James A. Dinnie

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James A. Dinnie, mayor of Grand Forks and also one of the most prominent, enterprising and active business men of the city, being president and general manager of the contracting firm of Dinnie & Company, was born in Dundas county, Ontario, Canada, near Morrisburg, on the 7th of February, 1863.  His father, John Dinnie, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, settled in Dundas county, Ontario, in 1851, and became a successful farmer there.  He was very active in the government party and he remained a resident of Canada until his death, which occurred in 1904, when he was seventy-five years of age.  In early manhood he wedded Mary Gow, a native of Scotland, who was born, reared and married in Edinburgh and accompanied here husband to Canada, where she passed away in 1868 at the age of forty-eight years.  By her marriage she became the mother of nine children, of whom James A. Dinnie was the eighth in order of birth.

In the country schools of his native county James A. Dinnie pursued his education to the age of ten and a half years.  After that his time and attention were concentrated upon farm work until he reached the age of sixteen, when he was apprenticed to learn the bricklayer’s trade.  After being employed at his trade in Canada for a year he removed to Minnesota and for the succeeding two years worked on a farm in Polk county, that state.  He next became a resident of Grand Forks, where he completed his trade.  After spending a year as a journeyman he entered upon the contracting and building business, forming a partnership with the late John Dinnie, an older brother, under the firm name of Dinnie Brothers.  They began business on a small scale but their interests developed until theirs became the largest contracting business in the city and state.  Their interests were carried on under partnership relations until 1909, when John Dinnie withdrew on account of illness and the business was then incorporated under the same name, John Dinnie being succeeded in the company by his son, A. S. Dinnie.  Andrew and Henry Johnson have since become members of the firm.  James A. Dinnie has always been the president and general manager, while Henry Johnson is now vice president and Andrew Johnson secretary and treasurer.  The firm has erected many of the best buildings in Grand Forks, including the Masonic Temple, which is one of the finest Masonic temples in the northwest.  They were also the contractors and builders of Hotel Dakota, the First National Bank Building, the Young Men’s Christian Association building, the Clifford block, the First Presbyterian church, the Columbia Hotel and in fact over sixty per cent of the brick buildings in this city.  Since 1903 the firm has done a general contracting business, extending its operations all over the state, and has erected the largest and most prominent buildings in Fargo, Devils Lake, Hillsboro, Valley City and in fact every city in the northern part of North Dakota.  Mr. Dinnie

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also has large interests in many other enterprises in Grand Forks.  He is a director and the treasurer of the Red River Valley Brick Company and prior to his connection therewith operated and conducted the brick manufacturing establishment of Dinnie Brothers, which was later consolidated with the Red River Valley Company, of which he is one of the principal stockholders.  He is likewise a director in the Scandinavian-American Bank of Grand Forks, a stockholder in the First National Bank, the Times-Herald Publishing Company and in the Northwest Trust Company of Grand Forks and he is the president of the Hoople (N. D.) State Bank.  He is likewise a stockholder in the Hebron Brick Company and his sound judgment and enterprise constitute an important factor in the successful direction of the interests of these institutions. 

Aside from business Mr. Dinnie takes an active part in many movements relating to the welfare and progress of his city.  In politics he is a republican but not until a few years ago did he take an active part in political work.  In 1913 he was chosen alderman of Grand Forks and the following year was elected mayor of the city, being the present chief executive, in which connection he is wisely controlling municipal affairs.  He has long been an active member of the Commercial Club, and for the past eight years has been a director.  He was likewise a member of the school board for one term and there is no interest of vital importance to the community that does not claim his attention and receive his support.

On the 1st of May, 1889, in Grand Forks, Mr. Dinnie was married to Miss Nettie Cooper, a native of Canada.  They have become the parents of a daughter, Vivian Nettie, now the wife of R. S. Danforth, of Chicago.

The parents are members of the Presbyterian church and Mr. Dinnie belongs to the Minneapolis Athletic Club, while with many fraternal and social organizations of Grand Forks he is connected.  He belongs to all the Masonic bodies, having taken the degrees of both York and Scottish Rites, and he became a member of the Elks lodge of Grand Forks soon after its organization.  He is prominent in the Knights of Pythias and at one time was grand chancellor of the state, while formerly he was district deputy of the Elks of North Dakota.  He passed all the chairs in the local lodge of Elks and was the first president of the state organization.  Formerly he was identified with the Loyal Americans and with the United Workmen and he is still a member of the Loyal Order of Moose.  He finds rest and recreation through his connection with the Grand Forks Curling Club and the Grand Forks Golf Club.  Mr. Dinnie certainly deserves great credit for what he has accomplished, for he started out to earn his living at a salary of four dollars per month and board on a farm and he also received a similar salary when he learned his trade as a bricklayer.  From that point, however, he has steadily worked his way upward and each forward step in his career has brought him a broader outlook and wider opportunities.  He is connected in every way with the upbuilding of city and state and has a large number of friends throughout North Dakota, being recognized as one of its most substantial and patriotic citizens.

North Dakota History and People
Outlines of American History, Volume III
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago, 1917


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Dinnie Brothers. – The Dinnie Brothers are probably the largest contractors in the state of North Dakota.  More cities and towns in the valley of the Red river are creations of that firm to a larger extent in the brick and stone building line than can be attributed to any other firm in this part of the Northwest.  To particularize would be to require mention of almost hundreds of buildings, and in point of time cover a period extending over a quarter of a century.

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John and James Dinnie came to Grand Forks, March 20, 1881.  They began as common brick-layers and, in a small way, began a career which subsequently led to its present large proportions, and until now, by their skilled work and successful management against all competition, the Red River valley throughout its entire length has been dotted by buildings of their own construction.  Their work has also extended west of the Minnesota line as far as Rugby, and for many years they have been giving employment to one and two hundred men constantly, requiring an expenditure annually of one or two hundred thousand dollars.  Such buildings as the Young Men’s Christian Association, the Carnegie library, the Clifford building, the Norman Glass block, the Hotel Dacotah, the New Hampshire block and the Corliss block are a few of the many structures that have been erected by this firm in Grand Forks.  Fargo was largely rebuilt by them since the fire in 1894.  Creditable mention also for much work done in Hillsboro, Grafton, Mayville, Northwood, Larimore, Langdon, Michigan City, Devils Lake and other places should be given to them.

At the present time the firm have some very extensive undertakings on hand:  the St. Michael’s Hospital for the Sisters of St. Joseph, a branch of the Sisters in St. Paul; St. Bernard’s Academy; a large three-story building on Third street; the large roller skating rink for W. R. Jack; the school of mines for the State University, and a large building for Mr. Deidlick at East Grand Forks.

The brothers own a brick yard on a three quarter section of land near the State University and manufacture three and four million brick annually.  They obtain their building stone from St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The firm consists of John Dinnie, for eight years mayor of Grand Forks; of James Dinnie, a member of the school board, and A. S. Dinnie, son of John, who is at the head of the sidewalk department.

History of The Red River Valley Past and Present
Volume II
C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago, 1909


Page 1

J. A. Dinnie, Civic Leader Here, Is Dead

Pioneer Contractor, in City Since 1881, Served as Mayor.
Set Rites Thursday
Helped Found IVA; Acted as State Highway Commissioner.

A Grand Forks resident more than half a century, James A. Dinnie, former mayor and leader in civic and political affairs, died early Tuesday at his home, 102 Fourth avenue South.

Mr. Dinnie was 75 years old Monday.

Mrs. Dinnie and a daughter, Mrs. Ralph Danforth of Evanston, Ill., were with him at the time of his death.  His illness had become critical last Friday.

Funeral to Be Thursday.

Funeral rites will be at 2 P. M. Thursday in the Masonic temple with Rev. James Robertson officiating.  The body will lie in state at the home after 2 P. M. today and will be taken to the Masonic temple at 10 A. M. Thursday to lie in state until the funeral hour.

Active pallbearers will be Arthur L. Netcher, W. H. Alexander, Al Densmore, Henry Johnson, J. D. Turner, John Kennedy, John E. Nuss and Carl Steen. 

List Honorary Pallbearers.

Honorary pallbearers will be Jack Shotwell and L. L. Twichel of Fargo, George A. Bangs of Indianapolis, Dr. H. M. Waldron of Drayton, Karl Farrup of Park River, George Shafer of Bismarck, W. P. Alsip of Winnipeg, Frank Sprague of Grafton, C. H. Misson and Joe Lee of Neche, and from Grand Forks, Dr. R. D. Campbell, Dr. G. M. Williamson, Denis Shanahan, Ed Prentice, Charles Garvin, O. J. Barnes, Max Rabinovich, J. R. Carley, R. R. Smith, C. J. Murphy, George Munro, Robert Green, J. A. Poppler, F. L. Goodman, O. B. Burtness, C. A. Hale, J. B. Wineman, Olof Nelson, Phil McLaughlin, Stuart Walsh, A. S. King, John Hesketh, W. A. Colvin, C. J. Evanson, F. V. Kent, Myron Bacon, D. F. McGowan, Ralph Lynch, Harry McNicol, Dr. M. B. Ruud, Robert Stokes, J. C. Sherlock, Alexander McDonald, Dr. James Grassick, Charles Bishop, Jack Fitzgerald, Mike Fitzgerald, J. Bell De Remer and R. J. Purcell.

An outstanding leader in business and building circles of Grand Forks and North Dakota for a great many years, Mr. Dinnie served as mayor of Grand Forks, as a city commissioner, as a state highway commissioner, was pro-

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minent in fraternal circles, and for years was a leader in state politics.

Coming to Grand Forks in 1881, an apprentice bricklayer with but a few dollars in his pocket, he became a partner in one of the largest contracting firms in the state in five years.

Associated with his brother John Dinnie, who died in 1909, Mr. Dinnie founded the contracting firm of Dinnie Brothers in the middle eighties.  This firm for a period of 40 years was one of the leading building concerns in North Dakota, constructing many of the larger buildings erected in all sections of the state.  They were especially active in the rebuilding of Fargo after the destruction of much of the city by fire in 1894.

Born in Canada.

Retiring from active business in 1925, he remained active in financial matters, public affairs and politics.  He was elected a city commissioner in 1928, served for four years, and was not a candidate for re-election.  In 1929 Governor George Shafer named him a member of the state highway commission, a post he held until 1933.

After his retirement from the city commission, he took a keen interest but less active part in city, state and national politics.  He was able to attend to his business affairs and be about the city until a few days before being stricken with his final illness, which became critical Friday.

Born February 7, 1863 at Hoosic, Ontario, Mr. Dinnie received his early education there and took up the bricklayers trade.  Before he had completed his apprenticeship he came to Grand Forks, arriving here in March of 1881.  He was the second of three brothers.

With his older brother, John Dinnie, he engaged in the contracting business here a few years after his arrival.  The firm’s business extended into Grafton, Mayville, Northwood, Larimore, Devils Lake and many other cities.

In Grand Forks the YMCA building, the Hotel Dacotah, the Clifford building, the public library and the New Hampshire block are but a few of the buildings still standing that were built by the firm.

Their contracting business led into the brick manufacturing line, and they established one of the early brick plants in the Red River valley.  Their brick yard was located south of the University of North Dakota and at its peak was capable of producing between three and four million brick a year.  Later it was consolidated with other plants to form the Red River Valley Brick corporation, in which Mr. Dinnie was a director and large stockholder.

Brother Died in 1909.

In 1909 John Dinnie died after  having served as mayor of Grand Forks and in other prominent posts.  J. A. Dinnie continued the contracting business under the style of Dinnie Brothers until 1925, when it was incorporated as the Dinnie Co., with himself as president.

During his business career, Mr. Dinnie had invested in apartment buildings, bank stock and other property, and in 1925, he retired from active participation in construction lines to look after his investments.

Mr. Dinnie’s political career began in 1905 when he was elected a member of the school board of Grand Forks, which position he held until he was elected an alderman in 1910.  He retired from this position in 1914 to become a candidate for mayor.  He was elected and served until 1918.

He remained out of active politics until 1928, although he was powerful in the councils of the Independent Voters association, which was opposing the Non-partisan league at that time.  In 1928 he was elected a city commissioner of Grand Forks, and served four years in charge of the street department, engineering, bridges, street lighting, sewers, public improvements and franchises.

Helped Found I.V.A.                

One of the founders of the Independent Voters association and a liberal contributor to its funds, Mr. Dinnie sought no political reward for his efforts.  In the campaign for Governor George Shafer, he served as county chairman in Grand Forks county, and was appointed a member of the state highway commission.

In addition to his political and business activities, Mr. Dinnie was prominent in Masonic lodge activities, having served in numerous posts of the order and the Kem temple of the Mystic shrine.  He was a member of the First Presbyterian church in Grand Forks.  He also was affiliated with the Elks lodge and several other fraternal organizations.  He has served as exalted ruler of the Grand Forks Elks, and Kem temple’s member and president of the Masonic Building corporation.

Other posts he held included Republican national committee-man, delegate to several Republican national conventions, posts in the Knights of Pythias and offices in church organizations.

Mr. Dinnie was married in 1889 to Nettie Cooper of Grand Forks, who died in 1925.  Four years later he married Ruby McGraw of Chicago in the spring of 1929 at Chicago.

In addition to his widow and his daughter, Mrs. Danforth, survivors include a sister, Mrs. Katherine Dawley of Grand Forks and a half-sister, Mrs. Henry Garlough of Williamsburg, Ont,; a nephew, Arthur S. Dinnie, formerly a business associate, now of Minneapolis; and a brother, D. A. Dinnie of Oakland, Calif.

Grand Forks Herald
Wednesday Morning, February 9, 1938
Volume 57, Number 86


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