"A Place of Excellence"
Location in the U.S. state of North Dakota
Location in the U.S. state of North Dakota
Country  United States
State  North Dakota
Metro Greater Grand Forks
County Grand Forks
Founded June 15, 1870
Incorporated February 22, 1881
 • City 20.09 sq mi (52.03 km2)
 • Land 19.91 sq mi (51.57 km2)
 • Water 0.18 sq mi (0.47 km2)
843 ft (257 m)
 • City 52,838
 • Estimate 
 • Rank US: 651st
 • Density 2,653.8/sq mi (1,024.6/km2)
 • Urban
61,270 (U.S. 440th)
 • Metro
102,449 (U.S. 348th)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 701
FIPS code 38-32060
GNIS feature ID 1029197
Highways I-29, US 2, US 2 Bus., US 81, US 81 Bus., ND 297

Grand Forks is the third-largest city in the State of North Dakota (after Fargo and Bismarck) and is the county seat of Grand Forks County. According to the 2010 census, the city's population was 52,838, while the total of the city and surrounding metropolitan area was 98,461. Grand Forks, along with its twin city of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, forms the center of the Grand Forks, ND-MN Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is often called Greater Grand Forks or The Grand Cities.

Located on the western banks of the north-flowing Red River of the North, in a flat region known as the Red River Valley, the city is prone to flooding. The Red River Flood of 1997 devastated the city. Originally called Les Grandes Fourches by French fur traders from Canada, who had long worked and lived in the region, steamboat captain Alexander Griggs platted a community after being forced to winter there. The Grand Forks post office was established in 1870; and the town was incorporated on February 22, 1881. The city was named for its location at the fork of the Red River and the Red Lake River.

Historically dependent on local agriculture, the city's economy now encompasses higher education, defense, health care, manufacturing, food processing, and scientific research. Grand Forks is served by Grand Forks International Airport and Grand Forks Air Force Base. The city's University of North Dakota is the oldest institution of higher education in the state. The Alerus Center and Ralph Engelstad Arena host athletic and other events, while the North Dakota Museum of Art and Chester Fritz Auditorium are the city's largest cultural venues.


Downtown Grand Forks, ND circa 1912
Downtown Grand Forks, c. 1912

Prior to settlement by Europeans or Americans, the area where the city developed, at the forks of the Red River and Red Lake River, for thousands of years had been an important meeting and trading point for Native Americans. Early French explorers, fur trappers, and traders called the area Les Grandes Fourches, meaning "The Grand Forks". By the 1740s, French fur trappers relied on Les Grandes Fourches as an important trading post. This was French colonial territory.

The United States acquired the territory from British Rupert's Land with the Treaty of 1818, but indigenous tribes dominated the area until the late nineteenth century. After years of warfare, the United States made treaties to extinguish the land claims of the Objibwe and other Native American peoples. When a U.S. post office was established on the site on June 15, 1870, the name was changed to the English "Grand Forks". Alexander Griggs, a steamboat captain, is regarded as "The Father of Grand Forks". Griggs' steamboat froze in the Red River on a voyage in late 1870, forcing the captain and his crew to spend the winter camping at Grand Forks. Griggs platted a community in 1875, and Grand Forks was officially incorporated on February 22, 1881.

Thousands of settlers were attracted to the Dakota Territory in the 1870s and 1880s for its cheap land, and the population began to rise. Many established small family farms, but some investors bought thousands of acres for bonanza farms, where they supervised the cultivation and harvesting of wheat as a commodity crop. The city grew quickly after the arrival of the Great Northern Railway in 1880 and the Northern Pacific Railway in 1887. In 1883, the University of North Dakota was established, six years before North Dakota was formally admitted as an independent state born from the Dakota Territory. During the first half of the 20th century, new residential neighborhoods were developed south and west of Downtown Grand Forks. In the 1920s the state-owned North Dakota Mill and Elevator was constructed on the north side of the city.

In 1954, Grand Forks was chosen as the site for an Air Force base. Grand Forks Air Force Base brought thousands of new jobs and residents to the community. The military base and the University of North Dakota became integral to the city's economy. With construction of federal highways, during the postwar years residential and business development became suburbanized, spreading to new areas as land was available. Interstate 29 was built on the western side of the city, and two enclosed shopping malls – South Forks Plaza and Columbia Mall – were built on the south side.

1997 Red River Flood Grand Forks
The Red River in flood in April 1997

The Red River had a history of seasonal flooding, aggravated by the broad ancient lake bed that formed the Red River Valley. The 1997 Red River Flood caused extensive damage in the city. Fargo was located upstream from the bulk of the flood waters that season, and Winnipeg had built an extensive system of flood control structures in the 1960s. In 1997 Grand Forks suffered the most damage of any major city in the Red River Valley. During the height of the flooding, a major fire destroyed eleven buildings in the downtown area. The government took on development of a new levee system to protect the city, which was completed ten years later. It required the relocation of numerous residents as some neighborhoods were emptied for this construction.

The city and government decided to change the type of development allowed near the river. The floodplain bordering the Red River was converted into a large park known as the Greater Grand Forks Greenway. This provided new recreation space for city residents, as well as space for future floodwaters to be absorbed naturally by trees and other plants, without damage to infrastructure. East Grand Forks developed a related greenway park on its side of the river, as it has also suffered extensive flooding that year.

Since the 1997 flood, there has been a variety of public and private developments throughout Grand Forks. Two new, large sports venues opened in 2001: the Alerus Center and the Ralph Engelstad Arena. In 2007, the Winnipeg-based Canad Inns hotel chain opened a 13-story hotel and waterpark adjacent to the Alerus Center. By 2007 Grand Forks had a larger population than it did before the 1997 flood. Area employment and taxable sales had also surpassed pre-flood levels.


The confluence of the Red and Red Lake Rivers.
Flood memorial

Grand Forks is located 74 miles (119 km) north of the Fargo-Moorhead area and 145 miles (233 km) south of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Grand Forks is situated on the western bank of the Red River of the North in an area known as the Red River Valley. The term "forks" refers to the forking of the Red River with the Red Lake River located near downtown Grand Forks. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 20.09 square miles (52.03 km2), of which, 19.91 square miles (51.57 km2) is land and 0.18 square miles (0.47 km2) is water. Since it is in one of the flattest parts of the world, the city has few differences in elevation. There are no lakes within the city limits of Grand Forks, but the meandering Red River and the English Coulee flow through the community and provide some break in the terrain.

The Red River Valley is the result of an ancient glacier carving its way south during the last Ice Age. Once the glacier receded, it formed a glacial lake called Lake Agassiz. The valley is formed from the ancient lake bed. The ancient beaches can still be seen as rolling hills west of the city.


See also: Downtown Grand Forks and University Village, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Map of Downtown Grand Forks

Grand Forks has several distinct neighborhoods. The area adjacent to the Red River developed first; this is where some of the oldest neighborhoods, including the downtown area, can be found. The area between downtown and the University of North Dakota campus was another early growth area, and historic properties can be found here as well.

Downtown Grand Forks contains many recognized historic buildings. It is the governmental center of the city and county. It is also used as a gathering place for large community events and festivals. A farmer's market is held every Saturday (9AM to 2PM) from mid-June to mid-September in the Town Square at the corner of 3rd Street S. and DeMers Avenue.

In 2006, city leaders and developers announced plans to convert older office buildings into high-end condos and apartments, and to construct new buildings for the same purpose to provide for residents downtown. Located directly south of downtown, the streets of the Near Southside Historic District are lined with classic houses. Reeves Drive was once one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in the city. It has numerous historic mansions exhibiting several unique architectural styles. This neighborhood has areas of original granitoid paving, several historic churches, and Lincoln Drive Park. The Near Southside neighborhood has been designated as a "national historic district" and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The newer neighborhoods of Grand Forks developed in the southern and western parts of the city. The 32nd Avenue South corridor has been the commercial center of the city since 1978, when the Columbia Mall opened. Many big box stores and restaurants are now located along the avenue. A large strip mall, called the Grand Forks Marketplace, opened in 2001 near the Columbia Mall.

University Village is a new commercial district that was built on vacant lands owned by the University of North Dakota. The centerpiece of the Village is the Ralph Engelstad Arena, which is used by the University's North Dakota men's ice hockey team. All the buildings in the Village have been built in a style similar style to those on the nearby UND campus. Restaurants and retail stores, as well as the University bookstore, were developed in the area to stimulate more community life. In 2006, the university opened a new Wellness Center for its students on the Village's west side.


Due to its location in the Great Plains and its distance from both mountains and oceans, the city has a humid continental climate (Köppen (Dfb)), USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4a. It has four very distinct seasons and great variation in temperatures over very short periods of time. As there are no nearby mountain ranges or bodies of water to ameliorate the climatic conditions, Grand Forks lies exposed to numerous weather systems, including bitterly cold Arctic high pressure systems. The city has long, cold, and snowy winters. Summers are often warm to hot and often quite humid with frequent thunderstorms. Although warm weather normally ends soon after Labor Day, a few warm days sometimes occur as late as October. Spring and autumn are short and highly variable seasons. Record temperature extremes range from −43 °F (−42 °C) on January 11, 1912 to 109 °F (43 °C) on July 12, 1936.

The daily mean temperatures of the Grand Forks winters are associated with subarctic climates with frequent subzero temperatures. Due to the extended warm period of daily means above 50 °F (10 °C) from May to September, the city's climate is still classified within the humid continental temperature range.

Climate data for Grand Forks, North Dakota (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 52
Average high °F (°C) 16.5
Average low °F (°C) −3.1
Record low °F (°C) −43
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.55
Snowfall inches (cm) 11.2
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 8.2 6.6 7.5 7.0 10.6 11.6 10.5 9.1 8.3 8.5 6.9 8.5 103.3
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 10.6 7.0 5.7 2.1 0.2 0 0 0 0 1.3 5.6 9.7 42.2
Source: NOAA (extremes 1893–present)


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 1,705
1890 4,979 192.0%
1900 7,682 54.3%
1910 12,478 62.4%
1920 14,010 12.3%
1930 17,112 22.1%
1940 20,228 18.2%
1950 26,836 32.7%
1960 34,451 28.4%
1970 39,008 13.2%
1980 43,765 12.2%
1990 49,425 12.9%
2000 49,321 −0.2%
2010 52,838 7.1%
Est. 2015 57,011 7.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2015 Estimate

According to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, the racial composition was as follows:

The top five European ancestry groups were the following:

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 52,838 people, 22,260 households, and 11,275 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,653.8 inhabitants per square mile (1,024.6/km2). There were 23,449 housing units at an average density of 1,177.7 per square mile (454.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 89.7% White, 2.0% African American, 2.9% Native American, 2.2% Asian, 0.7% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.8% of the population.

There were 22,260 households of which 24.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.3% were married couples living together, 9.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.7% had a male householder with no wife present, and 49.3% were non-families. 34.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.87.

The median age in the city was 28.4 years. 18.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 24.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 25.1% were from 25 to 44; 21.7% were from 45 to 64; and 10.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 51.2% male and 48.8% female.

2000 census

As of the 2000 Census, there were 49,321 people, 19,677 households, and 11,058 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,563.0 per square mile (989.8/km2). There were 20,838 housing units at an average density of 1,082.8 per square mile (418.2/km2).

The racial makeup of the city was 93.4% White, 0.9% African American, 2.8% Native American, 1.0% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.6% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.9% of the population. The top six ancestry groups in the city were Norwegian (36.4%), German (34.7%), Irish (10.6%), French (6.5%), Polish (6.2%), English (6.1%). There were 21.4% of the population under the age of 18, 22.9% from 18 to 24, 27.7% from 25 to 44, 18.3% from 45 to 64, and 9.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females there were 102.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.2 males.

Of the 19,677 households, 28.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.2% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.8% were non-families. 31.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.3 and the average family size was 3.0. The median income for a household in the city was $34,194, and the median income for a family was $47,491. Males had a median income of $30,703 versus $21,573 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,395. About 9.3% of families and 14.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.6% of those under age 18 and 7.7% of those age 65 or over.

The median income for a household in the city was $34,194, and the median income for a family was $47,491. Males had a median income of $30,703 versus $21,573 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,395. About 9.3% of families and 14.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.6% of those under age 18 and 7.7% of those age 65 or over.


Arts and theatre

Due at least 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, located on the UND campus, brings many nationally touring exhibits to Grand Forks as well as the work of regional artists. In addition to the Museum of Art, UND offers other gallery space for student art. UND also has active Theater Arts and Music departments. Students stage theater productions each year at the Burtness Theater on campus. UND's Chester Fritz Auditorium also brings music and theater events to Grand Forks including national touring companies of Broadway musicals.

The Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra has been performing since 1905 and the Grand Forks Master Chorale was formed in 1983. Both groups stage productions each year at various locations in the community. The North Dakota Ballet Company is headquartered in Grand Forks and often performs at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. The Grand Forks City Band was formed in 1886 and still stages shows year round.

The Empire Arts Center, in downtown Grand Forks, is home to several cultural events throughout the year. The Empire, a 1919 movie theater, was restored after the Flood of 1997 and now includes performance space, a large movie screen, a gallery, and space for artists. The Fire Hall Theatre, also located downtown, is used by community members to put on several theater productions each year. The Summer Performing Arts Company (SPA) is a popular summer arts program for area K-12 students. SPA stages three major musicals mid-July. The Myra Museum, on Belmont Road near the Greater Grand Forks Greenway, is a small history museum with exhibits that trace local history from the Ice Age, through settlement, and into the modern age. Other buildings on the Myra Museum grounds include the original 1868 Grand Forks Post Office, a 1917 one room school, and the historic Campbell House.

In the 2016 novel Nobody's Property, Grand Forks is referenced as the birthplace of main character Clia Foster.


Ralph Engelstadt Arena 2007
Ralph Engelstad Arena

College sports are popular in Grand Forks, with an intense following for the University of North Dakota. The UND men's ice hockey team competes in the NCAA Division I level and has been the Frozen Four championship team eight times and the runner-up five times. The UND football team was the 2001 NCAA Division II champion and the 2003 runner-up. In 2006, the university announced that it would be moving its entire athletic program to Division I.

Grand Forks is home to two major indoor athletic arenas. The city-owned Alerus Center opened in 2001. The Alerus Center is home to the University of North Dakota football team and also plays host to a variety of other events including major concerts. The Alerus Center is the largest arena and convention center complex in the upper Midwest area. The University of North Dakota hockey teams compete in the Ralph Engelstad Arena, located in the University Village district of the UND campus. "The Ralph", as it is commonly called, was funded by UND benefactor Ralph Engelstad and opened in 2001 at a cost of over $100 million. Adjacent to the Ralph Engelstad Arena is the smaller Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. "The Betty" is the home of the University of North Dakota basketball and volleyball teams.


The Greater Grand Forks Greenway

The Grand Forks Park District, established in 1905, operates 14 neighborhood parks, 28 tennis courts, and a swimming pool. The parks include features such as playgrounds, baseball fields, softball fields, soccer fields, basketball courts, and picnic areas. Sertoma Park includes a Japanese garden. The Park District also operates eleven outdoor skating rinks and indoor ice arenas: Purpur Arena, Eagles Arena, Blueline Club Arena, and Gambucci Arena. The district also owns the Center Court Fitness Club.

There are several golf courses in the city and the surrounding area. The Park District operates the 18-hole, Arnold Palmer-designed, links style King's Walk Golf Course and the historic, 9-hole Lincoln Golf Course. The University of North Dakota operates the 9-hole Ray Richards Golf Course. The 18-hole Grand Forks Country Club is located directly south of the city. There are also golf courses in nearby East Grand Forks, Minnesota and Manvel, North Dakota.

The Greater Grand Forks Greenway is a large park that runs the length of the Red River in the city. It includes an extensive path system, large festival grounds, ski trails, and wildflower gardens. Including the Greenway, the Andrew Hampsten Bikeway System in Grand Forks is over 43 miles (69 km) long. These paths are located in The Greenway, adjacent to major streets, and on the banks of the English Coulee. There are also two pedestrian/bicycle bridges that span the Red River.

Sister cities

Grand Forks County Office Building
Grand Forks County Office Building
Grand Forks sister cities:
United States Dickinson, North Dakota, US
Norway Sarpsborg, Norway
Japan Awano, Japan (defunct)
Russia Ishim, Russia (inactive)

Grand Forks has an active sister city program designed to encourage cultural and economic exchanges. Grand Forks' first sister city was Ishim in the Soviet Union. The relationship with the Siberian city formally began in 1984 during the Cold War. Sometime in the late 1990s, however, political and economic turmoil in Russia ended the relationship. While the relationship with Ishim faded, Grand Forks found a new sister in Awano, Japan. An informal relationship began in 1994 when the school districts of both cities began exchanging students. In 1998, the two formally proclaimed themselves sister cities. The most concrete evidence of the relationship between the two is a Japanese rock garden in Grand Forks' Sertoma Park and a sculpture of an American bison in an Awano park. However, the annexation of Awano by the larger city of Kanuma has led to the end of the sister city relationship. Grand Forks' relationship with Dickinson, North Dakota, began in 2002, when delegations from each city visited the other. Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown has said he thinks having friends in western North Dakota, which typically has diverging interests from eastern cities, could help at the state legislature. Sarpsborg, Norway, became a sister city in 2005 following several exchanges among leaders from both cities. The city became interested in building a relationship with Sarpsborg because many Grand Forks residents have Norwegian heritage.

  • Tweton, Jerome D. (1986, reprinted 2005). Grand Forks, A Pictorial History, Norfolk, Virginia: The Donning Company.
  • Bladow, Eldon (Ed., 1974). They Came To Stay, Grand Forks, North Dakota: Grand Forks Centennial Corporations.
  • Jacobs, Mike (Ed., 1997). Come Hell and High Water, Grand Forks, North Dakota: Knight-Ridder.

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