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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published January 28 2012

Halgrimson: Old city directories fascinating looks into the past

The first Fargo City Directory was published in 1881 while North Dakota was still a territory.

It was compiled by C.D. Abbot, a reporter at the Fargo Daily Argus, and G.E. Nichols, a clerk at Fargo’s Headquarters Hotel, and it was printed by the Republican Steam Printing House.

It is a fascinating look into the past of Fargo.

The city’s mayor at that time was J.B. Chapin. The board of aldermen included G.J. Keeney, O.L. Hadley, J.G. Madland, Martin Hector, C.S. Roberts, G.J. Kissner, A.J. Harwood, and W.D. Fenton. The city justice was Augustus Roberts, and the chief of police was John M. Bartley.

Some of the Cass County officers were J.J. Brooks, Thomas McKenzie, E.D. Fisher, John E. Haggart, P.P. Nokken, L. Wyckoff and J.S. Campbell.

I give the names because members of some of these families still live here, and there are places in the city named for them.

A map shows the layout of the town – 12 blocks south of Front Street with the first five streets named for U.S. presidents; plus 10 blocks to the north of Front Street, nine blocks to the east of Broadway and six blocks west to the Red River.

In the upper right corner, is the sponsor’s advertisement: Stevens and Rolph, Jobbers & Dealers in Hardware located at 57 Front Street. The other page corners give lists of the company’s products and services: Iron, Nails, Glass; Wood & Iron; Pumps; Wagon and Carriage Stock; Plumbing and Steam Fitting.

The 1881 directory also gives a brief history of Fargo. It’s a telling of the struggle between the land companies, settlers, squatters, railroads and the American Indians whose title to the land was extinguished by the U.S. government.

As you read through the introduction pages of subsequent directories, the changes in Fargo are evident. And if you are interested in genealogy, a wealth of information is available in city directories.

As I became familiar with the city directories during my time as The Forum’s librarian, I found the addresses of both of my grandmothers and my great-grandmother at whose home on Seventh Street North, her children, including my grandfather, boarded.

Much later, just south of this house, I found the apartment my mother and grandma lived in when they moved to Fargo from their home in Dazey, N.D., in 1929.

That first directory did not have a listing of addresses showing who lived in the homes or what businesses were located at each address. That feature first appeared in the 1928 directory published by R.L. Polk & Co., which was founded in 1870 in Detroit. Other early directories covered cities in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, Iowa and Ontario, Canada.

By the end of the 1930s, Polk was producing more than 1,000 city and suburban directories. Some city directories are online, but there is usually a fee for using them.

Have a look at an old Fargo or Moorhead City Directory when you visit the public library or the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University. I find that they make fascinating reading.

Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com