The first settlers in the Blackwood region were pioneers who either came across country, following oxcart trails, and crossed the Black River at the Blackwood ford, or who floated up the Black River on rafts or in small boats to the point, at the Blackwood ford, where it becomes rocky, shallow, and impassible. The first homes and businesses were built near the ford and the first settlers started farms in the rich soil northwest of there. Soon river boats were reaching the town of Blackwood, bringing more settlers; some who stayed in the region, and some heading further west seeking opportunities in the American expansion of the mid-1800s. The river boats stopped at Blackwood, delivered supplies and travelers, and returned back upstream with mail and raw materials such as lumber and farm products. At about this time, the U.S. army decided to send a cavalry detachment to the region. Fort Wood was built, north of Blackwood, near the site of an old trading post, and a small community formed around the fort.The Fort Wood area was mostly populated by Army hangers-on, family members, and other federal government employees.

     By 1880, Blackwood had a population of 2,500, but the Northwestern Railroad was in the process of building a line across the region and planned to cross the Black River at the Blackwood ford, very near town. By the Spring of that year, a lumber town had sprung up in advance of the railroads farthest progress, and the arrival of the railroad promises to bring an even greater influx of people to the greater Blackwood area. The government is giving the free land to anyone who wants to work on the railroad and maintain its operation. When the railroad arrives in 1881, the population of Blackwood, which had been steadily growing, explodes with railroad workers and passengers from the east. Then, when silver is discovered in the area in 1882, another large increase in population occurs. However, the North West Railroad encounters financing difficulties and westward construction is halted for five years. Nonetheless, the population of Blackwood continues to grow by 50% a year as more and more families settle in the area and business continues to expand with the influx of westward travelers, small land owners, and miners. The population peaks at 25,000 in 1884, but then the silver mines are exhausted and the crest of the boom has ended.

     The final chapter of Blackwood development occurs in 1886, the year of the "Great White Ruin", a terrible winter that left 300 people dead on the Great Plains many of whom died from mysterious disease yet to be discovered. (along with thousands of cattle and sheep). The combination of a heavy winter snow and an extremely wet spring causes the Black River to slowly overflow its banks and inundate the town. Virtually every home and business is damaged by the flood, and few of the townsfolk remain to rebuild. There are plans to build the dikes to protect the town from flooding but the financial situation in the region is devastated by loss of livestock and lack of government support. The call of the west is strong, and most people pack up and venture into the new frontier. The stories circled around that the west is warmer and that rich minerals are just waiting to be grabbed. This engraved the gold rush fever into some of the Blackwood settlers which decided to move West in search of better luck. By the fall of 1886 Blackwood is once again a small and remote town; a mere whistle stop on the rail line heading west. Rarely one can see the person wondering the streets, just the brave and weak have remained in the Blackwood town, which once was the pride of the Plains.

Overview 1880 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886

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