MOORHEAD — For many Americans today, Thanksgiving means eating your weight in turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, followed by a little football-watching and a nap on the couch.
But in Moorhead in 1881, Thanksgiving was far more glamorous and exciting. On Nov. 24, 1881 — Thanksgiving Day — The Grand Pacific, the first luxury hotel in Fargo-Moorhead, opened its doors.
The Grand Pacific Hotel was located on the corner of Center Avenue and Ninth Street, in the neighborhood where Mick’s Office, Taco John’s and a couple of dog grooming businesses are now.
The opening of the hotel was a huge deal for the tiny town of Moorhead which, according to U.S. Census estimates, only had a population of 1,500 people in 1880.
According to “A Century Together: A History of Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota,” a book written during the 1975 Centennial of the two cities, the three-story hotel was built for $200,000 by Moorhead businessman Henry A. Bruns and had “140 bedrooms, 12 of which had a private parlor and bath, were spacious, and each was connected with the office by electric annunciator.”
The hotel also had spacious hallways, a large and airy main lobby and a newsstand complete with newspapers, magazines, cigars and stereoscopic viewers.
Just three days before the hotel opening, a reporter for “The Fargo Sunday Argus” newspaper wrote of the hotel:
“The Grand Pacific Hotel in Moorhead is incomparably the finest house in all the northwestern states and territories. It is the most magnificent hotel in its architecture, its furniture and all its appointments, this side of Chicago with perhaps the single exception of the Plankinton house in Milwaukee. The Nicollet in Minneapolis and the Merchants in St. Paul become rather dingy village taverns beside it.”
The ornate furniture and décor of the Grand Pacific made it the perfect gathering place for Fargo-Moorhead society. According to “A Century Together,” it likely hosted the first-ever charity ball in Moorhead.
In 1881, the Ladies General Benevolent Society put on the hugely successful charity dinner dance. The 300 people in attendance paid $5 to dine in the lobby surrounding the centerpiece fountain. One early menu included oysters, fresh mackerel-a-la-maitre-d’hotel, chicken with egg sauce, tongue with tomato sauce, ham with champagne sauce and venison with currant jelly.
Meals also included various potatoes and vegetables and were topped off with desserts including pies, cakes, ice cream, cheese, fruit, ladyfingers and greengage (tiny plums) pudding with wine sauce.
But the decadence wouldn’t last long. Just a couple of years after the hotel was built, Fargo-Moorhead suffered a business slump.
In a story about the hotel’s demise, written many years later, Forum reporter John Maher wrote of the builder Bruns, “He built too much hotel, perhaps relying on indefinite promises from the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba, later the Great Northern Railway, to establish shops and division headquarters in Moorhead.”
Bruns eventually sold the hotel to James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway. After holding onto it for a few years, Hill offered to sell the hotel to the city of Moorhead for $15,000, but the offer was rejected and Hill had the hotel torn down in 1896.
But remnants of it lived on. W.H. Davy (for whom Moorhead’s W.H. Davy Park is named) bought the fountain from the lobby and had it placed in the front yard of his home at 222 Second St. N. Some furniture stayed in Fargo-Moorhead, while other materials found their way to other hotels in Minot and farther west.