Alsop Brothers’ Steamboats at Moorhead, 1881. Piles of lumber from the Alsops’ mill await loading onto their barge, Aimee, and steamboats Pluck, at right, and the H. W. Alsop, at left. This is the only photo we have of the H. W. Alsop, the finest boat to ever ply the Red. She boasted the best passenger accommodations of any local steamer. On her third trip sparks from her smokestacks caused a devastating fire. Though rebuilt, she was never the same. After the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway bought the Alsops’ boats in 1884, she was sent to Grand Forks where she worked for several years. The Pluck remained in Moorhead until 1888 (HCSCC).
Fargo-Moorhead Steamboat Landings, 1880s
May 4, 2020
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In the 1870s and 1880s steamboats plying the Red River tied up just two blocks south of today’s Hjemkomst Center. The waterfront was located between today’s Center Avenue and 1st Avenue North bridges. It was a very busy place 130 years ago.
Initially, in the 1860s, steamers hauled furs from Canada to Georgetown, thirteen miles north of Moorhead, where they were transferred to Red River ox carts destined for St. Paul. Trade goods went north along the same route.
Railroads reached the Red River in 1871 and Fargo-Moorhead popped up. The faster and more efficient trains put the carts out of business but gave steamboats a boost. Lots more stuff was shipped to and from Canada.
In 1878 rails reached Winnipeg. Like the carts before them, it looked as if the boats would disappear, too. But steamboat owners took on a new task, carrying farmers’ wheat from isolated riverside grain storage elevators to rail heads like Fargo and Moorhead. From 1878 to 1888 steamboats carried wheat to facilities on both the Fargo and Moorhead riverbanks. The accompanying illustrations are from this period.
The Grandin Steamboat Line shipped wheat from the Grandin brothers’ huge bonanza farm near Halstad, Minnesota to their elevator on the Fargo bank. They had one boat, the J. L. Grandin. On the Moorhead side, brothers Charles and Henry Alsop built facilities for loading wheat and milling lumber. They had two steamboats, the side-wheeler Pluck and the H. W. Alsop, the finest boat to ever ply the Red.
Grandin Line’s Operations, about 1880. The J. L. Grandin waits on the Fargo side of the Red to be loaded with lumber and shingles for a return trip north. The 120-foot long sternwheeler also carried passengers. The narrow doorways on the second deck lead to very basic cabins. The sternwheeler is tied up alongside the Grandin’s Warehouse Number 1. Their Elevator A and Warehouse Number 2 can be seen at left (HCSCC).
Both companies struggled for a few years but eventually the railroads won out. In 1883 the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway built a branch north from Moorhead along the Red to Halstad. The next year the St. P., M & M Railway bought the Alsops’ two steamboats. The railroad continued to ship through the Fargo-Moorhead facilities for a few years but with the completion of a railroad line south of Moorhead to Wolverton in fall 1887, the end was near. In May 1888, the former Alsop boats left Fargo-Moorhead for Grand Forks and the Grandins permanently docked the J. L. Grandin.
Local steam boating came to an end.
The Fargo-Moorhead waterfront today. The red shapes show the locations and footprints of the two companies’ buildings in 1884 on a modern aerial photograph. On the Fargo side are the Grandin Steamboat Line’s Elevator A, and Warehouses 1 and 2. On the Moorhead side the Alsop Brothers’ grain elevator is shown. Railroad spur lines ran down to both operations from the Northern Pacific Railway (now Burlington Northern Santa Fe) tracks, visible at the bottom of the photo. The small squares mark storage buildings (HCSCC).