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1899-1928: Phoenix: Bismarck’s Rebirth

By | Last Modified: November 14, 2019

The 1898 Fire left much of Bismarck in ruin and forced the city to rebuild, propelling Bismarck into a modern city. Stricter fire codes were enacted. Buildings made of brick and concrete replaced the charred wooden frontier structures. In response, many of these new buildings were labeled as “fire proof.”

Former Northern Pacific Train Depot, completed in 1901

Among the most notable structures to be replaced was the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot. The new depot was completed in 1901 at a cost of $33,601. Unique to the region, the depot sports Spanish Mission Revival architecture, designed by the St. Paul firm of Charles Reed and Alan Stem. Also noteworthy, it was one of the first local structures with concrete structural walls. The original Northern Pacific emblems are still visible to this day.

Building the new depot forced the relocation of Edward Patterson’s Sheridan House Hotel – one of the few downtown buildings to survive the fire, which was renamed the Northwest Hotel upon relocating across the street.

A.W. Lucas Established; Webb Brothers Expands

Arthur Lucas and William O’Hara opened a clothing and dry goods store in 1899, becoming the first true competition for Webb Brothers, who actually welcomed the added competition and even provided capital to fund Lucas and O’Hara’s business venture. Lucas and O’Hara’s partnership didn’t last long, with Lucas purchasing full ownership of the company in 1902. The A.W. Lucas store remains a downtown fixture, at one time encompassing four different buildings, until relocating to Gateway Mall in 1979 before shuttering in 1982.

Webb Brothers finished construction of a brand new building in 1900, replacing its original store destroyed by an unrelated fire. It remained in that building until closing in December 1945, when it was replaced by Sears.


Several big developments occurred in 1902. Doctors Quain and Ramstad opened the clinic that was later reorganized to become Bismarck Evangelical Hospital in 1907, officially opening in 1909, the precursor to Medcenter One (now Sanford Health).

In July, Bismarck adopted a formal ordinance governing the designation of addresses. The ordinance was the result of establishing free postal delivery, expected to begin on September 1st of that year. While the ordinance has evolved over the years, it principally remains the foundation of street addresses to this today.

The system apparently caused mass confusion for years. It was up to each business and residence to determine and display their address. Many businesses and residents employed the incorrect number, as placed on their building and in the phone directory. Until at least 1907, the Tribune featured articles with detailed explanations of the system. Complicating matters, there were repeated attempts to change it until, at least, the 1910s. In fact, one commissioner in 1916 proposed the bold notion of renaming all of Bismarck’s streets – starting fresh.

In August of that year, the Soo Line reached Bismarck, complimenting Northern Pacific’s competing rail service.

Also that year, the first motion picture was shown locally at The Antheneum – a stage house erected in 1880. The show was put on by the traveling Beaty Brothers using 6 projectors.

1904: Streetcar

In 1904, a state-owned streetcar line was established connecting downtown with the Capitol. The line operates until February 28, 1931 in the aftermath of the original Capitol’s destruction.


Construction on the Will School commenced in 1905. The site, now home to the Provident Building, once housed the city’s first two-room schoolhouse. It was named for Oscar H. Will, a local entrepreneur. The school closed in December 1951 when it was replaced by present-day Will-Moore Elementary, but the building continued as office space until being demolished in 1954.

Bismarck’s last capital execution takes place at the penitentiary. The practice is outlawed in 1915.

Original superstructure of the Northern Pacific Railway bridge is replaced with steel that can handle heavier loads. The original granite piers, which still support the bridge to this day, were also shored up.


In 1906, the beginnings of the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce is founded as The Bismarck Commercial Club.

Soo and Grand Pacific Hotels

Two brand new hotels opened in 1906. Edward Patterson, who already owned the Northwest Hotel, completed the Soo Hotel. It was the tallest building in the city at the time. 1906 also saw the completion of the Grand Pacific Hotel, which replaced the Pacific Hotel that had operated on the site since July 1880.

Indian School

Bismarck Indian School is established in 1907 at the former site of Milwaukee Brewery, now Fraine Barracks… home of North Dakota’s National Guard. The school was approved by an act of Congress in 1901 and opens in 1908. It becomes an all-girls school in 1922 and closes in 1937.

First Municipal Park: Custer

Added with the completion of its new train depot in 1901, Northern Pacific Railway developed Depot Park as Bismarck’s first gathering greenspace.

Efforts to establish a city park came to a head in 1909, spearheaded by the Women’s Community Council, who beautified two vacant lots at the corner of 5th Street and Main Avenue. That same year, the Civic Improvement League – who previously coordinated with Northern Pacific Railway to embellish Depot Park – agreed to secure a plot of land for a permanent city park, dedicated as Custer Park.

Land was obtained in 1910 for $585, $100 of which donated by Colonel C.B. Little. It initially consisted of four acres between Washington Street and what was then called West Park Street (now West Custer Park Street), and Main to Rosser Avenues. A small lake was originally planned, but never implemented. 100 trees were donated by Oscar Will and planted that spring. In October, a landscape architect was hired to design a plan for the park. Over the next four years, more than one thousand dollars of improvements were made to the park, including 400 trees, 150 shrubs, water pipes, walking paths, and a retaining wall across Rosser Street.

By 1915, the city employed a caretaker for the park. Between 1915-1919, the city funded another $1,400 towards the park.

Today, Custer Park is most recognized for its Eagle Statue that was dedicated in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the United States Constitution.

The establishment of Custer Park was the start of what would eventually became Bismarck Parks and Recreation, which was formally established in 1927.


L.J. Anderson Building / Former International Harvester Company Warehouse

The Former International Harvester Company Warehouse was completed in 1911.

By 1910, Bismarck had grown to nearly 5,000 people and the city had fully recovered from the devastating fire just twelve years earlier.

The ensuing decade saw great prosperity, but also a major change in the political landscape as the McKenzie Machine falls from power and gives rise to the Nonpartisan League, which shifts the balance of power away from big business.

Opening the decade, the Sakakawea Statue is erected on the grounds of the State Capitol.

Civic Square Building

Civic Square Building

Two large warehouses were constructed in 1910: Bismarck Grocery Company on the southwest corner of Main Avenue and 6th Street (today known as the Civic Square building) and the International Harvester Company on the northwest corner of Mandan Street & Main Avenue (today known as the Anderson Building). It opened in March 1911. The International Harvester Company was a national manufacturing company specializing in agricultural machinery and construction equipment.

1911: McKenzie Hotel

Former Patterson Hotel / McKenzie Hotel

The Patterson/McKenzie Hotel opened New Year’s Day, 1911.

The prominent McKenzie Hotel (later renamed Patterson Hotel) opened on New Year’s Day, 1911. Developed by Edward Patterson and named for his close friend, political boss Alexander McKenzie, who will be explored in detail further on. The McKenzie was reputed to be the most luxurious hotel between Minneapolis and Seattle. Among other celebrities, the Patterson hosted four U.S. presidents.

Deemed North Dakota’s first skyscraper, its seven stories (eventually expanding to ten stories) towered as the city’s tallest building until completion of the current Capitol in 1934. It continued construction until the 1930s, allegedly to avoid paying property taxes.

Also significant, the McKenzie Hotel was one of the first buildings in North Dakota built with steel reinforced concrete. The hotel often advertised itself as “absolutely fire proof,” likely in response to the Fire of 1898. Upon opening, the hotel had 250 rooms and the most private baths of any building in the state.

For years, the McKenzie Hotel was known as the unofficial political headquarters of North Dakota; a hotbed for politicians and businessman. Both Alexander McKenzie and Edward Patterson were heavy influences in local politics, even housing state offices after the original Capitol’s destruction.

The McKenzie is notorious for its illicit activities, including illegal alcohol sales, gambling, and alleged prostitution. The hotel even installed an electronic alarm system to keep out “unwanted guests” from interfering with its affairs. Rumors exist that an underground tunnel once connected the hotel with the train depot, located across the street, to secretly smuggle contraband and guests.

New Fire and City Hall

Also in 1911, a new fire hall was constructed on Thayer Avenue. The building also housed city hall and police headquarters for several decades.

Marshall Oil warehouse

Marshall Oil Company of Marshall Town, Iowa commences construction of a 90×50-foot brick building on Third Street near Front Avenue in August. Sinclair Refining Company later acquired Marshall’s interests in the city, who continued operating out of the building. The building later houses Fargo Paper Company (known today as Cole Papers). It has housed Borrowed Bucks Roadhouse since 1994.

1912-1924: Public Facilities

Belle Mehus Auditorium

The Belle Mehus City Auditorium opened in 1914.

Beginning in 1912 and spanning into the 1920s, Bismarck ushered in a mass of public projects, from several schools to a public library, a city auditorium, and the first vehicular bridge spanning the Missouri River.

The first designated high school building opened in 1912, and the Federal Building was completed the following year. The City Auditorium, now the Belle Mehus, opened in 1914, and Saint Alexius Hospital opened the oldest section of its current facility in 1915.

The ten year-old Grand Pacific Hotel was nearly destroyed by fire in 1915, forcing the hotel to undergo extensive renovation.

1915: The Nonpartisan League

Established in 1915, the Nonpartisan League quickly elevated into the state’s dominating political force, ushering in a new progressive movement for the state that opposed the previously commanding big-business centered McKenzie Machine. Just one year after formation, in 1916, NPL-member Lynn Frazier was elected Governor with 79% of the vote. The NPL also won control of both houses after the 1918 election.

It was during this reign that North Dakota implemented the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and North Dakota Mill & Elevator, both of which remain today and arguably the League’s most enduring legacies. The NPL’s dominance came to a temporary end, when in 1921, Governor Frazier was recalled from his position. The NPL wouldn’t regain supremacy until 1932, when their most infamous member, William “Wild Bill” Langer was elected Governor.

1916: City Streets Paved

After years of discussion and lobbying, Bismarck finally committed to paving its streets in 1916. The $500,000 project proceeded after the city’s biggest landholders signed petitions agreeing to special assessments to fund it.

Mandan had already paved many of its streets three years previously.

The resulting project encompassed 161 blocks spanning nine miles. It was touted that Bismarck would possess the most paved streets of any other city below 10,000 residents. Each land owner would be assessed $2.95 per front foot,or $147.50 for a 50-foot lot, spread of twenty years.

The City Commission authorized the project on August 3rd and opened bids August 28th. Efforts were divided into fix districts, with the first comprising downtown. Paving commenced on Broadway Avenue between 2nd and 4th that September, followed soon after on Main Avenue.

Van Horn Hotel

Former Prince Hotel / Van Horn Hotel

The Prince/Van Horn Hotel opened in 1916.

The Van Horn Hotel, named for its architect, Arthur Van Horn, was completed in 1916 for roughly $100,000. The Van Horn Hotel was owned by Patterson’s chief rival, Edmond Hughes. When Hughes later renamed the hotel Prince Hotel, Patterson renamed the Soo Hotel “Princess” Hotel in an effort to poke fun at his rival.

1918: Carnegie Library and Wachter School

1918 was a particularly momentous year. Bismarck’s first public library, a Carnegie Library, opened through funds largely donated by Andrew Carnegie.

The first of three new schools over the next five years, Wachter School, opens that year, followed by Richolt School in 1920, and Roosevelt School in 1924.

As well, the North Ward School, constructed in 1884, was renamed William Moore School to honor the man who served as Bismarck’s school superintendent from 1895-1908. Moore was instrumental in modernizing Bismarck’s education system, including converting the high school from a 2-year program into a standard 4-year program in 1897.

Fleck Motors established

One of the most enduring local automobile dealerships, Fleck Motors, came to Mandan in 1918 and Bismarck soon after. It ultimately became Nastrom-Peterson Motors, and again Wilhelm before closing in 2007. Its long-time showroom at 100 W Broadway Avenue was demolished in 2010 for Broadway Centre.

R.J. Fleck was previously a breeder of driving and saddle horses in Richardton, North Dakota before he recognized the “horseless carriage” revolution and founded an automobile dealership with his father in 1915.

It originally sold Marion Handley, Imperial, and Dort vehicles. In 1917, Fleck obtained its long-standing Buick franchise agreement from an Underwood firm, Hendricks and Landgren. Fleck’s relocated its dealership to Mandan the following year, in 1918.

Fleck opened its first Bismarck location in 1921, first operating a garage and service station at 215 E Main Avenue. Its Mandan location was sold in 1925.

1919: Bank of North Dakota; President Wilson Visits

The nation’s only state-owned bank, Bank of North Dakota, is established in June 1919. It occupied the former Missouri Valley Motors building at Main and 7th until 2008.

President Woodrow Wilson makes a Bismarck stop on October 10th, speaking at the City Auditorium. He was campaigning for his vision of a League of Nations.

Yegen Dairy

In 1919, the Yegens expanded into the dairy business, becomming one of the region’s primary dairy producers until its acquisition by the Bridgeman division of Land O’ Lakes in 1966.

John Yegen was among Bismarck’s first settlers, opening a restaurant and bakery from a tent in the summer of 1872. John’s first permanent store was located at 416 Main Street, but burned down in 1877. He rebuilt at the same location, where it remained until 1913.

1920: Tribune Relocates… Twice

At the end of 1919, the Bismarck Tribune relocated into what was then Bismarck’s oldest brick building, the Gussner Block, on the southeast corner of Main Avenue and 3rd Street. One month later, on January 21, 1920, the building is destroyed by fire. It was the third time fire ravaged the newspaper’s home. It was then that the Tribune constructed its long-time home at 224 N 4th, on the southwest corner of 4th and Thayer, which was completed later that same year. A second building was later built to its immediate west. It remained there until relocating to its present building, on the southeast corner of 7th and Front, in July 1980, constructed for $3 million.

By 1920, World War I had ended and America was booming. Bismarck’s population stood at more than 7,000 citizens.

That same year, fire destroyed the Gussner Block, which was Bismarck’s oldest brick building at the time.

1921: Northwest Hotel destroyed

One of Bismarck’s oldest and most prominent hotels, the Northwest, was destroyed by fire on October 27, 1921. In its aftermath, the Nonpartisan League’s headquarters were moved across the street to the McKenzie Hotel, both of which were owned by Edward Patterson.

The hotel originated on the present-day site of the former train depot as the Sheridan House in 1877, constructed by E.H. Bly at a cost of $50,000. It was one of the city’s largest buildings at the time.

The Sheridan House was the first hotel owned and operated by Edward Patterson, who purchased the hotel in 1893 with a partner, E.S. Allen. Patterson became the hotel’s sole proprietor the following year.

When the train depot was destroyed in the 1898 Fire, Northern Pacific sought to build its new depot where the Sheridan House stood, on land owned by the railroad. Patterson used most of the Sheridan House’s materials to construct the

Located on land owned by the Northern Pacific Railway, the Sheridan House was demolished in 1900 to make room for the new train depot in the aftermath of the 1898 fire. Patterson used most of the Sheridan House’s materials to construct the Northwest Hotel, which was then brick veneered.

The hotel received significant remodeling in 1912 and 1917.

1922: Liberty Memorial Bridge

The Liberty Memorial Bridge was the first vehicular bridge in the region to cross the Missouri River when it was dedicated in 1922. The bridge was replaced in 2008. Photo courtesy North Dakota Historical Society.

The Liberty Memorial Bridge was dedicated in September 1922. Photo courtesy North Dakota Historical Society.

1922 was a momentous year in many ways. Most importantly, the year saw witnessed the completion of the region’s first vehicular bridge across the Missouri River. 1922 also saw the passing of one of Bismarck’s most infamous pioneers and the arrival of Bismarck’s first national department store.

The first vehicular bridge in the region to span the Missouri River dedicated in September 1922. The Liberty Memorial Bridge, named to honor World War I veterans, completed the coast-to-coast link for U.S. Highway 10, which ran straight through downtown Bismarck in tandem with Main Avenue.

For years, the Liberty Memorial Bridge was the only vehicular bridge to cross the Missouri River between Great Falls, Montana and Sioux City, Iowa – a distance of 500 miles. Prior to its construction, vehicles had to be ferried across the river. The Liberty Memorial Bridge sparked a major increase in traffic to the area, and by 1924, more than 2,000 vehicles per day crossed the bridge.

As the major connector between Bismarck and Mandan, many thriving businesses eventually sprouted nearby, including Bismarck’s first traditional drive-in restaurant and nationally renowned Holiday Inn, which will be explored in depth later.

The bridge closed to traffic in August 2008. On October 6, the first span of the bridge was imploded. The remaining two sections came down on October 29. It was replaced by the New Liberty Memorial Bridge – a four-lane structure.

Passing of a Pioneer: Alexander McKenzie

1922 saw the passing of one of Bismarck’s most famous, and sometimes infamous figures, Alexander McKenzie. He received a state funeral with honor guards at the State Capitol.

McKenzie arrived in Dakota Territory in 1866, at age 16. Likely the state’s first millionaire, McKenzie ultimately amassed a fortune and became the most influential man in state politics.

Nicknamed “the senator picker,” McKenzie leveraged his clout with the Northern Pacific Railroad to form a powerful political organization penned the “McKenzie Machine” that dominated local politics from the 1880s until about 1908. Working as an agent for the railroad, he is widely credited with securing Bismarck as the new capital of Dakota Territory in 1883. McKenzie served as North Dakota Republican National Committeeman for two decades.

As an agent for the Northern Pacific Railway with investments in multiple industries outside of the state, McKenzie favored big business, which directly influenced the creation of the competing Nonpartisan League, ironically later housed at the hotel once bearing his name.

Prior to his political dealings, McKenzie was the second appointed and first elected Burleigh County Sheriff – a position he held for many years. He was also designated a deputy U.S. Marshall.

McKenzie’s downfall began in 1901 when he was arrested for fraud and contempt of court after illegally maneuvering to procure ownership of Alaskan gold mines. He served three months in prison before getting pardoned by President McKinley. Upon returning to North Dakota, McKenzie’s political political stronghold unraveled by 1908.

McKenzie achieved national celebrity status in a 1906 novel called The Spoilers. While the character’s name was slightly altered, the story was a fictionalized account loosely based on McKenzie’s attempted takeover of the Alaskan gold mines. It was made into a 1942 movie starring John Wayne.

First National Department Stores: F.W. Woolworth, J.C. Penney, and Montgomery Ward

F.W. Woolworth opened at 406 E Main inside a new addition to the City National Bank building. It was the first national department store to take up residence in the city, although J.C. Penney had opened a Mandan store two years prior, in 1920.

Woolworth later expands its footprint within the building before opening a second store at Kirkwood Mall in 1970. Woolworth was the first store to open at Kirkwood, which was named for Woolworth’s former CEO. Robert Kirkwood had previously served as store manager for the Bismarck Woolworth store from 1932-1939.

In 1980, Woolworth’s converted its Kirkwood store into Woolco – the chain’s discount department store division. It was the only Woolco to ever operate in North Dakota. The downtown Woolworth closes in 1981, and its Kirkwood Woolco in 1983 when the entire 336-chain Woolco division was discontinued nationwide.

It wouldn’t be until 1928 that another national retail chain opened a Bismarck store, when Montgomery Wards opened at the northwest corner of 4th and Thayer. J.C. Penney, which technically was the region’s first national retailer when it opened a Mandan store in 1920, followed with a Bismarck store in 1929 upon its purchase of McCracken’s local Golden Rule store. Golden Rule was a retail syndicate once affiliated with Penney. J.C. Penney. Both Penney locations were maintained well into the 1930s.

All three of these early department stores eventually occupy Kirkwood Mall.

Other 1922 Events

  • Bismarck High School introduces the Demon mascot
  • The Municipal Ball Park is established.
  • Hoskins is renamed Hoskins-Meyer when Philip Meyer partners with wife Etta and her brother Brooks – children of R.D. Hoskins.

1923: Waterworks Becomes Public

In 1923, Bismarck voters shut down the private water system, first established by Alexander McKenzie, upon approving a bond to fund a new municipal filtration plant.

1924: Liberty Memorial Building

By this time, the Capitol Building was overflowing. Discussion for a replacement had begun, but in the interim, construction was completed in 1924 on the Liberty Memorial Building, located adjacent to the Capitol.

That same year, A.W. Lucas Company completed construction of its new store, adjacent to its original location.


Long-time local retailer, Hoskins-Meyer, began test broadcasts for the city’s first radio station in 1925, founding KFYR Radio.

Also in 1925, Old Red Trail is designated U.S. Highway 10. Today, the former highway includes much of Bismarck’s Main Avenue and The Strip.

City National Bank failed in October 1926. It was in business since 1909.

In 1927, Will School added three additional rooms and the Bismarck Park Board (now Parks & Rec) was formally organized.

Riverside Park was dedicated the following year, in 1928, the same year that Hughes Electric was sold. Today, its remnants are part of MDU.

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