Created By: North Dakota State University
Usher’s House, a restaurant located in Moorhead at 700 1st Avenue North, is a site that is of historic importance to the Moorhead, Minnesota community. Originally the American Legion Building, Usher’s was a public works project constructed on May 13, 1936 under the direction of Minnesota Works Projects Administration and engineer Frank J. Plut, made possible by federal grant funding to the city of Moorhead in August of 1935. Nels Melvey was the local Moorhead contractor who directed the construction efforts as foreman and employed advanced stonecutting techniques taught by the architects in manipulating the heavy-ashlar, cut-granite fieldstone.
The building was designed by young Moorhead architects George Carter and Alan H. Meinecke to “memorialize figures of local significance from the Great War” and “was a source of community pride during a period of great economic diversity.” According to the Clay County Historical Society, the WPA “mandated that the project put as many men to work as possible and that 'building materials cost be kept to a minimum. The architects came up with an ingenious idea that influenced WPA structures all over the state. They convinced several Sabin area farmers to donate many tons of field stone, which they had cleaned from their fields. Carter and Meinecke taught workers how to cut the stones into blocks and set them in place to build the walls. The Idea worked brilliantly. The WPA officials were so impressed that they hired the young men to design similar buildings all over the state.”
Originally, the American Legion Building, Post No. 21, was named after Pvt. Melvin E. Hearl who was a casualty of World War I. The relief cast concrete detail above the entrance reveals the letters ‘A’, ‘L’, ‘M’, and ‘H’ in the four corners, which stand for American Legion and Melvin Hearl. There are four portraits at the upper cast cornice moldings, however only two have been identified as of 2016. “Forum reporter Craig McEwen has tentatively identified two of the busts as the likenesses of Nels MeIvey, foreman and general contractor for the project, and Edgar Sharp, a Moorhead attorney who was instrumental” in funding the project. The other two cornice moldings “are unidentified, but may be the architects, Carter and Meineke.” A time capsule still resides in cornerstone of the building which may identify more information regarding the former American Legion Post’s architectural history.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Walking Tour