Update on the Grand Forks Project 1920 Project

Every project worth doing needs a catchy name. With that in mind, I’m christening my strange effort to reconcile the 1920 census with the 1920 street map of Grand Forks, the Grand Forks 1920 Project. Sadly, this does not have a catchy acronym, but hopefully some of the content will be intriguing enough to make up for it.

Over the past week, I finished assigning any available 2020 addresses to the addresses in the 1920 census. This is a challenge in some areas because our urban landscape has changed considerably over the last 100 years with entire neighborhoods being removed, large buildings with a single address replacing smaller residences each with their own address, and a change in street names and address numbers on some streets.

My main approach to reconciling the 1920 and 2020 street grid was using the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from 1916 which were a close enough approximation to 1920 urban grid to allow for a mostly convincing overlay. This allowed me to reconcile approximately 2000 of the 2800 distinct street addresses presented in the 1920 census.

Unfortunately, the Sanborn Maps do not cover the entire urban area of Grand Forks. The burgeoning Lincoln Park neighborhood, for example, was not on the Sanborn Map and is also not present on the contemporary parcel map for the city, having been removed after the flood in 1997. As a result, this neighborhood can only be recovered through a combination of 1960s aerial photos and a 1934 USGS map. So far this effort at recovery remains a work in progress.

One of the strange things is that the looping route of Boulevard Avenue caused the house numbers go up in number as they move toward the river unlike nearly all the addresses in Grand Forks with increase in number as they move west away from the river. Boulevard Avenue is preserved today as “Lincoln Drive” which runs through Lincoln Park.

I was far more successful in my effort to reconstruct the neighborhood immediately south of the Great Northern Railway line into town. This neighborhood was lost to urban renewal in the 1970s and stood approximately where the current Grand Forks Housing Authority apartments now stand. In 1920, this was a Jewish neighborhood centered on a Synagogue and a Hebrew school. 

The neighborhood is visible in the 1916 Sanborn Maps.

NWSouthSide Sanborn

This 1960 aerial photos.

NWSouthSide 1960s

And I was able to reconstruct the neighborhood here in GIS in light blue. These GIS units will allow me to place the census data on the map. 

NWSouthSide Recon

While I haven’t gotten down to the hard work of coding and then analyzing the 1920 census data, it’s hard to resist writing a tiny bit about some of the small things that have already come out of this work.

One thing that popped out to me was a small apartment building which stands on 624 5th Avenue N in what we call the Near Northside of Grand Forks. I’ve long worried that the Near Northside should be a designated historic neighborhood but for various reasons is not. This building today is called the Hampton Apartments, but when it was built between 1892 and 1897 it was known as the DeRoche Block.


It’s interesting in the 21st century because it’s the only standing turn of the century apartment block in town that is not either part of a historic district or individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For a listing of the turn of the century apartment blocks, check out the National Register nomination of the Skarbro Apartments. Moreover, it’s probably among the earliest standing apartment blocks in Grand Forks, predating the better-known Dinnie Apartments (with the nomination here) on S 6th Street and Gertrude/Belmont by about a decade.

With the 1920s census data we can say something about the folks who lived in the DeRoche Block. Of the 7 apartments, 4 were occupied by immigrants from Mexico, Norway, and Russia (two groups of Germans from Russia). The families tended to include adult children and seem to also include other adult relatives with different last names (whether through remarriage or as adult siblings). The apartments average 5 residents each. The residents worked across a range of jobs including for the railroad, as a blacksmith, at a candy company, grocery, and a bakery. One resident, an immigrant from Mexico, was a chef at a restaurant; a Norwegian immigrant was a retired farmer; another was a washer woman whose adult daughter was a housekeeper. 

We can compare, just for kicks, the residents of the DeRoche Block with those in the Dinnie Block built approximately 10 years later. Like at Deroche, half of the apartments had immigrant families. The Panovitz family were Russian (Lithuanian?) Jews, the Brynjilfams are listed as Irish, although I suspect they were Icelandic, Mary Maloney was a German from Luxembourg, and Maude Hinze was from Canada. The average number of residents in the 8 apartments was 3 and the residents tended to work in more affluent or at least respected professions including in real estate, as a conductor on the railroad, as a clergyman, a furniture merchant, and in commercial trades. It is notable that some of the families are multigenerational with grandparents and adult children living together. Mary Maloney’s granddaughter was a school teacher, for example, and Richard and Grace Mills and their daughter lived with Bjoinstefan and Mary Brynjilfam. 

This is just a start to this project, of course. Once I reconcile the addresses and reconstruct the street grid for some of the more disturbed areas of the of the city, I’ll need to return to the census and assign to each individual the proper address. This will take some time, but hopefully will provide a foundation for talking about the Grand Forks of 1920 in a more historically nuanced and detailed way. 

Stay tuned. 


  1. Super interesting project, Bill! Out of curiosity (full disclosure, I’m working on a proposal and this info could be useful), what 1960s aerial photo are you using and how did you find/access it?


    1. Hi Becky,

      I’m using the FSA 1957-1960 1:20,000 aerial photos of ND (https://gishubdata.nd.gov/dataset/fsa-aerial-photography-1957-1962). As you can see, they’re available via the ND GIS datahub and in their current state, they’re “good enough” for what I’m using them for both here and in another project where I’m working with our local Historic Preservation Commission to document mid-century housing in town.



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