If Walls Could Talk
By Rita Maisel
Several weeks ago Linda Abar from Grand Forks stopped in to ask if anyone could help her find the store her grandfather had in Langdon from 1922-1940. She knew it was a grocery store probably on Main Street (renamed Third Street for younger readers). First we found her grandfather’s obituary which led to a statement that he had sold the grocery business to Nick Roehrich in 1933 and gone on to become a partner with William Stranger in an automotive garage thought by those we questioned to have been farther south on the same street. The obituary also mentioned Fred Abar selling his share of the dealership location to Farmers Union in 1940 and that he had sold farmland in Loam Township in 1940 giving the name of the farmland purchaser which descendants said was not correct. They were sure their father never had land in Loam Township. Maybe the clipping file story had listed the land in the wrong township. Further searching would be necessary.
However, some facts were correct. Even I remembered the first Roehrich Fairway Store on Main Street and took for granted the Farmers Union in 1940 was where Fischer Surveying is today. Carol and Jimmy Roehrich, older of the four children in that family, had gone to Langdon Public School so several remembered the Roehrichs and that their store had moved over to the west end of Boyd’s Golden Rule Store around 1942. The original store building had other occupants in the 1940s such as a new Lutheran church planning to build in Langdon (Redeemer Lutheran), the Club Café and a Red and White Grocery Store. Later the building had been demolished by other owners of the site and a newer building constructed.
On another visit Linda brought pictures of the original store with family members or store employees included in the picture. Those scenes showed bits and pieces of other buildings near their store. One picture showed Linda’s father as a boy near an outdoor stairway and was marked “over the store”. The original building had probably had apartments above the store. Nearby brick walls looked like buildings still standing in Langdon so the site location was one that matched!
The next stop had to be the county recorder’s office to see what land had been sold in 1940 by the Abars. The answer was none. The Abar family had moved to Grand Forks in 1940, but property sales at the courthouse only listed two sales in that era by Fred and Jennie Abar. Both of those sales were in October of 1943. The first sale was 240 acres of land in Loam Township. A sale the next day was his share of a business lot in Langdon to the Farmers Union. People with better memories than mine insisted the original Farmers Union had been across the street – south of the site now known as Fischer Surveying. When Linda Abar comes back with more information, we hope to find that some of the answers to her questions actually did come from identifying surrounding walls at sites on Langdon’s Main Street.
Researching that story got more interesting when the subject of the Boyd Block sign arose. A spokesperson for that project listed the sign as 117 years old which would mean the Boyd store on that lot had been constructed in 1902. J. B. Boyd contributed several stories to Langdon history about his stores (plural!) in Langdon. I never did find the location of the first store erected in 1887 and had always understood it was mid-way down the west side of the next block. What he did provide was detailed information on hauling the wood used to construct the first store from Neche, which was the nearest railroad connection, and exciting stories of getting the materials plus limited sale items to the Langdon location. His store did not open until some time after the railroad reached Langdon in the fall of 1887. As the railroad extended he also had stores in Osnabrook (managed by his partner who died in the early 1890s) and in Hannah with various managers there. We do know he began building the brick building on the land now known as Boyd Block in 1902 when the town appeared to have a major building boom. Schulke, who also had a general merchandise business roughly where Thrivent is today, had a store closing sale in 1902 when he purchased the remains of the Palace Hotel on the west side of the street “across from the new Boyd Store presently being built” according to old newspapers. Schulke intended to open his store first, but newspapers had several years of intermittent references to lumber famines, railroad strikes, problems with building supplies and unavailable stocks for the shelves of the new stores so Boyd opened his new Headquarters Store in November of 1902, and Schulke opened his new Trade Palace a few months later in 1903.
The first interview I heard about the composition of the 117-year-old sign mentioned the guest should contact Langdon Long Ago for information – not a suggestion that made sense to the guest or to me listening at home. I knew I was not an expert on events that happened before my parents were born. As it happens, when the store burned I had written a story which Boyd family members appreciated which might have details forgotten over the years. To find a story we had to have a date for the fire, and the clipping file had no record of the store burning. Finding someone who knew when the store burned brought guesses of from 10 to 25 years ago. Eventually I went online to see if the information might be there and found the first paragraph of an interview the Grand Forks Herald had done with Larry Platz of the Langdon Fire Department which gave the fire date as September 7, 2004. Thanks to Duane Field, a dedicated scrapbook keeper, a copy of the fire story had been pasted in Duane’s collection of 2004 clippings along with numerous pictures. The actual date of the fire was September 5, 2004, and other details from Mr. Boyd’s memories of long ago were just a page or two away.
What the library did have was framed pictures of the Boyd Block Store (also known as the original Golden Rule Store) donated by the Boyd family with help from Eileen Nelson and currently hanging in the library’s North Dakota Room. Interested readers can view at least four different views from the historic site with maybe a few surprises for careful viewers
There are also some views of this store and others on the NDSU portion of Digital Horizons of other Langdon buildings known under the “block” designation. Ones I have seen on that site tend to list “photographer unknown”. Older residents will remember a set of Langdon postcards, not yet located, which would make a nice column all by themselves. The postcards are thought to have been made from pictures taken by photographer/dentist Tom Smith or maybe taken by W. R. Opie after he opened a photography studio here in 1906, or maybe some are earlier pictures taken by a duo who went by the name Whiskers and Moustache. One of those men was a Salter and the other may have been Taylor. Both appear to have gone on to settle in the newly opened Canadian Northwest early in the 1900s. The postcards had been sold as souvenirs in Langdon or given to potential customers as advertising. Some of these postcards were marked “lithographed for J. B. Boyd of Langdon, ND” by a company located in Germany. The postcard sets are thought to have included both the Boyd and Schulke stores, St. Alphonsus Church (construction begun in 1903), the Langdon Opera House (construction begun in 1903), the Winter Block (construction begun in 1902) which later became the Manson Bakery, the Cavalier County Courthouse constructed in 1895, and the Mooney Bank built in 1906 and now the home of the Eagles with possibly the Twin School which burned in 1911 included. An early Langdon jewelry or drug store had some of these same pictures engraved on the bowl of silver spoons. Donovan Block (still standing) was a double building housing several businesses at least part of which was built in the 1880s and is one of only a few original downtown businesses still standing.
“Block” in building terms referred quite often to a multiple purpose building that could house one or more stores, living quarters and other amenities. However, a popular source of concrete construction supplies with roots in Osweego, Ontario, and later a second factory in London, Ontario, was run at times by two or three brothers whose name just happened to be Boyd. Yes, J. B. Boyd did come from Ontario and appears to have had numerous relatives still in that location. Boyd Brothers Concrete capitalized on building concrete blocks and signs which were sold widely in both Canada and the United States. A special feature of their blocks was that they were originally termed “artificial stone”. There were three types of these artificial stones: flat with smooth surfaces, aggregate surfaces of natural stone, or flat surfaces with designs of aggregate material. As a source for the sign it might be worth checking out.
In tying all these random bits of trivia together, it could be that pictures truly are worth a thousand words. Two pictures of the building in the same frame donated to the Cavalier County Library by the Boyd family are both taken on the Boyd Block location with at least one in the days when the store was known as the Golden Rule Store. The top picture has the same side window construction and location as the store most of us remember but does not have the same décor or front windows. That picture does have rolled up awnings and staff members sitting on wooden barrels. This could be a 1910 picture or even one taken on the day the store opened in 1902. The second picture has the Boyd Block sign above very tastefully remodeled arched windows with decorative frames on the upper level. The upper windows carry signs for the George Price Law Firm and Dr. Mugan’s Office and Surgery. There are memories of family relationships between Mrs. Price, Dr. Mugan and Mrs. Donovan (wife of Dr. Donovan). This second picture, which might date to the World War I time frame, has nicely dressed ladies in long skirts, no barrel seating and horse-drawn wagons in the background. Either a telephone or possibly electrical pole can be seen if you look closely. That picture is not dated either but might resemble World War I fashions.
In the meantime, we will watch for more pictures, and readers may find some of the original post cards. The Courier-Democrat did have interesting advertisements when the store first opened on the Boyd Block site offering everything from groceries to china and dishes, shoes, furniture and fur coats. The furs came from a supplier in New York. There were in-house milliners, tailors and dressmakers as well as ready to wear clothing and lines of fine fabrics. In later years they had contests, “Boyd money,” and many innovative special events. If you took home bricks from the store after the fire, you may already have a piece of history in your hands.