Fargo's first home fully restored after over 40 years of effort
150-year-old home sits in Bonanzaville, with its newly chopped logs, is ready for a new run at the pioneer village
FARGO — Fargo's first home, complete with a few fairly fresh white oak logs from northern Minnesota, has been restored.
The more than 40-year effort to refurbish the home was marked with a celebration at its home in Bonanzaville on Monday, Sept. 13, with descendants of the family that lived in the home the longest — the Henry and Mary Hector family — on hand for the occasion after helping finance the project.
The log home has a storied history in the city as it was a popular spot for socializing and gathering among the first settlers, who mostly lived in tents, shanties and dugouts, in the 1870s.
Homesteader Harry Moore, who filed one of the earliest claims in the Red River Valley in 1869 after moving here from Wisconsin, built the home that also included birch wood rafters and a roof of rough-milled board with the help of carpenter George Mann near the Red River in what is now Island Park.
The home was built with 40 to 50 logs that were cut from various tree groves in the Horace area, lashed together as a raft and floated down the river.
The birch wood was ferried across the Red River from Minnesota.
The home was relocated several times, at least once out of concerns about flooding.
After being a home to Moore, it served as both a jail for the Dakota Territory on the top floor or loft and as city hall on the main floor.
In those early years, It also became the city's first hotel with only a bed available for guests, not a private room.
Then it began its longest stretch of ownership as the Hector family, who were originally in the grocery business, made it their home from 1892 to 1950. They made numerous improvements to the structure through the years including siding, expanding its size and adding electricity.
Earlyne Hector, who donated $25,000 to finance the final part of the restoration that took place in the past year along with a grant of $25,000 from the North Dakota Historical Society, said she was honored to be a part of the effort. She was there along with her daughter, Carrie.
Also on hand was Morgan Forness, whose late father, Palmer, made it one of his lifetime goals to see the home restored as he had an "incurable feeling of attachment" to the city's first home.
The former firefighter not only researched the history of the home but also fought hard to keep it from being demolished, his son said.
After the Hectors moved out, it became a rental unit and later fell into disrepair.
"Several times in the 1950s and 1960s, it came close to being torn down," said Forness. At that time, it was on 23rd Street South in Fargo and had gone through numerous owners.
Palmer Forness eventually was able to get the Fargo-Moorhead Area Association of Realtors to purchase the home in 1974 from Frank and Clista Miller, who had owned the home for several years and ironically also were in the grocery business like the Hectors running Belmont Grocery on 13th Avenue South. The Millers' son, Richard, and his family lived in an apartment on the back of the home, he said in a phone interview. He recalled the home had red velvet wallpaper and red carpet.
The Forness family helped prepare the home for the move to West Fargo at Bonanzaville, where it was one of the first structures on the 5-acre pioneer village site.
Palmer Forness and his family, which included five boys, spent years starting in the 1970s working on the the initial restoration of the home, including removing the siding to expose the logs and other upkeep.
Over the years, former Bonanzaville Executive Director Brenda Warren said it was one of her priorities to restore the home, and she was finally able to get the state grant.
She said Palmer Forness, who was a member of the Cass County Historical Society that oversees Bonanzaville, was able to visit the home one last time before his death, and it was an "emotional visit" for him.
Finally, with the Hector donation and the grant, Bonanzaville hired Blake Kobiela and his brother, Brooks, to jack up the home and replace numerous logs, including the crumbling foundation of rotting logs, using the same white oak that makes up the rest of the home.
Dan Lueck helped with the project, who the Kobielas said started last August, spending 16 weekends in northern Minnesota finding and chopping down the white oak needed for the project.
The logs were then cut and formed, bringing Fargo's first home back to its original glory.
"My father would have been so honored to see this day," Morgan Forness said, adding he hoped it could withstand another 150 years.