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Grand Forks Lumberman Robert H. McCoy


Always the most well-to-do residential avenue in Grand Forks, Reeves Drive was home for the leaders and financiers of the community. Seven former-mayors lived along its shaded boulevards, and the wealthiest businessmen built expansive houses on Reeves Drive. One of the finest residences still stands at the corner of Reeves and Fourth Avenue, just west of the Red River, the former home of Robert H. McCoy, who lived from 1859 to 1926.

R.H. McCoy, born in Wisconsin, became involved in white-pine logging there before starting a lumber mill in Minnesota in 1886, and then McCoy built a sawmill at East Grand Forks in 1899. McCoy got his logs from the Red Lake region in Minnesota after those pinelands were opened in 1896. Lumberjacks floated the logs down the Red Lake River for sawing in McCoy’s Grand Forks Lumber Company sawmill, located on the Minnesota side of the Red River.

Robert McCoy lived in rented quarters for several years while dividing time between his Minnesota interests and his Grand Forks Lumber Company, but he finally bought a corner lot on the east side of Reeves Drive in 1904 for building a magnificent home.

McCoy hired local architect Joseph Bell DeRemer to design a Classical Revival mansion featuring two-story-tall white pillars on its front portico, and McCoy’s $30,000 house became one of the most-fashionable in the city.

At that time, McCoy’s Grand Forks Lumber Company employed 250 men, cutting and sawing 40 million feet of lumber annually from the finest white-pine timber in Northern Minnesota, most of which came from his company’s own pinelands.

Ever venturesome, Lumberman McCoy looked further west for sawmilling opportunities in Idaho. On this date, in 1908, the Grand Forks Herald reported that McCoy had gone to Bonners Ferry to look after his Idaho interests in forests and logging.

It wasn’t long before McCoy’s logging operations in the west began taking him away from his family in Grand Forks for extended stretches. Accordingly, in 1912, McCoy sold his splendid residence and moved with his family to Idaho. Mr. McCoy discontinued his Grand Forks Lumber Company operations soon thereafter. As for the pillared mansion at 401 Reeves Drive, it still stands, having withstood the vagaries of time and massive Red River floods – its shining white porch columns an elegant reminder of an era when Greater Grand Forks was a sawmilling center.

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

Sources: “Personal: R. H. McCoy Has Gone to Bonners Ferry,” Grand Forks Herald, August 4, 1908, p. 6.

“Manufacturing Interests,” Grand Forks Herald, July 3, 1904, p. 3.

“Will Soon Turn; The Wheels of the Big Saw Mill Will Very Soon Be in Motion,” Grand Forks Herald, September 3, 1899, p. 3.

“Bought Residence Lot,” Grand Forks Herald, September 16, 1904, p. 6.

“The R. H. McCoy Home Is Sold,” Grand Forks Herald, August 2, 1912, p. 8.

Building Permits, City of Grand Forks, 401 Reeves Drive, #726, December 16, 1904, R.H. McCoy, east side of Reeves, lot 3, block 1.

“Robert H. McCoy,” in “Minnesota Biographies, 1655-1912,” Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 14, (June 1912): p. 463.

“Robert H. McCoy,” The History of the Red River Valley Past & Present (Grand Forks: Herald Printing Company, 1909), p. 1059.

“Sawmill Will Not Cut Lumber in 1913,” Evening Times [Grand Forks, ND], July 26, 1912, p. 10.

Steve Hoffbeck, Steven Grosz, John Keaveny, “Historic Reeves Drive & South 6th Street Walking/Driving Tour,” brochure, Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission, and Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, 19