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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published May 04 2013

Halgrimson: Barn is all that remains of ND’s first county hospital

Fargo - In the early 1960s, I used to drive my husband out to Edgewood golf course. The paving on North Elm Street ended at 32nd Avenue.

The dirt road, lined on both sides with beautiful old elm trees, ran on the east side of the county farm. There were no houses then.

And to the west of the road, I could see a man in the adjacent field plowing with horses, a rare sight in those days.

In October 1879 a facility called the Front Street Asylum opened. It was situated on what is now Main Avenue, halfway between Fargo and West Fargo. It was for the benefit of the homeless and ill with nowhere else to go. It was the first county hospital in the state.

In 1895, the county bought part of the Gamble farm located in an oxbow of the Red River two miles north of the city limits. The sale included some land, and an adjoining 80 acres were rented by the county, which gave them 120 acres of tillable land.

A building was constructed on the farm. According to a 1904 story, it was, “a substantial structure of white brick three stories and basement with a capacity of 75 beds in addition to day rooms, kitchen, pantries, store-rooms, toilets and bath rooms.” In addition to the main building there was a wing at the northeast corner.

Also at the northeast corner, were two large, enclosed chutes running from the top floor to be used to evacuate the patients in case of an emergency. The building faced south and east, and was surrounded on three sides with woods.

Near the building was a barn for the five horses that provided transportation and 11 dairy cows, which provided milk and butter, a chicken house, hog pen and cold-storage house. A large garden supplied produce, and wild fruit was gathered from the woods.

The facility was called the Cass County Hospital and Poor Farm, and it was expected to be self-supporting. The only purchases made were staples such as tea, coffee, sugar and flour.

The superintendent at that time was S. A. Moore, and his wife served as matron.

“It is a general understanding between the superintendent and matron and the inmates and convalescents that they are to assist in the general work of the household, hospital and yard work, to help defray the expenses of their maintenance. The superintendent states that an instance of infraction of the rules or a willful desire to cause friction is very rare.”

In 1904, the residents came from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and the United States. They ranged in age from 1 to 79. The residents were expected to work if they were able.

By the late 1960s, the name of the facility had been changed to Golden Acres Haven. It was classified as a convalescent home rather than a hospital, and fewer and fewer patients were seen.

Most of the remaining residents were too old to work, and in 1973, the hospital was closed. The following year, the building was razed.

The Fargo Park District bought 34 acres of the land and Trollwood Park came into being. A few years later, Trollwood Performing Arts School was born. That, too, is gone, as are the graves of those who died at the County Hospital and Farm.

The only piece that remains from those early days is a barn.


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