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History for sale: Longtime owners of Fargo pioneer home ready for new chapter

Roger and Margaret Nelson are selling their historic home on 8th Street that was built in 1883. David Samson / The Forum1 / 8
Despite all the changes to the interior of the home over the years, the exterior has remained relatively unchanged. David Samson / The Forum2 / 8
Upon entering the home, guests are greeted by one of the original fireplaces. David Samson / The Forum3 / 8
The original banister was restored when Roger and Margaret Nelson purchased the home in 1987. David Samson / The Forum4 / 8
A detail of one of the fireplaces in the home of Roger and Margaret Nelson in Fargo. Forum file photo5 / 8
An old gas lamp has been converted to electric in the home of Roger and Margaret Nelson in Fargo. Forum file photo6 / 8
The thickness of the walls can be seen by looking at the window frames in the home of Roger and Margaret Nelson in Fargo. Forum file photo7 / 8
A side door leads to a porch at the home of Roger and Margaret Nelson in Fargo. Forum file photo8 / 8

FARGO — To some people, the home at 611 Eighth St. S. here is the Charles and Matilda Roberts home.

To others, it's the former sanitarium.

To others still, it's the 30-year-old home of Roger and Margaret Nelson.

All are true.

That type of storied history is what happens when a home has been an integral aspect of the city's footprint since 1883.

That's when Matilda Roberts drew up the plans for her grand home and watched it come to life, brick by yellow brick.

More than a century would pass before the Nelsons came along and saw the potential that existed under the layers of paint and remodels. They spent six years returning the home to its former state of grandeur.

Now that impeccable piece of Fargo history is for sale as the Nelsons eye the next chapter of their lives.

Taking on the project

In 1987, Roger and Margaret Nelson had three young children and were living in what was, at the time, one of the newest neighborhoods in Fargo. Yet they were intrigued by the beautiful Victorian home on historic Eighth Street, so they decided to buy it.

"We all had our doubts after we took on this project," says Roger Nelson, a certified public accountant, while relaxing in the stately living room of his nearly 10,000-square-foot home. They remodeled one floor at a time, and six years later, the home was no longer a multi-family apartment complex made of 14 living units but a restored single-family home.

The Nelsons purchased the home from the Andrew and Christina Haibeck family estate, which had owned the home since 1948. They restored what original aspects they could — like decorative panels beneath all the windows and the fireplace grate — and replicated others where it made sense, like the corners of the door trim that feature a floral design. They say they also lucked out on a few things too, like finding the rest of the original stair railing in the garage or locating a door similar to the original entrance at an architectural salvage store in Chicago. While they did cut down on some parlor space to create a larger kitchen, they installed new pocket doors where the originals were.

The end result is a gorgeous historical home that Matilda Roberts would no doubt be proud of. In fact, descendants of the home's original owners as well as members of the other families that have owned the home have seen the work — and hard work it was — the Nelsons have done and they're impressed.

The coal grate is original as is tile floor in front of one of the fireplaces in the home. Forum file photo

Ready for a new chapter

After more than 30 years in the home, the Nelsons, who are both in their 70s, have decided it's time to move to a smaller home. But that doesn't make it easy to leave.

"I'll miss the comfort of the house," Margaret Nelson says. "I really like this house; it's been home for 30 years."

She laughs at the prospect of having to downsize, noting that many furnishings could remain with the home.

The Nelsons hope a buyer will see the home's many great qualities — its proximity to downtown, the safe neighborhood, lots of young families, amenities like Island Park, the softball hill, tennis courts, etc. that are nearby — and not focus on the age of the home.

"I'm not sure if people don't appreciate the quality or don't notice it, but there won't be any surprises in these walls," Roger says. He would know — he made sure all the wiring and plumbing met code when he did it all those years ago.

"It's not very often you have an 1883 home with 2017 technology ... Everything was done the way it should have been done." He says a new owner would simply need to keep up with routine home maintenance rather than take on major updating projects.

This isn't the first time the Nelsons have tried to sell their home. They first listed it in 2003 and again in 2013. They're not sure why the home hasn't sold.

"I think sometimes the history scares people," Margaret Nelson says. "They think there's some sort of responsibility that comes with it."

She hopes a family who wants to be in the downtown area and close to nearby amenities will buy it so their kids can enjoy everything the neighborhood has to offer.

"Our oldest was in junior high when we moved here, and all the kids' friends loved to come to this area to play," she recalls.

"It's a very comfortable house to live in," Roger Nelson chimes in.

Matilda and Charles Roberts were the original owners of the home at 611 8th St. S. in Fargo. Forum file photos

History 135 years in the making

1868: Charles and Matilda Roberts married in Minneapolis. Their son, William, was born shortly after. They came to Fargo in 1871 and lived in a tent for a while, but eventually moved into a barn on 18th Street, where their second son was born. A third son was born in 1873.

1883: After living in a two-room home for several years, Matilda Roberts drew up plans for the enormous home on Eighth Street. She and her three sons lathed the entire home themselves while Charles was away building a hotel.

1904: The Roberts family moved to Minneapolis for Charles' job and so Matilda could take care of her aging parents. She disposed of all the furniture and rented the home as a sanitarium. Homesick for North Dakota, the Roberts family returned to Fargo but couldn't afford to keep the home. Matilda and Charles moved a home from a property on Ninth Street to their land on 18th Street, according to a Feb. 22, 1930, Forum article.

1910: The Robertses sold the home, and it became the Neal Institute, an alcohol treatment center. The Neal Institute was founded in 1892 in Iowa and franchised in as many as 63 cities; the facility famously offered a three-day drinking habit cure.

1920: The home was broken into 14 apartments.

1925: Charles Roberts died, and Matilda moved in with her son, Willie. The home on Eighth Street was known as the Richvale apartments.

1926: Dr. Guy Stone arrived in Fargo and opened Stone Sanitarium at the former Charles and Matilda Roberts home, according to a May 24, 2014, Forum article.

1934: Matilda Roberts died at the age of 90.

1947: Andrew Haibeck bought the house and remodeled it into an apartment complex.

1983: The home is placed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with other historic homes in the neighborhood.

1987: Roger and Margaret Nelson bought the home from the Christina S. Haibeck estate, according to a June 27, 1992, Forum article, and began remodeling it.

1992: The Nelsons completed renovating the home back into a single family dwelling.

Danielle Teigen

Danielle Teigen is from South Dakota, but she headed north to attend North Dakota State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication. She worked for Forum Communications first in 2007 as an intern and part-time reporter. Later, she served as editor for two local magazines before switching gears for marketing and public relations roles for an engineering firm and the chamber of commerce.  She returned to Forum Communications in May 2015 as a digital content manager and is currently the Deputy Editor.  She is originally from Turton, S.D., and is the author of "Hidden History of Fargo".

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