Created By: North Dakota State University
The old Moorhead power plant provided clean water and power to the Moorhead community for over one hundred years, through the Great Depression and times of war. In 1895, the city of Moorhead decided to build a power plant in order to ease their reliance on privately held electric companies. The power plant was filled with corruption from the start, going through superintendents rapidly in the first five years of its operation. Water was drawn directly from the Red River and residents of Moorhead were cautioned to boil the water before drinking or cooking. By the turn of the century, an underground aquifer was known to exist thirty feet below the city. This aquifer was used up until the 1950's, when population booms called for water from the Red River to be used again.
In the 1920's, the power plant became a symbol of Moorhead resilience, due to the fact that most power plants were owned by conglomerate utility companies while Moorhead retained control and ownership of its utilities. During the Great Depression of the 1930's the power plant was able to do well enough, due to new steam engines, to reduce its rates for its customers, easing the financial burden of many Moorhead citizens. Although the plant suffered during the war years, it was still able to provide for the community. Although in the last decades of the twentieth century the power plant fell into disuse, one of its four generators was operational until August 2011, when five new generators were built on the east side of town.
The power plant sat vacant for months as the city attempted to come up with uses for the old space that would preserve the old building, but in 2012 a geotechnical report found that the ground underneath the plant was slowly sliding towards the river. The decision was made to demolish the building and that decision was carried out in 2014. But the site was not going to go to waste. The Plains Art Museum out of neighboring Fargo, North Dakota, turned the space into a heritage garden, using elements of the old power plant mixed with native flora, hoping to prove that former industrial spaces can be used for enjoyment and to meet community needs, once again standing for the resilience of the city of Moorhead.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Tour