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Dudley Hersey’s Big Farm Near Arvilla


There once was a fabulously-big farm near the village of Arvilla. The story of the Hersey “Bonanza” Farm in Grand Forks County begins with Dudley H. Hersey’s birth in Bangor, Maine in 1846. He was the son of wealthy lumberman Samuel Hersey. The Hersey family used the fortune gained in Maine to buy Minnesota timberland in 1854, and Dudley Hersey moved to Stillwater in the 1860s to help operate sawmills along the St. Croix River.

Hersey married Arvilla Estella Wardwell in 1869, and his wealth grew as the Hersey, Bean & Brown Lumber Company turned white-pine logs into lumber. In 1881, Hersey turned his attention to agricultural opportunities in Dakota Territory, purchasing 2,560 acres of land beautifully situated along the Turtle River, just east of Larimore. Mr. Hersey formed a farming partnership with Ferdinand Davis Hughes on his acreage. And what a farm it was! It featured an elegant “mansion house,” suitable for this gentleman farmer. According to venerable-journalist Marilyn Hagerty’s retrospective article, published on this date in 1967, the manor-house “had a grand total of 42 rooms” to accommodate guests who visited during the “pleasant months of summer.” The mansion featured advanced “hot and cold running water” in the hand-pump era. Hersey’s wine-cellar was as fine as any in Minneapolis.

Outdoors entertaining was in the “artistically-decorated” ‘Annex’ building, fully-protected from mosquitoes by netting. Adjacent was a billiards-hall; and situated nearby were “archery and tennis grounds, swings, tents, arbors, [and] canopies” of top-notch quality.

There were 22 buildings in all. This included a dormitory and dining hall for the farmhands; “wagon, carriage and machinery halls; five horse barns;” a cow barn, pig barn, chicken coop, ice house, and slaughterhouse.

The Hersey Farm raised thoroughbred Clydesdale workhorses and high-class Jersey milk cows. There were also 50 to 100 hogs; and several hundred Plymouth Rock hens, all prime stock.

Dudley Hersey also established a townsite nearby, naming it “Arvilla” after his wife.

Hersey’s farming partnership with Hughes soon dissolved, because Hersey “had lots of money and Hughes knew how to spend it” extravagantly. He banished Hughes in 1887, then hired another manager, who ran the place year-round, with the Herseys traveling extensively in wintertime.

After Dudley Hersey died in 1900 at age 55, his wife moved away. The expansive farm passed into other hands, and its legendary magnificence faded away. All that remains today of the glorious Hersey “Bonanza” Farm are dimly-recalled legends.

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

Sources: Marilyn Hagerty, “Old Hersey Farm Is Legend of Valley,” Grand Forks Herald, June 15, 1967, p. 5.

“Fine Stock And Rich Fields; D.H. Hersey’s Model Farm In North Dakota,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 15, 1897, p. 8.

“The D.H. Hersey Farm,” The Record, vol. 10 (April 1896): 9.

“Most Elaborate Northwest Hotel Once ‘Entertained’ County Charges,” Grand Forks Herald, April 7, 1940, p. 18.

Violet Pifer Serene, “History of Arvilla,” Grand Forks Herald Clipping File for “Arvilla, Larimore Pioneer, October 21, 1981.

“Arvilla,” Larimore Pioneer, January 8, 1885, p. 6.

“Arvilla,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, December 20, 1881, p. 1.

“Dudley Hersey’s Death,” St. Paul Dispatch, September 25, 1900, in Minnesota Historical Society Scrapbook, vol. 11, p. 31.

“D.H. Hersey Passes Away,” Grand Forks Herald, September 26, 1900, p. 19.

“View Hersey Farm,” Evening Times [Grand Forks, ND], July 2, 1913, p. 3.

“Inside History of the Hughes and Hersey Partnership as Related on the Stand,” Grand Forks Herald, April 9, 1886, p. 1.

“Hughes’ Home,” Grand Forks Herald, March 9, 1887, p. 1.

“A Writ of Assistance,” St. Paul Globe, March 10, 1887, p. 2.

“Local News Gossip,” Larimore Pioneer, March 17, 1887, p 6.

Lucile M. Kane, “Hersey, Staples And Company, 1854-1860: Eastern Managers And Capital In Frontier Business,” Bulletin of the Business Historical Society, vol. 26 (December 1952): 199-213.