Repurposing Fargo

Fargo has grown immensely and gone through numerous changes in its 142-year history. Growing from just over 2,500 people in 1880 to over 107,000 today and surviving such natural disasters as fires, floods and tornadoes; nothing has been able to stop Fargo from thriving.

Fargo’s downtown has always been a thriving business mecca[1] of the Red River Valley and is a key reason Fargo has survived to be the city it is today.

Recently, the city of Fargo has begun to restore much of the historic downtown district located along Broadway and Main Street.

The 1970’s were the birth of the “mall” as we know it today. Malls could be seen sprouting out of new developments in cities all across America. These malls drew businesses and shoppers away from downtowns into one central, indoor location. This spelled death for many downtowns across the nation. Fargo was no exception. In the late 70’s, the Red River Mall[2]Red River Mall was implemented on Broadway in an attempt to draw pedestrians to shop at downtown businesses after the opening of the West Acres Mall drew much of the business away from downtown. Broadway was realigned in a zigzag pattern to slow traffic and create a more pedestrian friendly environment. By the mid 1980’s many business owners were voicing their displeasure with the Red River Mall’s design. In 1986 the Mall was dismantled and Broadway was straightened.

For much of the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s, downtown Fargo was a shell of its former glory days. [3] In 1999 the city of Fargo, realizing that its historic downtown was suffering, issued the “Fargo Renaissance Zone Plan.” With lucrative incentives (five-year tax exemptions and tax credits) given to property owners that invested in the rehabilitation of Fargo’s Renaissance Zone, downtown Fargo slowly began to thrive once again.

Downtown Fargo is now a flourishing mix of residential and commercial buildings. Many of the buildings in downtown Fargo date back to the rebuilding of Fargo after the fire of 1893. The 600 block of Main Avenue[4] is the only block of buildings that survived the fire. All of the landmark buildings have gone through some sort of renovation or name change in their history.

Hotel Bison and the Fargoan Hotel are no longer hotels. They now house commercial spaces on the street level and residential living spaces on the upper floors. The Ford Building is no longer assembling cars; it houses commercial spaces and high-end residential condos. Many of the buildings have always housed businesses of some sort. Yet very few of these buildings have remained the same throughout the years. The Merchants National Bank building is now the King House Buffet, and the First National Bank building is now a bar fittingly called Fort Knox.

Two of the most iconic buildings in downtown Fargo that have stood the test of time are the Hotel Donaldson, locally known as the HoDo,[5] and the Fargo Theater. The Hodo was built in 1894 to serve as a meeting hall for the International Order of Odd Fellows. As one of the first buildings built after the fire, the building is a constant reminder of where Fargo came from. In the mid-1910’s, the building officially became the Hotel Donaldson. It has had its rough patches throughout the years, changing ownership and purpose many times, but the heart of the building and its history has survived. The Fargo Theater[6] was built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theater. Originally designed in the Renaissance style, the theater was restored in the 80’s with a more art deco style interior. The Fargo Theater still stands at its original location in downtown Fargo and is a major attraction to this day.

Downtown is once again a must see for anyone visiting Fargo. From its vibrant beginnings, surviving disaster, and period of rough times, downtown Fargo has risen to new heights. The Fargo Street Fair[7] every summer (the largest outdoor event in North Dakota) and Cruisin’ Broadway[8] have become staples of downtown Fargo’s thriving resurgence.

-Logan Kern, 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


Fargo’s Hebrew Ladies Aid Society

The Hebrew Ladies Aid Society was founded on August 13, 1904.[1]  It was created in order to help the people of the Jewish community and fulfill the responsibility to the Jewish community.  They helped the community by financing the community businesses, educate the children, and perform other acts of civil service.  Below is Linda Mack Schloff’s recount of their purpose.

Rochele Gela Mann recalled the efforts of the Fargo, North Dakota, Hebrew Ladies Aid Society – what she called the Jewish Women’s Aid Society – at the turn of the century.

‘A Jewish Women’s Aid Society was formed.  They met in each others’ homes.  Their aims were to assist Jews who were in need of financial assistance or loans for a horse, money to buy goods to peddle, to start a new business ect.  This was all done with no interest charged.

A converted Jewess from Sweden was the secretary of the society.  Mrs. Ackerman brought [to] the attention [of] the society that they were in need of a Sunday School for Jewish education of the children.  A teacher was hired.  Being in need of a place to learn, this caused a collection of monies and a synagogue was built.  Then a library was needed so the society gave two Sholom Aleichem plays.  After the first play was given in a local theatre, the gentile community loved it and asked that they repeat a second play.  Bibles and books were then purchased.  Mother[,] who was 4 months pregnant with me, was teased as she acted out her role in the plays’. (Linda Mack Schloff, 1996)[2]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012

[1] “American Jewish Year Book.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.        <>.

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

Jewish Immigrants to Fargo North Dakota

immigrants photo

The first Jewish immigrants into Fargo were part of the middle and upper classes of Germany.  They were formally educated.  The main reason for immigrating to the United States was to escape persecution and violent attacks that their homelands ignored and in some cases encouraged.  After the town started to solidify, many unsuccessful farmers from North Dakota and Minnesota sought refuge in Fargo.  In addition to these farmers there were lesser educated Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe that settled in Fargo.  The drastic class difference  within the Jewish population made it difficult to establish a congregation.  The original population of Jewish people in Fargo was substantial in both numbers and contributions to the city of Fargo.

The area that was set up as a “Jewish immigrant” neighborhood was near the Red River.  This area was where the kosher butcher shop as well as other shops that catered to the Jewish population set up.  There were also Hebrew schools and meeting halls to make life more comfortable for the Jewish population.[1]

Heather Brinkman, Digital History 2012

[1] Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. “Unpacking on the Prairie: The Journey.”Unpacking on the Prairie: The Journey. N.p., 2010. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.         <>.


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. <>


Origins of the Fargo Fire

Fighting the Fire

Citizens of Fargo Fighting the Fire

The morning of June 7th did not presage any great change, save for a sultry wind blowing thirty miles per hour and a temperature that was to reach 88 degrees. At 2:15 on June 7th, the “fire laddies” were called to deal with a fire that seemed to have started behind Herzman’s Dry Goods store on 512 Front Street. The beginnings of the fire proved to be somewhat controversial. As a young man, John Hannaher was to bear witness to the events. According to his remembrance “the fire started back of the store next to the corner of Broadway and Main Avenue. The back of that, there is someone in back of the Herzman store to burn some rubbish, it caught onto the store and then it spread.”[1] In his own remembrances, John’s brother Thomas was to repeat this information on the start of the fire. The owner of Herzman’s Dry Goods did not accept this story, however. It would seem likely that he was uncomfortable to be so directly associated with the destructive fire that overtook Fargo’s business district. Herzman did, however, find a great deal of support for his assertion that the fire did not start from the rear of his store but rather from an adjoining building.Local businessman Max Stern was one of the first individuals on the scene, as his business was close to the beginning of the fire. He noted that by his arrival, the fire had not yet taken hold of Herzman’s Dry Goods. J. B. Folsom claimed to be the first person reaching the point of origin of the Fargo fire, and he was “well satisfied that it started on the outside of the frame building to the west of your store and when I reached the fire it had not reached your store building.”[2] The accounts of E. F. Steele and L. S. Seare supported this sequence of events. The strongest indication that the conventional wisdom on the beginnings of the fire being incorrect came from Sam P. Kelly, the superintendent of the water works. Kelly was the individual who pulled the alarm to announce the fire, and stated positively that the origin of the fire was not the Dry Goods store. He indicated that the origin of the fire was several doors west of Herzman’s. The statements to this effect were provided by Herzman, and are to his own benefit. The statements do effectively contradict other accounts, and seem very valid. The story of Herzman’s Dry Goods rubbish being the origin of the Fargo fire seems to have a similarity to the story of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow being responsible for the devastating fire from years earlier in Chicago. Both have become accepted as accurate, though both also seem to be somewhat mythologized. The statements also contradicted the story of the fire starting at the rear of the Little Gem restaurant due to hot ashes blowing to Herzman’s. Despite the unclear beginning to the fire, the events that followed were well documented.

– Chad Halvorson, Digital History, 2012

[1] Oral interview with John Hannaher, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.

[2] “Special Fire Edition,” Argus (Fargo, ND), June 7, 1894.

The Fargo Fire of 1893


n 1893, Fargo was destroyed by a devastating fire. Whatever the origin, Sam Kelley spotted the fire from the waterworks in Island Park. He pulled the alarm to alert the city to the fire. Unfortunately, such communication only indicated that a fire existed and did not provide information specific to its location. Wallace Rice, a volunteer fireman who was working west of Broadway, rushed to clarify the location. The key to the fire alarm box was located in Sundberg Jewelry Store. Unfortunately, the clerk in the jewelry store had no idea where the key was to allow for the identifying alarm to be sounded. Rice alerted a nearby police officer to the concern, and finally was able to activate the alarm. By the time they had accomplished this task, the Yerxa Hose Company arrived on the scene. Some individuals indicated consderable concern with the oncoming fire, but most found comfort in the belief that Fargo had an exceptional group of firefighters.

The flames quickly spread from to the Little Gem restaurant and then to nearby buildings. One of the buildings was a gun store, and the inventory included a keg of powder and innumerable cartridges. When the fire reached this inventory, an explosion of powder rocked the afternoon air and  multiple cracks from the exploding cartridges followed.[1] The fire reduced the wooden buildings to ash in a very short period of time. The fire destroyed nearby buildings, but missed Crane’s restaurant, although the intense heat marred the facade and destroyed the windows.

The fire might have ended if not for the winds that assisted the flames in leaping across Front Street to take hold of Magill’s warehouse. According to John Hannaher, pieces of twine were on top of the warehouse.[2] Those on the scene fighting the fire turned their attention to the warehouse, but pieces of twine on the top of the warehouse caught fire and spread throughout Broadway. At that point, the winds propelled the fire on a path of devastation through the Fargo business district.

The fire moved toward the Western Union offices, setting one of the few brick buildings in Fargo ablaze. By this point, the residents of the business district had realized that the fire was out of control. Their efforts turned to attempting to save items of value and import from the oncoming flames, even recruiting those that were watching the fire to aid in the efforts.[3] The fire spread to the Red River Valley Bank Building, and it was soon destroyed. The nearby Fargo Forum building was the next to go as the fire continued. The flames spread east from the Magill warehouse toward the harvesting warehouses on N. P. Avenue and Front Street. The Argus would later provide a vivid description of what onlookers saw, noting, “Hell itself could not have presented a more terrible picture.”[4] Winds continued to stymie the efforts of those fighting the fire and again propelled the fire to leap across N. P. Avenue and consume the opera house block. Buildings on this block included the Fargo Opera Hall, the Merchant’s State Bank, Hellberg’s Jewelry Store, Yoder and Lewis Grocery, the Great Northern Express Company, and a variety of professional offices. The fire continued unabated, moving north to the Republican building, home to J.J. Jordan’s Evening Republican newspaper. The block was totally destroyed with little saved.

From the Republican block, the blaze went across Second Avenue and engulfed the ornamentation of one of the businesses. Then the blaze spread to the Keeney block, owned by N. Stanford and Alexander Stern.[5] The fire destroyed a wide array of businesses on its rampage, including Freeman’s China Hall Tea Store, Kop Brothers Music House, as well as the Alex Stern Building.[6] The flames reached the Masonic Hall on the Stern block, destroying everything in the building (including the extensive Masonic Library). The destruction continued through to Alex Stern’s Palace Clothing Store and the legal and judicial offices above the clothing store. On the corner of Broadway and N. P. also stood the Citizens National Bank, which withstood the fire longest.[7] Firefighters from as far away as Casselton were by that time tending to the blaze, and they concentrated their efforts on this location. The basement of the building included, somewhat ironically, the Thomas Baker Jr. Fire Insurance offices, and the second floor housed the United States Court Room. The fire continued west,  destroying the Elliott Hotel.

Ruins of Citizen's National Bank

Ruins of the Citizens National Bank after the 1893 fire

In only two hours’ time, the flames progressed over a mile through the city and set approximately two hundred buildings on fire. Some brick buildings had been constructed, but there were far more wooden buildings, and they readily caught fire. The wooden structures stymied the efforts of firefighters to stop the flames that swept through the city. Nonetheless, the fire ran its course by 7 p.m. In less than five hours, approximately 160 developed acres of Fargo were destroyed.

-Chad Halvorson, Digital History 2012

[1] Fargo Forum (Fargo, ND), June 7, 1893.

[2] John Hannaher oral interview, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.

[3] Thomas Hannher’s “Fargo Fire Memory”, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.

[4] “Special Fire Edition,” Argus (Fargo, ND), June 7, 1894.

[5] Deed, Cass County Courthouse.

[6] Image of Stern block destruction, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.

[7] Image of destruction of Citizens National Bank, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.