BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — The October season brings trick-or-treating, costumes, and fun activities to almost every area of North Dakotan communities, including your local libraries and historic sites. As luck would have it, one of Bismarck’s own legendary locations — the Former Governor’s mansion located on Avenue B in Bismarck — has a rich history of its own.
The Former Governor’s Mansion was constructed as a private home by Bismarck contractor Justice O. Grout for Bismarck businessman Asa Fisher — and when built, was one of the largest in what was then the northern portion of Bismarck. The Bismarck Daily Tribune reported on August 29, 1884, that the structure ‘will be a model building, large and comfortable, as well as elegant.’
“The former governor’s mansion was built in 1884 by a businessman that moved out here,” explains Outreach Coordinator Sarah Fox. “He unfortunately did not do well in business, so he sold his house to the state. In 1893, it became the Governor’s Mansion up until 1960. And then the Historical Society got it back into possession in the 1980s, and restored it to what it is today. We’ve been a historical site ever since then.”
In 1893 the State Legislature authorized a board, consisting of the governor, attorney general, and state auditor, ‘to purchase or erect a suitable residence for the Chief Executive of the State, and to furnish the same’. As luck would have it, the mansion fit the bill, and was purchased at the time for $5,000.
Governor Eli Shortridge became the first governor to occupy the house in late May of 1893. During the next sixty‑seven years, twenty governors used it as their official residence. The last governor to live here was John E. Davis, who moved into the newly constructed governor’s residence on the state Capitol grounds in 1960. Now, this piece of history is one that people can not only take in, but experience firsthand — as many community events take place at the building itself.
“We do a lot of special events and rentals,” states Site Supervisor Jonathan Campbell, “but when we do have public events, they’re generally free. We have recently done some paid events, but we really look at ourselves as a community space. People can just come in and just enjoy the history, do some crafts, and do some learning.”
The mansion is not just a museum or an old house. It is a place where people can gather and take in the past at the same time — even on holidays. This week, they’ll be hosting a unique event to celebrate Halloween, and other events are scheduled for even further down the calendar.
“We will be open on Halloween from 5-8 pm,” Fox states. “Again, our entire house will be open. We are going to be handing out candy, and have cookies and hot apple cider as well. November 10th and 11th, we are open. On the 11th, we are going to be open from 1-5, but from 1-4 we will have an event called ‘Fibers and Flavors’ — where anybody can bring in anything to work on, and we will have hot chocolate and treats while you craft.”
The mansion staff would like the public to know that all are welcome to attend their future events. The site is also available to rent for weddings and other private engagements.