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.