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Fairmount, N.D., Comes into View
By Mark Hotz, Bank Note Reporter
March 19, 2014

This article was originally printed in Bank Note Reporter.
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Many thanks to those who emailed me about last month’s article on Civil War-inscribed currency. As part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations, I hope to bring some more similar articles to you in coming months. As most of you are well aware, and probably experiencing yourselves, this has been a very hard winter for most of the country, the East coast included. The weather and a certain lack of zeal have made it difficult for me to travel around. So, this month I pulled a note from my collection and have wrapped this shortened article around it.

Some months back, I had the chance to present to you a look at Marmarth, N.D., in the far western part of the state. It was a town that I had not visited and likely will never would, but via Google Earth I was able to see what was still there and the like. So, this month, I thought we would look at another small North Dakota town, this one in the far eastern part of the state, a town from which I have a National Bank Note, and one from which I could locate good photographs of the old bank building.

So, this month, let’s take a short jaunt to North Dakota’s Richland County, the most southeasterly of the state’s subdivisions. The town we are going to visit is tiny Fairmount, the easternmost town in all of North Dakota, located just off State Route 11 near the Bois de Sioux River that separates North Dakota from Minnesota.

The original town site that became Fairmount had been known as the Michigan settlement, but the town was incorporated as Fairmount on May 9, 1887.  The first settlers came from Michigan led by E.W. Spaulding, a successful Michigan farmer who, after scouting many regions of the Midwest, proclaimed that the region west of the Bois de Sioux River was the “best farmland in the country.” These first pioneers referred to their settlement as Sewall Station. The name “Fairmount” was proposed by Mr. Henvis in 1887. Henvis hailed from Philadelphia, where the National Centennial Exposition had recently been held at Fairmount Park.

The first decades of the city of Fairmount saw its growth and prosperity reach its zenith. The period from 1910 to 1915 were called the boom years.  Fairmount was uniquely favored in its infrastructure owing to its excellent location at the juncture of four major railroads: the Milwaukee, the Great Northern, the Soo Line, and the Fairmount and Veblen Railroad, which began in 1913.

The First National Bank of Fairmount was founded in 1902, a typical Gold Standard Act bank with a small capitalization of $25,000. It received charter 6255, and operated more or less successfully until 1925, when it voluntarily liquidated, having issued $233,000 in Series of 1902 currency. Just a handful of these notes are known today.

Fairmount was originally just a farming community, but with the arrival of the railroads, it became the only town in North Dakota to claim service by four different railroads. Unfortunately, these lines did not last, and as the railroad traffic fell, so did Fairmount’s fortunes.

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Fairmount today is a quiet village with a population of 367, according to the 2010 census. I have included some early postcard views of Fairmount as it appeared in the early part of the 20th century. The First National Bank can be seen at the center of the block. I have marked the pictures with an arrow pointing to the bank building. Today, most of the structures seen in those old photos have been demolished. The only two brick structures left in the center of Fairmount are the bank and the adjoining brick commercial structure. I have included a photo of those buildings as they appear today.

It is worth noting that Fairmount is part of Richland County, whose seat is Wahpeton, located 20 miles due north of Fairmount. Wahpeton, besides being the largest town in the county (population 23,000), was the home of the Citizens National Bank of Wahpeton, which had the dubious honor of being robbed by the Barker-Karpis Gang on Sept. 30, 1932. As the story goes, on this date Alvin Karpis, “Doc” Barker, and two others walked into the bank with guns drawn. A cashier tried to hit the burglar alarm, but was caught and beaten by one of the robbers. The gang got $7,000 from the assistant cashier, and took two women hostages in case there was an ensuing gunfight.

As they headed out the back door, a man saw the robbers and ran to a nearby store to sound the alarm. The people of Wahpeton formed a posse and pursued the gang members. A small fire fight broke out when the posse caught up to them. The only injuries, and those were minor, were suffered by the two female hostages. The robbers escaped the posse and dropped off the two wounded women at a farmhouse 20 miles east of Wahpeton.

I have attached a photo of the Citizens National Bank of Wahpeton as it appeared at the time of the robbery. Over 40 small notes are known from this bank—perhaps some of those were part of the loot.


Readers may address questions or comments about this article or National Bank Notes in general to Mark Hotz directly by email at markbhotz@aol.com.



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