Formerly known as Lake Basin, Rapelje was named after James M. Rapelje, the general manager and vice-president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The town was situated on the homesteads of Alfred Christensen and the Secords and platted by Mr. & Mrs. Elroy Westbrook in 1917.

Because Rapelje was the "end of the line" for the Northern Pacific Railroad, it enjoyed a trade of several townships. Two grocery stores, several garages, gas stations, a hardware store, a lumber yard, a saloon, recreation hall and churches met the demand of the area farmers and stockmen. The several grain elevators handled the tremendous volume of grain as the freight trains ran twice a week. The railroad ceased operation around 1981.