Glimpse history through fascinating old images of Fargo, North Dakota.
Old Photos of Fargo ND
Fargo was hit by a devastating tornado on June 24, 1957. At the time, the community had 47,000 residents living there.
One girl, at home with her five brothers and sisters, rang their mother as the tornado hit. The line went dead, and it was later found that none of the youngsters survived.
Altogether, ten people lost their lives, 1500 homes were destroyed, and 100 blocks of debris left Fargo’s streets almost unrecognisable.
This newsreel shows the tornado itself, and the terrible aftermath.
Fargo Tornado Deals Death And Ruin (1957) – British Pathé on YouTube
History of Fargo
This video about the city’s history is illustrated throughout, with vintage maps and old photos of Fargo.
Many of the old phots are titled so you know the location you are looking at.
You’ll learn a lot from this history video, and it’s also very engaging.
History of Fargo – Fargo Parks on YouTube
Historic Book Extracts
The following extracts are from a historic book called “Early history of North Dakota; essential outlines of American history” by Lounsberry, Clement A. (Clement Augustus Lounsberry, 1843-1926), Published in 1919.
Page 334: Scandinavian Settlers
A land office had been established at Pembina in 1870, and settlement was expected to rush for the fair land of the Red River Valley about to be opened. Only an Indian title remained to be extinguished. A few Scandinavians from Goodhue County, Minn., had gone ahead of the surveys, and had located on the Red River, the Maple and the Sheyenne. There were three or four at what is now Fargo. The land at Moorhead had been deeded and there was a stage station there kept by Maj. Wm. Woods. The land deeded at that point was owned by J. B. Smith, having been entered by him under the preemption act. The land at Fargo was not subject to entry, the Indian title not having been extinguished. ‘An attempt, however, was made to enter by scrip.
In 1869 it was the purpose of the Northern Pacific directors to cross the river at or near what is now Grandin, striking the Missouri River at the Big Bend, and following up that steam to Fort Benton. And in accordance with that plan the location of the bridge across the Red River was staked at Elm River, or Grandin, and a settlement of townsite speculators gathered at that point. The plan, however, was changed in the spring of 1870, and a fake line was staked to a point near Moorhead, known as Oakport. Here a bright little village of temporary structures sprang up.
When the location of the crossing was definitely located Mr. Andrew Holes was employed to make settlement on the farm where James Holes long resided, and was dispatched to purchase the land embracing the townsite of Moorhead, which he succeeded in doing. In the meantime the several settlers were bought off at an expense of $1,000 to $1,500 each and on the nighf of June 25, 1871, George G. Beardsley was engaged in making improvements on the several quarter sections which the townsite company intended to scrip, and J. B. Power, then a clerk in the surveyor general’s office in St. Paul, was sent to Pembina to make the scrip locations for Fargo.
By the 5th of July, 1871, the townsite settlers who had been watching opportunity and the movements of the Puget Sound company people for a year or more had learned the facts and made a rush for Fargo. G.J. Keeney, Patrick Davitt, S. G. Roberts, Andrew McHench, Charles Roberts, J. Lowell, Harry Fuller, George G. Sanborn and others made homestead locations on the grounds which the townsite company had undertaken to scrip. The Indian claim having been extinguished later, it was held that the settlers had preference over the scrip locations, and the townsite company withdrew its claims, and left the settlers in undisturbed possession of the even sections, while the odd fell to them through the railroad grant. John E. Haggart, Newton Whitman and others filed on agricultural claims in the vicinity, and became substantial farmers. James Holes secured the claim settled upon by Andrew Holes and became the first in North Dakota to engage in agriculture for a living. He opened up the first farm in North Dakota aside from the small tracts in the Pembina settlement or in connection with the Hudson’s Bay Company posts.
Moorhead was named for W. G. Moorhead of the Northern Pacific directory, and Fargo for Hon. W. G. Fargo of the Wells-Fargo Express Company.
At that time St. Paul had about fifteen thousand population and Minneapolis ten thousand, and it was believed that Moorhead and Fargo would make towns of equal importance. They were located by Thomas H. Canfield, as agent of the Puget Sound Company, aided by George B. Wright, a civil engineer in the employ of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, and the point of crossing the river was determined by them.
Page 339: the Fargo & Southwestern Railroad
In 1880 the Fargo & Southwestern Railroad was built from Fargo to the James River, eighty-eight miles, and LaMoure was made its terminus, while Davenport, Leonard, Sheldon, Lisbon and Englevale became thriving centers along its route.
Page 370: Territorial Legislature of 1883
It also located an agricultural college at Fargo, but made no appropriation therefor. The loca- tion was conditioned upon the donation of a suitable site of at least forty acres by the citizens of Fargo. The condition was never complied with, and there was no agricultural college in the north half of the territory until statehood.
Page 371: Seat of Government meeting
Bismarck complied with these conditions and in June, 1883, at a meeting of the commission held at Fargo, Bismarck was selected by a vote of five to four, as the “seat of government.”
Page 373: Agricultural College
The resentment of South Dakota resulting from locating the capital at Bismarck was forcibly shown in the Legislature of 1888. It re-enacted the law of 1883 locating the agricultural college at Fargo, and authorized the issuance of bonds for the university to cover deficiencies incurred in the course of the construction of its buildings. It extended the time one year in which the citizens of Fargo could comply with the conditions prescribed in the law of 1883, but did not authorize the issuance of bonds to construct buildings, nor appropriate for its maintenance.
Page 374: North Dakota Statehood
As a further step in the direction of statehood, this session made provision for a census. It divided the territory into two districts, and Maj. Alanson W. Edwards, of Fargo, was selected to superintend the taking of the census of North Dakota. He reported to the national Government a total population of 152,199 in North Dakota. This was greater than the ratio prescribed for a congressman, and the question of sufficient population to entitle North Dakota to statehood was settled.
Page 465: North Dakota Bar Association
The North Dakota Bar Association was organized at Fargo in the year 1899, soon after the admission of the state to the Union. Hon. Seth Newman, of Fargo, was its first president, and R. W. S. Blackwell, of La Moure, its first secretary. It had a very checkered career in the early years of its existence, as few lawyers outside of the Red River Valley and the larger towns in the central and western portions of the state enrolled as members of the association.
Page 475: Closing the Saloons
The book includes a letter from Judge Charles A. Pollock to Colonel C.A. Lounsberry in Washington D.C., written August 7, 1915, of which this is an extract.
“You have no idea what an improvement has come to our twin cities — Fargo and Moorhead — by the extermination of the saloons in Clay County. During the month of July, 1914, there were 439 arrests. During the month of July, 1915, there were but 31, and 28 of those occurred the first two days in July, which really constituted a part of the final wind-up of the saloon system. In other words, for the month of July, after July 2d, there were only three arrests. You probably know that during the last year in Moorhead there were over four thousand arrests.
Page 479: Dead Drunk
In Fargo, with few exceptions, the followers of Blackstone, numbering about forty, were regular members of more than one bar. Many became habitual drinkers, and most of them were among the so- called moderate class. Six of the most brilliant now fill untimely graves — the direct result of the liquor habit.
Page 480: Fargo’s Development
Statements of the banks in Fargo alone show an aggregate of about $10,000,000. Fargo has grown from a city of 6,000 under the license system to one of 20,000 under the prohibitory. It has all modern improvements like heat, water works, paved streets, street cars, electric lights and every convenience attendant upon city life.
Page 484: Winter Rail Closure
The Northern Pacific closed the road from Fargo to Bismarck during the winter of 1873-74, the last train leaving early in October.
Page 485: Early Times
It required two days by rail to reach St. Paul from Fargo, trains then stopping over night at Brainerd….
Fargo was platted in 1872 and the Headquarters Hotel was built, but it was on an Indian reservation, and made little headway in the direction of town building until 1874….
E. B. Chambers had printed a few copies of the Fargo Express at Glyndon for A. H. Moore, with Capt. Scott Bonney editor, but it had not reached the point of being established as a North Dakota or Fargo newspaper, and was not regularly published. It was printed to show to the officers of the Wells Fargo Express Company that a paper had been established and to obtain a bonus. In this they succeeded and Mr. Fargo contributed $500 for the purchase of a print- ing press…
January i, 1874, the genuine Fargo Express made its appearance. It was edited and published by A. J. Harwood, Gordon J. Keeney and E. W. Knight. That was the first newspaper in North Dakota in the Red River Valley and the second in the state.
Page 486: Newspaper Growth
Later in 1874 A. J. Clark, from Wilton, Minnesota, established the Northern Pacific Mirror at Fargo. Messrs. Hubbard and Tylor became the owners of the Mirror and it was consolidated with the Fargo Express and Glyndon Gazette and became the Fargo Times, with E. B. Chambers editor. Chambers sold to E. D. Barker, and the Times was later consolidated with the Republican, estab- lished by Major A. W. Edwards and Dr. J. B. Hall about June, 1878, and the Republican later with the Forum.
Page 487: More Newspaper Growth
Retiring from the Argus in October Major Edwards and Horatio C. Plumley, who had been associated with him on the Argus, established the Fargo Forum, the first number of which appeared November 17, 1891, on the anniversary of the birth of the Argus. The Argus was never a paying venture after Major Edwards left it, and its bones now rest in peace, it having been sold to J. J. Jordan, who later established the Fargo Call, which he conducted successfully several years, and then sold to others.
There were many other newspaper ventures at Fargo, among them the Inde- pendent by C. A. Carson, which went into the Republican. The Evening Post, which was short lived, and the Moon and the Sun, and the Broadaxe. The Sun was published some ten years and was established by’W. H. H. Matteson, sold to Fred Hendershot and finally died. Goldy West, at one time with the Argus, established the Sunday Bee. Its sweet life also passed away.
Page 539: Marquis de Mores
Marquis de Mores came to North Dakota in April, 1883, a short time before Mr. Roosevelt, and invested large sums of money in stock growing and in the packing industry, his intention being to grow the stock and kill them on the range, shipping in refrigerator cars to the eastern markets. He built a fully equipped slaughter house at Medora, with all the appurtenances necessary for the economical handling of all of the by-products. He built cold storage houses at Bismarck, Fargo, Duluth and other points and carried on an enormous business until 1886, when he realized that he was in advance of the times and withdrew, returning to France.
Page 548: First National Bank of Fargo
A number of banks had sprung into existence in that part of the territory, which is now the State of North Dakota, all of which have gone out of existence with the exception of the First National Bank of Fargo, which was organized in February, 1878.
The first published statement of this bank was printed March 15, 1878, showing a paid-up capital of $61,000, deposits of $12,000, and loans and discounts, $27,000. E. B. Eddy was president, and E. C. Eddy, who still resides in Fargo, N. Dak., was cashier. The First National Bank of Fargo claims the distinction of being the oldest and largest bank in the State of North Dakota. Its present capital is $300,000, surplus and undivided profits, $250,000, and deposits, $5,- 500,000. Its active officers at the present time being E. J. Weiser, president; F. A, Irish, vice president, and G. H. Nesbit, cashier.
Page 554: Methodist Episcopal Church
The history of the first Methodist Episcopal Church of Fargo is, largely, the history of early Methodism, in that part of the great Northwest north of the forty-sixth parallel of latitude and west of the Red River of the North. Long before the Indian title to the lands in the Red River Valley was extinguished, the pioneer Methodist preacher took up his work of laying the foundation of our great church in this country…
Fargo being but one of the many appointments upon a circuit of 150 miles, could claim only a portion of Father Gurley’s time, and great were the sacrifices he made to reach it. He, however, laid the foundations of the church in this state, strong and deep, and upon this foundation, since 1872, Methodism has been building…
No official local organization was effected in Northern Dakota during the year 1873, but Methodism assumed more permanency and a nucleus was definitely formed at Fargo, of which the legal existence of the Fargo church was the out- growth in 1874.
Page 555: Church Affairs
Church services during 1873 were regularly held at Fargo in what was known as Pinkham’s Hall, located on the corner of Front and Fifth streets. Rev. Mr. Webb officiated when in Fargo, his place being supplied during his absence by Father Gurley or by services conducted by some of the laity.
While no official membership existed, the church affairs were generally looked after by Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Plummer, Miss Emma Plummer and William H. White. A Sunday school of about twenty scholars was formed with Wm. H. White as superintendent and with Mrs. Plummer and Miss Plummer as teachers. These informal organizations existed in Fargo throughout this year. Rev. Mr. Webb fostering them and giving them the larger portion of his time in connection with his duties at other points on his circuit.
On the 20th of July the legal existence of the First Methodist Church and Sunday school of Fargo may be said to have begun, although for nearly a year prior to this date an organized Sunday school and services under the auspices of the Methodist Church had been held with such regularity as the opportunities and circumstances of the time would permit.
Page 556: Church Leaders
In the fall of 1875 the Northwestern Iowa Conference established a district of Northern Dakota, calling it the Northern Pacific District. Rev. Mr. Webb was appointed presiding elder and Rev. J. T. Walker pastor at Fargo. This was the first appointment made directly to Fargo. On account of ill health Mr. Walker was unable to take the appointment and the Rev. J. B. Starkey was transferred from Onawa, Iowa, and appointed to Fargo in Mr. Walker’s place. Brother Starkey arrived in Fargo on November 13th.
On Sunday, November 14th, he preached his first sermon in Fargo, being the first sermon preached by a regularly appointed pastor at Fargo.
Page 558: Church Relocates!
On October ii, 1880, Rev. C. N. Stowers was regularly appointed to the Fargo charge and served as its pastor until the summer of 1881, at which time he was obliged to resign on account of ill health occasioned by overwork, and the Rev. S. B. Warner was transferred from the Upper Iowa Conference to finish the year. The fall of 1880 and the winter of 1881 under the pastorate of Brother Stowers were busy seasons for Methodism in Fargo. The little church which had accommodated the society for six years became entirely inadequate to the needs of tha growing congregation, and it was sold to the Catholics. It was not without great regret that the members saw the building which had so long been their church home, mounted on rollers and slowly moved from the location upon which it had been of so much influence. In its place was erected a building better adapted to the convenience and comfort of the growing society, at a cost of $5,000. Subscriptions had been taken but the funds realized were insufficient to free it from debt, and most heroically did the membership at repeated times respond to the call for financial aid and, for, the reason that we prize those things which cost the greatest struggle to acquire, the new church soon began to be recognized and appreciated as the church home in the same sense as was the little old church which had been so deeply seated in the affections of the people. By Christmas, 1880, the new church was finished, and pastor and people devoutly returned thanks for the divine aid which had enabled them to construct, for His worship, a building so commodious. At this time was placed in the tower the first bell that proclaimed protestant Christianity to the people of North Dakota, and, being the first member of any protestant church in North Dakota, Wm. H. White was called upon to first send its tones vibrating through the air…
On September 29, 1881, the Minnesota Conference convened and was enter- tained at Fargo, its sessions being held in the Fargo church. At this time the Rev. J. B. Starkey, who since November 30, 1875, had served the people so faithfully, closed his relations with the district to take work in another field. Largely through his self-sacrificing and energetic labors the Fargo membership had grown from 5 to 125, and the district from two churches to over two dozen churches, nearly all of which owe their start and success to him.
Page 563: The New Church
The First Church of Fargo had undertaken a new brick building to cost $25,000. On the last night of the old year, 1896, at the watch night service started in the old building, the entire cpngregation passed into the new church building with singing, and this, the third church building erected by this congregation, was occupied and pronounced the “finest church in the state,” at that time. There was present at this service Dr. J. B. Starkey, the first pastor of the church, and later a presiding elder in this state, who headed the procession, bearing on his shoulders the pulpit, which he had made years before, for use in the first church building. This was the only piece of church furniture which was carried from the old church to the new one. Rev. W. H. Vance was pastor.
Page 606: Wanted at the Telephone
At the final mass meeting of the League in Fargo following the convention, Governor Frazier related the circumstances of his being summoned to Fargo to receive the nomination. He had driven into town for the girls and was informed that he was wanted at the telephone, where he learned it was the League headquarters at Fargo talking and that they wanted him to come at once, but a return trip to the farm was necessary for a change of dress, and on reaching Fargo the next day he found the League delegates in their convention had nominated him for governor.
Page 618: Preaching in Tents
The Northern Pacific Railroad was finished to Fargo and Moorhead, January I, 1872, but trains were unable to run before March. Preaching was maintained in the dining room of the Chapin House until spring, and then in railroad coaches, in unfinished buildings and warehouses. In June, 1872, a rough chapel was erected at Moorhead, Minn., and a church was soon thereafter organized, consist- ing of eight members, gathered from both sides of the river. A Sunday school had been held in the timber on the Fargo side in J. G. Keeney’s board shanty law office. Evening preaching service was begun in Fargo, December 17, 1871, in a tent.
Page 622: Fargo Young Ladies’ Seminary
The Synod heard with great pleasure a report from Rev. N. W. Cary regarding the Fargo Young Ladies’ Seminary, which he had established in the gateway city, heartily approved of the same and commended him and his school to the churches.
Whip Expert Clergyman!
Extract from Pages 626 and 627 of “Early history of North Dakota; essential outlines of American history” by Lounsberry, Clement A. (Clement Augustus Lounsberry, 1843-1926), Published in 1919.
Rev. Robert Wainright was the first Episcopal clergyman stationed in North Dakota, and was a resident of Fargo for a number of years with his family.
Mr. Wainright came to North Dakota from the lower coast of Labrador, where he had been for some years laboring among the Indians and seal hunters, and was well prepared to endure the hardships of travel in North Dakota during the winter season.
All of North Dakota was his parish and Mr. Wainright was expected to visit all parts of his parish at least twice during the summer and once during the winter. There were absolutely no roads outside of the single stage line to Winnipeg, and the United States military trails from one fort to another. The Northern Pacific, after it was built only operated the road during the summer months west of Fargo, and travel during the winter was at the risk of life, and subject to discomforts the present residents of our state cannot conceive and could not believe if told.
Mr. Wainwright in December would start on a trip over the snow-covered prairies that before his return to Fargo would necessitate his traveling upwards of one thousand miles, taking in Grand Forks, Fort Pembina, Pembina, Fort Totten, Buford, Lincoln, Rice, Seward, Valley City, and other small settlements and single houses.
He was once heard of after a long absence well up towards the Turtle Mountains, and on his return was asked how he happened to be as far north of the trail from Pembina to Devils Lake, “Oh,” says Mr. Wainright, “I heard of a church family up there and thought I would go and baptize the babies.”
At another time between Bismarck and Fort Seward the trail was lost and the party spent two days and one night with no fire, and but little to eat. They at last found the telegraph poles that marked the line of the snowed-up Northern Pacific railroad and followed the line into Jamestown. From that point to Fargo, Captain Patterson, of Fort Seward, furnished an ambulance, four mules, and two soldiers as an escort. The ambulance had a stove in it and enough fuel was carried to keep a little fire going, and with one soldier in the saddle to whack the mules and one to build the fires, Mr. Wainright said he felt as if missionarying in North Dakota was a delightful occupation.
He was a broad-minded, liberal-hearted man and was loved and respected by all classes and denominations.
When Custer fell, and the boat load of wounded arrived at Fort Lincoln, Mr. Wainright was one of the first to offer his services as assistant in the hospital, and did valuable service there.
He delivered the first series of lectures in the dining room of the old Headquarters Hotel in Fargo, for the benefit of the Fargo Church. The lectures were mostly on Labrador and its people.
A dog sledge and a forty-foot whip was used to show how missionaries traveled in Labrador. Mr. Wainright was an expert with the whip and we have seen him stand forty feet from a glass filled with water and, with his forty-foot lash he would flick the water out of the glass without upsetting it.