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.

Civil War Veterans In Fargo

GAR Monument, Island Park, Fargo.

GAR Civil War Veterans Monument in Riverside Park, Fargo, ND.

Though North Dakota was not a state when the Civil War took place, its history was shaped by the contribution of hundreds of Union Civil War veterans.[1]  Though much research needs to be done to fill out the story,[2] some basic conclusions are in order.  First, Civil War veterans came to Fargo in significant numbers in the decades after the war, just as they did to many other Midwestern and western communities during this period.  These men were the quintessential “Yankees,” men who were often the first to settle with their families in the new towns and surrounding countryside, many of them arriving with the railroad.  Frequently in setting up farms they benefitted from not only the Homestead Act, but also their ability to claim additional land based on their status as veterans.  As Caroll Engelhardt notes, Civil War veterans often emerged as community leaders, including Fargo mayors “Colonel” Wilbur F. Ball, who had served in the Ohio Cavalry, and J.A. Johnson, who served in both the Confederate and Union armies.[3]

Many veterans joined the principal Union Civil War veterans’ organization of the time, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). The John F. Reynolds Post No. 44 was organized on February 22, 1884, with local veteran Lafayette Hadley playing a major role.  Renumbered Post No. 5 with North Dakota statehood in 1889, it was named for Major John F. Reynolds, who died in action while commanding First Corps of the Army of the Potomac on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  The post grew from its initial 64 charter members to a peak of 287 members before it began a long decline before the death of its last member, Colonel John W. Carroll, on March 3, 1942.[4]

During its lifetime, like other GAR posts, members participated in state and national encampments.[5]  They played a significant role in Decoration Day, an early version of Veterans’ or Memorial Day, in which wreaths were laid at the graves of military veterans, as well as other patriotic celebrations.[6]  The men also participated in military parades and ceremonies, notably in the send-off and reception of members of Co. B of the First North Dakota Infantry during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (1898-1899).[7]

One lasting accomplishment of the post was the creation of the GAR Monument in Island Park, Fargo, in 1916.  Constructed with funds raised by North Dakota Governor Louis B. Hanna and the Reynolds post, it was dedicated on Decoration Day 1916, and bears the inscription:

“To the Dead a Tribute, To the Living a Memory, To Posterity an Inspiration.”[8]

-Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013



[1] I am leaving aside the issue of the battles against the Sioux (Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota) which took place during and after the Civil War.  There were recruits from Dakota Territory that took part in Indian War and Civil War battles as well, but they were relatively few in number and their stories have been tracked elsewhere in the historical literature. We don’t have a sense at this point of how many Confederate veterans came to the Fargo area, aside from Mayor Johnson (see below).

[2] Much of the background information from this entry come from the “Finding Aid to the Grand Army of the Republic, John F. Reynolds Post No. 5 Records,” at the Institute for Regional Studies & University Archives, North Dakota State University Libraries, at  (last accessed 12/19/13).  At the time of writing (December 2013), the archives were in the process of being moved to a new location and were therefore temporarily inaccessible for researchers.  When the archives are re-opened, this would be the obvious place for a researcher on Civil War veterans in the region to begin.  The collections contain data about membership, meetings, and even burial plots lists for local veterans.

[3] Caroll Engelhardt, Gateway to the Northern Plains: Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Kindle Edition, locations 3243-3272.

[4] Information from the “Finding Aid to the Grand Army of the Republic, John F. Reynolds Post No. 5 Records” cited above (note [2]).

[5] For a brief account of the G.A.R. state encampment at Hillboro, ND, in 1896, see Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, June 4-5, 1896.

[6] Engelhardt notes that the GAR hosted their own Fourth of July picnics in Fargo’s early years (Location 1602) as well as providing Memorial or Decoration Day services (Location 2338).  The Decoration Day service for 1899, which included remembrance for the First North Dakota Infantry, then fighting in the Philippines, is covered in “Decoration Day,” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, May 30, 1899.

[7] For the reception of Company B after the Spanish-American War/Philippine-American war and the GAR role in it, see “Home at Last!” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, October 2, 1899.

[8] Information on the monument from “GAR monument, Island Park, Fargo, N.D.” entry at the Photo Gallery of the NDSU Institute for Regional Studies at (last accessed 12/19/13) and the “Look Around Downtown—Fargo Heritage Discovery Walk,” Spring 2007, page 31, “Stop 1: Civil War Soldier Statue—Island Park,” page 31 (accessed on 12/19/13 in pdf form at

Company B: Fargo in the Spanish-American War (1898-99)

Spanish-American War monument in Kindred Cemetery, near Fargo.

Close-up view of the Spanish-American War Monument in the cemetery at Kindred, ND. It commemorates the loss of Ole Lykken, who served with Co.K of the 1st ND and died from disease near Manila, Philippines, November, 1898. (Photo by Chris Hummel, 2013)

“Captain Keye… asked all who were willing to volunteer their services… to step two paces to the front.  Every man of the fifty-four stepped up at once.”[1]

Thus did the local Fargo paper describe the response of Fargo’s National Guard company, Company B, to President McKinley’s call for volunteers to serve in the Spanish-American War.  Those men who were accepted for service by the U.S. Government would go on to form the core of what became Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry.  What they could not know at the time was that this was the beginning of an eighteen month journey from peace to war and back again, and a fight mainly against revolutionaries in the Philippines who sought their country’s independence, rather than one to liberate the peoples of the Spanish Empire.

Fargo experienced the same surge of patriotic enthusiasm as the rest of the country with the declaration of war with Spain in April of 1898.  It was in this context, with troops moving through the railroad town on their way to all the points of the compass, and patriotic meetings taking place throughout the city, that Captain Keye’s men had offered their services.[2] While other Fargoans would see service alongside men from throughout the region and the nation in the U.S. Navy, the volunteer cavalry (some of them serving under Teddy Roosevelt), and both state and regular army units, Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry was unique in being made up exclusively of Fargo men.[3]

Within weeks, by early May of 1898, Company B, its original members supplemented with new recruits drawn from the Fargo area, including cadets from the Agricultural College (later NDSU), was encamped in tents in what was dubbed “Camp Briggs” in Fargo’s Huntington’s Addition (probably near the Great Northern Depot).  Here they were united with other members of the First North Dakota Infantry, assembled from across the state, as well as various volunteer cavalry detachments.[4]  After a few weeks of drill and camp life for those who passed the physical examinations, Co. B, along with the other units from across North Dakota (including companies A-I of the First North Dakota), departed Fargo from the Great Northern Depot on May 26, 1898, amidst tears and cheers from local citizens.  Thus began a long journey toward their ultimate destination—the Philippine Islands.[5]

The First North Dakota participated in the attack on the Spanish in Manila in August of 1898.  Though one man of Grafton Company C was killed and one of Bismarck Company A was wounded, no casualties were reported from Company B at that point. The war seemed to be wrapping up and the men expected to return to Fargo sometime after the final peace treaty, during the winter of 1898-1899.[6]  While peace was concluded between the United States and Spain in February 1899, the provision that Spain would sell the Philippines to America over the strenuous objections of a long-established and increasingly militarily-successful native independence movement under Emilio Aguinaldo assured that the North Dakotans would not be coming home as soon as they had hoped.[7]

Just two days before the signing of the final peace treaty with Spain, on February 4th, 1899, Aguinaldo’s troops attacked the American forces.  The First North Dakota was caught up in the first phase of the struggle, fought as a conventional battle between the two armies (after November 1899, the Filipinos switched to guerrilla warfare).[8]  Like many other American troops stationed near Manila, the First North Dakota appears to have been engaged with the Filipinos almost from the beginning. They were singled out for praise in official reports for their “eager and spirited” February 5th attack on enemy rifle pits after a tough march through the jungle.[9]  In the words of the official report, later printed in the Fargo Forum, “Major Frank White, with a battalion of the First North Dakota volunteers, left their trenches and made a gallant and effective charge on the insurgents concealed in the thickets in front of his position,” an attack that involved Co.’s B, D, G, and H.[10]  By June 1899, the First North Dakota was fighting alongside army regulars to capture the peninsula of Morong, forcing the Filipino army into the hills.[11]

The men of the First North Dakota were soon suffering more casualties, from disease, tropical conditions, and battle wounds, losing Sergeant Whitaker (Co. A) to dysentery with Corporal Byron of Co. D paralyzed by a gunshot wound to the spine.  Their regimental nurse, Miss Penney, was praised for her care for both men—and would be singled out more than once in future reports for similar devotion.[12]  A May 6, 1899, letter from Sergeant Edwards (probably the Corporal W.R. Edwards who shipped out with the Company in 1898 and was later promoted), revealed the situation in the Manila hospital where he was being treated for dysentery.  He describes his own state as hungry (he was receiving little food to reduce the impact of his dysentery) and nervous and observes that the men were coming in 10-20 at a time exhausted from the extreme heat and being driven hard by their commanders.  He also writes of Co. B’s Fred Hansche, shot through the right lung, and his long, painful journey to the hospital. Attitudes had also hardened toward the Filipinos, whom he refers to by the (apparently) racist nickname, the “Goo-Goos,” and he relays a story of the men being given permission to fire upon them if they refused to stop insulting the U.S. troops.[13]  Still, amidst what appears to have been worsening conditions and tensions, the North Dakotans continued to earn high praise for their behavior on campaign and in combat.[14]

More welcome than any praise, however, was word that the men would soon be returning home.  On July 5th, 1899, American commander in the Philippines General Otis cabled the War Department that within four days the North Dakotans would board the U.S. Grant alongside troops from Idaho and Wyoming for the journey home.  The news brought an enthusiastic response from the North Dakota home-front, with the Fargo Forum estimating the boys would return by early September.  Suggestions for a grand homecoming were immediately made.[15]  Planning began soon after, with representatives from across the state gathering in Fargo to prepare for the event.[16]


To the right, through the NDSU main gate can be seen some of the 23 evergreen trees planted by North Dakota Agricultural College President Worst to commemorate the 23 students who enlisted in the Spanish American War.  (Photo by Chris Hummel, 2013)


Like the war itself, however, the voyage home proved longer, more complex, and more difficult than had been previously imagined.  July was over before the men would embark on the Grant.  There followed a long delay while the ship was held up in Japan for various reasons, with the men’s experiences detailed in passages from Sergeant “Billy” Edward’s diary, portions of which were published in the Fargo Forum.  They contain stories of the weeks the men spent visiting Japanese cities and tourist sites, including mention of a baseball game against a team from Yokohama (the Americans lost), more praise for the unit’s nurse, Miss Penney, and notes on the wounded.  A number of wounded men, including Joe Wurcer of Co. B, were aboard, and a soldier from Co. K had died on the trip.  The men finally left Japan for San Francisco on August 14th, though two men from Co. B apparently failed to make it back to the ship on time, making them technically deserters[17] (though they were probably only guilty of enjoying Japan a bit too much).

Preparations to receive the men at home reflected these delays and new information coming into Fargo.  When it became clear that the unit would be mustered out when it arrived in San Francisco—and therefore that the U.S. Government would not be paying for the North Dakotans’ train tickets home—citizens from throughout the state began to donate to a fund to pay the troops’ way home (though a few men planned to stay on to enjoy California for a while).  Such campaigns were carried out successfully in each community that sent a unit to the Philippines.  In Fargo itself, supporters received badges reading, “I Say Co. B Rides Free. What Say Ye?”[18]

After six weeks at sea and in port, the First North Dakota Regiment was finally mustered out of the federal service at San Francisco on September 25th, 1899.[19] Beginning apparently in San Francisco itself, where it was said “restaurants and cigar stores will not take their money” (they were being treated)[20], the First North Dakota seemed to receive a heroes’ welcome on its journey back, described as “one continuous ovation.”[21]  Stopping along the way to let out various companies, beginning with an enthusiastic 2 am, October 2nd, reception at Dickinson, the Jamestown, Devil’s Lake, Mandan, Valley City and other companies were delivered as the train traveled across the state.  Everywhere the reception was warm, but the estimated 10,000 people who greeted Company B (and I of Wapheton and C of Grafton who were traveling with them) mobbed the depot for a full hour before the balance of the First North Dakota arrived at Fargo at 8am.  Cannon salutes and a parade to the armory including bands and Civil War veterans of the G.A.R., as well as members of the local lodges, culminated in a massive meal served to the returning veterans and a series of brief, often emotional and patriotic speeches.[22]

The final act of the homecoming was a massive community barbecue and potluck held the next day in Island Park with an estimated attendance of 15,000.  A few speeches were given and music was provided by the First North Dakota Infantry band, but a major attraction was the huge amounts of food, “stacks of meat—beef, pork and lamb… hundreds of loaves of bread, thousands of doughtnuts… a stack of pies… all the good things to eat that could be desired.”[23]  Of course, the real draw was the return of Fargo’s native sons and the chance to welcome them back to the community.

What thoughts the men of Company B had about their service experience, which had so quickly turned from the defeat of what many Americans saw as a corrupt and oppressive Spanish empire to a fight against would-be Filipino independence fighters, is perhaps to be revealed by later research. While other men served in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War from the Fargo area both before and after Company B, perhaps the chairman of the welcome committee, North Dakota Agricultural College President Worst, whose own son Clayton, served as first sergeant of Cavalry Troop G [24], said it best for all of them in his welcome home speech at the reunion barbeque:

“(Y)ou patriotically enlisted… you never questioned an order for duty… It was not a question of our soldiers—as to what were causes—they were soldiers—they obeyed orders and come home to us.”[25]

-Chris Hummel, Digital History 2013.  (Additional research provided by Dustin Olson)


[1] “Co. B Stand Together,” Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, April 22, 1898.  (This newspaper will be hereafter referred to as FFDR).  Later articles, many of them cited below, make clear that not every man of the 54 was accepted for overseas service. Some failed the medical examination while others stayed home to care for their families—it seems sometimes against the soldier’s own wishes.  It is likely these men were a bit older than the average volunteer for the war, given that a number them appear to have been National Guard members for several years. Still, they provided the core for Company B of the First North Dakota Volunteer Infantry, a unit exclusively made up of Fargo area recruits.

[2] See “Troops Galore” and “A Mass Meeting,” FFDR, April 22, 1898.

[3] On the cavalry company offered by Wheatland, ND, for service under Roosevelt, see “Wheatland Cavalry Company,” FFDR, April 26, 1898.  Articles in the FFDR provide a wealth of information on Fargo during the Spanish-American War, only a small portion of which could be examined in the course of our research and included in this brief entry. There is much that remains to be uncovered and written about by later historians both in local newspapers and archival collections.  If nothing else, this brief discussion will hopefully generate interest in doing further research.

[4] See “The Soldier Boys,” FFDR, May 5, 1898; “Saturday Night,” FFDR, May 7, 1898; “The White City,” FFDR, May 8, 1898.  These and other articles detail visitors to the camp, gifts and tributes given to the soldiers by local citizens, groups, and businesses, and personal details about some of the soldiers and their officers.  Other units of the First North Dakota were also recruited or nationalized from the National Guard on a local basis by company. Thus Co. A was from Bismarck; Co. C, Grafton; Co. D, Devil’s Lake; Co. G, Valley City; Co. H, Jamestown; Co. I, Wapheton; Co. K, Dickinson; etc.

[5] For the departure, see “Getting Ready,” FFDR, May 26, 1898 and especially “Tears Were Shed,” FFDR, May 26, 1898.  According to the Forum and Daily Republican, when the men first heard they were going to the Philippines they were “jubilant,” looking forward to “a magnificent ocean voyage” to “a country much healthier and prettier than Cuba” where they were “pretty sure to see some service” (“To the Philippines,” FFDR, May 13, 1898).  Whether they shared this rosy assessment of ocean travel after their difficult return trip and of the country after suffering from tropical diseases and guerrilla attacks there is a bit unlikely—but they certainly did see some military service. The FFDR continued to follow Co. B on the trip to San Francisco from where they shipped out and through letters throughout their deployment in the Philippines.

[6] “North Dakota Heroes,” FFDR, August 27, 1898.  Data on casualties from Co. B is scattered and spotty in the newspaper and the time we had for research did not allow a thorough and systematic study of the entire war period.  More research in official records, other archives, and the local newspapers would doubtless provide a fuller picture to later researchers.

[7] Much has been written about the Philippine Insurrection or the Philippine-American War and it is not our purpose to review it in detail here.  For a brief, solid discussion of the key points in the conflict, see the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian website article, “Milestones: 1899-1913—The Philippine-American War,” at

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Dakotans Commended,” FFDR, June 22, 1899. The battle took place in February, but the report had not appeared until months later, shortly before it was published in the newspaper.  Judging from newspaper accounts, such praise of the unit was fairly common.

[10] “Major White Complimented,” FFDR, June 21, 1899.

[11] “Again on the Warpath,” FFDR, June 5, 1899.

[12] “Whitaker’s Death,” FFDR, June 5, 1899.

[13] “From the Hospital,” FFDR, June 9, 1899.

[14] “North Dakotans O.K.,” FFDR, June 22, 1899.

[15] “General Otis Cables Washington…,” FFDR, July 5th, 1899.  For an update, see “Will Sail Sunday,” FFDR, July 26, 1899.

[16] “The N.D. Boys,” FFDR, July 31, 1899 and “For the Soldiers,” FFDR, August 5, 1899.

[17] The diary appears in several separate installments, all entitled, “Sergt. Billy’s Diary,” in the FFDR on September 14, 15, and 16, 1899. There was apparently one on September 13th, but I somehow missed this one in my research.  This appears to be the same Sergeant Edwards whose letter was cited above (“From the Hospital,” FFDR, June 9, 1899).

[18] Ads for the campaign and a running tally of the donations received appeared daily in the FFDR.  See the September 15, 1899 paper for one example.

[19] “The End,” FFDR, September 25, 1899.

[20] “What Hansbrough Says,” FFDR, September 18, 1899.

[21] “Home at Last!” FFDR, October 2, 1899.

[22] Ibid.

[23] “The Barbecue,” FFDR, October 3, 1899.

[24] This is briefly mentioned in the second column of the article, “Getting Ready,” FFDR, May 24, 1898.

[25] “The Barbecue,” FFDR, October 3, 1899.

“An Ordinance Relating to Lighting”

On April 26, 1901 the Supreme Court of the state of North Dakota, in the case of Robert against Fargo Gas & Electric Co and the city of Fargo, ruled that the contract between the city of Fargo and Fargo Gas & Electric Co was void.  This ruling was made by the Supreme Court for reasons that the city charter states that the city cannot make a contract for more than a year.[1]   The contract between Fargo Gas & Electric Co and the city of Fargo was originally created back in 1895.   The terms of the contract was about the construction and management of the city’s new arc lighting street lamps. So by the court ruling the street lights of Fargo were not being powered or managed. In order to solve this problem the City Commissioners Board of Fargo held a special meeting to discuss a plan of action.

A photograph postcard is of Broadway in 1908, looking north from Front Street (Main Avenue).

A photograph postcard is of Broadway in 1908, looking north from Front Street (Main Avenue).

The special meeting was held on April 29, 1901 starting at 5:00 p.m.  During this meeting a committee was created and an ordinance titled “A Ordinance Relating to Lighting”. This meeting was also considered to be the first reading of said ordinance. The second reading of “A Ordinance Relating to Lighting” was on May 6, 1901, and the ordinance was passed.  Bids for the new contract would be decided on a later date.[2]

On May 9, 1901 the City Commissioners Board held bids for the new contract.  This new contract would not only contain the construction and management of street lights, it would also contain the adding of lights to public buildings.  The first to bid for this new contract was the Fargo-Edison Company.  Their bid was for “an all night schedule and a moonlight schedule.”  In addition they would install improved enclosed arc lights that burned 500 watts per hour and have the candle power of 2,000.   The cost to the city of Fargo was $7.45 for each per months for the 66 street lights that were already constructed.  For public buildings, the cost was $.08 per 1,000 watts and would be measured by meters that Fargo Edison Co would install. The term would end August 31, 1901.  The second bid was from the Fargo Gas & Electric Co.   Their bid was for maintaining the street lights currently installed at a cost of $10 per month.  In addition they would install incandescent lamps for the public buildings at $.05 per 1,000 watts.  The bid provided an option to the city of Fargo if it preferred gas lights, Fargo Gas & Electric would install Welsbach Burners and the cost of gas would be at $1.60 per thousand cubic feet.  The commissioner unanimously decided to accept the bid of the Fargo-Edison Co.  The matter of lighting public buildings was referred to the committee on lights. The Fargo-Edison Co. went to work installing the new lights.[3][4]  On May 15, 1901, Mr. Hughes the manger of the Fargo-Edison Co. told the Fargo Forum “that if nothing unforeseen occurs he will have all the lights burning by Saturday night June 15.”[5]

[divider scroll_text=]

[1] Fargo Forum, (Fargo, ND) April 26, 1901.

[2] Fargo Forum, (Fargo, ND) April 29, 1901.

[3] Fargo Board of city commissioners, (Fargo, ND) May 9, 1901.

[4] Fargo Forum, (Fargo, ND) May 10, 1901.

[5] Fargo Forum, (Fargo, ND), May 15, 1901.

Martin Hector

Martin Hector

Martin Hector
Lewis F. Crawford, North Dakota Biography, vol. 2 of History of North Dakota (Chicago: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1931), 480.

Martin Hector is considered to be one of the most influential pioneers in the City of Fargo. His dedication to the city went above and beyond what was asked of him. Martin lived in Fargo most of his life and died here in 1938. Martin, along with other prominent leaders of Fargo, gave it the push it needed to become the successful city it is today.

Martin Hector's Signature

Martin Hector’s Signature
 Lewis F. Crawford, North Dakota Biography, vol. 2 of History of North Dakota (Chicago: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1931), 480.

In 2000, a woman by the name of Susie Yakowics wrote a wonderful article for the Fargo Forum on the life of Martin Hector. Considering that Mrs. Yakowics is the great-granddaughter of Mr. Hector, it seemed only fitting to ask her to participate by reading her article. We are pleased to say she accepted.

Martin Hector: A Pioneer to Remember

Special thanks to Susie Yakowics for recording her article for this project.

Susie Yakowicz has written hundreds of articles for children and adults on subjects ranging from history to health. She is the author of From Down East to Midwest: The Memoirs of Margaret Sewall Hector (1889-1977). For more information on Susie and her work, please visit

-Robert Kurtz, Digital History 2012






1875–1876; George Egbert

1876–1877; Evan S. Tyler

1877–1880; George Egbert

1880–1882; Jasper B. Chapin

1882–1883; William A. Kindred

1883–1885; Woodford A. Yerxa

1885–1886; John A. Johnson

1886–1887; Charles Scott

1887–1888; Alanson W. Edwards

1888–1890; Seth Newman

1890–1892; Wilbur F. Ball

1892–1894; Emerson H. Smith

1894–1896; Wilbur F. Ball

1896–1902; John A. Johnson

1902–1904; William D. Sweet

The NDSU Archives has been compiling information about the life of these men.

-Mathias Zastrow, Digital History 2012


Horace E. Stockbridge

Horace E. Stockbridge photo

Horace E. Stockbridge

Horace Stockbridge was the first, and youngest, president of North Dakota Agriculture College, which later became North Dakota State University[1]. He was born in Hadley, Massachusetts on May 15, 1857[2]. He attended Massachusetts Agricultural College, where he received his degree in 1878[3]. He had a strong background in agriculture, which was probably why he was picked to be the president. Prior to his acceptance of the presidency of NDAC, Stockbridge was an associate professor of chemistry at Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1884-1885, a professor of chemistry and geology at the Japanese Imperial College of Agriculture and Engineering from 1885-1889, chief chemist for the Japanese government from 1888-1889, and director of the Experiment Station at Purdue University during the year 1889[4].

Stockbridge was elected president of NDAC in 1890, when he was only 33 years old[5]. He was the one who picked the location of the college, appointed the teachers, oversaw the construction of buildings, and organized the experiment buildings. He designed College Hall, now known as Old Main, and came up with the idea of special short winter courses so that farmers could get the planting done, in subjects like agriculture, chemistry, and other related topics[6]. He resigned from NDAC in 1893, because of political reasons, and then moved to Americus, Georgia[7]. After he left NDAC, Stockbridge became a professor of agriculture at Florida Agriculture College in 1897[8]. He was the agriculture editor and co-founder of the Southern Ruralist from 1906-1922, and in 1922 he started editing for the Southern Farmland and Dairy, which he continued to do until his retirement due to ill health[9]. Horace Stockbridge died on October 30, 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia[10]. In 1957, a new men’s hall on NDAC’s campus was named Stockbridge Hall in honor of the first president of the college[11].

-Rebecca Paton, Digital History 2012
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[1] NDSU Archives, President Horace E. Stockbridge Papers, 1890-1893.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.


The Making of Bishop Shanley

Portrait of Bishop Shanley in his official vestments. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: sh00113155]

Father Shanley was ordained on May 30, 1874, at the age of only 23. Following his  ordination, Shanley arrived in St. Paul in July 1874 where he began as an assistant to Father Augustine Ravieux, Bishop Grace, and Father Ireland. In the well developed city of St. Paul, a large Catholic congregation offered Shanley many opportunities to grow in his ministerial skills.  Ireland took Shanley under his wing and gave him many responsibilities in the church.  Almost two years after he had come to St. Paul,  Shanley was appointed as pastor of the cathedral parish. During Shanley’s time in St. Paul he made it a priority to serve minorities and the destitute.[1] During the time when racial equality was decades in the future, Shanley conducted services for African-American Catholics in the basement of the cathedral and moved to have regular services held for these parishioners.

When Shanley first came to North Dakota in the late 1880s the compassion he developed for the less fortunate was exhibited by his treatment of the Native Americans.  Following the battle at Wounded Knee, relations between the Indians and settlers were quite tense. Shanley took up defense for the Indians and in 1891 sent a letter to the Fargo Argus defending those on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. In his letter, he denounced the actions taken by local agents and highlight the positive aspects of Indian culture and conduct.


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[1] Weber, Gerald Michael. 1951. John Shanley: first bishop of Fargo. St. Paul, MN: St. Paul Seminary. 17.

Alanson W. Edwards

Large man in center is Alanson W. Edwards, owner of the Daily Argus. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs005368]

Alanson William Edwards  moved from Illinois to Fargo in 1878 to establish The Republican, a new newspaper. During his early years in Fargo, he managed The Republican, but then sold it and used the proceeds to launch The Argus.  In 1891, after losing The Argus to James J Hill, Edwards launched The Forum.[1]   Although Edwards was not necessarily a reformer, the opinions expressed in both the Argus and The Forum promoted the common conceptions of good moral and social conduct.  In his promotion of these values, he was able to help shape the moral and social progression of Fargo.

[1] Edwards, Alanson W., and Marie Edwards Belknap. 1900. Family collection.  NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.


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.

Thomas Canfield

The story of Fargo’s religious development begins not in Fargo itself, but in the neighboring town of Moorhead, Minnesota. Thomas Hawley Canfield was an ambitious young entrepreneur who initially became involved in railroad development in New England.  Although Canfield’s primary motivations were not religious, his Episcopalian beliefs shaped how he dealt with his promoting efforts for the railroad.[1]  He was a supporter of many of the developing religious and moral issues that came to prominence in both Fargo and Moorhead. Canfield’s moral convictions give him impetus to advise the directors of the NPRC (Northern Pacific Railway Company) to support the development of “churches, schools, and benevolent instructions” by providing land at little or no charge.[2]  In addition to these land grants, Canfield recruited pastors and catered to several different denominations.  In all these activities, the end goal was to promote the development of a thriving moral society in Moorhead, and not the town across the river. Despite Canfield’s efforts to discourage Fargo’s development, churches began to form and the moral framework for the fledgling city began to grow.

[1] Engelhardt, Carroll L, Gateway to the Northern Plains Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 17.

[2] Ibid., 17.

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.