Red River steamboat captain built the first large hotel in North Dakota
"Did You Know That" columnist Curt Eriksmoen explains why Hugh Maloney opened the Mansard House in 1878 in Grand Forks.
During the 1870s, steamboat activity on the Red River was at an all-time high, and one company, the Red River Transportation Company (RRTC), which was founded by James J. Hill and Norman Kittson in 1870, had a monopoly of this bustling enterprise.
The primary pilots for the RRTC were Alexander Griggs and Hugh Maloney, who, during the months when the river was not frozen, made regular steamboat trips to and from the rapidly growing community of Winnipeg/Fort Garry in Manitoba, Canada. Steamboats on the Red River became the major supplier of goods needed by the people and businesses in Winnipeg.
However, this changed when the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad first arrived in Winnipeg on Dec. 3, 1878. “The railroad, a much faster means of transportation, brought an end to the steamboat era.” Griggs and Maloney had anticipated that this day would come, and in the mid-1870s, they began preparing themselves by getting involved in business ventures that would provide a steady income once the shipping orders began to dwindle.
Griggs founded the town of Grand Forks in 1875 and involved himself in a number of new business opportunities, and Maloney began building a hotel in Grand Forks in 1874, which he completed in 1878. Griggs was later elected mayor of Grand Forks, and Maloney was appointed city marshal. Both men continued to operate steamboats into the 1880s, but neither used steamboat operations as their sole source of income.
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Hugh Edward Malowney was born Aug. 25, 1843, “near Montreal,” in Canada, to William and Mary Ann Catherine (Hicks) Malowney. The Malowneys had 13 children, and William’s occupation as a laborer did not provide enough income to support such a large family. It has been reported that Huge came to the United States when he was 9, likely under the supervision of another family member. His parents and other siblings remained in Canada.
The first public document that I could find of Hugh’s home in the U.S. was from a homestead filing dated May 3, 1859, for 160 acres in Fillmore County, in the southeastern tip of Minnesota. By that time, Hugh had changed the spelling of his last name to Maloney.
There is an indication that Hugh may have lived in Colorado for awhile. A person interested in the Malowney family noted the existence of a picture of Hugh with his father and three brothers, but someone in the family cut Hugh out of the photo. The writer implied that the person who excised Hugh’s image from the picture considered him a “disgrace (because of) booze running in Colorado.”
In the mid-1860s, Hugh moved to the upper Keweenaw Peninsula, in Michigan, where he piloted ships on Lake Superior. On July 12, 1867, he married Mary Smith in Hancock, Mich., and a year later, the couple relocated to Reads Landing, Minn., where Hugh began piloting steamboats on the Mississippi River.
During the 1860s, railroads began to crisscross Minnesota, hauling much of the cargo that had previously been transported by steamboats. By 1870, Hugh had lost much of his business, and according to the 1870 census, he listed “saloon keeper” as his major occupation.
Meanwhile, the RRTC was formed in 1870, and Alexander Griggs, a good friend of Kittson and Hill’s, was hired to pilot their steamboats on the Red River. Griggs initially established his headquarters/base of operation at Fort Abercrombie, but in June 1871, he moved it to McCauleyville, on the Minnesota side of the Red River. Then, the following year, Griggs relocated it to the newly formed village of Grand Forks.
In 1872, Kittson established a boatyard in Grand Forks, where he had workers build new boats for the RRTC. He then contacted Hugh to come and work with Griggs, primarily piloting boats from Grand Forks to Winnipeg and back. Hugh agreed to help when he could, but he was still under contract to pilot a steamboat up and down the Mississippi River.
Hugh found that the Red River presented new challenges since “it was shallow and muddy, and had sharp bends,” causing boats to get hung up in the shallow waters. However, he enjoyed working for Kittson, and in 1873, he “resigned the command of a Mississippi River steamer.” Kittson then assigned Hugh to go to Manitoba for three months and operate one of his steamboats on Lake Winnipeg.
In 1874, Hugh relocated his family from Reads Landing to Grand Forks, where he built his house, “the first frame building in Grand Forks,” and started construction on a hotel he called the Mansard House. The hotel was named Mansard because a section of the building had a sloped roof with large, dormer windows. For the next three years, whenever Hugh was not busy piloting a steamboat on the Red River, he could be found expanding his hotel.
Hugh completed his construction of the Mansard House in 1878, and it is considered “the first large hotel in (what is now) North Dakota.” A reviewer wrote, “The Mansard is a large and commodious house, well-kept, with good meals, and clean, neat bedrooms, and does a very large business.”
Since Winnipeg had rail service in 1878, riverboat excursions from Grand Forks nearly dried up, and Hugh spent the majority of his time running his new hotel. In 1880, a local police department was organized, and Hugh was appointed “the first marshal of Grand Forks.” In 1881, the town of Grand Forks was organized, and Hugh was elected to the city council.
Now that he was heavily involved in civic matters, Hugh hired Charles Ingalls to be the proprietor of the Mansard House. In June of 1884, Ingalls purchased the hotel and renamed it the Ingalls House.
In 1890, an abundance of iron ore was discovered in the Mesabi region of Minnesota that would accelerate the American industrial revolution, which was already in full swing. There was now a need for steamboat pilots to haul the iron ore from northern Minnesota to the industrial centers located along the Great Lakes. Hugh moved to Duluth to resume his career as a pilot, but the long, strenuous hours eventually took a toll on his health, and he returned to Grand Forks in 1893.
Hugh Edward Maloney died June 16, 1897.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.