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Elevator Man

The tallest buildings in N.D. towns, historically, have been churches and grain elevators. Faithful people built the churches upon their arrival in Dakota, but who built the grain elevators?

Among the first grain-elevator men was George S. Barnes, born in Barre, Vermont, in 1840.  He moved to Ohio and then to southeastern Minnesota by 1864. Barnes then became one of the early Red River Valley settlers when he established a Bonanza wheat farm at Glyndon in 1872.


Mr. Barnes subsequently established a mercantile store in Glyndon in partnership with Luman H. Tenney. The firm of Barnes & Tenney became grain-merchants, buying harvested wheat from local farmers and shipping it out by rail.  They also built general stores in nearby Ada and Barnesville.

Barnes & Tenney built their first wheat elevator in Glyndon in 1877, and then established 36 more elevators and warehouses along the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Great Northern Railway to buy and store grain.

The Barnes & Tenney Company grew to handle more than two-thirds of the wheat-crop of northern Minnesota and northern Dakota.  Barnes & Tenney became prosperous, but a terrible shock came in 1880 when 38-year-old Lumen H. Tenney died suddenly from heart problems.

G.S. Barnes immediately sold off half-interest to Samuel G. Magill, changing the business name to Barnes and Magill. He also sold his Minnesota elevators to the Pillsbury flour company. In 1882, the Minneapolis Millers’ Association bought out Barnes’s business, incorporating it as the Northern Pacific Elevator Company – thus creating a grain elevator monopoly.

Interestingly, Barnes still owned stock in the gargantuan elevator company, as the Grand Forks Herald mentioned on this date in 1888. He bought a palatial house in Fargo, and continued to manage his 4,000-acre bonanza-farm at Glyndon. However, Barnes’s health deteriorated in 1886, forcing him to retire for a year.

It was in the 1880s that N.D. wheat farmers became outraged at the Northern Pacific Elevator Company, protesting against “unfair grading of wheat, exorbitant elevator [storage] charges,” and heartless monopoly control of grain handling by the Minneapolis Millers’ Association. Eventually farmers built their own cooperative grain-elevators.

As for George S.  Barnes, he recovered from illness, resuming work as a grain merchant as G.S. Barnes & Company until his death in Fargo in 1912.  His legacy remains in the town of Barnesville, which was named after him, and with elevators that still dot the prairie skyline.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “A Fargo Authority,” Grand Forks Herald, March 26, 1888, p. 2.

Stanley N. Murray, The Valley Comes of Age (Fargo: N.D. Institute for Regional Studies, 1967), p. 68-69, 99, 113-115, 136.

“Farmers’ Grievances,” St. Paul Globe, February 9, 1884, p. 3.

“Minnesota News,” Bismarck Tribune, September 10, 1877, p. 1.

“G.S. Barnes Passes Away,” Moorhead Daily News, November 29, 1912, p. 4.

“Mr. Barnes Passes Away,” Red River Valley News, November 29, 1912, p. 3.

“Geo. S. Barnes Died Yesterday” Fargo Forum, November 29, 1912, p. 8.

“Handling the Wheat Crop,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 10, 1880, p. 6; “Red River Valley,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 19, 1881, p. 2; “On the Northern Pacific,” Minneapolis Tribune, September 8, 1881, p. 3; “An Elevator Company,” Minneapolis Tribune, January 13, 1882, p. 7.

“An Elevator Monopoly,” Bismarck Tribune, April 28, 1882, p. 1; “No. 1 Hard,” Minneapolis Tribune, April 25, 1882, p. 7; “More Elevators,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 4, 1882, p. 2; “Articles of Incorporation,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 20, 1882, p. 3.

“Clay County,” Minneapolis Tribune, July 18, 1880, p. 8.

“An Elevator Monopoly,” Bismarck Tribune, August 17, 1883, p. 1; “President Barnes Retires,” Jamestown Weekly Alert, August 26, 1886.

John Turner and C.K. Semling, History of Clay and Norman Counties, Minnesota (Indianapolis: B.F. Bowen & Co., 1918), p. 308-309.

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