Prairie Progress: An Introduction to the Development of Fargo’s Commercial Center, 1871-1898

View on 500 block, Front Street, Fargo, N.D., Downtown, 1878

Front Street (Main Avenue) showing the City Meat Market, Moore Bros. stationer, Fargo News Depot, George Cooper Harness Shop, and a hardware store in Fargo. Men standing along sidewalk in front of businesses [North Dakota State University Archives, Digital ID: rs000959]

At the heart of nearly any fledgling prairie town of the latter decades of the nineteenth century in the United States lays an arterial business and commercial sector regardless of size or scope.  Without reliable establishments that provide basic services to meet the needs of an early population, growth becomes hamstrung and a town’s future uncertain. Business and commercial enterprises not only dictate the ebb and flow of a town’s economy, but also provide local denizens with access to everyday products and services for sustaining day-to-day activities that contribute to both the sustainability and growth of a prairie town capable of transforming into a city.

As a result, the physical buildings themselves underscore the importance of stable, sustainable, and accessible commercial presence to ensure the long-term viability of a burgeoning city. The architecture, buildings, planning, and development of businesses of early Fargo, North Dakota, therefore played an important role in the city’s original foundation and ascension to becoming the “Gateway to the West” on the Northern Plains with marked success well into present-day.

At the same time, Fargo’s prosperous business-driven economy and expanded growth represents seminal building, commercial, and infrastructural firsts that ultimately reflect the rapid, significant, and visible changes over time and embody the vital elements of a lasting community on often harsh and unforgiving landscape of the Northern Plains.

By following an exhibition of Fargo’s early commercial and infrastructural planning, business development, and construction photographs from 1871 to 1898, a sense of rapid change and significant growth soon emerges as a testament to Fargo’s vitality and successful growth on the Plains.  Despite instances of social, political, economic, and environmental adversity, settlers’ early vision for assertive business and commercial construction helped secure the city’s permanent place on the Northern Plains.

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