The Magic City, Fall 1940

Minot, Fall, 1940

For those of us who are history buffs, the 1930s and 40s are a golden age of documentary photography. Government photographers from the Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information traveled the country, photographing American cities big and small. They left behind a photographic treasure trove of places that no longer exist. It was photos like those, largely the work of Arthur Rothstein, that allowed us to do our book on North Dakota’s largest city, Fargo Moorhead Lost and Found, and another of those government photographers, John Vachon, captured these photos of Minot in October of 1940.

I find these photos interesting for the look back at the WWII era, in a season when the air had gone brisk and the leaves had presumably turned brilliant shades of yellow and red, about to become a carpet for residents of the Magic City.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Cars and trucks were everywhere in 1940, but these old horsedrawn wagons were still used to shuttle around cans of milk. This shipment was just waiting at the depot to head off to its next destination.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Unidentified football players on what appears to be Main Street, walking north. I could be wrong but their helmets appear to be plastic, which would have been a new development at the time. Riddell introduced plastic helmets in 1939, and the old leather helmets disappeared from use by the 1950s. Update: site visitor Brad says the player on the right, #44, is his dad Archie Peterson (see comments below).

Minot, Fall, 1940

The former Great Northern Hotel wasn’t exactly a swanky joint in 1940. I am not sure the location of this place, but it doesn’t look like the kind of place that would still be standing in a town the size of Minot.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Minot, Fall, 1940

This photo was simply labeled, “Chimneysweeper. Minot, ND.”

Minot, Fall, 1940

Upon closer inspection, chimney sweep looks like a dangeorous job. Standing on that wood ladder 3 1/2 stories above the ground doesn’t seem like a place I would be eager to be.

Minot, Fall, 1940

I zoomed in on this section of the photo because I was interested in the signs. Partially obscured by the column on the left is the word “Rooms,” indicating this was a rooming house, and the building in the background has an automotive use with the words “Body Dept.” painted on the white facade. It wasn’t until I saw the address “304” on the column at left that I realized I knew this place.

It is the former home of Martin Jacobson at 304 S. Main Street. In 1945, just five years after these photos were taken, it would be purchased by a funeral director transplant from the Twin Cities, Ben (B.J.) Thomas, and it became the Thomas Family Funeral Home.

I remember this place from my childhood in Minot, primarily as the place next door to the old Empire Theater. If you came out of a Saturday matinee and sat down on the grass to wait for your mom and dad to pick you up, someone would come out and ask you to get off the grass. Us darn kids.

Minot, Fall, 1940

In the image above, you can see the home changed substantially over the years in its life as a funeral home. The cupola and flagpole on the northwest side are gone. A room which once occupied the space between the columns is also gone, and several windows have been closed off, including the third story window over the front entrance. Image/Google Earth

Minot, Fall, 1940

This photo was labeled “Lutheran Church. Minot, ND.” I was unfamiliar with which church this is, so please leave a comment if you know.

Minot, Fall, 1940

Church was the social media of the day, and this photo is a good example. Everybody in their Sunday best, catching up with people they hadn’t seen all week.

Minot, Fall, 1940

See also: Minot Central High School

Photos by John Vachon, original content © Sonic Tremor Media

15 Comments on “The Magic City, Fall 1940

  1. What an eye; what a guess! When I saw the first picture of the house with the chimneysweep, I thought to myself, “That house looks like the Thomas Family Funeral Home downtown.” And it was!

  2. Very interesting pictures. Concerning the picture of the wagon with the cream cans, those were freight wagons used at depots to transfer freight, cream cans, etc. to and from the train and the freight house in the depot. They weren’t pulled by horses but by the depot agent. I was the son of a depot agent and raised in the upstairs of a Soo Line depot. This picture looks like it was taken at the Soo Line depot in Minot.

    • Those wagons were commonly pulled by hand, but my grandfather worked at a depot, and they had horses pull them pretty regularly when the load was too heavy for a person. The depot he worked at used old horse drawn wagons, repurposed.

  3. The church is (I think) Bethany Lutheran Church and is still an active church.

  4. I pulled many of these wagons myself, the cans were full of cream, sour and sweet, most likely going to St Paul, but some used to go to Fargo or near Fargo, Casselton Nd.
    The picture of the football players is main street Minot, just across the street on the corner is Gathnes office supply and next to that was the Covered Wagon Saloon owned by Floyd McGillvrey. At the end of the street was the old Great Northern Railroad headquarters for the Minot Division which extended from WillistonND to Breckenridge MN

    • My mom was 3 years old at the time of these photos, but would eventually work at Gathnes. I remember her talking about it.

  5. The Lutheran church in the photo is the old Zion Lutheran Church building, which stood in downtown Minot at the corner of 1st St. and 2nd Ave.(or maybe 3rd Ave.) until 1959 when the new building was constructed. I was baptized in the old church building in 1958.

  6. I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I think that is First Lutheran Church, located at 5th and Broadway. The building has changed quite a bit over the years, but I’m pretty sure that is it.

  7. Regarding the church photo; if you look at the current Bethany Lutheran church (street view in Google Maps), I’m pretty sure this photo isn’t of Bethany. My parents were members @ Bethany for about 50 years, and I attended there from 1959-1967 when I left Minot to seek my fortune. I would agree with Mike Milkey about it being Zion Lutheran.

    • Thanks, David. I can say with absolute certainty that the photo IS, indeed, that of Zion Lutheran Church, located at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 1st Street SW.

  8. Here is a link to the Zion Lutheran Church’s website. “When the congregation outgrew its original location, this church was
    built in 1907 at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 1st Street SW.” This is their “History” page and looks like the picture you have above.

  9. My dad’s funeral services were there when I was 11. I remember it like yesterday now more than thirty years have passed.

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