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Published January 20 2012

Fargo to fill gaps in hall of mayors, seeking artists' bids to paint ‘Father of Fargo’

FARGO - Several notable faces are absent from the portrait gallery of Fargo mayors in City Hall, but officials are working to remedy those omissions, starting with one of the city’s earliest leaders.

Jasper B. Chapin, known fondly as the “Father of Fargo,” is the oldest of nine former mayors not featured in the gallery on display outside Fargo’s City Commission room.

Since 1875, 29 individuals have served as mayor.

Chapin was mayor from 1880 to 1882 and played a key role in building stores, hotels and housing structures at a time when Fargo saw its initial surge of population growth during the 1870s.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said two women who frequently walk the downtown skyway to City Hall noticed Chapin’s absence from the portrait wall and recently brought the matter to the attention of city staff.

“This is the one that is the lightning rod,” Zavoral said. “As time goes on, we’re going to try to fill in the blanks for every one that might be missing.”

The nine omissions weren’t intentional but rather a matter of scant historical documentation.

Images of some of Fargo’s first mayors are hard to come by, and the task is reflected by the absence of portraits honoring several mayors who served between 1880 and 1912.

Zavoral said historical research at North Dakota State University turned up a copy of an engraving of Chapin, the only depiction researchers could find.

City leaders hope the engraving will be enough to inspire a local artist to create a portrait of Chapin that can hang alongside other mayors’ portraits.

Fargo officials have put a call out to local artists to apply for the task. Submissions are due Feb. 14.

Mayor Dennis Walaker and city staff will select the artist based on several factors, such as artistic experience, the cost and time to complete the portrait and the artist’s ability to deliver a portrait similar to the existing ones.

Zavoral said city officials also plan to add a signing wall in the commission room that past and current mayors and city commissioners can sign for posterity’s sake.

“It gives a sense of history to this community and honors the citizens that have served,” Zavoral said.

According to Forum archives, Chapin was an early settler and prominent developer in Fargo and one of the wealthiest men in the region.

During two one-year terms as mayor, Chapin established many basic elements of city government and services – including the installation of sewer pipes and fire hydrants and the construction of sidewalks and paved roads.

Chapin helped negotiate the city’s first telephone services and electric and gas plants, and he oversaw construction of two iron bridges over the Red River.

Shortly after his public service, Chapin’s life saw tragic ups and downs.

In 1884, his wife, Emma, died, and the tragedy drove Chapin into a severe depression. He eventually lost ownership of all of his farmland and most of the properties he owned in Fargo.

When he tried to bounce back in 1893 with a new carriage service, Chapin lost the business in the historic fire that decimated downtown Fargo.

Chapin unsuccessfully attempted suicide shortly after by jumping off a bridge in Grand Forks into the shallow Red River.

More months passed, and Chapin’s health deteriorated before he improved again after an operation.

Nonetheless, Chapin’s depression continued, and he ultimately killed himself with a gunshot wound to the temple in 1894.

Fargo mayors

Twenty-nine men have served as Fargo’s mayor since 1875. Of those, nine mayors are not yet featured in the portrait gallery displayed at City Hall.

<•> George Egbert (1875-1876)**

<•> Evan S. Tyler (1876-1877)

<•> George Egbert (1877-1880)**

<•> Jasper B. Chapin (1880-1882)*

<•> William Kindred (1882-1883)*

<•> Woodford Yerxa (1883-1885)*

<•> John Johnson (1885-1886)*

<•> Charles Scott (1886-1887)*

<•> Alanson W. Edwards (1887-1888)

<•> Seth Newman (1888-1890)*

<•> Wilbur F. Ball (1890-1892)* **

<•> Emerson H. Smith (1892-1894)

<•> Wilbur F. Ball (1894-1896)* **

<•> John A. Johnson (1896-1902)* **

<•> William D. Sweet (1902-1904)

<•> Aurelius L. Wall (1904-1906)

<•> John A. Johnson (1906-1907)* **

<•> Peter Elliott (1907-1910)

<•> Vernon R. Lovell (1910-1912)

<•> William D. Smith (1912-1913)*

<•> Henry F. Emery (1913-1917)

<•> Alex Stern (1917-1921)

<•> Hamilton W. Geary (1921-1925)

<•> John H. Dahl (1925-1929)

<•> Alf T. Lynner (1929-1933)

<•> Fred O. Olsen (1933-1946)

<•> Charles A. Dawson (1946-1950)

<•> Murray A. Baldwin (1950-1954)

<•> Hershel Lashkowitz (1954-1974)

<•> Richard A. Hentges (1974-1978)

<•> Jon Lindgren (1978-1994)

<•> Bruce Furness (1994-2006)

<•> Dennis Walaker (2006-present)

* indicates a mayor not yet featured in the portrait gallery displayed at city hall.

** indicates those who served multiple, nonconsecutive terms.

Note: The portrait gallery also features Gordon Keeney as mayor in 1882, the same year Chapin is believed to have served. City officials said more research is needed to clarify Keeney’s role in city leadership. Keeney was an attorney and eventually became the city’s first Postmaster.

Source: City of Fargo, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541