Downtown Grand Forks Walking Tour
A walking tour of historic downtown Grand Forks.
This statue at the courthouse was dedicated in 2001 and honors Alexander Griggs, an early settler who is considered by many to be the founder of Grand Forks. Griggs filed the first land plat for the original townsite of the community in 1875. A steamboat captain and builder, Griggs played an integral part of the growth of the city during the steamboat era of Grand Forks. Griggs learned his navigational skills as a hand working aboard ships that traveled along the Mississippi River and he became an established pilot by the age of nineteen. Partnering with railroad magnate, James J. Hill, Griggs established a steamboat business on the Red River and built the Selkirk in 1871. After establishing the original town plat, Griggs vigorously promoted the early development of Grand Forks. He established the Second National Bank and the the local gas works among other enterprises such as the Grand Forks Roller Mill, the first brick city block of buildings, and the Griggs House hotel. Griggs was the city’s third postmaster and was politically active, serving on the City Council, the Board of County Commissioners, the Railroad Commission, and the first state constitutional convention. He also served as the mayor of Gran Forks from 1888 to 1889. He left Grand Forks shortly after that time and established another steamship line in 1893, the Columbia and Okanogan Steamboat Company. This line was based out of Wenatchee, Washington, and this was the location where Griggs died on January 25, 1903.
The Metropolitan Opera House (or The Met) is located in the downtown area of Grand Forks. The building, constructed in 1890, faces the Red River of the North and sits between the BNSF Railway tracks and a parking structure. At one time, the Opera House was considered the best opera house between Minneapolis and Seattle. Today, the building has been converted into an apartment building called the Opera House Lofts
On this spot once stood the New Hampshire Apartments, a complex destroyed by the 1997 Red River Flood and subsequent fire. Designed by New Jersey architect, Joseph Bell DeRemer and constructed by the Canadian Dinnie Brothers, who owned a businesses in Grand Forks. Opened in 1904, the complex was used until its demise in 1997. A marker sits where the apartments once stood.
On October 23, 1882, an African American man named Charles Thurber was accused of committing sexual assault in a rural area nearly thirty miles south of Grand Forks, Dakota Territory. He evaded capture by local authorities until that night, when he was then brought to the Grand Forks County jail. The next morning, a mob of white residents from Grand Forks and the surrounding area stormed the building, sprung Thurber from the jail cell, and brought him to the Grand Forks Rail Bridge that spanned the Red River. A little past 4:00 PM October 24, 1882, the mob wrapped a noose around Thurber's neck, attached to the bridge, and pushed him off. No individuals were indicted in the murder.
Following six snow storms and blizzards hitting this part of the country throughout the 1996-1997 winter, then followed up with extreme high temperatures in April and May of 1997, the Red River flooded, cresting up to over 54 feet in height, and devastated a few miles inland of the city. This 100-year flood cost millions in damage and destroyed most of Grand Forks's historic structures that were located near the river. Dikes and flood walls were soon established in preparation for future flooding, some constructed where the city's oldest buildings once stood. The flood and subsequent fire not only affected Grand Forks, but also northern and eastern North Dakota, some of western Minnesota, and lower halves of the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Originally home to the Scandinavian-American Bank, this 1915 structure was one of the largest in Grand Forks at the time. Over 2 decades later the building changed hands to the First National Bank and was still connected with that bank until 2000. Now it is home to Alerus Financial. During the 1997 Red River flood, this building was almost destroyed by the waters and subsequent fire. However, it was one of a handful not selected for demolition (and the only one in its block). From the outside is appears the same as it did when first constructed.
Constructed during the "building boom" that took place in Grand Forks during the 1890s and early 1900s, this building was a replacement for a previous telephone company building. Built in 1904, this larger building was able to be more suffiencent in its accessibility and containment of its equipment, since the previous building was too small. Being to small the large telephone pole and wires stuck out in the skyline like a sore thumb.
The Ronald N. Davies Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a historic post office and federal office building located at Grand Forks in Grand Forks County, North Dakota, United States. It is a courthouse for the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota. Also and historically known as U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places under that name. This 1905 building has been remodeled and expanded many times during its over 100 year history. Although suffering damage from the 1997 Red River flood, it survived enough to not have to be demolished. The building is named after Judge Ronald Davies. He was instrumental in 1957 in essentially overriding the decisions by Pulaski County's (Arkansas) Court by nullifying their injunctions and demanding the Little Rock School Board integrate their schools.
Serving Grand Forks since 1879, the Grand Forks Herald is both one of the oldest papers in North Dakota and the state's second largest circulation. Beyond the city of Grand Forks, the paper also serves northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Although the paper's headquarters was destroyed by the 1997 flood and fire, the paper still won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage of the same flood and fire. The building was rebuilt, this time with a clock tower and symbols dealing with the flood.
What was once the first Fire Department in Grand Forks North Dakota is now a theater. It was built in 1905 and acted as headquarters when the second fire department was built and occupied in 1908. The fire department was then bought by the Greater Grand Forks Community Theatre in 1982 and produced its first show Dracula in 1983 after some remodeling. The theater is rumored to be haunted.
Designed by Thomas B. Wells and built by Andrew T. Skarsbo in the late 1920s, the Skarsbo Apartments give modern people a glimpse into the life of pre-Great Depression Grand Forks. Between the years of 1920 and 1925, the population of Grand Forks rose by 5,000 making a need for housing apparent. By being one of the few still standing of the classical revival style of most downtown Grand Forks buildings, the still liveable apartment building is a great example of the housing shortage and cultural lifestyle in 1928. Looking into the Skarsbo Apartments is the same as looking at a time capsule.
This landmark movie theater turned multipurpose arts center in the heart of Grand Forks has been a local cultural institution for a century. Originally constructed in 1919, this theater showed movies each year until 1995, before a brief hiatus that ended with the theater’s transition to the home of a multifaceted arts organization. After the 1997 Red River Flood and the subsequent fires that devastated downtown, the Empire became a point of unification for the community. Today, the Empire Arts Center offers a variety of venues and events.
Located in the southwestern corner of Grand Forks's historic downtown, this building was constructed in 1888 and was home to many civic organizations in addition to the Odd Fellows fraternal order. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is home to the Urban Stampede coffee shop, but most of the building has not been restored. The building was home to the Odd Fellows as well as the Daughters of Rebekah, the lodges of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Knights of the Maccabees, the Order of Foresters, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Royal Arcanum. When not used by these civic organizations, the building was also used to host civic and social events during the 19th century. This 1888 structure survived the 1997 Red River flood and fire with only minimal damage.