Fargo Churches: Then and Now

This slideshow features historic photographs of several of the churches of Fargo, accompanied by recent photographs, which allow for side-by-side comparison. The recent photographs were taken by Scott Becklund in 2012. Mr. Becklund attempted to recreate the original location and angle of the archival photographs. Most of the churches retain some of their original character, while some have been demolished.[divider scroll]

1. Elim Lutheran Church- 321 9th Street North. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Elim Lutheran Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

2. First Congregational Church- 224 8th Street South.  (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Site of former First Congregational Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund. None of the original structure remains. It was demolished in 1979.

3. First Presbyterian Church-  650 2nd Avenue North.  (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) First Presbyterian Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

4. Gethsemane Episcopal Church-  204 9th Street South.  (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Site of former Gethsemane Episcopal Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund. The cathedral burned beyond repair in 1989.

5. Grace Lutheran Church- 821 5th Avenue South. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Grace Lutheran Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

6. Methodist Episcopal Church- 906 1st Avenue South. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) First United Methodist Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

7. Plymouth Congregational Church- 901 Broadway North.  (Left) Photo Mss 48.1.25, courtesy of NDSU Archives. Taken c. 1920. (Right) Plymouth Congregational Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

8. Pontoppidan Lutheran Church- 309 4th Street North. (Left) Photo taken from Clara Byers’ Scrapbook, 1937, courtesy of NDSU Archives. (Right) Pontoppidan Luthean Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

9. St. Mark’s English Lutheran Church- 400 Roberts Street. (Left) Photo taken from NDSU Libraries (http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/churches/st-marks-eng-luth.htm). (Right) Site of former St. Mark’s Church. Building was demolished, c. 2000. Photograph by Scott Becklund, 2012.

10. St. Mary’s Catholic Church-  619 7th Street North. (Left) Photo 2023.M-4, courtesy of NDSU Archives. Taken c. 1935. (Right) St. Mary’s Cathedral, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

11. Swedish Baptist Church- 300 4th Street North. (Left) Photo taken from NDSU Libraries (http://library.ndsu.edu/fargo-history/churches/swede-bap.htm). (Right) Site of former Swedish Baptist Church. Photograph by Scott Becklund, 2012.

12. Unitarian Universalist Church- 121 9th Street South.  (Left) Photo 2003.2.3, courtesy of NDSU Archives. Taken c. 1935. (Right) Unitarian Universalist Church, 2012. Taken by Scott Becklund.

-Zach Jendro, Digital History 2012


The First Lutheran Church

The First Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church

The building was first built as the First Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church, cornerstone being having been built in May 26, 1895. It was designed by the Hancock brothers, George nd Walter, and served as a church until about 1919, when it was removed and replaced by a funeral home [Courtesy of the North Dakota State University Archives].

Like other religious groups, Lutherans populated the landscape in large numbers, which brought about the need for a communal place of worship.  Members established a church in which they aptly named First Lutheran Church, located in the area of 400 Roberts Street.  The church was built with an open porch and there were several wooden homes built next to this church.

As with most of the other early religious structures, the main and most noticeable consistency was the very large and high steeple; it is as if the churches were made to be seen stretching into the heavens.

This church is different from others in that that it was built with an outer decor consisting of wood frame.  This picture also shows that the surrounding residences were made of both wood and brick, thereby indicating that the skills and trades of many populations were getting supplies from both river and rail.

Most likely, the wood came from mills in Minnesota.  Judging by the original land plot and other historical records,  R.L. Frazee in Frazee, Minnesota, was dedicated to producing lumber and turned out building supplies  that was eventually loaded to rail for the west.  Some of the wood later would be committed to the United States Government to build the First Pony Express as the rails pushed West.

In summary, the first people to form the new community of Fargo were rich in both tradition and a history that they brought from many points of origin all over the world.  With immigration to Fargo also came the traditional beliefs that resonate within each culture and also made a permanent mark on the surrounding community.  Rich with tradition and deep in history, the community of Fargo grew into a stable and robust community greatly influenced by the cultural diversity of immigration and migration.

With diversity came the freedom of religion. The early settlers held the ideals of western movement and ultimately established a similar base of faith and beliefs that  grew quickly and expanded the country from coast to coast; faith and religion were very important in each and every landscape that marked progression from the Fargo area to the Puget Sound.

As testaments to the faiths that motivated early settlers, their beliefs never faltered and many of the early churches still carry on the traditions of their interpretation of religious and today’s skyline still holds their steeples in our prayers and in the community’s sites.

Rusty Ouart, Digital History 2012

The First Methodist Church, 1874

The First Methodist Church, 1909

The First Methodist Church, pictured here in 1909, was preceded by the congregation’s original building constructed in 1874 [Courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota]

First, this picture of the First Methodist Church indicates that it was built in a dense growth of older trees.  This would indicate that it was taken close to water and not deep into the prairie.  Therefore, there was no retreat for the early settlers of Fargo if faced with outside threats.

Next, the windows are exposed and remarkably made of stained glass.  Not only were the new settlers resilient, but they showed that they had less common resources like stained glass.

This picture also indicates that many church builders chose structures with wood frames and concrete footings and were not primitive; they even used mortar and expensive brick. For example, the First Methodist Church (pictured above) located on Broadway represents a religious building with a steeple and the entrance is on the right front side of the exterior.

Also, the attention to detail at this time in history shows how fast the growth escalated and progressed.  According to the photograph, communication lines are running, thereby demonstrating a significant measure of growth within a relatively short period of time.

Knowing that from 1871 to the date of this 1909 picture, the  38 years from rail and working treaties, it is obvious that the progress of making the small prairie tent city to one that now holds such infrastructure such as concrete and brick facades and a diversity of churches is quite a remarkable feat.  The city of Fargo by 1909 was full of bustling populations and advanced architecture of brick churches highlighted congregations’ dedication to their individual heritage and the diverse backgrounds in the growing city.First United Methodist scott_01

Rusty Ouart, Digital History 2012

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