Created By: North Dakota State University
Herzman’s Dry Goods store is the rumored starting place of the Fargo fire of 1893 that destroyed over 90% of the downtown area. According to the story, Mrs. R Herzman was burning cardboard in the back of the store when the fire raged out of control. The flames aided by the thirty mile per hour winds and the predominantly wooden downtown created the perfect environment for disaster to strike.
On June 7th, 1893 at approximately three in the afternoon the worst fire in Fargo history erupted[i]. The fire was fueled by the predominantly wooden buildings and boardwalks. It spread from Front Street, or today’s Main Avenue, to the north. In the end the fire caused over three millions dollars in damages as it destroyed City Hall, the business district and most of the homes of Fargo’s 6,000 inhabitants[ii].
According to Souvenir of the Fargo Fire, the city was “the commercial, financial and railroad center of North Dakota.” Ironically just six days before the fire department’s annual tournament they were called to Mrs. R. Herzman’s store on Front Street. In less than five minutes after the alarm was sounded the building was completely consumed by the fire. The Fargo fire department, aided by Moorhead’s fire department, managed to prevent the fire from spreading west, saving the United Block and the Davis block. To the east and the north, however, the fire spread quickly and efforts to control it were futile. Owners scrambled to rescue the property they could, calling on the crowd for assistance. Vacant lots became storerooms for wagons piled with goods as every available vehicle was used to assist. The fire quickly consumed everything available and jumped the Northern Pacific tracks to the elevator building and continued on its path of destruction. In just two hours over 200 building were ablaze, extending a mile through the city and two miles through the prairie.
Between west Broadway and east Fourth street, running a mile north was a residential area housing working class families that was completely destroyed by the fire. While the cost value of these homes was relatively small compared to other structures that were destroyed, the people who resided in the community had fewer resources to aid them. Warnings of the fire came too late and residents did not have time to save the contents of their homes. Everything was destroyed and a thousand people were homeless[iii].
[i] NDSU Archives. "Fire of 1893." Fargo, North Dakota: Its History and Images.
[ii] Dalrymple, Amy. "Fire flashback: The largest fires in the Fargo-Moorhead area." Inforum, October 15, 2010.
[iii] Souvenir of the Fargo Fire. Fargo, ND: Walker Brothers, 1893.
Photo courtesy of: "Fargo, Cass County, ND 1892". Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for North Dakota, Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University, Fargo.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Fargo In Flames