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Andrew McHench Dakota Pioneer continued


On this date in 1875, Andrew McHench, a visionary pioneer in the Red River Valley, introduced a bill to incorporate the City of Fargo. In addition to being one of the first landowners in Cass County, he produced one of the valley’s first wheat crops, introduced a reaper to the area for harvesting, created the first Cass County Fair, and was named first superintendent of Cass County schools, creating Fargo School District Number One and establishing Fargo’s first public school.

McHench’s name was soon linked to a variety of successful endeavors in the new town of Fargo on the Prairie. As Dakota Territory undertook plans for eventual statehood, Andrew was elected to the territorial council, one of the first two district representatives from what is presently southwestern North Dakota. After introducing and securing the City of Fargo’s incorporation, he was successful in moving the United States Court to Fargo from Pembina.

As a Fargo alderman he worked for the good of the city, including promoting tree planting. Leading the Red River Forestry Association, he promoted citizen involvement in a “tree brigade.” He promoted civic responsibility to incorporate trees to protect property and people from the harsh prairie winds. Over 5,000 trees were planted by the Fargo citizenry, an effort highly endorsed by the first newspaper, The Fargo Express.

A businessman and entrepreneur, he sold his farm and invested in real estate, lumber and implement dealerships in town. His McHench Building, still standing in south Fargo today, housed the town’s first newsstand. He built McHench Hall, the city’s first formal theater. He also constructed a building that would be home to Fargo’s first Masonic Lodge for use by the freemasons, who were prominent in many early business communities.

Not unlike many of ladies married to successful gentlemen business owners, Sarah McHench took part in the promotion of cultural, literary and social events. Arts and humanities were introduced and nurtured by women’s groups and formal societies that sought to establish eastern refinement to their new home. Nestled in virgin soil and inspired by their cultural upbringing, they created a climate for beauty and domestic virtues.

Sarah, missing in Fargo the flowers that she loved back home, sent away for their seeds to plant. They arrived and were put in the ground where their green and yellow descendants live to this day alternately adored by children and scorned by neighbors. Thank you, Mrs. McHench, for bringing us the dandelion.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Stark


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Gateway to the Northern Plains, Engelhardt, Carroll, Univ. of Minnesota press, (2007)

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