Sherbrooke, N.D., had it all. And then it lost everything.
The Steele County town began settlement in 1881, named after a Quebecois village. Sherbrooke became the county seat in 1885 as settlers flocked to the town. Its courthouse was built in 1886 and enlarged two years later. A fire proof vault was added in 1891. The Steele County Tribune came in spring 1889; two of its first editors were women.
A stage line came to Sherbrooke. So did a blacksmith, bank, three one-room schoolhouses, merchandise stores, post office, livery stable, feed mill, deeds office, Methodist church and various clubs, all serving Sherbrooke and its township.
The courthouse was apparently held dear by Sherbrooke’s residents, as a Hope, N.D., centennial book recounted. The courthouse’s second story was a popular community space, used for “church, oyster stews and ice cream sociables. Many debates were held here often ending in a row. Sliding down the broad banister provided pleasure for the children.”
Another apple of Sherbrooke’s eye was its hotel. The Sherbrooke House Hotel, owned by the Sherbrooke sheriff’s mother, was built in 1885. It held 11 rooms, including five bedrooms. Records indicate that President William McKinley roomed at the Sherbrooke House Hotel for one night in 1896 on a visit to North Dakota. In 1900, the hotel was sold and moved a little farther north.
Until 1918, Sherbrooke was doing well. But then came its annus horribilis.
In a stroke, the county seat was put to a vote. In June 1918, Steele County residents voted to move the honor elsewhere, “some other and more convenient place.” Sherbrooke did not lie on a railroad or river, though a railroad was staked out north of town but abandoned at the advent of World War I.
Finley received the most votes for county seat, but Sherbrooke residents fought to keep the seat despite receiving 19 percent of the vote.
“It is a well-known fact that a county seat should be on some line of traffic and commerce, and readily accessible to the public,” the 1918 syllabus of Bugbee et al. v. Steele County reported.
The state supreme court ruled against the plaintiffs, ultimately sending the county seat to Finley as county residents had the right to locate and relocate their county seat.
The newspaper ended that May, then moved to Finley. The post office closed that fall. The hotel was sold and moved in three parts to area farms. All but one store left town, and that was closed in 1938. Sherbrooke had two residents in 1982.
Today Sherbrooke is a ghost town in the middle of farmland. Nature has reclaimed many of the dilapidated structures in Sherbrooke, and the stone, moss-covered remains of what may have been the precious courthouse sit in ruins.