History of Downtown Grand Forks

Our community of Grand Forks has a far-reaching history that goes back to when the French settled the former Louisiana Territory in the mid to late 1800s. Les Grandes Fourches (“The Grand Fork”), was established by French fur traders in the late 18th century. The trading post became a more permanent settlement in 1870 and began to grow with the arrival of steamboat traffic and the Great Northern Railway in 1880. Alexander Griggs, a steamboat captain, became stranded with his crew in the winter of 1870, and later decided to settle. He is known as “the father of Grand Forks”, while also officially platting the townsite of Grand Forks in 1875. In no time, Grand Forks was a thriving agricultural center because of the rich farmland and river access. The settlement then became a large attraction for Norwegian immigrants. The University of North Dakota was established in 1883 and has since been a beacon of development in North Dakota.

The Dacotah Hotel, corner of 1st Ave N and 3rd N St

Grand Forks had built its momentum up until 1997. In that year, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were both impacted by the floodwaters from the Red River. After a total of 97.2 inches of snowfall for the year in Grand Forks, it is no surprise the Greenway Reclamation Act of 1997 devastated the area. Blizzard Hannah, a low-pressure system equal to a Category 2 hurricane, created an extra 7 inches of snow plus ice on an already elevated Red River, and was nothing less than a recipe for disaster. While the river crested at 54.35 ft, a fire started in the Security Building downtown and eventually damaged or destroyed 11 buildings throughout 3 city blocks leading to the evacuation of nearly all the cities’ residents.

Security Building Downtown, photo by Eric Hylden

The Greater Grand Forks area has since recovered and established beautiful parks, such as the Greenway along the river. The buildings that were destroyed have either been demolished to create new development or restored to their former historical integrity. The downtown area continues to grow with the excitement of a grocery store, permanent housing, additional rental units, and other new developments on the horizon. People are continually moving to Grand Forks and amplifying the incredible downtown area, as well as expanding the city boundaries southwards.

JLG Architects rendering of 4th St