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.

Henry and Mary Hector

Henry and Mary Hector

Henry and Mary Hector sitting on the porch of their home which is known as the first permanent structure in Fargo. Cass County Historical Society, 2007-028-022

In 1878, Henry Hector, just 17 years old, arrived in the Fargo-Moorhead area at the request of his brother Martin and started a grocery business.[1] He lost his store to a fire in 1882, but successfully rebuilt and continued his business.  He served as the president of the Continental Hose Company and represented the Second Ward on the city council. Henry married the sister of his brother’s wife, Mary Paulson. Henry died in 1940 at the age of 79. Today the house is known as the Hector House.[2]



[1] Susie Yakowicz, “Martin Hector: A Pioneer to Remember,” The Fargo Forum, April 30, 2000.

First Car

First Car

First car on the streets of Fargo, the Benz Velo. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs001402]

The first automobile to roll down the streets of Fargo was the Benz Velo, built by Karl Benz, co-founder of Mercedes Benz; it was the first model to have four wheels. Karl’s wife was so happy with his first three-wheeled model that, unbeknownst to him, she took it on a 120-mile round-trip promotional tour, accompanied by two sons and serving as her own mechanic.[1]

The “Benz” appeared in a Fargo-Moorhead parade on July 3, 1897. Shortly after, vehicles began to fill the streets of Fargo. In 1903 and 1904 the city council discussed speed limits for motorcycles and automobiles. By 1910 the city council ordered speed limits of 10 miles per hour at intersections. In the same year they hired an automobile and driver to enforce the speed limit on city streets.[2]



[1] http://www.mbusa.com/mercedes/benz/innovation

[2]  “City Government.,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

 

Fargo’s First Theater

The first theater in Fargo was built by John Erickson in 1880.  In 1888 the theater was purchased by Alexander Stern and was located on the second story of the Stern Building.  It burned down in the fire of 1893 but was undoubtedly a rich source of culture for Fargo.

The theater featured actors of which many went on to become prominent in their time such as the famous 19th century Italian actor Salvini who played in “Don Caesar de Bazan” on January 4, 1893.  Other featured performers included the famed Jim Crowe actress Clara Morris, Shakespearean actor Frederick Warde, and other renowned actors such as Joseph Jefferson, Marie Wainwright, William Collier, Frank Daniels, Stuard Robson, Blanche Walsh, Chauncey Olcott, John Drew, Melbourne MacDoweell, Herbert Kelcey, including “Don Caesar de Bazan” which was one of the last that the theater ever featured, running through January of 1893.[1] Popular theater productions of the time included “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as well as Shakespearean Plays.[2]

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.

[2] Browning, Richard James. Early Fargo Theaters: Record of the professional theatre activity in Fargo, Dakota Territory from 1880-1888. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University, 1979. Print.

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.

Charles and Matilda Roberts

Charles A. and Matilda Roberts. Photos as ran in Fargo Forum, June 1934. Used for educational purposes.

Charles A. Roberts was a man who burned with the spirit of adventure. His family owned a meat market in Minneapolis, but butchering was not enough to satisfy Roberts. According to his obituary in the Fargo Forum, “Few men have crowded into one short lifetime more wide-flung activities, more romantic adventure, and more constructive effort than his venturesome pioneer spirit impelled him to undertake.” [1] Roberts was one of the first four men to cross the Red River and establish landholdings there in 1871. [2]  Mrs. Roberts soon joined him on the prairie, living in a tent and giving birth to their second child, Lee, the first white baby to be born in Fargo city limits. [3] Mr. Roberts soon became very prosperous, building Fargo’s first roller mill and a brick yard, which stood west of the site of present-day Fargo South High School. Roberts was also contracted to build and manage the Sanborn to Cooperstown (both in North Dakota) branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was through his association with the railroad that Roberts befriended General Custer, who was stationed at Fort Lincoln, North Dakota. [4] Roberts was also one of the first men to set foot in the Black Hills during that region’s gold rush in 1877. He was also on one of the early expeditions to the Klondike gold rush in 1897.

It is certain that few citizens were more revered in the early history of Fargo than Mrs. Matilda Roberts. For evidence of this, one need only look as far as the massive seven-part serial article written for the Fargo Forum in 1930 by Ida May Owen that chronicles Mrs. Roberts’ entire life history, as though her story was itself the story of Fargo. She is widely reported to be the first white woman in the Fargo area, and the first white woman to cook a meal in that community. Upon her death in 1934, the Forum’s front page featured a generous spread that referred to her as “Grandma” Roberts, that is, the grandmother of Fargo itself.  The anonymous Forum reporter stated in melodramatic fashion: “Grandma Roberts’ story is the folklore of Fargo. Incidents in her early experiences here – humorous, tragic, dramatic, courageous, shrewd — will be story material forever for those who write and tell tales of the days when Indians roamed at will … when women, then as now, followed their husbands with only the beacon light of love to guide them over uncharted trails.” [5]

Zach Jendro, Digital History 2012


[1] “Chas. A. Roberts, One of Northwest’s Early Pioneer Builders, Dies Suddenly,” Fargo Forum, 20 June, 1925.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5]  “Mrs. C. A. Roberts, ‘First Citizen’ of City Passes Away,” Fargo Forum, 27 June, 1934.

 

Roberts and Haggart Families

“Judge S.G. Roberts,” from “1900 Blue Book.”

The Roberts and Haggart families were twined together through marriage and business, and both clans featured prominently in the early history of Fargo. Brooks, Maine-native Samuel G. Roberts arrived in Cass County, North Dakota in January of 1872, making him one of the earliest settlers in the area. He had fought bravely in the Civil War in the Seventeenth Massachusetts Volunteers and the Ninth US Veteran Volunteers, known as Hancock’s Corps, rising to the rank of first lieutenant and was wounded three times. After his final discharge, he settled in Minneapolis, studied law, and became admitted to the bar in 1870. He then relocated to Fargo and acquired a quarter section of land, which is now the northwest corner of Broadway and N.P. Avenue. In 1872, Samuel married Jennie Baldwin, and the Roberts family settled their claim, building their Italianate –style home there in 1880. Roberts formed a legal partnership with S.G. Comstock, serving Moorhead, making the duo the first legal office in the area. [1] However, this partnership dissolved, and Roberts built a practice across the river in Fargo, a position he held until he moved to California in the 1910’s.

Gilbert Haggart, son of Fargo’s first sheriff and fire marshal, John E. Haggart, had married Ruth Roberts, daughter of S.G. Roberts, in 1900, and the two settled in the Roberts family home. In a 1966 letter to his daughter-in-law, Mrs. John Roberts Haggart, Gilbert recalls many fond memories of living in early Fargo. “You can well imagine how nice and clean everything was kept. Every family had a hired girl. Father always had a hired man to take care of his driving horses. While my mother raised nine of us children, she always had plenty of good reliable help.” [2] Gilbert seemed fond of his mother-in-law: “Ask (John Roberts Haggart) if he does remember his grandmother, Mrs. Jennie Roberts. She thought he was a fine boy. She said when he got to be ten years old, she was going to take him and they were going to take a trip around the world. I think it was cancer she died of. She never complained. While Mrs. Roberts was alive, we had no electricity. She had some lovely brass lighting fixtures containing kerosene lamps. Mrs. Roberts cleaned the glass globes and trimmed the wicks. Every morning. Said she never expected to have a girl do more than herself.” [3]

Zach Jendro, Digital History 2012


[1] Compendium of History and Biography of North Dakota. Chicago: Ogle and Company, 1900.
[2] G. Haggart (personal correspondence, 28 February, 1966)
[3] Ibid.

Lena Bertha Kopelman

Lena Bertha Kopelman

April 29, 1869 – December 3, 1947

 

Lena Bertha Kopelman photo

“My mother… [was] a wig maker and maker of hair switches and other hair goods. [She] taught us all how to weave human hair and we became 


fairly adept at it, but we could never make our fingers fly like our mother did… Kopelman’s Beauty Shop was one of the very first beauty shops in Fargo…

Rose, Dorothy and I helped to make the shop a going business, all of us merely helping our mother who was quite a business woman.”

~ Jeanette Kopelman Saval, letter, 1977. [1]

            Mrs. Kopelman was the owner of Fargo’s first beauty salon.  She was a wig maker, widow, and mother of seven children.  One December 22, 1901 she became the president of Sister’s of Peace, which is a Jewish charity organization.[2]  As a devoted member of the Jewish community, she also had a business agreement with the Fargo Hebrew Congregation to run the mikvah in the basement of her store.  (A mikhav is a bath meant to purify women within the Jewish faith before a Sabbath or after menstruation.[3])  She would charge $1 and provide towels, water, and soap. (See agreement between Mrs. Kopelman and The Fargo Hebrew Congregation)[4]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012

[1] Schloff, Linda Mack. And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest since 1855.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1996. Print.

[2] “American Jewish Year Book.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=0LUyAAAAMAAJ>.

[3] Farlex, Inc. “Mikvah.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <http://www.thefreedictionary.com/mikvah>.

[4] Schloff, Linda Mack. And Prairie Dogs Weren’t Kosher: Jewish Women in the Upper Midwest since 1855.       St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1996. Print.

Kopelman Building photo

This is the outside of the Kopelman building. This building housed many different offices as well as the beauty salon run by Mrs. Lena Kopelman.

 

Inside of the Kopelman Store photo

This is a photo of the inside of the Kopelman store.

Fargo’s First Christmas Tree

Fargo’s First Christmas Tree

 

In 1873 the people of Fargo went to church services in Moorhead as a church had

not been established.  As the people of Fargo believed that the Christmas tree

being planned for in Moorhead was more for the children of that church they

decided to have their own.  Two trees were sent for but were stolen mid route.  It

was decided that the men from Moorhead that were suspected of stealing the trees

would be hung in effigy so the next morning the bridge for the red river was

decorated with what looked like dead men.  The next night the trees were returned

and money raised for the decoration of the trees and presents for all of the local

children under the age of fourteen.  Each child under the age of fourteen also

received a silver coin that had a hole punched in the center of it so that it could be

hung on the tree.  You can read the account given to The Record in 1896 here.[1]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012


[1] Caron, John. “Fargo, N.D., History Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU.” Fargo, N.D., History Exhibition, Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU. North Dakota State University, 2004. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/other/firstchristmastree.htm>

 

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

Flooding, Sewage Management, and Early Plumbing

Chesley & Lovejoy Lumberyard at high water from Red River flood, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1881

Looking northwest at Chesley & Lovejoy Lumberyard, east end of 2nd Ave. N. during Red River flood. Residential area in background above water. Lumber floating between buildings [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000968]

In the first decade of Fargo’s settlement,  concerns for sanitation and waste management quickly rose to the forefront of city operations. As an infrastructure  developed, the need for  a sewage system for Fargo was clear and the city council investigated the system and its cost.  On  January 13, 1881, council members solicited city engineers for a sewage system that best met the needs of the flat city. On September 14, 1882, voters approved, 136 to 25, a $50,000 issue of 7-percent bonds for a system based on the existing structure in Chicago. Fargo’s city engineers adapted that to a more modern system with 36-inch brick trunks fed laterally by 12-inch pipes throughout the main center of the city as opposed to Moorhead’s flush tanks that initially sent waste directly to the river.[1]Nevertheless, Fargo’s sewers continued to empty into the river and taint water supplies until 1892, when improvements began.

Proximity to the river greatly facilitated day-to-day business activities and steamboat landings and served nearby warehouses and granaries. Due to the overall unsanitary nature of the river water during the early developmental periods, that proximity could also cause problems. Therefore, the ongoing need for revising the existing systems of irrigation and sanitation remained at the at the forefront of concerns of the city council and local citizens alike.

Chesley & Lovejoy Lumberyard at highwater, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1881

Chesley & Lovejoy Lumberyard, at the east end of 2nd Ave. N., is shown during the Red River flood. The Union Elevator cam be seen in the background and lumber floats between  between buildings. The man standing in foreground is looking east at the view. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000967]

Although the Red River provided ease of access and transfer of goods and lumber coming and going from Fargo, it also created instances of immense loss and devastation during high water times. Flooding affected any and all structures and businesses along the banks including lumber yards and granaries originally founded close by for quick and efficient transactions.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012



[1] Englehardt, Gateway, 267.

Nineteenth-Century Telephone Services and Water Supplies

Northwest from Headquarters Hotel, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1880

An elevated view looking northwest from the Headquarters Hotel shows the Stephens and Sears livery stable located on the 600 block of N.P. Avenue and in the distance is the First Presbyterian Church and several homes. Beyond the city, farmland and haystacks are visible on the horizon [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000987]

In an effort to expand the prospects of Fargo’s increasing community, Fargo City Council Members gave H.C. Shoen, E.C. Eddy, and others the city’s first telephone franchise on January 7, 1880.  A year later, Fargo and Moorhead Telephone Exchange began erecting poles for doing general phone business.  Twenty years later, Northwestern Telephone Exchange Company fitted the city with metallic circuit long distance transmitters and strengthened Fargo’s connection and communication with the rest of the country.[1]

Concurrently with the first telephone franchise, council members began their efforts to check water supply problems on August 2, 1880 and therefore began installing water mains throughout the center of the city in conjunction with Fargo Water and Steam Company.[2]  However, Fargo’s sewer systems continued to drain into the river and compromise the integrity of the water. Some citizens, like A. McHench, thought a city well would be the answer at the time, but not until after the fire of 1893 did the council revisit the wisdom of digging an artesian city well.  Two years later, an 1895 public gathering passed the $48,000 construction of a municipal water plant with two pumps and a daily capacity of one million gallons of water at greatly improved quality.[3] Within the same year, the city issued $15,000 of water works bonds to further extend the system.  By 1897, about 12 miles of 4- to 12-inch water mains and over 100 fire hydrants proliferated throughout the main city streets; 957 taps provided for service connections.[4]  Yet, Fargo and Moorhead, after the turn of the century, would face later issues with lower river levels.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012



[1] “Telephones,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

[2] “Water Supplies,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

[3] Carroll Engelhardt. Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 269.

[4] “Water Supplies,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

Early Public Street Lights

South side for Front Street looking east across N.P. Park and 7th Street, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1879

This winter view of the south side of Front Street (Main Avenue) looking at the 600 block, shows several early businesses. Shown  are Hughes & Brewer Boots and Shoes, The Park Hotel, Chicago Dry Goods House, The Republican Printing Office, an arcade and other commercial buildings. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000944]

After Mayor George Egbert authorized a $44 payment to Cass Lamp Works on December 5, 1879, the first kerosene lamps soon appeared on the streets of Fargo. Police officers were authorized to ensure the street lamps were in proper working order and purchased barrels of oil so the night police units could fill and light the lamps and extinguish them in the morning.[1]

By October 7, 1881, the Gas Light and Fuel Company became the city’s first power company and became the Fargo Electric Light and Power Company when franchised on November 7 of the same year.  At the same time, the city council passed an ordinance that gave Fargo Electric Light and Power Company the permit for one or more electric light towers approximately 150 feet high with a 20,000 candlepower light. This illumination provided “sufficient strength to read coarse print a distance of two mile[s] from the tower.” It cost $275 per year to operate. The council additionally gave the Fargo Electric Light and Power Company the street lighting contract on October 5, 1883, and talks for putting streetlights on poles began shortly thereafter.  By January 13, 1886, 125-foot lighting towers or “street lights” were completed at the Cass County Courthouse broadening the illumination. Talks would continue to consider adding lights to the two towers already in existence.

The first 18 incandescent lights did not arrive until February 4, 1889, but wooden masts for arc lighting were erected in 1890. By August 19, 1890, the city of Fargo offered suspended arc lights throughout its streets.  They were later enclosed for increased safety in 1898.[2]

With advances in lighting and electricity came improvements in quality of life, bringing business ventures that greatly encouraged permanent settlement and expanded urban plains growth.  Businesses that once stood as solitary structures on the flat surface streets of Fargo were soon affixed to a growing array of new proprietors like shoe stores, dry goods, and grocery and furniture stores. This created a “row” effect of mostly-flat top and flat-faced storefronts lining the main arteries of the city.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012


[1] “Electricity, Lights, etc.,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

[2] “Electricity, Lights, etc.,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.