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.

Early Public Street Lights

South side for Front Street looking east across N.P. Park and 7th Street, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1879

This winter view of the south side of Front Street (Main Avenue) looking at the 600 block, shows several early businesses. Shown  are Hughes & Brewer Boots and Shoes, The Park Hotel, Chicago Dry Goods House, The Republican Printing Office, an arcade and other commercial buildings. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000944]

After Mayor George Egbert authorized a $44 payment to Cass Lamp Works on December 5, 1879, the first kerosene lamps soon appeared on the streets of Fargo. Police officers were authorized to ensure the street lamps were in proper working order and purchased barrels of oil so the night police units could fill and light the lamps and extinguish them in the morning.[1]

By October 7, 1881, the Gas Light and Fuel Company became the city’s first power company and became the Fargo Electric Light and Power Company when franchised on November 7 of the same year.  At the same time, the city council passed an ordinance that gave Fargo Electric Light and Power Company the permit for one or more electric light towers approximately 150 feet high with a 20,000 candlepower light. This illumination provided “sufficient strength to read coarse print a distance of two mile[s] from the tower.” It cost $275 per year to operate. The council additionally gave the Fargo Electric Light and Power Company the street lighting contract on October 5, 1883, and talks for putting streetlights on poles began shortly thereafter.  By January 13, 1886, 125-foot lighting towers or “street lights” were completed at the Cass County Courthouse broadening the illumination. Talks would continue to consider adding lights to the two towers already in existence.

The first 18 incandescent lights did not arrive until February 4, 1889, but wooden masts for arc lighting were erected in 1890. By August 19, 1890, the city of Fargo offered suspended arc lights throughout its streets.  They were later enclosed for increased safety in 1898.[2]

With advances in lighting and electricity came improvements in quality of life, bringing business ventures that greatly encouraged permanent settlement and expanded urban plains growth.  Businesses that once stood as solitary structures on the flat surface streets of Fargo were soon affixed to a growing array of new proprietors like shoe stores, dry goods, and grocery and furniture stores. This created a “row” effect of mostly-flat top and flat-faced storefronts lining the main arteries of the city.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012


[1] “Electricity, Lights, etc.,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

[2] “Electricity, Lights, etc.,” Finding Aid, Fargo N.D. City Council Meeting Minutes, 1875-1910, IRS-NDSU.

The First Post Office

Interior of Post office, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1876

Interior view of Fargo Post Office, 600 block Front Street (Main Avenue), shows numbered post office boxes, mail bags, scales, a clock, and some pictures hanging above the mail boxes. [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000953]

Even in 1876, Fargo’s first post office, although small, was well-fitted to serve the citizens, conveniently located next to the bank, and marked another step towards Fargo becoming a city unto itself.  By 1883, the town had grown enough that The Fargo City Council resolved to begin mail delivery in Fargo.  Seven years later, they began petitioning Representative Hansbrough and Senator Pierce to fund a $250,000 public post office building. All along the way, however, the location and access to Fargo’s post office remained vital to the city’s communication and interstate business transactions outside the territories, and ultimately the new building had a functionality underscored only by its impressive organizational features.

-Stacy M. Reikowsky, Digital History 2012

Hector House

Hector House

Hector House Cass County Historical Society, 2007-028-009

Two men, Andrew Henry Moore and George Mann, decided to take a chance in Dakota Territory in 1869. They left from Waupum, Wisconsin, and arrived in the Red River Valley the same year. Upon their arrival, all that stood in what would be known as Fargo was a small city of tents occupied by Northern Pacific Railroad personnel and a few soldiers. Fortunately, Mann had experience in carpentry work and it is assumed that he brought some of his own tools.  Moore and Mann immediately began building what is arguably the settlement’s  first permanent structure, which was located in present day Island Park. During this time the land had not yet been surveyed, so Moore and Mann established “squatter’s rights,” meaning that they had to settle (build, farm, etc.) the land until they could file a claim of ownership.

-Robert Kurtz, Digital History 2012