North Star Highway

Marvin Baker
Local Columnist

Once upon a time in North Dakota, about 104 years ago, there was a road crisscrossing the state called the Green Trail, that was marked from Enderlin to Estevan.

Sometime before the North Dakota Department of Transportation began to issue maps in 1924, the Green Trail was renamed the North Star Trail because it was linked to a road that went from Enderlin to Fairmount. That was in 1922.

Prior to 1924, the state’s roads were all known as “trails.”

It later became known as the North Star Highway and finally, U.S. Highway 52.

A lot of changes and additions were made in the early days of the North Star Highway. Keep in mind back then, the vast majority of roads in North Dakota were nothing more than graded dirt roads or dirt trails.

Only 1,338 miles of roadway was graveled in 1927 and even more extreme, there were only 10 miles of paved highways in the entire state.

After the North Star Highway was established by the 10-year-old North Dakota Department of Transportation, the North Star Trail Association was established in Fessenden. The slogan for the road was “hitch your gasoline wagon to a star.”

That “star” was marked on numerous buildings in communities along the route. There was also a bus and mail route from Portal to Minot each day called the Star Bus Route.

Mailing addresses at the time were Star Route Kenmare, between Kenmare and Donnybrook, Star Route Donnybrook from Donnybrook to Carpio, Star Route Carpio from Carpio to Foxholm, etc.

The bus stop in each community was marked by an emblem on the wall of a building. It was a white rectangle about 20 inches wide by 24 inches high. Inside was a black rectangle about 14 inches by 18 inches with a white star inside of it.

In recent years, the star disappeared off the Flaxton Hotel when that building was demolished in 1987 and the former Weiman’s Hardware in Donnybrook had the star, but it was painted over.

The star in Kenmare still exists. It is on the north and the south side of the vacant Irvin Hotel in downtown Kenmare.

Other stars along the route are most likely gone, but were once on at least one building in each community from Portal all the way to Fairmount and in between.

The star was also a navigation point for individual motorists because the early maps were nothing like they are today and tourists “needed” that star to get from community to community.

The road has been changed a great deal since it was the Green Trail in 1917, but largely follows the same path it did then, along the route of Soo Line, now Canadian Pacific Railway.

The only portion of that entire highway that is still drivable today is what is now called a Scenic Backway from Kenmare to the Baden Overpass along the Des Lacs Lake.

Other short sections remain visible but are no longer drivable from the Baden Overpass to Foxholm.

The North Star Highway wasn’t the only unique road in North Dakota at the time. There were several others, at least five of which have also become U.S. highways.

The first is the Old Red Trail, which became U.S. Highway 10, which still exists parallel to Interstate 94. The second, established in 1912, was known as the Theodore Roosevelt Highway, which ran from Grand Forks to Williston. It is now known as U.S. Highway 2.

The Sakakawea Trail, or part of it, ran from Denver to the southern North Dakota border near Bowman, then angled from Mott to Ryder, then Niobe to Northgate. A portion of that highway is now U.S. Highway 85.

A portion of the current U.S. 85 in the northwest was called the Yukon-Canada Trail from Watford City to Williston to near Fortuna where it crossed the border.

The Sunshine Trail, starting at Ellendale and running through Jamestown, Carrington and north to the international boundary is now U.S. Highway 281.

Finally, the Yellowstone Trail, which began in South Dakota, went all the way to Yellowstone Park in Montana. It angled through Hettinger, Haynes and Rhame and today is called U.S. Highway 12.

The Meridian Trail was the longest. It started on the Gulf Coast in Texas and went all the way to Winnipeg, passing through North Dakota, from border to border along the Red River on what is now known as Interstate 29.

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