Editor’s Note: This month’s Point of View series highlights history in the Southern Red River Valley. This installment looks at how “main drags” affect a community.
At least once a year, Lidgerwood, North Dakota, has a “fun evening for a small town.”
Cruise Night, traditionally held in mid-August, is a community favorite. Like its host town, Cruise Night is poised for future growth thanks to positive attitudes and pride.
“There are a lot of car enthusiasts out here showing the projects they are working on,” Mary Frolek, one of Cruise Night’s co-founders, said in 2022. “Then there are people out here who aren’t really into cars that much and are just here to take a look around.”
Onlookers are richly rewarded for their curiosity. News Monitor reported that the 2022 Cruise Night included more than 170 different cars, from muscle vehicles to a mail truck. It was an impressive showing for the 15th annual event on Wiley Avenue in Lidgerwood.
“The free, public car show gathered enthusiasts from all over to show off their favorite rides. No restrictions were put in place for what could be shown. Old cars parked next to new models gave visitors the chance to see the variety of passion projects local collectors have,” News Monitor previously reported.
Just over a decade ago, in July 2011, Lidgerwood celebrated its 125th anniversary, or quasquicentennial. The festivities included laughter, music and heritage.
“Lidgerwood’s rich heritage stems from the German, Bohemian, Norwegian and Polish people who first settled here and created a city on the North Dakota prairie,” News Monitor reported in 2015.
Those settlers and their descendants tended to and maintained a city that remains one of the anchors of Richland County, North Dakota. The county and its neighbor, Wilkin County, Minnesota, grew from the Red River of the North and its starting place at the junction of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tale rivers.
“In 1861, the Dakota Territory was formed,” historian Frances Werre wrote in the 1970s. “It consisted of what is now North Dakota, South Dakota and portions of Wyoming and Minnesota. Dr. William Jayne, who had been Abraham Lincoln’s family physician and neighbor in Springfield, Illinois, served as the territory’s governor.”
Land claimed by the Wahpeton-Sisseton Native Americans was initially exempt from the Dakota Territory. Although Wahpeton-Sisseton ceded their land in 1863, some held out until 1873, she wrote.
“Meanwhile, the rivers were filled with steamboats. They were considered a great improvement compared to the cumbersome and slow Red River Carts. Steamboats carried all sorts of cargo. Furs, lumber, grain, wheat and flour all made the journey, as did heavier items like farm implements, rail and even railroad cars,” Daily News previously reported.
Nearly 250 years later, cars and vehicles continue to capture citizens’ attention. Last year, News Monitor shared the story of Cruise Night’s formation.
“Mary Frolek and her husband John started the car show after being inspired by shows in other towns,” News Monitor reported. “Many car shows can have an entry fee attached to them and feature a competitive aspect where cars are judged for prizes. Lidgerwood’s Cruise Night takes a more casual approach, letting anyone show off any car that they are proud of.”
The first Cruise Night included about 30 vehicles on display. Tractors were a staple of the early years, as Cruise Night grew to encompass all of Lidgerwood and its community. Over the years, the event has included local shops offering sales and food being served by the Knights of Columbus.
“Guests and car enthusiasts traveled hours to make it to the event. Aaron Frolek, Mary and John’s son, got to see people who he only sees at car shows,” News Monitor reported.
“I think the furthest that I have seen is two hours away. That is alright for a small town car show,” Aaron Frolek said in 2022. “It is fun to see everyone come out and have a good time.”
The spirit of a good time downtown lives on in Lidgerwood and many other communities in the Red River Valley.