A brief history of Velva, North Dakota

Why the Star City?

Nestled in the foothills of the Souris River basin, Velva has been known since its inception as "The Star City." The reason is the community is located on the southernmost point of the Mouse River loop, where the river turns to begin its winding way back north to Canada. Early day cartographers used to mark this spot with a star, long before Velva became a town.

According to historians, Velva was officially founded in 1883 by August Peterson, a Swedish immigrant. Peterson inherited a tract of property from his brother, and that land eventually became Velva. Peterson sold 40 acres to the railroad, then sold additional acres to the evolving city. The city acres eventually became our gorgeous 23 acre city park, where Peterson's original cabin still stands.

Velva's first business was Muus Brothers General Store, which opened in a tent in 1893. It moved into a new stone building in 1901, a building that is still standing on Main Street and is still known as the Muus building.

Velva celebrated its Homesteader's Centennial in 1983 with a four-day celebration. In 2005, residents marked the 100th anniversary of Velva's official incorporation as a city with a huge four-day bash.

The community has been blessed with a rich heritage from the days of Native Americans to early day trappers to European immigration. Today, there are still tell-tale signs of the influence of the early day Norwegian, German, Swedish and Ukrainian settlers. It has been said that the first known white explorer, Pierre de la Verendrye, went through this area during his explorations in the early 1700s. Not too far from Velva, near the old townsite of Verendrye, is a unique granite memorial to David Thompson, one of the area's first geographers, who visited the area in 1797.

In testimony of the elegance of a bygone era, the Hotel Berry still stands, a block west of Main Street. The beauty of this building has been so well preserved that it has been included in the Registry of National Historic Places.

Among the many favorite sons and daughters who have grown up in Velva is famed news pioneer, television commentator, news analyst and author Eric Sevareid. Some say he brought a bit of Velva into the homes of millions during his commentary on evening newscasts with Walter Cronkite. In his highly acclaimed book, "Not So Wild a Dream," Sevareid fondly recalled his youth in Velva and the attitude of the people he called neighbors.

"But no man lived in fear of another. No man had the power to direct another to vote this way or that ... no class society based upon birth or privilege had a chance to develop ... If the man of the house in one of the families that lived close to the edge fell ill and could not work, my mother and other mothers carried them baskets of fresh things to eat. It was not charity, not condescension to ease the conscience; it was neighborliness, taken as such, and no one's pride was injured.
"Later, I read all the exalting literature of the great struggle for a classless society; later, I watched first hand its manifestations in several countries. It occurred to me then that what men wanted was Velva, on a national, on a world, scale."

We believe Mr. Sevareid's words still hold true today.

A brief history of Velva, North Dakota