Grand Forks is the third-largest city in the State of North Dakota (after Fargo and Bismarck) and the county seat of Grand Forks County. According to the 2010 census, the city's population was 52,838, while that of the city and surrounding metropolitan area was 98,461. Grand Forks, along with its twin city of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, forms the center of the Grand Forks, ND-MN Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is often called Greater Grand Forks or The Grand Cities.
Located on the western banks of the Red River of the North in a flat region known as the Red River Valley, the city is prone to flooding and was struck by the devastating Red River Flood of 1997. Originally called Les Grandes Fourches by French fur traders, Grand Forks was founded in 1870 by steamboat captain Alexander Griggs and incorporated on February 22, 1881. Its location at the fork of the Red River and the Red Lake River gives the city its name.
Historically dependent on local agriculture, the city's economy now encompasses higher education, defense, health care, manufacturing, food processing, and scientific research. Grand Forks is served by Grand Forks International Airport and Grand Forks Air Force Base, while the city's University of North Dakota is the oldest institution of higher education in the state. The Alerus Center and Ralph Engelstad Arena host athletic and other events, while the North Dakota Museum of Art and Chester Fritz Auditorium are the city's largest cultural venues.
Prior to settlement by Europeans or Americans, the area where the city now sits – at the forks of the Red River and Red Lake River – had been an important meeting and trading point for Native Americans. Early French explorers, fur trappers, and traders called the area Les Grandes Fourches meaning "The Grand Forks". By the 1740s, Les Grandes Fourches was an important trading post for French fur trappers. A U.S. post office was established on the site on June 15, 1870, and the name was changed to "Grand Forks". Alexander Griggs, a steamboat captain, is regarded as "The Father of Grand Forks". Griggs' steamboat froze in the Red River on a voyage in late 1870, forcing the captain and his crew to spend the winter camping at Grand Forks. Griggs platted the community in 1875 and Grand Forks was officially incorporated on February 22, 1881. The city quickly grew after the arrival of the Great Northern Railway in 1880 and the Northern Pacific Railway in 1887. In 1883, the University of North Dakota was established, six years before North Dakota was formally recognized as an independent state born from the Dakota Territory. The first half of the 20th century saw steady growth and the development of new neighborhoods farther south and west of Downtown Grand Forks. The 1920s saw the construction of the state-owned North Dakota Mill and Elevator on the north side of the city. In 1954, Grand Forks was chosen as the site for an Air Force base. Grand Forks Air Force Base brought thousands of new jobs and residents to the community. The military base and the University of North Dakota would become integral pieces of the city's economy. The second half of the 20th century saw Grand Forks spreading further away from the older part of town. Interstate 29 was built on the western side of the city and two enclosed shopping malls – South Forks Plaza and Columbia Mall – were built on the south side.
The city was struck by a severe flood in 1997, causing extensive damage. With Fargo upstream from the bulk of the waters and Winnipeg with its flood control structures, Grand Forks became the hardest hit city in the Red River Valley. During the height of the flooding, a major fire also destroyed eleven buildings in the downtown area. Many neighborhoods had to be demolished to make way for a new levee system, which was ultimately completed ten years later. The land bordering the Red River was turned into a massive park known as the Greater Grand Forks Greenway. Since the flood, Grand Forks has seen both public and private developments throughout town. Two new, large sports venues opened in 2001, including the Alerus Center and the Ralph Engelstad Arena. In 2007, the Winnipeg-based Canad Inns hotel chain opened a 13-story hotel and waterpark adjacent to the Alerus Center. By 2007 Grand Forks had a larger population than it did before the 1997 flood, and area employment and taxable sales had also surpassed pre-flood levels.