Created By: North Dakota State University
North Dakota was admitted to the union in 1889 as a dry state, meaning the sale of alcohol was strictly prohibited. For thirsty Fargo, North Dakota customers, this news was not welcome, as it forced their saloons to close their doors. Luckily for them, Moorhead, Minnesota, in Clay County, was very much still a wet county and would eventually have nearly 50 saloons to offer drinks to the residents of Fargo and Moorhead, as well as the surrounding areas. One of those bars was named the Three Orphan’s Saloon. Sitting right over the river, at 96 1st Ave N in Moorhead, it was the first bar on the left Fargoans came upon as they crossed the Red River. Higgins, Aske, and Co. purchased the bar from its previous owner Billy Diemert in 1905. There was a third partner, a silent partner, by the name of Thomas H. Curran, who was a former member of law enforcement and decided to keep his ownership a quiet affair.
The bar was a popular stop for Fargoans and Moorheadites alike until Clay County became a dry county in 1915. The saloon was acquired in 1934 by Ben Thorvik, formerly of the Rex Cafe, and Amund Thorson, who worked as a bar tender when it was a saloon and ran a cigar shop there during prohibition. Three Orphan's Saloon then became known as the Silver Moon Cafe. Thorvik would be arrested 3 times between 1934 and 1936 for various alcohol related offenses and Thorson was also arrested several times as well. Although Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it was only for the sale of beer and not for intoxicating liquor. That repeal would come later. While the building is no longer standing, the banks of the Red River provide the landscape upon which it once stood. Near where the Hjemkomst Center sits today, the Three Orphan’s Saloon was built on stilts on the riverbed in order to be as close to Fargo as possible. Because it was built out over the river, patrons and workers would often toss empty bottles, glasses, and garbage over the railing into the river. During low tides people have often found artifacts from this once popular watering hole, including intact jugs with the bar name still evident. The site is now a protected archaeological site.
To find out more information on crime and bootlegging at the Three Orphans and in Moorhead, you may proceed to points two and six.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Walking Tour