The Geography and History of

Brian M. Slator
(vers. 1, Dec. 28, 1998)

The Blackwood Project is simulating a mythical 19th Century Western town.


The mythical town of Blackwood is situated somewhere in the American West. It's location is not precisely known, but it lies somewhere in the Great Plains region west of the Mississippi River, south of the Canadian border, east of the Rocky Mountains, and north of the Mason-Dixon line; i.e. somewhere in the Montana, Colorado, Dakota, Wyoming vicinity (see the Maps of Blackwood).

Blackwood is uniquely situated in a convergence of geological and historical influences. The Black river flows northward and meets Wood Creek just to the north of town, and glacial movement in the Ice Ages has left rich soil for farming to the north and west. The same glacial activity created a hilly moraine region to the northeast, and there is some evidence of mineral riches, particularly native silver, in the hills in that direction. To the south of town, and east of the Black river, there is a dense mixed forest that provides much of the lumber used for building in the area. Meanwhile, to the south and west the land is flat and rocky - well-suited for cattle ranching.

The Layout of Blackwood

The center of Blackwood is a town square, with a park in the center of the square. The north/south roads are called "streets" and the major north/south street is "Center Street". The east/west roads are called "avenues" and the major east/west avenue is "Main Avenue". There are some angled streets, and these are called variously "road", or "boulevard" (and never "street" or "avenue").
Because of the local terrain, it is not always possible to travel the shortest distance between two points. For example, the only way to get to the Railroad Depot is to move east from the Town Square to the Riverside neighborhood, and then northwest to the Depot; there is no angled road directly from the Town Square to the Depot (see the Town of Blackwood Map).


The first settlers in the Blackwood region were pioneers who either came across country, following oxcart trails, and crossed the Black River at the Blackwood ford, or who floated up the Black River on rafts or in small boats to the point, at the Blackwood ford, where it becomes rocky, shallow, and impassible. The first homes and businesses were built near the ford and the first settlers started farms in the rich soil northwest of there.

Soon river boats were reaching the town of Blackwood, bringing more settlers; some who stayed in the region, and some heading further west seeking opportunities in the American expansion of the mid-1800s. The river boats stopped at Blackwood, delivered supplies and travelers, and returned back upstream with mail and raw materials such as lumber and farm products.

At about this time, the U.S. army decided to send a cavalry detachment to the region. Fort Wood was built, north of Blackwood, near the site of an old trading post, and a small community formed around the fort. The Fort Wood area was mostly populated by Army hangers-on, family members, and other federal government employees.

By 1880, Blackwood had a population of 2,500, but the Northwestern Railroad was in the process of building a line across the region and planned to cross the Black River at the Blackwood ford, very near town. By the Spring of that year, a lumber town had sprung up in advance of the railroads farthest progress, and the arrival of the railroad promises to bring an even greater influx of people to the greater Blackwood area.

When the railroad arrives in 1881, the population of Blackwood, which had been steadily growing, explodes with railroad workers and passengers from the east. Then, when silver is discovered in the area in 1882, another large increase in population occurs. However, the North West Railroad encounters financing difficulties and westward construction is halted for five years. Nonetheless, the population of Blackwood continues to grow by 50% a year as more and more families settle in the area and business continues to expand with the influx of westward travelers, small land owners, and miners. The population peaks at 25,000 in 1884, but then the silver mines are exhausted and the crest of the boom has ended.

The final chapter of Blackwood development occurs in 1886, the year of the "Great White Ruin", a terrible winter that left 300 people dead on the Great Plains (along with thousands of cattle). The combination of a heavy winter snow and an extremely wet spring causes the Black River to slowly overflow its banks and inundate the town. Virtually every home and business is damaged by the flood, and few of the townsfolk remain to rebuild. The call of the west is strong, and most people pack up and venture into the new frontier. By the fall of 1886 Blackwood is once again a small and remote town; a mere whistle stop on the rail line heading west.


  • 1858: first pioneers arrive and settle near Blackwood ford.
  • 1869 Town of Blackwood established.
  • 1872 Fort Wood and Trading Post built.
  • 1873 First Riverboat arrives in Blackwood and a riverboat landing is built.
  • 1880 Spring: Blackwood historical simulation begins
  • 1880 Spring: Lumber Town is established southeast of Blackwood
  • 1880 Fall: Railroad is completed as far as Lumber Town.
  • 1881 Fall: The Blackwood Section is completed all the way to town and a depot is built near the riverboat landing.
  • 1882 Silver is discovered in the hills northeast of Blackwood
  • 1882 News arrives that the railroad is suspending further westward construction due to financial problems (many workers settle in Blackwood and become teamsters or miners, some move on)
  • 1883 A collection of businesses called the Western Outpost springs up, one day's ride outside of Blackwood.
  • 1884 The Blackwood Silver Rush ends as the mines are exhausted.
  • 1885 Nov-Dec: the Great White Ruin begins: the worst winter in human memory.
  • 1886 Jan-Mar: the Great White Ruin continues with the coldest temperatures and heaviest snow on record.
  • 1886 April: the Black River rises to record heights in the worst Spring flood ever witnessed. The town of Blackwood is inundated. Miraculously no lives are lost, but the town is almost totally destroyed.
  • 1886 Spring: Blackwood historical simulation ends

Last modified: 29Dec98
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