The City of Kennedy was named after John Stewart Kennedy, a native of Scotland who came to America in 1856, at the age of twenty. His connection with northwestern Minnesota came through his business associations with J.J. Hill. John Stewart Kennedy helped finance several railroads during the age of the American railroad building boom, including Hill’s St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway.
The Gale Encyclopedia’s J.S. Kennedy biography states it was by Kennedy’s own choice that nothing was ever named after him to perpetuate his name. The exact details of how the village of Kennedy became the exception is not known at the time of this writing.
On June 21, 1879, the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company conveyed to John S. Kennedy, John S. Barnes and James A. Roosevelt (Trustees) all lands and franchises owned by the Railway Company, including those in Kittson County, as security for bonds in the sum of $8,000,000. On June 14, 1897, the bond indebtedness was paid off and the land was reconveyed back to the Railway Company. The Railway Company again used some of its Kittson County assets as collateral on a $50,000,000 bond in 1898.
In the late 1870’s, Scandinavian immigrants began to come to the United States, eventually making their way to this area via ox cart, horse, wagon, river boats traveling the Red River of the North, and later the railroad. Settlement around what would eventually become the City of Kennedy first began with the farm lands—as many settlers came to take advantage of the U.S. land grants, as well as the low priced land sold by the railroads to encourage settlement in the area.
The Kennedy town plat was filed in Kittson County on Dec. 31, 1880, but the village was not legally incorporated until June 15, 1899. The first village officers included Mayor and Chairman M. A. Goar, Treasurer Carl H. Nyberg, Trustees Hogen Smith, E. M. Engelbert and Owen Ryan, and Clerk A. Johnson.
Kennedy’s history, immersed in farming and that of the surrounding bonanza farms, includes the farming operation of brothers Dennis and Peter Ryan. Their enterprise was first known as the Donaldson-Ryan farm, after the owners and the then manager, former Civil War officer Capt. Hugh W. Donaldson. It later came under the ownership of Kennedy Land and Town Co., President Dennis Ryan, with its offices located on the lot directly south of the present day Kennedy Café, KodaBank and Kennedy VFW building. At its peak, this farming operation included four farms and totaled 65,000 acres.
The City of Kennedy’s population grew to 311 in the 1920s, dipped back down to 279 in the '30s, and peaked at 480 in the 1950 census.
A more detailed and comprehensive Kennedy history is available at the Kennedy City Office. And, additional information will be posted here in the future.