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Patterson fought for liquor in his North Dakota hotels

Aside from the Capitol, most political decisions affecting North Dakota from 1895 through World War II were made in Bismarck hotels owned and operated by Ed Patterson.

Aside from the Capitol, most political decisions affecting North Dakota from 1895 through World War II were made in Bismarck hotels owned and operated by Ed Patterson.

The fact that Patterson was a chief lieutenant of political boss Alexander McKenzie may have had a tremendous impact on many important decisions affecting the state.

Patterson was born Dec. 10, 1864, to A.L. Patterson and Francis W. Reed in Cleveland, Ohio. He arrived in Bismarck in 1882 as a boxer when McKenzie was sheriff.

Patterson moved to Butte, Mont. He returned to Bismarck the following year and starting working at the Sheridan House, one of the finer hotels west of Minneapolis.

The Sheridan was owned by Eber H. Bly and had a national reputation. Col. George Custer, after arriving at Fort Abraham Lincoln, had his first formal dinner there. Other notable patrons included Theodore Roosevelt, Marquis de Mores, President Grant, Gen. Phil Sheridan and Sitting Bull.


Patterson became the hotel's barber and soon made the acquaintance of some of the most powerful men in the territory. One of those who took a liking to the young barber was McKenzie.

In 1888, Patterson married Agatha G. Slattery. She moved from Wabasha, Minn., with her family in 1882, after her father opened a dry goods business in Bismarck. She died on Nov. 9, 1923. Three days later, all of the businesses closed their doors for the day to honor her.

Patterson was elected to the Bismarck City Council in 1890. Bly decided to sell the Sheridan in 1893 because of failing health. Patterson and Bismarck attorney Edwin S. Allen leased the Sheridan on Sept. 1. The next year, Allen was elected state's attorney and sold his half of the interest to Patterson.

Patterson immediately began to modernize the hotel by taking out the 165 lignite stoves that heated the structure and installing a steam plant.

North Dakota came into the union as a dry state in 1889, but many of Patterson's guests wanted a drink.

Patterson's solution was to run for mayor with a platform of licensing liquor sales to certain establishments "under strict control." These establishments would pay $3,000 a year, with the revenue being used to pay for city administration. In 1896, Patterson was elected mayor of Bismarck.

In 1900, the hotel property was sold to the Northern Pacific to make room for a depot. The railroad also paid Patterson $60,000 to move the structure to Main and Fifth. After the hotel was moved, Patterson changed the name to the Northwest. Patterson in 1906 built a bigger four-story structure, which he named the Soo Hotel.

Patterson completed construction of a seven-story hotel on Jan. 1, 1911. He named it the McKenzie Hotel, and it was the tallest building in the state for a number of years. It had 250 rooms. In 1923, he changed the name to the Patterson Hotel and added three more stories.


Meanwhile, Patterson continued his fight to have liquor, gambling and ladies available to his important guests. His most serious challenge was on Feb. 6, 1903, when Burleigh County Sheriff George A. Welch ordered a raid on Patterson's Northwest Hotel. They found 133 cases of beer.

Patterson was tried in Burleigh County Court and found guilty of violating the state's Prohibition statutes. The case was appealed to the North Dakota Supreme Court, and the ruling was overturned. The state's high court stated that it was an illegal search warrant because the grounds for obtaining it were based on "pure hearsay."

In May 1907, Patterson was again charged with violating the state's Prohibition law in a complaint filed by the North Dakota Temperance Commission. The state Supreme Court ruled that the commission could not issue formal charges because it was appointed or elected.

When the Legislature was in session, many of the lawmakers stayed at hotels owned and operated by Patterson, who lived in a suite with his wife in the hotel. After the 1908 election, McKenzie's power was on the decline, as was Patterson's, who was defeated in his

re-election for mayor by

Dr. F.R. Smyth, a Democrat.

In 1921, the Nonpartisan League began a seven-year stay at the McKenzie/

Patterson Hotel, making the ballroom their headquarters. The Capitol building burned down on Dec. 28, 1930, and many state offices were relocated to the Patterson.


Patterson died in his hotel apartment on Nov. 15, 1945. Over the years, the building fell into disrepair and was condemned in 1980. Efforts were made to restore major portions of the structure. Today it houses the Peacock Alley restaurant and bar, the Dakota Stage Ltd. community theater and the Shade Tree Players children's theater.

"Did You Know That" is a Sunday column that focuses on interesting people, places and events that had an impact on North Dakota, or even the country. It is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at cjeriksmoen@cableone.net . Patterson fought for liquor in his North Dakota hotels Curtis Eriksmoen 20071014

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