Prostitution in Fargo: An Overview

An photograph of the Crystal palace taken in 1917.

One of the best known “Houses of Ill Fame,” Malvina Massey’s Crystal Palace was only one of a half dozen or so brothels in Fargo at any given time in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Prostitution is known as the world’s oldest profession.  It should be no surprise then, that it was one of the earliest to arrive in Fargo, following the railroad into the city in its earliest years.   Rather than provide a thorough analysis of prostitution in Fargo or focus on one particular figure, what follows is a brief outline of the rise and fall of prostitution in Fargo in the late 1800s and early 1900s, designed to provide some basic context for understanding where it fits in with the city’s basic story.[1]

From the beginning, prostitution had important links to the regional and local economy. The railroad brought madams and prostitutes to the city, as well as many of their customers.  According to historian Caroll Engelhardt, traveling salesmen, but especially migrating farm workers who came to the Red River Valley during the wheat planting and harvest seasons, provided the bread and butter for Fargo area prostitutes.[2]  Prostitution tended to rise and fall with the agricultural cycle, as did the other vices to which it was so often linked, drinking and gambling.

As Engelhardt related in a recent interview and in his book, prostitution in Fargo featured a three-tiered system.  At the bottom were street-walkers who plied their trade without a permanent home base, followed by those operating independently and individually with their own “cribs.” At the top were women working for employers, mostly female madams, in recognized “houses of ill fame.”[3]  While Malvina Massey’s Crystal Palace was one of the best known establishments, more than half a dozen “houses of ill repute” were typically in operation in Fargo’s red light district, “The Hollow,” during this time period.

Prostitution was illegal under both state and local laws, but the way those laws were (or were not) enforced depended on the views of the community, especially of those who held power in the city.  Attitudes toward prostitution varied from complete opposition among church leaders and moral reformers, or “purists” to use Engelhardt’s term, to qualified acceptance and toleration from city business and government leaders, the “regulators,” who saw the trade as a necessary evil.  Over time, efforts were made to confine prostitution to the established brothels in the Hollow and to make sin “pay its way” through a series of regular fines that weeded out those independent contractors unable to pay them, and really amounted to an unofficial licensing system.  The city’s bottom line benefited from the growing fines and a portion of the money was used to police the Hollow and the city in general.  As Engelhardt describes it, this approach showed that city leaders and law enforcement saw the institution as catering to an important economic sector and chose “prosperity” over “purity” in the waning decades of the 19th century.[4]

The mixed opinions of the community toward prostitution also come through in newspaper accounts from the era.  On the one hand, brief reports from the court room and crime blotter sometimes adopt a winking or comic tone in referring to local madams and “soiled doves” (prostitutes).  To pick only one example from the dozens of articles found by student and academic researchers in recent years, a May 13, 1898, article in the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican under the heading, “Police Court,” follows the exploits of two local women.  “Meal Ticket” (Mary Guthrie) and “Crazy Annie” (Emma Anderson) were both arrested for plying their trade but were able to escape from the police station—the implication being they had help in doing so.  On the other hand, as Engelhardt notes, particularly tragic stories of young women in the profession suffering violence or maltreatment often brought a sympathetic response from the local press.[5]

While local newspapers sometimes took a somewhat detached or questioning tone, they generally supported the critiques and campaigns of the “purists” against prostitution in their city.  In general, these took place periodically, primarily in the off-season, when they would have less of an economic impact, since most of the potential customers (and some of the prostitutes, likely) were not in Fargo.  They typically waxed and waned with little long term impact.

With the beginning of the Progressive Era in the first decades of the 20th Century, local reformers, civic organizations, church groups and leaders, and most importantly, local politicians came together and began to act with greater urgency and effect.  Mirroring national trends, they focused their attention on reforming a collection of vices, including prostitution, with the anti-liquor effort at the core.  The links they saw between drinking and prostitution reflected reality as well as their moral concerns.  Prohibition had been state law in North Dakota since the early days of statehood and it was violation of this law in her establishment that eventually sent Malvina Massey to the state penitentiary.[6]  By 1916, aided by the county option law that finally outlawed liquor across the river in Moorhead, Minnesota in 1915, Fargo’s red light district was finally eliminated.[7]

In the end, of course, just as with drinking, eliminating prostitution was not as easy as changing a few laws.  Prohibition was defeated when people refused to obey the law.  Prostitution remains illegal, but continues to exist.  While no one can question the damage prostitution often causes to the people involved, it remains an open question whether a system that recognizes but regulates this vice is more realistic than one that forces it underground. What is clear is that with the end of business in the Hollow, an interesting, if morally-conflicted period in Fargo’s history came to an end.

– Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013

_________________

[1] Another reason this focus is not being taken here is that it has already been done very well elsewhere.  The best recent work on the history of Fargo and Moorhead is Caroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007).  Chapter 6 focuses heavily on prostitution and other vices and is invaluable for anyone studying the issue. This has been recently supplemented by an interview conducted by Dr. Smith and David Flute of the 2013 Digital History Class with Dr. Engelhardt on 11/15/13.  A significant portion of this interview became part of the Malvina Massey documentary found elsewhere on this site, which does an effective job of dealing with the story of one of Fargo’s most notable (and notorious) madams.  This brief discussion relies heavily on information from these sources and other work of earlier researchers. Readers who wish to know more are directed to these sources.

[2] Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains (Kindle Edition), Location 2810.  Certainly permanent residents sometimes consorted with prostitutes and Engelhardt relates several stories of local scandals in which married men were outed for their illicit activities, sometimes in divorce proceedings (see chapter 6 of Gateway).

[3] Engelhardt, Gateway, Locations 2798-2802.

[4] For more on this, see Engelhardt, Gateway, Chapter 6.

[5] Engelhardt, Gateway, Locations 2854-2877.

[6] Engelhardt does an excellent job of telling Massey’s basic story near the end of chapter 6 of Gateway, Locations 2901-2919.  See also note at Location 4509.

[7] Engelhardt, Gateway, Location 2901.

Repurposing Fargo

Fargo has grown immensely and gone through numerous changes in its 142-year history. Growing from just over 2,500 people in 1880 to over 107,000 today and surviving such natural disasters as fires, floods and tornadoes; nothing has been able to stop Fargo from thriving.

Fargo’s downtown has always been a thriving business mecca[1] of the Red River Valley and is a key reason Fargo has survived to be the city it is today.

Recently, the city of Fargo has begun to restore much of the historic downtown district located along Broadway and Main Street.

The 1970’s were the birth of the “mall” as we know it today. Malls could be seen sprouting out of new developments in cities all across America. These malls drew businesses and shoppers away from downtowns into one central, indoor location. This spelled death for many downtowns across the nation. Fargo was no exception. In the late 70’s, the Red River Mall[2]Red River Mall was implemented on Broadway in an attempt to draw pedestrians to shop at downtown businesses after the opening of the West Acres Mall drew much of the business away from downtown. Broadway was realigned in a zigzag pattern to slow traffic and create a more pedestrian friendly environment. By the mid 1980’s many business owners were voicing their displeasure with the Red River Mall’s design. In 1986 the Mall was dismantled and Broadway was straightened.

For much of the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s, downtown Fargo was a shell of its former glory days. [3] In 1999 the city of Fargo, realizing that its historic downtown was suffering, issued the “Fargo Renaissance Zone Plan.” With lucrative incentives (five-year tax exemptions and tax credits) given to property owners that invested in the rehabilitation of Fargo’s Renaissance Zone, downtown Fargo slowly began to thrive once again.

Downtown Fargo is now a flourishing mix of residential and commercial buildings. Many of the buildings in downtown Fargo date back to the rebuilding of Fargo after the fire of 1893. The 600 block of Main Avenue[4] is the only block of buildings that survived the fire. All of the landmark buildings have gone through some sort of renovation or name change in their history.

Hotel Bison and the Fargoan Hotel are no longer hotels. They now house commercial spaces on the street level and residential living spaces on the upper floors. The Ford Building is no longer assembling cars; it houses commercial spaces and high-end residential condos. Many of the buildings have always housed businesses of some sort. Yet very few of these buildings have remained the same throughout the years. The Merchants National Bank building is now the King House Buffet, and the First National Bank building is now a bar fittingly called Fort Knox.

Two of the most iconic buildings in downtown Fargo that have stood the test of time are the Hotel Donaldson, locally known as the HoDo,[5] and the Fargo Theater. The Hodo was built in 1894 to serve as a meeting hall for the International Order of Odd Fellows. As one of the first buildings built after the fire, the building is a constant reminder of where Fargo came from. In the mid-1910’s, the building officially became the Hotel Donaldson. It has had its rough patches throughout the years, changing ownership and purpose many times, but the heart of the building and its history has survived. The Fargo Theater[6] was built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theater. Originally designed in the Renaissance style, the theater was restored in the 80’s with a more art deco style interior. The Fargo Theater still stands at its original location in downtown Fargo and is a major attraction to this day.

Downtown is once again a must see for anyone visiting Fargo. From its vibrant beginnings, surviving disaster, and period of rough times, downtown Fargo has risen to new heights. The Fargo Street Fair[7] every summer (the largest outdoor event in North Dakota) and Cruisin’ Broadway[8] have become staples of downtown Fargo’s thriving resurgence.

-Logan Kern, Digital History 2012


[1] http://www.lileks.com/fargo/broadway/8.html

[2] http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/broadway/red-river-mall.htm

[3] http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/broadway/broadway2000.htm

[4] http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/front-street-main-avenue/front-street-west-1920.htm

[5] http://www.examiner.com/article/dalefest-returns-to-hodo

[6]http://digitalhorizonsonline.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/uw&CISOPTR=7343&CISOBOX=1&REC=13

[7] http://livability.com/fargo/nd/photos-video

[8] http://downtownfargo.com/index.php/events/

Sidewalks

Commercial sidewalks on Front Street (Main st.), 1880

Commercial Sidewalks on Front Street (Main), 1880
North Dakota University Archives, Digital ID: rs000975

Sidewalks were one of the important issues at the top of the “to-do” list that the Fargo City Council had to stay on top of. Wet weather and sticky North Dakota clay played an important role in the urgency of addressing this issue. Most sidewalks were six feet wide, but streets like Broadway, Northern Pacific Avenue, as well as other streets with heavy foot traffic were equipped with ten-foot sidewalks.[1] In 1875 the first sidewalk was built of two-foot wide planks along Front Street from blocks one to six. It was not until 1883 that Fargo saw a boom in sidewalk construction.[2] The council dealt with many complaints concerning sidewalks over the years

Residential sidewalk

Residential sidewalk at 221 13th Street South (University Drive South) during 1897 flood. North Dakota State University, Digital ID: fpl00036

ranging from unfinished sections and poorly constructed walks, to the takeover of weeds. After the 1893 fire, the city council had been somewhat empowered to find a permanent solution to their sidewalk troubles. Even though the first contract was awarded for noncombustible sidewalks in the same year of the fire, most sidewalks were still constructed of wood. It would not be until the start of the twentieth-century when the citizens of Fargo would have cement under their feet. [3]



[1] Carroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead ( Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 261
[2] “Sidewalks,” Finding Aid, Fargo, N.D. Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.
[3] Carroll Engelhardt, 261.

Early Fargo and Alcohol

During the 19th century, the battle over alcoholic beverages was fierce in the United States, and the young community of Fargo was not immune to this social issue. On February 17, 1871, a U.S. Army regiment that had been dispatched from Fort Abercrombie disbanded “Fargo in the Timber,” a collection of shanties and huts that constituted the less affluent section of town. The charges levied against the deportees: selling alcohol on Indian land. Thus began a difficult relationship between Fargo and the cultural and legal acceptance of alcohol.

During the 1870’s and 1880’s, a collection of saloons, sporting houses, and brothels sprouted up in Fargo  and both the town’s gentlemen and “rougher elements” frequented them. However, in 1887, a local election was held to determine whether the city should discontinue the sale of alcohol. According to an early resident, G. Angus “General” Fraser, the balloting was held at the request of local farmers because, on rainy days, the farmhands would go to town and “frequent the saloons and rarely would they return until a week later.”[1]  Liquor was briefly voted back, but in 1889 North Dakota was admitted to the union as a dry state. The efforts of the Fargo-based North Dakota Women’s Christian Temperance Union  was influential in granting the “dry” status to the new state. This group was founded in 1888 and was headed by Elizabeth Preston Anderson for more than forty years. According to Fraser, many thought the loss of the saloons and gambling halls would be devastating to the infant community. However, he stated, “There were men here who believed in Fargo. They saw a future for the town. Among such men was the late Alex Stern.” [2] Fargo remained a dry community until the repeal of prohibition in 1933.

“I hereby solemly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented, and malt liquors, including wine, beer, and cider, and to employ the proper means to discourage the used of and traffic in the same.” — Oath from North Dakota Women’s Christian Temperance Union literature, c. 1892.

 


[1] “Fargo Once Was ‘Wide Open,’ Fraser, Here In 1880, Says.”Fargo Forum, March 17, 1946.

[2] Ibid.

Introduction to Religion and Architecture in the Community, 1880-1910

The Red River Valley boom began in the 1880s. Heavy immigration, mostly of Scandinavians, Poles, Bohemians, and German-Russians, helped first populate the area. The migration demographics of the West were shaped by the Red River tributary that ran through the Minnesota and North Dakota valley and railroad lines to the newly formed area that we know as Fargo. With the migration of people came the expansion of religion and customs; many practices and backgrounds came to the communities that were taking permanent form.

Quickly, the railroad crossed into the Fargo area and two small communities surfaced on the landscape west of the river. Each community soon acquired the local names of “Fargo in the Timber,” located on the banks of the river, and “Fargo on the Prairie,” which was nothing more then a tent city built upon the present-day Main Avenue locale. Ironically, it was the tent city where United States Army officers accompanied railroad surveyors and their families. Many historic calculations estimated that this tent city consisted of about 100 people who lived in approximately 50 tents total.

Fargo’s early ethnic migration helped establish “Old World” or traditional religion. Those different practices and places of worship help with the understanding of how each brought together individual religious enclaves into a larger community of devoted settlers.

As one might expect, the area was home to many Native Americans before the arrival of European immigrants and Euro-American migrants.  The early exploration of the Red River Valley also brought in migration from Norway, Sweden, and France. Therefore, a great deal of heritage was concentrated within the confines of Fargo and many religions naturally began as migration of the ethnic groups continued to  grow.

Additionally, the new settlements also included many other sectors of ethnic diversity that many might not expect on the prairie, among them Russian Ukrainians, Asians, African Americans and Arabs. The working railroad greatly facilitated the new and diverse people who came through Fargo.

The significance of so many immigrants brought diversity, but by the year 1885, many of the immigrants were Russian-German. Still, the census and other records of population growth proved that by 1915 over 79 percent of North Dakota’s overall population consisted of immigrants and their offspring.

This composite of the churches that arose in the period of 1890 – 1900 helps to  better understand how the different ethnicity brought a different flavor to the landscape of Fargo.

Churches of Fargo North Dakota and the Diversity of Religion, 1890-1910

Churches of Fargo North Dakota and the Diversity of Religion [Courtesy off the North Dakota State University Archives]

This picture was taken of the churches in the time around 1890-1910. It indicates that during this time, the facades showed there were skilled craftsman in Fargo’s early settlement period. Each of the churches found seems to have a brick facade. The churches appearing in on this photograph are Gethsemane Episcopal Church,   First Congregational Church, First Norwegian Baptist Church, Robert Street German Evangelical Church, and the Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church, all of which represent the religious diversity in the new settlement called Fargo.

The photographs of the churches also bring out many details that often not noticed when first viewing a vintage photograph, but after a little bit of time spent reading and fact finding, it is the unseen that speaks the loudest when you examine a picture and consider its historical context.

Please click here to be linked to a slideshow featuring Fargo’s churches.

Rusty Ouart, Digital History 2012

The Fargo Opera House

The Fargo Opera House was a source of pride and a symbol of prestige for the town’s early residents.  In contrast to vaudeville theaters, the Opera House was acceptable for all ages and genders in the community to attend openly.  The building stood on the corner of Broadway and N.P. avenues. It was originally called Chapin Hall and housed the Luger Furniture Company on the first floor.  Initially Chapin Hall was open to many events and ceremonies as well as performances by traveling musicians and thespians that began to visit Fargo in the late 1870s as transportation became readily available.  However, performance space was non-existent prior to 1879, and afterwards a lack of seating and appropriate stage space was a looming issue.[1]

Motions were first proposed to renovate Chapin Hall into the Fargo Opera House in a city council meeting in 1881; J.J. Guhey was given a wage of $25 per month to oversee operations in its constructions and renovations.[2]  After the grand opening in 1882 complaints were resounding through the community and feeding the need for constant renovation.  One common lament was the stage size. An article in the Fargo Argus called it a “mere toy of a stage”.[3]  These views may have led to the Opera House’s closing in late 1888 for renovations in which the interior was completely remodeled as well as the scenery.[4]  These renovations were ongoing  until the original Fargo Opera House burned down in 1893.  Construction of a new opera house began in 1894.[5]

A.S. Capehart was one of the early managers of the Fargo Opera House. He was popular within the town due to his thoughtfulness and taste in running the establishment.  According to the Fargo Argus he scraped the mud off the walls of the theater[6] and provided safe transportation for patrons.[7]   He was responsible for contracting its performances as well.  One of the main performing companies in Fargo was the Hess Company out of Minneapolis, which was secured by Capehart.  The Hess Company is mentioned favorably in the Argus for its performance of “Martha”.[8]

Performances included not just traditional opera, but also operettas, burlettas, grand operas, light operas, and comic operas.  Popular performances included “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan, “Il Trovatore” by Verdi, “The Mascotte” by Edmond Audran,  and “The Magic Slipper” by Rossini. [9]

Valerie Tescher, Digital History 2012


[1] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota

[2] Fargo City Records 1881

[3] Daily Argus, November 8, 1880

[4] Sunday Argus, November 4, 1888

[5] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota

[6] Fargo Daily Argus 15 March 1883: Print

[7] Fargo Daily Argus 10 August 1881: Print.

[8] Fargo Daily Argus 23 May 1883

[9] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota

Jasper B. Chapin

Among the prominent names of Fargo’s early history is that of Jasper B Chapin, a hotel tycoon who contributed to a large portion of its building, economic development, religion, and the arts. Chapin was a native of New York and found his way westward into California as a result of the Gold Rush of 1855 which fueled settlement and economic development in US territories.  There Chapin began as a miner, eventually branching his capital outwards into freighting and hotel keeping.  He was known to have lived and opened businesses in Leavenworth, KS, Denver, CO, and Utah.   He then followed another Gold Rush into Montana, made his way to Ohio, and then to Brainerd, MN where he met John E. Haggart who was a freighter and a horse dealer offering his services to the North Pacific, and from there following the development of the railroad to Fargo, ND.

Chapin quickly established his success in Fargo, opening a tent hotel-saloon on August 5, 1871.  By 1873 he was hired by the Northern Pacific to take over operation of the Headquarters Hotel.  In 1879 Chapin opened a market in on Fargo’s East Side, which was reported to have covered areas lying between N.P. Avenue and First avenue North and was also the owner of a large hotel.  He also served on the Fargo city council as street commissioner, was an alderman, and also a mason.  He was a wealthy man, demonstrated by his funding of large building projects and his offer to purchase a large portion of Fargo north of the railroad for a sum of 33,000 up front in 1879.  He was rumored to have earned $500,000 per year.

Chapin was influential on the arts and entertainment industries of Fargo.  He was known to have a love of music and provided the Orchestra for the Independence Day Dance in 1873.   In 1879 Chapin Hall was built on the corner of the intersection of Broadway and N.P. Avenue.   It was one of the earliest Public Halls of Fargo housing a variety of events including those involving arts and entertainment. This hall became the site of performances of famous traveling musicians and actors.  It also housed Luger’s Furniture Company on the lower floor.  In 1882 the hall was renovated to become Fargo’s first Opera House and Chapin contributed $160,000 towards renovations up until its destruction in the fire of 1893.

The life of Jasper Chapin was lauded in Fargo but was full of scandal.  He was known to be a gambler, rumored to have dipped into state treasury, and although he generously donated to church charities he was reported as seldom if ever present in religious ceremonies.  After his wife, Julia Chapin, died as an invalid in 1884 he reportedly sank into a deep depression, lost his fortune to creditors, and his remaining assets to the fire of 1893, before ultimately ended his own life in Minneapolis at the age of 72.[1]

Valerie Tescher, Digital History 2012


[1] Masonic Library Staff. Fargo Masonic Files. Fargo: North Dakota institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, 1979. Print.

Northern Pacific Railroad: Fargo’s first industry

Railroad: The First Industry in Fargo

 


[1]                                                             [3]

 

 

 

 

When the N.P.R.R. crossed the Red River in 1871the city of Fargo was formed. The railroad fueled the city, bringing in large numbers of people and along with the people came the need for industry. Fargo grew around the railroad tracks as is visible in the above 1880 photograph. The main N.P. tracks travel East and West along Front Street. The railroad had spur tracks that ran to several businesses including Crockett & Shotwell Lumber.[3] Businesses along the tracks were some of the most profitable in the city as they had direct access to shipping and receiving goods. The businesses that were not located on the spur tracks had to use more common methods of transportation including horses, oxen, carts and human laborers.

The site of the railroad bridge crossing the Red River from Moorhead into Fargo was a very thought out, strategic and secretive plan. Thomas Hawley Canfield and George B. Wright traveled the Red River Valley in search of a crossing point that would not flood with the Red River in the spring.[2] Once N.P.R.R. was in control of both the eastern and western banks of the Red River and the crossing was announced, land speculators rushed to the area to purchase the very valuable land. These earlier settlers opened the first industries in Fargo and paved the way for the growth and prosperity of the town.

Logan Kern, Digital History 2012


[1] Regional Studies # 2029.8.7

[2] http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/early/beginings.htm

[3]  Regional Studies # 2029.8.28

Shanty Claims

Image of a tar paper shack with people in front of it. There are four women, one is holding a pail, another is holding a broom. There are three men, one is crouched down with a small child, and another in seated in a buggy harnessed to a horse. There are six young children, one is seated in a chair, and three are holding onto puppies. Behind the buggy is a sod building.
[rs000832 – North Dakota State Univeristy Archives]

Shanties were the next standard of living for small-scale farmers in the Red River Valley area. Claim shanties were also a new trend in living structures because they were essentially mobile homes. Because of their mobility, settlers would be able to live for an extended period of time to claim land and move to claim more when they had reached the time limit.

Because the railroad reached the settlers on a frequent basic materials such as tar paper, and lumber arrived frequently. These materials were available to the settlers to build claim shanties. This was the beginning of frame shelter building, after sod homes,  in the rural Fargo area. Claim shanty farmers continuously populated the area between 1870-1885.[1]

Shanties were built directly on dirt ground with no foundation. “Shanty walls consisted of studs, horizontal boxing, and a layer of tarpaper held on with lath.”[2] Shanty shacks were a nicer seeming housing structure but were hardly a match for North Dakota weather. The shanties were difficult to keep warm in the winter and acted as hot boxes in the summer. [3]Tar paper was often used on shanty shacks or as temporary structures of their own. It was a waterproof tar/paper mixture that acted as a shelter sealant for shanty structures of simply temporary tar paper shacks. Once shanty farmers earned enough capital in the area they were about to begin constructing wood frame houses.

Jenna Clawson, Digital History


[1]  Dalrymple, John S. “Setting for Dalrymple’s Bonanza”, Oliver Dalrymple and His Bonanza 1984 , p. 129.

[2] Czajka, Christopher. “The Little Old Shanty on the Claim: Creating a Home on the Frontier” Public Prairie. www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierlife/essay4.html

[3] Ibid.

Alexander Stern and the Rebuilding of Fargo

Stern ad November 9, 1892

Advertisement for one of Stern’s businesses.

In 2007, the Fargo Forum asked a five person panel of local historians to name the five most influential individuals in the history of Fargo-Moorhead. At the top of the list was Alexander Stern.[1]Originally from Germany, Stern moved to Fargo in 1881, and started his career in Fargo as a local retailer by opening a clothing store. In 1885, he moved this clothing store to the corner of Broadway and N. P. Avenue. He was noted as one of the foremost builders and boosters for the city in its early years.

Fargo Fire - Sterns Block

Image of the Stern Block following the Fargo fire.

His actions following the 1893 fire were instrumental in the rebuilding of the city. He assisted in the rebuilding of the Fargo opera house, and rebuilt the Stern Building. He operated his clothing retail business from its new brick location, and continued to involve himself in the real estate side of the city. He constructed the Edwards building, the Stern building, the Donaldson Hotel building, the Pioneer building, and the Kaufman building. He later established the Dakota Trust Company with his brother, Max Stern, and served as mayor of Fargo. Upon his death, Martin Hector noted of Alexander Stern, “Nothing ever jarred that confidence. Hard times and distressful conditions came to the community and to the nation, even the great disaster of the Fargo fire, but nothing could change his belief that there was a great future for the city.”[2]Upon his death, the governor of the state declared a 2-hour period of mourning for the entire state. In many ways, he grew with the city of Fargo and exemplified the city’s growing spirit.-Chad Halvorson, Digital History 2012


[1] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), August 12, 2007.

[2] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), June 5, 1934.

O.J. deLendrecie

O.J. deLendrecie was born in Canada and worked all around the world before coming to Fargo in 1879. He built the Chicago Dry Goods House, which did an amazing business. He owned a good amount of land around the city.  On the night of November 24th, 1893 a blaze started in Holzer’s Cigar store in the back of the Park Hotel. One of the townsfolk was walking by when he discovered the flames in the back of the store. He proceeded to kick in the door to alert everyone and sent word for the fire department. They were able to remove most of the stock from the cigar store and hotel, but the flames did a lot of damage. The firemen moved on to protect Ehrman’s Candy Palace, which was next door. The firemen thought that they had protected the building, until flames started to come out of the roof. The belief is that a few of the embers started it and it went unnoticed. In a few moments the Candy Palace was worse off than the hotel in which the fire started. O.J. deLendrecie owned both of the properties the fire affected; he did not have insurance on either of the properties. Both of the buildings were burned past repair.

– Mathias Zastrow, Digital History, 2012.

 

Tent Cities

View of a tent city with wooden hotel building (Headquarters Hotel) in the background. A few men stand around the fronts of the tents to the left.
[shA3315 – North Dakota State University Archives]

Tent cities traveled with the railroad because they were easy to assemble and could be moved quickly as the railroad developed. They existed because of the construction of the railroad and the building of the city of Fargo. The men that stayed in these cities were accustomed to hard living conditions, as tents did not keep heat very well in the cold area of Fargo.

The men that resided in these tents were originally located in “Fargo on the Prairie” but were banned and moved to “Fargo in the Timber.” They were construction workers and survey crews who were banned from residing in the limits of “Fargo on the Prairie” for their recreational activity which included: liquor, prostitutes, and more.[1]

The tents that the men lived in were mostly made of canvas. This canvas was either packed solely for the tent or was thrown from a covered wagon and over tree boughs to create a temporary living structure. The tents were handy for construction workers because they were able to move at a moment’s notice, especially with the construction of the railroad.

– Jenna Clawson, Digital History, 2012


[1] Danbom, David B. and Claire Strom. Images of America Fargo North Dakota 1870-1900 , 2002, p 11.

DeLendrecie’s

Chicago Dry Goods

Add in the Fargo Fourm November 9, 1892

There were many department stores in Fargo. One was the Chicago Dry Goods House department store at 618 Front Street.  It later changed its name to the deLendrecie’s. It was situated right in the heart of the city and the location helped to keep it profitable in the midst of the depression in the mid 1890s. That made the store a staple of Fargo until the fire in 1894. The fire led to an influx of architects, many of whom would be cooped up in tents or hotel rooms just about anywhere to get out of the rain and cold. They had big plans for the department store.  It was re-built in 1894, with two-floors, a basement, and a mezzanine.  The property was moved to Broadway and Seventh Street, so it was closer to the Headquarters Hotel, and would help bring in steady amounts of people and keep revenue high.- Mathias Zastrow, Digital History, 2012