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Dickinson: The Queen City; Old nickname for city on the western edge a mystery

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Dickinson has been crowned "The Queen City of the Prairies" for more than a century, but it begs the question: Where did the name come from?

"I've asked a lot people over the years just to out where the name came from because it was on the shop when I bought it," Queen City Barber Shop owner Johnney Elsbernd said Saturday. Thus far, he's not found the answer.

Dickinson was formerly known as Pleasant Valley Siding, according to the Dickinson Convention and Visitor Bureau. Wells S. Dickinson, who was in charge of land grants for the Northern Pacific Railroad, came to the settlement in 1881, soon followed by his cousin, H. L. Dickinson, who bought land on what is now Seventh Avenue West and Villard Street. The family name stuck, but it wasn't the only one.

Queen City was reportedly used as early as 1906, according the CVB. The Dickinson Commercial Club, the forerunner to the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce, allegedly held a contest to adopt the name, Dickinson Museum Center manager Dan Ingram said. It published material promoting the city with the nickname.

A promotional book called "Dickinson: Queen City of the Prairies," states, "In all that is good, North Dakota affords the best, and Dickinson is the Queen City."

"There are different things that say different stuff," CVB executive director Terry Thiel said.

Researchers have discredited most stories about how the city got its nickname. The owners of three businesses with the name Queen City didn't know its origins.

The name gave itself to companies and stores that called Dickinson home, including the Queen City Barber Shop, which was established in 1930. Elsbernd said it adds charm to the town.

The Queen City Motel, which was the first to have an outdoor pool in the state, also bears the nickname. Owner Tracy Freer has always wondered how the city got the nickname.

"My wife thinks it is because Bismarck is King City, but I never heard Bismarck called King City," he said.

The CVB switched gears in 1995 and started to promote Dickinson as "The Western Edge," Thiel said, adding it was a marketing change.

"They had decided to change it because it was kind of on the western edge of the state as you go into the western lifestyle of ranching," she said.

The name has fallen out of use for the most part, Ingram said. At least six companies with listed phone numbers still have the name.

"I guess the question is why do we need a nickname," he added. "Is it so hard to say Dickinson? We tend to pick these obscure things such as the Queen City."

Whether the change suits Dickinson is a matter of opinion, Thiel said.

"Queen City, there's always going to be someone that does that in the name on the businesses, but for what we do and we've adopted for that, (The Western Edge) really does a better marketing," she said.

Freer said the name is a part of history and he wouldn't want to see it changed.

"This will always be the Queen City to me," he said. "I grew up here. It's an interesting question how it came up."

Thiel joked about Dickinson adopting a nickname related to oil, such as "Oil Land."

"Who knows? Things can change," she said.