FARGO — With just days remaining before the opening of downtown Fargo’s newest hotel, we’ve learned a few things.
The Jasper Hotel plans to celebrate the “heritage and spirit” of the old Fargo with historic nods everywhere you turn — a ballroom named for a hotel that came before and a boardroom for the railroad that never went away. Even the restaurant, Rosewild, promises a celebration of the Dakota Prairie with a little of the Nordic flavor the first settlers here would have loved.
But there is one thing many people who have been following the construction of this hotel in the RDO Building might not know. Why is the hotel named Jasper Hotel? Who or what was Jasper?
It turns out the hotel is named for a fascinating, influential character from Fargo’s past. In fact, Jasper Chapin has been called the “Father of Fargo.” Here are five things you should know about him.
He was a 'boomer' and a 'booster'
Chapin was born in New York, but made his way to the Red River Valley in 1871 and never looked back. He saw the expansion of the Northern Pacific railroad here and the potential for the future. An early Fargo newspaper called him “the original Fargo boomer.” According to W.F. Cushing, the city editor of The Fargo Republican and The Fargo Argus, Chapin bought land near Second Avenue and divided it up into smaller lots of land. He envisioned great prosperity and growth in Fargo, even before it was a city or North Dakota was a state.
“The word ‘boom’ found its origin with this very gentleman, and has always been applied to him and Fargo.”
- Early Fargo newspaper describing Jasper Chapin's role in growing the city.
Cushing wrote, “One of the greatest boosters Dakota Territory ever had was Jasper (J.B.) Chapin of Fargo. I don’t know when he came here or where he came from but it must have been from a place where real men are made.”
He is almost solely responsible for developing much of the property near where the Jasper Hotel sits now. He built some of the earliest downtown Fargo blocks, including the Continental Hotel and the Opera House, also known as Chapin Hall.
He served two years as Fargo's mayor at a time when Fargo was experiencing its initial boom. A later story from The Fargo Forum stated, “The word ‘boom’ found its origin with this very gentleman, and has always been applied to him and Fargo.”
He was a hotelier at heart
While Chapin spent his earliest days in Fargo-Moorhead farming and working on growing the wheat industry in the area, his heart belonged in hospitality. When he first got to the area in 1871, he set up a tent hotel and saloon business in Moorhead. It was said he catered to “reckless characters" there, but he seemingly loved every minute of it.
He built an impressive dining room in the tent hotel, where he’d hold sumptuous dinner parties. He was starting to develop a reputation for being a master of making everyone feel comfortable. Tanner Tweten, Jasper Hotel's director of lifestyle, says they took note of Chapin’s welcoming philosophy.
“We’ve infused Jasper Hotel with that same spirit, and hopefully created a meeting place to bring a fresh energy along with traditions to downtown Fargo," Tweten says.
Two years later, in 1873, Chapin moved to Fargo to take over the Headquarters Hotel, which was the epicenter of the railroad business in town, serving the thousands of people — settlers, speculators and salesmen — moving to the frontier for new possibilities.
By 1880, he opened his own hotel, The Continental, at 303 Broadway, just down the block from the Jasper Hotel between Sammy’s Pizza and The Toasted Frog, where a bridal shop is now. The Continental became known for its elegant artwork, exotic flowers and large, airy rooms.
He was a blunt talker with a heart of gold
Even Chapin’s most ardent supporters say he was a bit of a diamond in the rough, a blunt talker who said it like it was and wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, particularly among some of Fargo’s most pious citizens.
He is credited with financing the first church building in town, but as The Daily Argus wrote, “he has never been accused of crossing its threshold since.” Even though he didn’t attend church, Chapin appeared to live the golden rule. Early settlers told the newspaper once he was your friend, he was your friend for life.
And he was the first to reach out to people in need. For example, the newspaper told the story of “a weary, foreign farm hand,” who came into town late one night and came into the hotel. He told Chapin he expected to be paid the next morning for wheat he brought into town, but he was tired and hungry. Chapin is said to have given him a silver dollar and said, “Go get a warm supper, with oysters.”
He had style
Chapin was said to drive around town in “a wagon led by a team of gray horses,” but his personal style is what really caught everyone’s eye. When he was a young man, he wasn’t one to wear a collar or a tie. But, the story goes, one day a colleague brought him a red necktie and dared him to wear it. Given Chapin’s personality, daring him to do anything was a guarantee that he’d do it.
From that day on, he wore the red necktie. The Daily Argus described Chapin this way when he attended a ball at the hotel: “He was a gay dog as he mingled with the ladies with his red necktie and sporting a gold-headed cane.”
His red necktie became so synonymous with the hotel that The Continental became known as the “Red Necktie Hotel.” He responded by painting a red band around the second floor of the hotel. The red necktie lives on today with the Jasper Hotel’s bow tie logo.
The second story of guest rooms on the 10th floor features red finishes in the guest corridor in Chapin’s honor. And Tweten says there’s more.
“We also installed a really cool tent feature on the dining room ceiling, which harkens back to Chapin’s early days running a hospitality tent in Moorhead. As another nod to Jasper’s era, there are hanging beams in the lobby lounge, meant to represent railroad ties, with the railroads being an important part of his life.”
His legacy lives on
After a colorful and charismatic life, Chapin had a sad ending. By 1883, he had lost much of his wealth to a downturn in the economy. On top of that, his beloved wife, Emma, died. Chapin became depressed and his health started to fail. He attempted suicide in Grand Forks in the fall of 1895. His friends tried to take him under their wing and bring him back to health. But he died by suicide in St. Paul in 1896.
Long before his death, Chapin said that he wanted a band playing a lively tune at his funeral with a few of “the old boys” gathering around to tell the stories of his good deeds. According to newspaper reports, “the old boys” obliged, except they said they couldn’t get a band, so they had an orchestra.
While Chapin would have probably appreciated his sendoff in 1896, the man who called himself “first, last and always a Fargo man” would undoubtedly get a huge kick out of seeing the hotel named after him open in 2021.
“I think it’s important to remember the valuable contributions he made to our community — in hospitality, infrastructure and more," Tweten says. “Over 100 years later, here we are celebrating an exciting opening of a hotel named after him on the same block where he started his first hotel, the Continental Hotel. We hope he’d be proud of that.”