The Burnham Building, 420 Main Avenue Commercial Building, YHR Partners

Moorhead Historic Preservation Walking Tour

The Burnham Building, 420 Main Avenue Commercial Building, YHR Partners

Moorhead, Minnesota 56560, United States

Created By: North Dakota State University

Point of Interest Details

Franklin J. Burnham spent his childhood near Norwich, Vermont and served as a Lieutenant in the Union Army with the 9th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, Companies E and K, during the Civil War from 1862 until mustering out in June of 1865. Burnham served with distinction in several key engagements of the Civil War and three times was wounded and promoted. After military service, Burnham taught “five terms” in schools in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Burnham attended Dartmouth College and graduated in 1869, and afterward taught education courses at Dartmouth and the surrounding vicinity for one year. Following this, Burnham moved west and attended the Chicago University Law School, and joined to the bar in 1871 when he graduated from Chicago University in the spring. After opening his law practice in Chicago later that year, Burnham’s home and law office were destroyed in the Great Fire of Chicago in October of 1871. Burnham, after this setback, relocated his law practice to Glyndon, Minnesota and was the third lawyer in Clay County by the end of 1872.

After 1872, Burnham became an early Moorhead resident and businessman with extensive land dealings in Clay County. Burnham married Miss Harriet Laughton whom he had met in Chicago in 1873 and would have three children, Elizabeth, Frank, and James. In addition to starting the First National Bank of Moorhead and serving as the second bank President for 15 years, Burnham bought the 420 Main Avenue lot from the Lake Superior and Puget Sound Company, the town site owners, and built the current structure designed by W.H. Merritt and J.M. Bayer on the location in 1880 which is now the YHR Architecture firm. Burnham most likely “had his office in the building until he sold it in 1884. Fire insurance maps from 1884 to 1929 show the building used only as a residence.”

Burnham’s law practice experienced a lot of transition in partnerships. W.K. Gould appears to be Burnham’s first business partner around 1880 when the Burnham building was erected until Gould’s death in 1883 when the firm became Burnham, Mills, and Tillotson. Then, Ira B. Mills was elected District bench judge in 1887 and Burnham decided to partner with William R. Tillotson (elected Mayor of Moorhead, 1892, 1901) and they continued with their joint law practice until Burnham’s death in 1898. Burnham served as Clay County’s first superintendent of public schools, founding member of the First Congregational Church of Moorhead, Clay County Attorney, Public Commissioner, Elder in the Presbyterian Church of Moorhead, and Clay County Surveyor. Burnham would pass away in his home April 17, 1898, and is buried in Moorhead’s Prairie Home Cemetery.

For other sites designed by W.H. Merritt, visit sites 17 and 19. For information on W.H. Merritt, visit site 18.


“Civil War Shadowbox for 1st Lt. Franklin J. Burnham 9th NH Infantry.” (Accessed 11/20/16). (Image Credit)

“CCHS July/August 1994 Newsletter.” Clay County Historical Society. Moorhead, MN. (Accessed 11/3/16).

Engelhardt, Carroll L. 2007. Gateway to the Northern Plains Railroads and the Birth of Fargo and Moorhead. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 49.

“Franklin J. Burnham.” (Accessed 11/2/16).

Geo. A. Ogle & Co. 1902. Compendium of History and Biography of Northern Minnesota, containing a History of the State of Minnesota. Chicago: G.A. Ogle. P. 552, 742. (Image Credit, p. 743).

Harvey, Tom. “420 Main Avenue Commercial Building.” Minnesota Historic Properties Inventory Form. October, 1979. (Accessed 11/1/16).

Littleton (N.H.). 1887. Chiswick, 1764. Apthorp, 1770. Littleton, 1784. Exercises at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Littleton, July 4th, 1884. Concord, N.H.: N.H. Democratic Press Co. pgs. 215-216.

McGhiever, CC BY-SA 3.0,, (Accessed 11/1/16).

“Moorhead River Corridor Study.” April 9, 2013. (Accessed 11/1/16).

Rhea, Gordon C. 2000. To the North Anna River: Grant and Lee, May 13 - 25, 1864. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press. pgs. 246-247.

Turner, John and Semling, C.K. Bench and Bar of Clay County, History of Clay and Norman Counties, Minnesota, Their People, Industries and Institutions. Indianapolis. B.F. Bowen & Company. 1918. (Accessed 11/4/16).

This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Walking Tour


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