Local spotlight: Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota

 Photo courtesy of The Heritage Hjemkømst Interpretive Center The Hjemkømst is a full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship that was discovered in Norway in 1881.

Photo courtesy of The Heritage Hjemkømst Interpretive Center
The Hjemkømst is a full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship that was discovered in Norway in 1881.

Jill Beatty
Daughters of Norway

The spirit of early Scandinavian pioneers is a treasured part of the Fargo-Moorhead area’s proud heritage. Certainly the ladies who are forming a new Daughters of Norway lodge there are a testimony to that fact. Rosanna Gutterud Johnsrud Lodge #53 will be chartered on October 11.

Here is a bit of history of the area.

Less than ten thousand years ago, the area that is now Fargo-Moorhead was 200 feet below the surface of Lake Agassiz, a huge inland sea formed at the end of the last ice age. Over centuries the waters receded, leaving six feet of rich, black soil that today make the Red River Valley one of the world’s most fertile farmlands, with Fargo and Moorhead as its center.

The Red River of the North separates the two cities and serves as the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. Fargo’s founding dates back to 1871, when the first settlers staked out homestead claims at the point where the Northern Pacific Railroad would cross the Red River. Railroads played a major role in the development of Fargo. In fact, the city was named for William G. Fargo, a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and co-founder of Wells Fargo Express Company. The city of Moorhead was named after William G. Moorhead, an executive of the Northern Pacific Railway.

Originally settled by predominantly Scandinavian and other European immigrants, Fargo and Moorhead became boomtowns with the arrival of the NP in 1871.

Under the Homestead Act, settlers were given 160 acres in exchange for living on the land and farming part of it for at least five years. Suddenly Fargo-Moorhead became a popular destination for many of our ancestors who were determined to make a better life. The railroad brought a constant stream of settlers seeking a new life on America’s newest frontier.

Today the population of the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area is more than 200,000, and there seems to be no end in sight to the prosperity and growth of the “twin cities” on the Red River.
While agriculture is still prominent in the local economy, Fargo-Moorhead has also become an important focal point for other professions, including government, education, medicine, retailing, and manufacturing.

The local attractions are mostly reflective of the roots of our original settlers. The Heritage Hjemkømst Interpretive Center and Bonanzaville, USA are two sites filled with pioneer spirit and old-time hospitality. True to the love of the outdoors the area park districts maintain more than 3,000 acres of parkland and recreational facilities. Fargo-Moorhead takes pride in its cultural park, “Trollwood.”

The Heritage Hjemkømst Interpretive Center, is an interpretation center museum in Moorhead, Minnesota. The building opened in 1985 and serves as a home to Hjemkømst Viking Ship, Hopperstad Stave Church replica, quarterly museum exhibits, and county archives. It is also occupied by the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. The Red River Valley exhibit is a permanent display of the geologic and cultural history of the valley and its settlers.

The Hjemkømst, which means “Homecoming” in Norwegian, is a Viking ship that is permanently housed in the center of the museum. The ship is a full-scale replica of the Gokstad Viking ship that was discovered in Norway in 1881. The idea for building the Hjemkømst was that of Robert Asp, a guidance counselor at Moorhead Junior High School. Construction began in 1974 at the Leslie Welter Potato Warehouse in Hawley, Minnesota. The Warehouse was then transformed into the Hawley Shipyard during the construction. That same year, Asp became diagnosed with leukemia; however he still continued to build the ship, with help from other volunteers.

In July 1980 the Hawley Shipyard was torn down for the removal and christening of the completed ship. The Hjemkømst was shipped overnight to Duluth, Minnesota, on August 5, 1980. Asp held the rank as captain during the ship’s maiden voyage throughout Lake Superior until his death four months later on December 27, 1980.

In May 1982, Asp’s three sons and daughter along with eight members of the Hjemkømst crew decided to sail it to Norway, which was Asp’s original dream. The ship departed New York City on June 8, 1982 and arrived in Oslo two months later on August 9, 1982. The ship stayed in Oslo for a year until it was transported back to Minnesota on the M/V Brunto.

The Hopperstad Stave Church Replica is a replica of a Norwegian stave church located on the grounds of the Hjemkømst Center. The church was built in 1998 by Guy Paulson and is a full-scale replica of the 12th Century Hopperstad Stave Church in Vik, Norway. This Norwegian-style church serves as a symbol of the Scandinavian heritage in the Red River Valley.

• The History and Growth of the City of Fargo: Historic Context Study, by Tim Holzkamm and Dean Dormanen, 1993. Revised and edited by David Danbom, 2001.
• Wikipedia

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.