William H. White was born on this date in 1851 in Vermont, and he was barely twenty-one when he moved to Moorhead, Minnesota from Brainerd and began a lumber business. The year was 1872, and the Northern Pacific Railroad was crossing the Red River into Dakota Territory.
White was an enterprising young man, and he secured the railroad contract to supply timber for the approaches to the railroad bridge. But White’s business ranged much farther. He took lumber by flatboats on the Red River to Grand Forks, Pembina and other communities. In 1873, he opened a lumber yard in Bismarck, providing the materials for some of the first homes built in Bismarck, as well as the first newspaper plant in what would become North Dakota. In 1874, he moved to Fargo where his headquarters became established. When he died in 1916, the William H. White Lumber Company had been the longest-running enterprise in North Dakota. He owned twenty-four lumberyards, mainly in the Red River Valley.
But White’s resume extended beyond lumber. He was a founder and director of the First National Bank of Fargo, and he helped organize the city’s auditor and treasurer offices. He was said to be the first Methodist in North Dakota, and built the state’s first Methodist Episcopalian church in 1874 in Fargo. He was on numerous boards of trustees, and active in philanthropy and social life. He and his wife, Anna, traveled the world in their later years. When he died, his friend praised his role in state history, saying: “The business life of North Dakota felt his creative hand through all its plastic years, and the network of his business interests interlaces a large territory, wherein he was respected and honored.”
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Lounsberry, C.A. (1917). North Dakota history and people: Outlines of American history, Vol. 2. S.J. Clarke Publishing Company: Chicago, IL