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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.

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