Our Story

How it all started

First Presbyterian Church Fargo, chartered in 1877, has its origin in the historical developmental saga of the Northern Great Plains territories and Red River Valley.  

Pioneers of the late 1800s encountered challenges unlike anything they had experienced in the east as they pushed their way westward to the Great Plains. However, taming of the treeless windswept prairies was facilitated by the expansion of the railroad into the western frontier.

Not only did the railroad accelerate migration of settlers from the east during the period of the 1870’s-1900’s, it made possible delivery of supplies and materials which enhanced agricultural progress and subsequent construction of buildings. This was followed in short order by development of communities and governing social structures. As communities formed, so did the desire to form faith communities.  

“Presbyterianism” was introduced to the Red River Valley of the North Dakota Territory in 1871 by Rev. O. H. Elmer, a Presbyterian missionary pastor. Rev. Elmer served as pastor at a church in Moorhead, MN, while also preaching in the Fargo area.  By 1877, the population of Fargo (incorporated in 1875) had grown to a respectable number of seven hundred, in large part due to the influence of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Following a community needs survey, it was determined that there was sufficient interest in church development to warrant organization of a Presbyterian Church in Fargo. The First Presbyterian Church of Fargo, North Dakota Territory was subsequently chartered, under the guidance of Rev. Elmer, on December 30, 1877 with nine charter members. A wooden structure was constructed in downtown Fargo to house the congregation. Less than ten years later, by 1885, membership had grown to 152.

The flourishing agricultural economy of the Red River Valley soon took a turn for the worse. A protracted drought in the Dakotas from 1888-1894 was compounded by the economic depression which followed the Great Panic of 1893. The agricultural base of the Red River Valley was severely threatened and hence the financial viability of the young church. The greatest blow, however, came in the form of the devastating Fargo fire of 1893 which destroyed the majority of the town including homes and businesses. The original church building, constructed in 1878 of wood and located downtown, survived the disastrous fire. However, church membership dropped considerably as approximately a third of its members dispersed to other parts of the country and into Canada. Nonetheless, the congregation continued to grow and 30 years later had reached a membership of 259, outgrowing the building’s seating capacity of 200.  

In 1906, the original wooden church building structure was sold and moved to an alternate location. This made room for construction of a larger building on the same site, this time brick, with a seating capacity of 425. By 1930, further growth of the congregation brought membership to 1300, exceeding capacity of the second structure. An offer from the government to purchase the site made way for construction of the current Scottish Gothic style church building located at 650 2nd Avenue South, across the street from the prior location.

Expanding the vision

In recent years, First Presbyterian Church has been in an extended conversation made possible by our "James 2 Taskforce" which has been exploring how we can be a good neighbor to those who live in Downtown Fargo/Moorhead.  Those conversations have seen us steadily add to our work a number of ministries of compassion — serving as a sheltering congregation for overflow from the homeless shelter in the winter months and partnering with Heart & Soul Community Café to provide pay-as-you-are-able meals in our facility.

Where we are headed

In the coming year, we will be engaged in a congregation-wide conversation about new ways we can partner with others to provide help to our downtown neighbors in Fargo.

Be a part of our story

Join us every Sunday as we gather to worship together at 10:30 am.  Sunday School from 9:15-10:15 am.