Eriksmoen: U.S. marshal who lived in Fargo built an elegant mansion in Washington, D.C.
I find it interesting that during the 1880s, Fargo became the home of a number of former Civil War officers.
In Fargo, Henry Capehart was a doctor, Smith Stimmel and Charles Buttz were attorneys, Alanson Edwards and Pat Donan were newspapermen, and John Raymond was a prominent farmer. In 1882, another new resident joined these ranks when Harrison Allen moved to Fargo to serve as U.S. marshal.
During the Civil War, Allen led his soldiers in a number of notable battles, including Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, and when he was discharged, he was promoted to the rank of brevet brigadier general. Allen then returned to his home in Pennsylvania where he became active in politics, serving in the state legislature and as state auditor. In 1882, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Allen as U.S. marshal of Dakota Territory, and when North Dakota became a state in 1889, he became a leading candidate to become the state’s first governor.
Harrison Allen was born Dec. 4, 1835, on a farm in Warren County, in northwestern Pennsylvania, to Samuel and Mary (Thompson) Allen. He attended school in Russellburg, and after receiving his teaching certificate at the Jamestown (N.Y.) Academy in 1854, he taught school for two years at Farmington, in Warren County. Allen then attended the Randolph Academy from 1856-1857 and the Fredonia Academy from 1857-1858.
In the spring of 1859, Allen began studying law in the town of Warren under Judge Rasselas Brown, who was also the general of the 20th Division of the Pennsylvania volunteers. Allen joined Brown’s militia and served as his aide-de-camp with the rank of captain. After serving two months, Allen made a long-term commitment and enlisted for three years.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Allen was ordered to report to Camp Wright, near Pittsburgh, for training. He then was transferred to Camp Wilkins, where he was assigned to the 10th Regiment under the command of Col. John S. McCalmont. On Dec. 20, 1861, Allen first experienced live combat in the village of Dranesville, in northern Virginia. On Feb. 14, 1862, he was promoted to major and soon became involved in frequent battles.
Following the Battle of Fredericksburg in mid-December, Allen came down with typhoid fever and spent 30 days recuperating in Washington, D.C. After taking part in the battles at Gettysburg, Union Mills, Belle Plain and Williamsport, Allen was mustered out of the Union Army and received a brevet promotion to brigadier general on March 13, 1865.
Allen returned to Warren to complete his legal studies, serve as clerk for the state supreme court and pursue a law practice. He became very active in Republican politics and was elected to the Pennsylvania state House in 1866 and the state Senate in 1870. He was elected auditor general in 1872.
In 1880, Allen “led national campaign efforts for James Garfield” in the presidential election. Garfield was elected, and with the opportunity to fill the position of U.S. marshal of Dakota Territory with a Republican, he appointed Butler B. Strang, the president of the Pennsylvania state Senate. Strang had hoped for a judicial appointment, but he settled for the marshal position. On March 9, 1882, after serving only a short time, Strang resigned because he “found the official duties uncongenial,” and Allen was later named as his replacement.
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When Allen arrived in Dakota Territory in August, he was not certain what city he would use as the base of his operation. Allen told the press at the time he was sworn into office, on Aug. 24, that “he expects to make Yankton his home, though he will first make a tour of the domain (Dakota Territory) before settling down to the labors of his position.”
While Strang was marshal, he lived in Yankton. John Raymond had been marshal from 1877 until 1881 when he was replaced by Strang. Raymond originally chose Yankton as the base of his operation. However, because it was located in the extreme southeastern corner of the territory, he moved to Fargo in 1879, a location more centrally located. Raymond resumed the office of marshal after Strang’s resignation, and he was actually the officeholder that Allen was replacing.
When Allen made his decision about where to live, he also chose Fargo. Allen served as marshal until 1886, when he was replaced by Daniel Marriatta. Opinions varied as to the quality and efficiency of Allen’s work. The Fargo Daily Sun reported, “Perhaps there is no person in Dakota more widely known and more justly popular than General Harrison Allen,” whereas a national reporter wrote, “he (Allen) remained active in Republican politics while pursuing stage coach robbers and horse thieves.”
The ambitious Allen tried, on multiple occasions, to ascend to a higher position. In 1886, he unsuccessfully attempted to unseat Oscar Gifford, the Dakota delegate to Congress. In 1889, he ran to become the first governor of North Dakota, but was defeated by John Miller. Allen then tried to get elected to one of the two original U.S. Senate seats, but was outpolled by both Gilbert Pierce and Lyman Casey.
During Allen’s time as marshal, the legal matter that attracted the greatest national attention involved his close association with Nehemiah Ordway, governor of Dakota Territory. In 1884, Ordway was accused of taking bribes from people wanting to get appointed as county commissioners, and Allen was rumored to have helped facilitate Ordway’s actions. When the accusations against Ordway were supported by evidence, the governor was removed from office, but no action was ever taken against Allen.
When Allen’s political ambitions failed in Dakota Territory and later in North Dakota, he accepted the position of deputy auditor in the U.S. Post Office Department in Washington, D.C., in 1901. While in Washington, Allen noticed that “the most fashionable addresses were on K Street," so he had a large, elegant Victorian mansion built as his new home on the northeast corner of 11th and K Street. It was a four-story, brick building with a five-story rectangular tower in the center.
On Sept. 23, 1904, Allen suffered a heart attack and died, and he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In recent years, Allen has returned to the news in Washington because of the status of his former mansion. In 2003, the mansion was purchased by Doug Jernal, who, three months later, received permission from the city to use it as a billboard.
Jernal wrapped the building on two sides with a massive mural that was 75 feet long and 30 feet high, and he discontinued any upkeep on the structure. Meanwhile, all restoration on the mansion ceased, and for the past 16 years, it has deteriorated, losing much of the elegance it once held.
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at email@example.com.