Story Behind The Story: Historic Home Has Ties To Fargo’s Early Pioneers

Part of what makes writing about an historic home is the story it tells through its various owners. Julie Snortland’s home at 705 10th St. S. is stately and gorgeous but far more interesting than its beautiful wood floors and leaded glass windows is the home’s connection to some of Fargo’s earliest pioneers.

Snortland has never lived in the historic home she purchased in 2012, but instead rented it out to visitors. She grew up in an historic home and worked in one – the Solberg law office at 1123 Fifth Ave. S. That home was built in 1906 by Thomas Quirk, a lumber baron and general store owner who eventually ran the Fargo Mercantile Co. established in 1897, according to a May 4, 2001, Forum article.

Charles Roberts picture
Charles Roberts was one of Fargo’s first settlers.

The home is located in the Charles Roberts Addition, a swath of residential neighborhood named for one of the first settlers who staked claim to land in Fargo. Charles Roberts uprooted his wife, Matilda, and their young son, Willie, from Minneapolis to relocate to the dusty prairie of Dakota Territory.

Roberts operated a number of businesses such as a flour mill and brickyard (the mansion his wife designed and had built in 1899 on Eighth Street South used yellow bricks from his yard), but he also invested heavily in real estate in the new city. That’s how he came to own an entire subdivision that was platted in 1884. Forty homes were built in the neighborhood by 1900, including Snortland’s, which was constructed in 1899.

In April 1888, Charles and Matilda Roberts sold several platts to Lucien Gilbbs of Mayville, North Dakota, for the reasonable price of only $1. Lots weren’t even named in the deed–just a description of a large section of land. Gibbs and his wife Lizzie sold the lot to William D. Walker on April 20, 1888.

On Jan. 25, 1899, Walker filed a quitclaim deed for the property. In the record, Walker is listed as a bachelor living in Buffalo, New York, and he sold the entire lot for $1 to Samuel C. Edsall, a lawyer-turned-theologian who had become Bishop of North Dakota (on, surprisingly enough, the same day the deed was filed). By May, Gibbs and his wife, who now lived in Grand Forks, filed the warranty deed to transfer actual ownership to Edsall.

On Aug. 9, 1899, Edsall sold four lots to Walter Pinkham, who was the brother of Fargo pioneer Albert F. Pinkham. Albert Pinkham taught Fargo’s first term of school and built Pinkham Hall in 1873, a two-story structure on Front and Fifth Street that was rented out for various ceremonies and events.

According to the 1895 City of Fargo directory, Pinkham was a farmer who lived at 602 11th St. S., just one block north of the house at 705 10th St. S. He hadn’t been there long though, because in the 1893 directory, Pinkham’s address was simply 4th Street South. It’s curious that the directory noted he lived one block south of “water works,” which is likely a reference to the early municipal water softening and filtration plant “bounded by the Red River, Thirteenth Ave. South, Fifth Street South, and Fourteenth Avenue South.” However, that plant wasn’t built until 1911-1913.

Why Pinkham was moving so frequently, we don’t know. But he was married to May when he purchased the land from Edsall and had a young daughter named Mildred, who was born in 1892. In 1900, Pinkham listed his address as 705 10th St. S, and again in 1901. The next year, Pinkham sold the house to William McDonald.

By 1910, Pinkham and his family (which now included a 9-year-old son named Lloyd) moved to Spokane, Washington. Pinkham died there in 1940 at the age of 81 from heart trouble, and his single son Lloyd was living with his mother, May, at the time. Sadly, daughter Mildred, who had been a public school teacher according to the 1920 census, died on July 10, 1931. At the time of her death, Mildred was a 37-year-old single woman living at Eastern State Hospital in Washington, a psychiatric hospital located in Medical Lake originally intended as a facility for the mentally ill that now operates as a treatment center.

Back to Fargo. Deed records don’t necessarily specify the presence of a house on a particular lot at the time of sale; the records simply indicate ownership of everything contained within the lot. However, when Pinkham bought the lot in 1899, he only paid $500 but he sold it for $3,600; the increased value of the lot could indicate that Pinkham built the home for about $3,000.

McDonald was a Scottish-born immigrant who came to the United States in 1870, according to the 1900 census. He married his wife, Christine Sutherland, in Ontario, Canada, on Jan. 9, 1878. The witnesses of the Presbyterian union were his brother Alexander McDonald and her sister Sophia Sutherland. By 1900 they had three children: William, 6; Jennie, 4; and Mary, 2. His 50-year-old sister Elizabeth and 35-year-old sister Mary, both of whom emigrated in 1892, were also living with the McDonald family at the time. They only lived at 705 10th St. S. for three years and sold the property to John W. Von Nieda for $5,000 on Oct. 18.

It’s interesting to note the McDonalds sold Von Nieda the two lots on which the house is placed, but they sold the two lots south of the home to Mamie Hansen on Dec. 22, 1905 for $500, indicating they were probably empty. Nine days earlier, Von Nieda had sold the home lots to Hansen for $4,000.

Another interesting connection in this story is the fact that in the 1905 directory, John Von Nieda is listed as living at 423 8th St. S., a home that had been built by William Rentschler in 1899. According to the 1910 and 1911 directories, William McDonald lived at that address. Elizabeth Von Nieda, John’s wife, purchased the home from Rentschler after his wife died for $10,500 Sept. 14, 1903. By October 1905, the Von Niedas sold the home to McDonald for $10,000. Ten years later, McDonald and his wife Christina (who were listed as living in San Diego, California at the time) sold the home to Jennie Macfadden of Fargo for $4,000. Yet, in 1919, McDonald and his family were living at 817 4th St. N. in Fargo.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this entire narrative is the fact that Mamie Hansen – a 35-year-old “single woman”, according to the deed – purchased the home at 705 10th St. S. Mamie had been born in Wisconsin to a Norwegian named Halvor (or Halver depending on the record) Hansen, though no mother’s name is ever listed, though her mother was apparently born in Norway, too. Two sisters, Bess and Louise, were mentioned on the deed and were frequently listed as other residents of the home in directory and census records.

Five years earlier, the Hansen had been living in Vermillion, South Dakota. In the 1900 census record, her father is listed but no mother. Mamie is listed as a daughter of the head of the household as well as 22-year-old Bess and 16-year-old Louise. Two sons, 25-year-old Ernest and 10-year-old Harold, were also listed. The four latter Hansen children were all born in South Dakota, with the three youngest still attending school.

Roosevelt school
Roosevelt school is one of Fargo’s oldest schools.

All of those family members are listed as residents of the home at 705 10th St. S. in the 1911 city directory, as well as another older sister named Mary Hansen. Bess was listed as a music teacher and Louise indicated herself to be a teacher at Roosevelt School at the time.

It appears that none of the Hansen sisters – Mamie, Mary, Bess, Louise and another named Elizabeth – ever married. No records indicate a name change, and in 1940, census records indicate Louise Adale Hansen was the 56-year-old head of the household at 705 10th St. S. The former music teacher for Fargo Public Schools lived there with her two older sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. Bess is not mentioned, nor is Mamie.

Louise died Nov. 11, 1966, at the age of 82 though she was living at 1335 3rd Ave. S. in Fargo by that time. In June of that year, she’d sold the home at 705 10th St. S. to a new owner. She is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Fargo.

Three years later, Mamie died on Nov. 23, 1969, in Racine City, Wisconsin. When she left North Dakota to return to Wisconsin is not clear.

Elizabeth Hansen, who was born in 1877 in South Dakota, died in 1958 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery.

Bess Hansen, who was born in 1886 in South Dakota, died in 1977 in Elma, a small town in Grays Harbor County, Washington.

No other Hansen family records are publicly available.

Most homes of a certain age have an interesting story to tell, whether it’s about the various features of the home or the many people who owned the house throughout its lifetime. Julie Snortland’s home at 705 10th St. S. is no exception. She researched early deed records to uncover the home’s earliest owners, and she provided an explanation of the house’s history to its many visitors during the four years she owned the home. Beautiful photos tell one story about a home, but so do the interesting connections only available through a paper trail of historical record.

Victorian home

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