History of Fargo-Moorhead

Less than ten thousand years ago, the area that is now Fargo-Moorhead was 200 feet below the surface of Lake Agassiz, a huge inland sea formed at the end of the last iceage. Over centuries the waters receded, leaving six feet of rich, black soil that today make the Red River Valley one of the world’s most fertile farmlands, with Fargo and Moorhead as its center.

The Red River of the North separates the two cities and serves as the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. The city of Fargo was named for one of the owners of the Wells-Fargo Express Company, William G. Fargo. In 1885, the existence of many lawyers in Fargo and easy divorce laws prompted thousands of unhappy married people to apply for the “Ten-Minute Divorce.” Also in Fargo’s history is the Great Fire of 1893, started when Mrs. Rosa Herzman discarded ashes behind her grocery store. They were ignited, and fire spread from what is now Main Avenue to the north. By the end of the day, downtown Fargo was devastated.

The city of Moorhead was named after William G. Moorhead, an executive of the Northern Pacific Railway. In fact, the Northern Pacific Railway had a profound impact on both the economy and population of the area. Originally settled by Scandinavian and European immigrants, Fargo and Moorhead became boomtowns with the arrival of the NP in 1871. When the Northern Pacific Railroad was selecting its crossing site over the Red River, eager land speculators spared no effort to learn of the location. Railroad officials marked a false route a few miles north of Moorhead, Minnesota to throw speculators off the trail. This area, now Oakport Township, was known for years as “Bogusville.”

Under the Homestead Act, settlers were given 160 acres in exchange for living on the land and farming part of it for at least five years. Suddenly Fargo-Moorhead became a mecca for hopeful refugees from the overcrowded east. The railroad brought a constant stream of settlers seeking a new life on America’s newest frontier.

Today the population of the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area is more than 200,000, and there seems to be no end in sight to the persistent prosperity and growth of the twin cities on the Red. While agriculture is still prominent in the local economy, Fargo-Moorhead has also become an important focal point for other professions, including government, education, medicine, retailing and manufacturing.

The spirit of the early pioneers remains a treasured part of our proud heritage. We continue to build on our colorful past as we look forward to the promise of the future.


Fargo consists of three cities in two states – so it’s no wonder our reputation is a little off-kilter. In North Dakota, there’s Fargo (naturally) and West Fargo (which has the added distinction of being north and also “west” of normal). On the Minnesota side of the Red River, Moorhead  propels our community beyond conventional boundaries. We owe a lot to our northern prairie locale. Our adventurous, pioneering spirit is alive and well. In our people, you’ll find a unique mix of Midwestern gregariousness and quiet strength. Ingenuity, vision and down-to-earth practicality define our distinct prairie soul.


Located in the center of North America, the Red River Valley stretches over 30 miles, gently rising westward from the Red River, a north-flowing river running between North Dakota and Minnesota, and extending into Canada. Rich, black soil produces an abundance of crops such as potatoes, sunflowers, sugar beets, wheat, corn, soybeans, alfalfa, oats, and lentils. Industry and agriculture are closely related in Fargo-Moorhead. The area has meat packaging plants, sugar and sunflower processing plants, creameries and a malting barley plant.

The spirit of the early pioneers remains a treasured part of our proud heritage. We continue to build on our colorful past as we look forward to the promise of the future.


The upscale South 8th Street historic district has long been known as a high status neighborhood of people with political influence and business ties. The neighborhood has preserved its historic character with turn-of-the-century street lights, stately large elm trees, large, neatly landscaped yards, curved sidewalks and distinctive housing styles, including Colonial Revival, English Cottage, Dutch Colonial, Cube, Tudor and Mediterranean. The Northside district focused on Broadway, features large homes designed by architects such as the Hancock Brothers.