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Bismarck; North Dakota’s State Capital

Bismarck, North Dakota is home to the main government buildings of North Dakota, the governor's mansion, and a tasty grill that serves up some delicious food and decadent desserts.
Brandon Speakman on January 6, 2021 - 10:43 pm in City Spotlight, Historical

Things to do in Bismarck, North Dakota

Bismarck, North Dakota is a quirky state capital that is filled with a plethora of history that helped shape the state of North Dakota and the United States. Bismarck is an interesting city to explore and is recommended to visit during the summer.

Present-day central North Dakota was home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The indigenous peoples created many successful cultures. Two tribes of the Mandan Native Americans (Hidatsa and Arikara) lived in central North Dakota, many years before the Europeans arrived to the area. The Hidatsa tribe called the area mirahacii arumaaguash (“Place of the tall willows”), while the Arikara tribe called the area ituhtaáwe [itUhtaáwe.] In 1872, European Americans created a settlement on the east bank of the Missouri River and called it Missouri Crossing. The name Missouri Crossing came to be because “the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed the river there, on their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804-1806.” The town was eventually known as Edwinton, named after Edwin Ferry Johnson, who was the engineer-in-chief for the Northern Pacific Railway. After word got around that railroads were being built throughout North Dakota, the town of Edwinton saw a flood of people who were seeking work and a new settlement.


Otto von Bismarck at age 48, 1863 Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In 1873, the Northern Pacific Railway changed the city’s name from Edwinton to Bismarck, “in honor of German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.” Today, Bismarck is the only U.S. state capital that has been named after a foreign statesman. Railroad executives had imagined that after they changed the city’s name from Edwinton to Bismarck, it would attract German immigrant settlers to the area, and boost German investment in the railroad. The city of Bismarck experienced a population increase (of mostly miners) after gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota the following year. This became a problem when the miners and other settlers started to intrude on areas that the Lakota considered sacred territory, which created tension between the settlers and Native Americans. In 1883, Bismarck became the capital of Dakota Territory. In 1889, Bismarck was named the state capital of the new state of North Dakota.

The Dakota Zoo

The Dakota Zoo started out on a 67-acre farm that was owned by Marc and Betty Christianson in northern Bismarck. When the Christianson’s farm first opened, it was home to many dogs, cats, horses, and other domestic animals. The farm was also used to raise mink for profit for a period of time. The Christianson’s loved animals, and as word got around, people started dropping off stray and injured animals at the Christianson’s farm. As the number of animals increased at the farm, so did the visitors. After the farm received recognition from a local television station, petitions were signed in favor of creating a community zoo for the city of Bismarck. In 1958, 88 acres were created for the Dakota Zoo to be built upon in Sertoma Park. Marc Christianson hired a crew to help build the Dakota Zoo, while the materials were donated from different local people and businesses. The Dakota Zoo officially opened on June 3, 1961, and featured 75 mammals, and 23 birds. The Dakota Zoo saw 40,000 visitors the year it opened. The popularity of the Dakota Zoo only grew from there. By 2007, the Dakota Zoo was home to 125 different species of animals and birds. Today, The Dakota Zoo is home to goats, pigs, miniature horses, miniature donkeys, bison, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, reindeer, elk, tigers, wolves, bears, foxes, and much more. The Dakota Zoo is a fun place to spend a day at with your family and is Trip Advisor’s #1 recommended attraction to visit in Bismarck.

North Dakota State Capitol Building

Bismarck’s first State Capitol Building was built between 1883 and 1884 to house the territorial government. After North Dakota became a state, the Senate wing was built on the south side in 1894, and the House wing was built on the north side in 1903.


The First State Capitol Building – 1903 Wing Photo Courtesy Wikipedia

Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the North Dakota State Capitol Building on December 28, 1930. It was assumed that the fire started from a pile of oily rags that were in the janitor’s closet on the top floor of the main part of the building. While the fire was still burning, the then North Dakota Secretary of State Robert Byrne, was able to save the original copy of North Dakota’s state constitution, “but suffered cuts and burns on his hand while breaking a window to reach the document.” After the fire had ruined the North Dakota State Capitol Building, the Legislative temporarily held meetings in Bismarck’s War Memorial Building and the City Auditorium. Temporary state offices were set up around the town of Bismarck, including an entire floor of the Patterson Hotel. Bismarck’s State Capitol Building was re-built during the Great Depression. The tower and wing were constructed between 1931 and 1934 and cost $2 million. The new state capitol building was built 19-stories tall and was expected to have plenty of free space in it for many years to come, but space in the building dwindled as the state government expanded.


North Dakota State Capitol Building in Bismarck Photo Credit: Bobak Ha’Eri/Wikimedia Commons

Aside from the North Dakota State Capitol Building, the state of North Dakota also owns and operates the Liberty Memorial Building, North Dakota Heritage Center, State Office Building, and the North Dakota Governor’s Residence. Outside of the North Dakota State Capitol Building you will find Myron Atkinson Park, Capitol Park, George Bird Rotary Arboretum Trail, Prairie Trail, the Pioneer Family statue, All Veterans Memorial, and many other statues. The North Dakota State Capitol Building is an interesting building to tour and is Trip Advisor’s #2 recommended attraction to visit in Bismarck.


Photo Courtesy Xnatedawgx/Wikimedia Commons

North Dakota Governor’s Residence

The original Governor’s mansion (known today as the Historical Governor’s Mansion) was built in 1884 and was used as a private home for Asa Fisher, a businessman who lived in Bismarck. Fisher moved to Bismarck in 1872 (although the town was still called Edwinton at the time.) Fisher found success and earned his money in banking, real estate, and selling liquor. In 1893, the house was sold to the state of North Dakota for $5,000. Twenty of North Dakota’s governor’s lived in the Governor’s mansion between 1893-1960. In 1975, the State Historical Society of North Dakota took over ownership of the Governor’s mansion. The mansion was remodeled, to replicate the way it once looked in 1893. The newly renovated Governor’s mansion opened as a North Dakota State Historic Site in 1983.


Former Governor’s Residence Photo Courtesy Plazak/Wikimedia Commons

Pirogue Grill

Pirogue Grill is a restaurant in Bismarck that serves dinner from Tuesday-Saturday starting at 5 pm. Pirogue Grill offers an extensive wine list and a rotating selection of cocktails. Pirogue Grill also offers Appetizers, Soup, Salad, and Entrees, including Chicken & Peanut Pot Stickers with Oriental Dipping Sauce, Chicken Liver Pâté, Venison Sausage with Grilled Onion Relish, Grilled Shrimp with Avocado Crème & Spicy Lime sauce, Grilled King Salmon with Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Pheasant Fettuccini with Vegetables & Porcini cream sauce, Breast of free-range chicken stuffed with Smoked Cheddar, and Garnished with Apple Slaw, Grilled New York steak with Bourbon-Mustard sauce, sautéed North Dakota Bison Medallions with bordelaise sauce, and grilled filet of beef with roast shallots & tarragon sauce. Desserts include a chocolate tart with chocolate glaze, Angel Food Cake with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream, Crème Brûlée of the day, and the IBC Soda Float with Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream. Pirogue Grill is an excellent restaurant to dine at and is Trip Advisor’s #1 recommended restaurant to visit in Bismarck.

Bismarck, North Dakota is an interesting city to stop by and explore during your next cross-country road trip across the United States. For more information on Bismarck, check out the official tourism website.


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