Jasper B. Chapin

A very important figure in Fargo’s history is Mr. Jasper J. Chapin, who some call the “Father of Fargo”.  Chapin was born in a New York, where he worked on a farm in his town after he finished schooling.  In 1852 he left New York and headed out west to strike it rich in a mining town in California. He stayed in California for two and a half years, then moved back to New York. Unable to handle the quiet life of the farm, he was soon restless and moved back out west, this time to the Indian Territory. Here he ran a boarding house called The Levee. He resigned from The Levee in 1860. He had fairly solid support from the community and was mostly successful and profitable. From the Indian Territory, he followed the scent of gold he was tracking earlier and ended up in Montana, conveniently in the middle of the gold rush. There he mined and operated a new boarding house called “Chapin House”.  After spending some time in Montana he decided he need more excitement in his life and headed to Northern Pacific’s rail camp in Oak Lake, Minnesota. There he worked in a tent hotel and saloon business. He headed north with the railroad until he landed where he the Fargo-Moorhead site was thought to be located. The engineers of the Northern Pacific hid the true location of the Fargo-Moorhead site, knowing that if the location was known people would take the land before the railroad could obtain it and then sell it back with an enormous price mark-up. Therefore, Chapin really settled 3 miles north of Moorhead in Oakport, which was to be called “Bogusville”, a small homage to fake location given by the Northern Pacific. In Oakport, Chapin opened a tent hotel-saloon. It was a rough area. There were not many legitimate businesses, but a good amount of poker was played. After the town dried up there was an exodus to Moorhead, and Chapin was one of the first settlers, opening up his tent hotel and saloon. The streets of Moorhead were tough, full of outlaw men and “easy going” women. By renting out rooms and selling whiskey at the frontier price, he was able to make a decent profit.  He accepted the frontier life and the hardships that come with it. He was so profitable that there was a Chapin block in Moorhead.

His abililty to make such profit in the rough frontier led Chapin to be selected to run the Headquarters Hotel, built by Northern Pacific in Fargo in 1873. Northern Pacific built the hotel to house the engineers and officials of the east and west. It was also  to work as a depot for the railroad company. Fargo was just starting to grow at that point. It was becoming a home to a few shops, hostelries and saloons. The hotel was the center of the attention, simply because it was situated right off the tracks. It’s central location guaranteed that all of the new settlers would wander in. Chapin was a major supporter of growth in Fargo and was an outstanding citizen of the town. In a move to help raise money for a church to be built, he took out $50 in new half dollars from Mr. N.K. Hubbard, a banker in Moorhead. Chapin proceeded to hand out all of the half dollars to people of the town, saying to “those to whom he gave money to go to the meeting early, sit up in front and put the same on a large platter he would furnish for a subscription box.”(Johnson, April 28, 1950). After the meeting, the church was assured to be built, and the first church of the Fargo-Moorhead area, was on the corner of Ninth St. and First Ave. Chapin’s connection with the Headquarters Hotel ended in 1874, after it was burnt down in the fire. N.K Hubbard and his associate E.S. Tyler took the lease of the hotel management after Chapin, and the building was rebuilt in 60 days. Chapin acquired a good amount of farm land on the north side of Fargo. When the railroad went under, it significantly slowed progress in Fargo and brought about a depression. No one had the money to move out of the depressed area and so most lived off of each other and struggled to move forward. As the depression was happening, Chapin was farming several hundred acres of NO1 hard wheat and it was fairly profitable. So much so that the press started sharing his story of success. Chapin started working on a new hotel, one that was more oriented on social life, class, and elegance.  It was 75 foot by 40 foot structure that had billiards parlor, bar, private club rooms, and a restaurant. Many thought that it was the nicest place west of St. Paul. Chapin was a visionary and wanted to innovate Fargo. One way he saw to innovate Fargo, and make a decent profit, was that the meats and produce were in separate small stores that were scattered all over town. George Marelius  and Chapin, opened a supermarket on Broadway in 1879 and it was reported to be just like one in the city. One where you could find anything you wanted to eat, all in the same location. Around this time Chapin opened an opera house, which had the Luger family furniture store on the first floor and the opera house on the second.  Traveling musicians and thespians would come from all around to perform.  He continued to buy farm land in the area and have a pivotal role in the community. In 1880, he was persuaded to run for mayor. It took some persuading, but he finally accepted the advice and joined the race. Many of the candidates from the mayor race dropped from the running and Chapin won the vote against Burgar. During the race for mayor, he was building his prize Continental Hotel. The Continental hotel was his masterpiece, standing at three stories tall. It had every luxury that anyone could want and Chapin sold tickets to the grand opening.

Towards the end of his life he was affected by the economic depression. After the loss of his wife, he slowly lost his property and investments to his creditors. Chapin went from a man that everyone looked too, to one they pitied. He was an old man and a new generation of entrepreneurs were on the move. Chapin’s luck was slowly running out, combined with the loss of his two sisters, he was hanging on by a thread. He later committed suicide in St. Paul and his body was sent up to his friend Alex Stern in Fargo.

Mathias Zastrow, Digital History 2012

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.

 

George Nichols

George Nichols George Nichols was born in Brattleboro, Vermont in 1856. He moved to Marshal, Minnesota to work in a hotel, where he stayed until he moved to Fargo in 1878 and became a clerk at the Headquarters Hotel. Working behind the desk, he became popular with the people of Fargo and did his best to talk to every man who wandered into the hotel. After many years of working at the hotel, in 1885 he took the County Deputy Treasurer position. Nichols held the position for two terms, the maximum that a person can hold the position. This was proof of how very popular he was among the people of the city. This led him to be nominated for State Treasurer and the Fargo community was extremely excited and highly supportive of his election.

– Mathias Zastrow, Digital History, 2012

The Fargo Times Newspaper

Office of the Fargo Times, 1876

Fall (October) view showing the Fargo Times newspaper building, a two-story unpainted wood building with large windows in front and large sign above windows with “Fargo Times, ” location in Fargo unknown, but building similar to one located in the 600 block of N.P. Avenue; E.B. Chambers, editor, may be standing in the doorway as are a woman and youth. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000966]

The Fargo Times preceded the Fargo Forum and Republican. The Fargo Times’ building was a wood structure with multiple single-pane front windows that allowed sunlight into the press room. The gable roof stood out in contrast among the increasing number of flat-top and flat-faced business edifices in the area. The unpainted building had a large sign above its windows, allowing editor E.B. Chambers to signal a desire for his establishment to stand out and make a vertical mark on the vast and open prairie.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012

William H. White

W.H. White

William H. White, Fargo, Lumber, Fuel, etc. Proprietor of one of the Oldest Businesses in North Dakota

As the target for the Northern Pacific Railroad Company’s (NPRC) river crossings became clear, an enterprising business proprietor, W.H. White, secured the contract for the timber for the approaches to the NPRC bridge at Fargo in December of 1871. The timber arrived from the east by May 1872 and was used in building the bridge that spanned the Red River and connected the railroad with the town of Fargo. Large scale settlement could then ensue.[1]

Although much of Fargo’s initial lumber came directly from the nearby banks of the Red River, natural resources, like much of the timber on the Plains, were finite. White supplied additional lumber resources not only to Fargo, but also to all of the early towns on the Red River. This included shipping lumber to new points on the NPRC line and on flat boats along the intricate inland river systems.  White is also credited with the procurement and dissemination of fuel oil and for having fixed himself as the sole owner and operator of one of the oldest mercantile businesses in North Dakota.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012


[1] “Fargo Souvenir,” folder 1, box 2, Fargo, North Dakota Historical Collection, IRS-NDSU.