Thomas Canfield

The story of Fargo’s religious development begins not in Fargo itself, but in the neighboring town of Moorhead, Minnesota. Thomas Hawley Canfield was an ambitious young entrepreneur who initially became involved in railroad development in New England.  Although Canfield’s primary motivations were not religious, his Episcopalian beliefs shaped how he dealt with his promoting efforts for the railroad.[1]  He was a supporter of many of the developing religious and moral issues that came to prominence in both Fargo and Moorhead. Canfield’s moral convictions give him impetus to advise the directors of the NPRC (Northern Pacific Railway Company) to support the development of “churches, schools, and benevolent instructions” by providing land at little or no charge.[2]  In addition to these land grants, Canfield recruited pastors and catered to several different denominations.  In all these activities, the end goal was to promote the development of a thriving moral society in Moorhead, and not the town across the river. Despite Canfield’s efforts to discourage Fargo’s development, churches began to form and the moral framework for the fledgling city began to grow.

[1] Engelhardt, Carroll L, Gateway to the Northern Plains Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 17.

[2] Ibid., 17.

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