Grand Forks City Hall celebrating an anniversary

While we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library last month and are continuing to work towards commemorating the library through digital collections and exhibits, it would be unfair to not congratulate the City of Grand Forks for the centennial of the opening of the city hall on November 15, 1911. I stumbled across this fun fact in a Grand Forks Herald article published online just after 10:00pm.

The building, located at the corner of N 4th Street and 2nd Avenue North in Grand Forks will be having a small celebration, beginning at 3:30pm Wednesday, November 15 at its original entrance at 402 2nd Ave. N in downtown Grand Forks. Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown will blow out candles on a birthday cake at 4:00pm.

This building is interesting not only for its architectural style, which is, according to the article, a classical revival style, but for a small plaque commemorating the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba in February 1898. It is believed to be the only monument to that event in North Dakota and is made from metal from the ship. This is important, as the North Dakota militia served in the ensuing Spanish-American War, but in the Philippines, instead of Cuba, where they hoped to serve.

It has served numerous functions over the years, including a jail, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The building was added onto in 1993. This is one of several other prominent buildings in Grand Forks that will soon celebrate that mark, including the Masonic Temple and Grand Forks County Court House (2013) and Central High School (2017). Interestingly enough, Grand Forks’ other high school Red River High School will celebrate fifty years in 2017.

Having commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of an important building in Grand Forks, hearty congratulations are extended to the City of Grand Forks for the centennial anniversary of the city hall.

The building is viewable through Google Street View on Google Maps and is below:


Stuart McDonald in the Chester Fritz

Libraries all over the country are going though a process of change right now.  The evolution of technology has pushed them to digitize their collections.  Of course, digitization is a slow, time consuming and expensive process that most libraries can only devote a small amount of time to.  The Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections in the Chester Fritz Library has started digitizing its collections and have chosen a few specific collections to display on their website.

I would like to take a moment and focus on one specific collection, the Stuart McDonald Papers.  Stuart McDonald was a cartoonist who wrote for the Grand Forks Herald and the North Dakotan.  He attended the University of North Dakota from 1949-1951.  He became the vice-president of the McDonald Clothing Company in 1952, which was located at 311 Demers Ave.  Today we would recognize the building as Subway and Olivieri’s Hair Salon; if you look on the side of the building though, it still has the McDonalds logo on the side in the alley.

The collection is dedicated to the political cartoons he drew.  Some of my favorites are his cartoon “He Who Lives by the Sword…” which comments on the impact of the Vietnam on the federal budget and “It Went That-a-Way” which satirizes the cold North Dakota endures every winter.

McDonald’s work is very funny, if you understand the events of the time in which he wrote them.  I invite all who read this to browse through the digital collection on your computer, just imagine if you could access an entire library that way.

The Secret Beginning of “The Fritz”

As many of us know the Chester Fritz Library first opened its doors in the fall of 1961. What many of us do not know is that before the dedication and the official opening of the library, many secrets were kept and packs made.  Chester Fritz did not simply donate his money to the school, he made sure the school, in particular the library system, was in need of his generosity.

In 1957 Chester Fritz first had the idea to donate his money to UND for a library, but he did not immediately send a letter to the University President or even the Head of Libraries on campus.  He instead contacted his aunt living in Illinois at the time, who would become an essential player in the final result of the donation money being given to UND, Kathrine Tiffany.  Tiffany’s role as the intermediary initially between Fritz and the head of libraries on campus, Jon R. Ashton, and then between Fritz and President Starcher, cannot be overstated in its importance.  Fritz’s initial letter to Tiffany outlined his ideas about the donation.

When Tiffany first contacted the university on Fritz’s behalf, she contacted only Jon Ashton. Fritz wanted an opinion on the condition of the current library from the head of libraries only, his unbridled opinion, Tiffany actually swore Ashton to secrecy so that only he was aware of the plot.  About one month after Tiffany contacted Ashton, she, on Fritz’s behalf, sent a letter to President Starcher regarding the possibility of a sizable donation from a former alum.  She did not tell Starcher who the donation would come from, but needless to say, Starcher was on the edge of seat for more information.

It would take a much closer inspection of President Starcher’s personal papers to gage his mood on being left out of the loop and strung along for those first months of communication between Fritz, Tiffany, and Ashton, but it would more than likely make for an interesting blog post, if such papers exist.

Chester Fritz sent Starcher the official donation letter from his villa in Rome on February 8, 1958, which finally named him as the donor and outlined the terms of his donation.  It is evident that Fritz had been planning the donation for a long while because only a little more than a week after he had mailed his donation letter to Starcher, most likely before Starcher even received the letter, he mailed a letter to Tiffany regarding a room in the Fritz that could be dedicated to some of his artifacts he had accumulated on his travels in Asia.

There were a few different ideas about where to place the library initially, here is one of the ideas that was not chosen, see if you can spot the library. Tiffany periodically checked in on the construction of the library to be able to send correspondence back to Fritz about the progress, an activity President Starcher regularly engaged in as well.  Finally on October 18, 1961, the library was dedicated with President Starcher’s speech.

For those of you who read this post, what would you like to see on the blog next?

As always make sure you’re following us on Twitter.

Also, our official website for the Fritz at 50.

UND Libraries Through the Eyes of Louis Geiger: Part 1 (1883-1908)

Louis Geiger was a member of the UND History Department in the 1950s and 1960s and was a central figure in the creation of the Department of Special Collections at the University of North Dakota. For the seventy-fifth anniversary of UND, Geiger wrote The University of the Northern Plains which remains an important examination of the University’s history from 1883-1958. This installment reflects Geiger’s interpretation of the library facilities at UND through seventy years. The majority of content recited here is taken from Geiger’s The University of the Northern Plains.

Eighty years before the Chester Fritz Library opened, The University of North Dakota began collecting books under President William Blackburn (1884-1885). The need for a library was not high on the University’s priority list, mainly because the institution was struggling to remain open in an isolated location that produced few interested or qualified students. Additionally, UND struggled to find a balance between a practical education needed in a farming community, and an intellectual education that was extremely popular during this time period; intellectual education including  the instruction of Latin and Greek. In the University’s first years, the demand for practical education won. This is exemplified by the absence of funds appropriated for buying books or constructing a library. As Geiger explains “the absence of a library, for which no funds at all had been appropriated, was felt less keenly than it would have been at a later date, for instruction in the non-scientific courses was mostly by drill and recitation from textbooks.” (40)

Blackburn tried to fix this deficiency by personally donating over two hundred volumes, magazines, and pamphlets, and by asking the public for donations. One significant donor was W.R. Bierly – the Secretary of the Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. However, these donations were ignored and “lay neglected in a corner throughout the term (1884) because there was no facility to handle to books and no one with the time or inclination to make them available for use.” Instead, focus was aimed at creating a museum comprised of animal bones, used for natural history lectures. In the summer of 1885, the first purchases were made, and shelving and lending arrangements were developed. The following legislature (1885) finally appropriated $1,000 dollars for the creation of a reading room. By 1887, the book collection numbered a thousand volumes.

The historical interpretation that Geiger conveys is that the need for library facilities and books were under emphasized and neglected until 1887 “When the legislature appropriated $2,000 dollars” despite the faculty’s recommendation for $5,000. Again, the need for library facilities was downplayed. After receiving the $2,000, of which $1,900 was spent on purchasing books and $100 on shelving, the reading room “should remain open only a half hour, from one to one thirty in the afternoon, five days a week. No books could be taken from the reading room except on the weekends, when borrowers were limited to one book each.” (57)

By 1892 the collections had expanded to 2,300 volumes, and when Professor Webster Merrifield became a librarian in 1889 the reading room remained open from eight to five daily, and students were allowed to take out books without the requirement of a note from a professor. Most of the works in the reading room are described by Geiger as “standard works” in History and English – the “most useful departments” (70)

From 1891-1899 the library received only $3,000 dollars- all in 1891- and by 1893, there were 5,000 volumes. However from 1893-1899 the collection only increased by 500 volumes. This dramatic decrease in the growth of library collections must be viewed in a national context. Eighteen ninety three is significant because of the Panic of 1893, which was a serious economic depression across the United States, caused by, among other things, railroad overbuilding and a series of bank failures. This Panic was considered the worst depression that the U.S. had ever experienced. With very little funds available for anything, it is understandable why the University did not see library expansion as an important undertaking.

The next major event in library history at UND, came in 1908 when a large sum of money was donated by Andrew Carnegie. This ends the first installment of UND Libraries Through the Eyes of Geiger. The next installment will begin with Andrew Carnegie’s donation, and the building of UND’s first library building – which is still standing on campus today.

Check out the Fritz at 50 celebration at

Our Twitter feed!/Fritzat50

And our Omeka page


To read Louis Geiger’s The History of the Northern Plains check your local library, Amazon, or Google Books.