Created By: North Dakota State University
William Henry Merritt was born in September of 1854 in Hustings, Michigan to Alexander “Alex” D. Merritt and Betsey Merritt (Davis). It appears that W.H. Merritt spent his adolescent years in Goodhue, Minnesota after moving to the area in about 1857 with his family. There is little information available regarding Merritt’s adolescent years in Minnesota. Later, however, the record indicates that in 1882 William married Harriet (Hattie) Elizabeth Syron. Harriet gave birth to three daughters over the next few years, Edna, Frances, and Lillian. Before the Merritt’s lived in Moorhead, the family had lived in various places including Helena, Montana, Anacortes and Olympia, Washington. After moving to Moorhead, Minnesota from Olympia in about 1890, Merritt would begin his influence on the early architecture of the Red River Valley. The Merritt family lived for many years thereafter in a home on 429 Ninth Street (North) in Moorhead which remains today.
While in Moorhead, Merritt belonged to the architectural firm of Bayer, J.M. and W.H. Merritt. Merritt designed many buildings in Moorhead after 1890 and was heavily involved in private and municipal construction. Some of his notable projects while in Moorhead include the Burnham building, Kassenborg Block (1898), Moorhead Post Office, Moorhead County Courthouse and jail improvements, and the Moorhead Carnegie Public Library. Further, Merritt would remodel and rebuild Moorhead’s First National Bank Block in 1914. Merritt’s influence in construction and architectural design was not just confined to buildings in Moorhead, as he influenced many regional architectural projects in the late 19th and early 20th century in the Red River Valley. Many of his buildings that are still in existence in Minnesota and North Dakota are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Merritt family were influential community members in Moorhead, and participated in the Moorhead Lodge of Masons, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Builders’ and Traders’ Exchange, and quite a few other civic organizations.
In 1920, the Merritt family relocated to Puyallup, Washington and then were living in Medford, Oregon by 1930. W.H. Merritt and family continued to be influential members of those communities, and he would have a tremendous impact on regional architectural design and building construction in the Northwest. Merritt, at this later point in his career, served generally in the capacity of General Contractor and builder, constructing several homes, buildings and developed commercial areas. In Anacortes, Washington, many of his buildings still remain today and are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Some of his associated works, with partner T.A. Long in this area, includes the Anacortes Hotel, Wilson Hotel Block, Anacortes Post Office, Goodwin-Benedict-Havekost building and Columbian School. Interestingly, some of the structures in Anacortes were built or designed by Merritt before he lived in Moorhead, Minnesota.
In Medford, Oregon, Merritt constructed or designed several buildings that are also listed on the NRHP. Some of these historic sites include the Merritt Bellinger House, Merritt Apartments, and the Patton, Hamilton and Edith House. Additionally, Merritt had helped design and construct the Merrick Block and Emerick Building in Medford and served as Superintendent of Construction on Medford’s Masonic Temple (Lodge No. 103) and managed the erection of Medford’s Pre-Cooling and Storage or the Pinnacle Packing warehouse. The Pinnacle Packing warehouse was one of the largest facilities of its kind in America at the time of its construction.
Merritt would be a lifelong member of the Builders’ and Traders’ Exchange Member, and further became a noted speaker and officer in that organization. His significant impact upon architectural history and civic contributions in Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington State, Oregon and California demand further study and investigation. Merritt’s architectural contribution on the National Register of Historic Places is noteworthy and undervalued. On July 24, 1936 in Medford, Oregon W.H. Merritt passed quietly into reminiscence. While his memory has somewhat departed the national consciousness, his handiwork is ever present on the minds of strangers who reside in his constructions and also pass them by, never knowing their creator.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Moorhead Historic Preservation Driving Tour