James Twamley


JAMES TWAMLEY.  This gentleman needs no introduction to the people of Grand Forks county and vicinity.  He is well known as one of the pioneers of that region and for many years was associated with the commercial interests of Grand Forks, and is now engaged in farming in connection with other financial interests.  He has a well-improved estate in Falconer township and has made a success of his work in North Dakota.

Our subject was born in Ireland, November 5, 1843.  His parents, Peter and Eliza (Abbott) Twamley, were natives of Ireland, and they emigrated to the United States about 1846 or 1847 and settled in the state of New York, where they passed the remainder of their lives.  Three sons and three daughters were born to them, of whom our subject is the only one who located in North Dakota.

Mr. Twamley was reared and educated in New York and attended the University of New York City, and then engaged as a salesman in a wholesale dry goods house, in 1860, and in 1865 went to Chicago as a buyer for J. V. Farrell & Company, and after one year there engaged in business for himself in Chicago.  He remained there until 1871, when fire destroyed his stock, and he then returned to New York and soon went to St. Paul.  He became a partner in the firm of Anerbach, Finch & Scheffer, as buyer, and in 1876 he went to Grand Forks, North Dakota.  He soon afterward purchased land in sections 28 and 33, in Falconer township, and later engaged in general merchandise business in Grand Forks in company with Frank Viets, and later the company moved into Minto, where they engaged in business and remained five years.  Mr. Twamley then rented the Twamley block, now known as the Ontario Store, to R. B. Griffith, and subsequently sold it to him and he now occupies it.  Mr. Twamley returned to Grand Forks and has since followed farming in Falconer township, and devotes attention to other financial interests.

Our subject was married in New York, in 1866, to Mary E. Hawkins, of Orange county, New York.  Two children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Twamley, named as follows:  J. Frederick and Mary E.  Mr. Twamley was regent of the North Dakota University ten years and has also served on the local school board and as chairman of the township board, which office he now holds.  He is prominent in secret society circles and is a thirty-third-degree Mason and is the oldest Scottish Rite Mason in North Dakota.  He is also a member of the Order of Foresters and is first high chief of the state.  He is president of the Old Settlers’ Association of North Dakota.

Compendium of History and Biography of North Dakota
Geo. A. Ogle & Co., Chicago, 1900
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In the Early Days – An Article by James Twamley

The Red river valley attracted very little attention years ago, in fact the report sent out by Gen. Hazen tended to ward off the average dealer and commercial travelers were almost unknown.  The trip had to be made by dog train and stage and boat, and the comforts of the above few and far between as compared with the through vestibule train with her palatial sleepers and dining cars – but we will all remember kindly the dog train, the old stage line and the old boat line on the river – it was calculated that a boat would pay for herself every trip.  The early settlers had good health and some means and they commenced to settle up the valley proper.  It was previous to this time that my attention was called to the wants of the valley.  I was at that time connected with the wholesale dry goods house of Anerbach, Finch & Schaffer of St. Paul, Minn.  Our trade reached out through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Dakota.  Competition was not as strong as it is today and when a Dakota buyer visited the market he was not hounded to death by commercial travelers to sell him goods, as their wants were limited and corresponded with their exchequer.  They generally brought down a lot of furs with them and these were sold to the highest bidder for cash which was credited to the account of the merchant.  Cash was almost an unknown quantity in those days and not until the railroads commenced to penetrate the country and emigrants from the east put in an appearance that money commenced to circulate.  Previous to that wampum was the coin of the realm.  One day in St. Paul when trade was visiting the city there appeared on the scene the buyer of the Hudson Bay Fur company, Mr. Morgan.  The word was sent the rounds and the dogs of war were cut loose and for two weeks Mr. Morgan looked the market over thoroughly and at the end of that time it was our happy lot – carrying the largest and best line of goods at that time in the state – to secure the order which amounted to some $76,000, including all the merchandise on his order.  This commenced to open my eyes.  I was astonished at the quantity of goods shipped – the largest bill ever shipped by St. Paul and probably never beaten by Chicago.  This bill of goods was shipped to Grand Forks, Dakota, and distributed from there to Goose River, Georgetown and Frog Point, the points where the Hudson Bay had its branch stores.  I made up my mind I would visit that promised land as soon as convenient.  My business calling me to New York every year as buyer for our house I had to wait until the following June before I could make the trip.  I went to Bismarck, then up and down the Missouri river; visited the forts by stage and enjoyed my trip very much, but on my return home I came down the Red river valley from Glyndon to Crookston, thence to Fishers’ Landing to Grand Forks.  This last trip opened my eyes.  The heavy black loam soil caught my eye and I commenced to see where the Hudson Bay Fur company found market for that bill of goods and I made up my mind that was not a bad place to call “home.”  The change was a marked contrast from New York to Chicago, from Chicago to St. Paul and from St. Paul to Grand Forks, where I engaged in the general merchandise business for years on the corner now occupied by the Ontario store. Business in the valley now is done on a metropolitan scale and in special lines; then it was one general store and it was supposed to carry anything and everything.  Now you can find anything you want just as well as in any city in the union.  The railroad must get credit for bringing us in touch with the outside world.  The telegraph and telephone lines keep us posted on markets and we can make our deals without waiting for the mail which used to be a week behind on their reports, and the wheat buyer suffered accordingly.  Wheat now is handled the same as merchandise and quotations are received on every change of the market.  In fact everything in the valley is up to date and in place of the old Northwestern we have the palatial Dacotah.  In fact old settlers have been introduced to the changes so slowly that they hardly notice the revolution on the wheel of time, but the pendulum swings just the same and every beat records an improvement all along the line, and today the valley may well be name the “bread basket of the world.”  – James Twamley

Mr. Twamley is general agent for North Dakota and Minnesota of the celebrated fire extinguisher, Fyricide, and is doing a good business.  (Grand Forks Herald, Tuesday Morning, June 27, 1899, Volume 18, Number 205, Page 38)


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James Twamley, ex-president of the Old Settlers’ Association of the Red River valley, came to Grand Forks, N. D., in 1876 and purchased land north of the city limits, where he resided for a number of years.  In the year 1878 he and Frank Viets purchased a stock of goods and commenced the first wholesale house in North Dakota on the corner of Demers avenue and Third street.  There were no railroads in the country at that time, and Mr. Twamley carried his trunks by team through Grand Forks, Walsh, Pembina and Traill counties.  He still retains the wagon that he used for his samples.  Mr. Twamley was educated in the city of New York, in her public schools and the University of New York.

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Having a preference for commercial life, he engaged in the wholesale dry goods business with the house of De Forest, Armstrong & Co., on Chambers street, where he served his apprenticeship and remained with the house for three years.  Later the John V. Farwell house of Chicago wanted a buyer and Mr. Twamley was engaged for the position, afterwards engaging in the wholesale dry goods business as a member of the house of Seymour, Carter & Twamley, on Lake street, where he remained until after the fire, when he returned to New York and joined the firm of Gurley & Twamley, where he remained some time.

The Western fever having taken possession of him, we next find him in St. Paul, Minn., as buyer for the wholesale dry goods house of Auerbach, Finch & Sheffer, which position he held for eight years, until his health failed him, when he made up his mind to come to North Dakota and grow up with the new state, which step he has never regretted up to date.  Mr. Twamley purchased the corner now occupied by R. B. Griffith, and some years later sold it to him.  He has always taken an interest in educational matters, having served on the city school board and also on the board of regents of the University of North Dakota.  He was the first regent appointed by Governor Ordway, and re-appointed four times after that, making a total of ten years.

He has given a good deal of time to Masonry, being the oldest Scottish Rite Mason in the state, having received all the degrees from the first to the thirty-third inclusive.  He helped to keep alive the temperance sentiment in the state, as he was grand chief templar of the Independent order of Good Templars at the time the state was admitted as a state, the first prohibition state to enter the Union.  He was also the first high chief ranger of the Independent Order of Foresters for North Dakota.

Mr. Twamley married, in 1866, in New York, Miss Mary E. Hawkins, or Orange county, New York.  Two children were born to Mr. and Mrs. Twamley, J. Fred and M. Edna.  Fred has been in Philadelphia as sales manager of the Saylor cement, which position he has held for a number of years.  Edna is a teacher in the high school of Grand Forks, which position she has held for a number of years.  Both are graduates of the Grand Forks high school, and Edna is a graduate of Minnesota University.  Mrs.

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Twamley is a member of one of the oldest families of Orange county, New York, where her family has resided for generations, and a good part of the county is related to her.  The family have spent over thirty years in the valley and are entitled to a diploma for suffering the privations of pioneer life.

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


Page 233


No history of North Dakota would be complete without extended reference to James Twamley, of Grand Forks, whose name is inseparably interwoven with the business development and those things which have made history in this state.  He was born in County Carlow, Ireland, November 5, 1843.  His father, Peter Twamley, also a native of that country, located in New York city on coming to America in 1844 and there continued to reside until his death, which occurred in 1896, when he had reached the advanced age of eighty-nine years.  He was an accountant by profession and thus provided for his family.  At the time of the Civil war he and two of his sons responded to the country’s call for aid in preserving the Union, the father becoming a member of the Twenty-second New York Infantry.  He married Elizabeth Abbott, also a native of the green isle of Erin, and her death occurred in 1881, when she was sixty-seven years of age.  There were six children in the family:  Henrietta, who became the wife of James McKenell but both are now deceased; Joseph, who served in the Civil war and died in 1882; Elizabeth Ann, the wife of John Pullman, of Brooklyn, New York; Peter, who was a member of the Forty-eighth New York Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil war and for twenty years was president of the Forty-eighth Veteran Association, dying July 30, 1916, his remains being interred in Green-

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wood cemetery at Brooklyn; Jennie, the deceased wife of John Bolton, an importer of New York city; and James of this review.

The last named was educated in the public schools of New York and in the College of the City of New York and when seventeen years of age started out in the business world as an employee in the wholesale dry goods house of De Forest, Armstrong & Company.  Later he was with John V. Farwell, of Chicago, and subsequently embarked in business on his own account as a member of the firm of Seymour, Carter & Twamley, but in the big Chicago fire of 1871 their establishment was destroyed and Mr. Twamley lost the greater part of his fortune at that time.  He then returned to New York city and entered into partnership with George B. Gurley under the firm name of Gurley & Twamley, dealers in dry goods, at No. 327 Broadway.  That association was maintained for six years, at the end of which time Mr. Twamley removed to St. Paul and for eight years was buyer for the Auerbach-Finch-Sheffer Company and also a member of the firm, having a financial interest in the business.  On account of ill health, however, he left St. Paul and removed to Grand Forks, North Dakota, and has resided in this state ever since.  Soon after his arrival he entered the wholesale and retail grocery business, forming a partnership with Frank Viets after which they purchased the Metlar stock, then located at the corner of Third and De Mers streets, where the present Ontario department store now stands.  This was the first wholesale grocery establishment within the territory now embraced in North Dakota.  Mr. Twamley personally purchased the site of the store, which is today the most valuable corner in the city of Grand Forks, its estimated worth being one hundred thousand dollars.  Something of the rise in real estate values in Grand Forks resulting from the growth and development of the city is indicated in the fact that Mr. Twamley made the purchase of that property for seven thousand dollars and after owning it for twelve years he sold it for twenty-two thousand dollars, while in the meantime he had received twenty thousand dollars in rental.  The firm of Twamley & Viets existed for a year, at the end of which time the latter retired and returned to Ohio, being succeeded in the business by John A. Grove under the firm style of Twamley & Grove.  That firm successfully carried on the business for two years, at the end of which time Mr. Twamley went to Minto, North Dakota, where he was joined by Mr. Viets, his former partner, in the establishment of a wholesale grocery business.  They also erected a mill, which they operated for six years but on account of poor railroad facilities sold the business and Mr. Twamley returned to Grand Forks, since which time he has practically lived retired.  During twelve years of this period, however, he has acted as public administrator of Grand Forks county and for the past fifteen years has been state agent for the Detroit Heating & Lighting Company, manufacturers of gas plants for public and domestic use.  Mr. Twamley maintains his interest in that business merely to be occupied, for indolence and idleness are utterly foreign to his nature and he cannot content himself without the supervision of some business interests to occupy his attention.  Through all of his business career he has studied closely the question affecting his interests and his sound judgment has been displayed in the success that has attended his efforts.

On the 5th of September, 1866, Mr. Twamley was married in Newburgh, New York, to Miss Elizabeth Hawkins, a native of Orange county, New York, and a daughter of Lewis and Mary (Blake) Hawkins, early residents of Orange county and of Scotch-Irish descent.  Mr. and Mrs. Twamley have two children:  Frederick, who was born in Newburgh, New York, in 1868 and is now a resident of New York city; and Edna, who is a teacher in the University of North Dakota.

In politics Mr. Twamley is a republican and has always been interested in political and civic questions, giving active support to many measures for the general good.  He was appointed the first regent of the State University of North Dakota and was largely instrumental in inducing Governor Ordway, then chief executive of Dakota territory, to locate the University at Grand Forks.  Believing firmly in republican principles, he has done everything in his power to promote the success and ensure the growth of the party in the districts in which he has lived.  He is the oldest Scottish Rite Mason in North Dakota and is the oldest thirty-third degree Mason.  While he has never filled a chair in the order he has always been a most earnest worker in support of the craft.  He joined Gramercy Lodge, No. 537, F. & A. M., in New York city in 1865, two years after its organization, and

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he is today the oldest living representative of that lodge.  He likewise belongs to the Independent and the United Orders of Foresters and during the years when prohibition was an issue he was one of the workers that secured the adoption of the prohibition plank and during that period he served as grand chief templar of the state.  He organized the Commercial Club of Grand Forks, was its first member and its first president, occupying that position for many years, during which time he instituted many plans that resulted beneficially in the upbuilding of the city along many lines.  He belongs to the Congregational church, of which he was formerly a trustee, serving as such until 1915, when he resigned.  He aided in organizing the church and has ever been most active in its work, doing everything in his power to promote the moral as well as the material and political progress of his community.  The cause of education has found in him a stalwart champion and for many years he served on the school board, being the oldest representative of the board of Grand Forks.  In a word there is practically no phase of development and progress in Grand Forks with which Mr. Twamley has not been connected.  He was the organizer of the movement and was instrumental in having the city park board commissioners of Grand Forks donate a two-acre tract for the erection of a building in which to preserve historic relics and he contemplates raising funds for the erection of a building to be used as a meeting place for the old settlers and also as a museum.  Personally he has a large collection of relics of pioneer days which he will donate to the museum and which includes the first oxcart that came into the state.  To this cart he will add a mounted ox, showing to later generations the primitive methods used by the pioneer.  A sod house will also be one of the features of the museum.  Mr. Twamley has every reason to be proud of the part which he has played in the development and upbuilding of his city and state and the work of perhaps no other has been more effective in advancing the interests of Grand Forks and of North Dakota.  He is truly a self-made man, for he has been both the architect and builder of his own fortunes.  The first salary which he earned was fifty dollars per year and out of that sum he had to pay his living expenses.  The second year he received one hundred and fifty dollars and the third year two hundred and fifty dollars.  During the fourth year of his employment the company with which he was connected failed on account of the Civil war, for they were the owners of one hundred stores in the south.  That he advanced from the beginning is indicated in that record and his progress was continuous until he retired from active business.

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


James Twamley Called After Brief Illness

Member of First University Board of Regents Died Saturday.

James Twamley, aged 73, a pioneer resident of Grand Forks, died at 6:45 o’clock Saturday evening (December 2, 1916) at his residence, 505 North Fourth street.

Mr. Twamley was about his usual duties until a week ago, when he had a severe attack of congestion of the liver, that finally resulted in uremic poisoning and his death.  He is survived by his wife and daughter, Edna Twamley, residing in Grand Forks, and his son, Fred Twamley of New York, who will arrive in the city tomorrow evening.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed as yet, but the services will be under the auspices of the Masonic fraternity, of which Mr. Twamley was the oldest 33d degree member.

Born in New York.

Mr. Twamley spent his childhood and youth in New York city, where he was educated in the public schools and the college of the City of New York.  In 1866 he married Elizabeth Hawkins and took a position with John V. Farwell & Co. of Chicago.  Later he moved to St. Paul, where he was buyer of the notion department for Auerbach, Finch & Culbertson.  When he came to Grand Forks he was a member of the mercantile firm of Viets & Twamley, which conducted business on the present site of the Ontario store.

Aided University.

He came here in 1876, when he purchased the farm recently selected as the site for the Northern Packing Co.  With an interval of five years, spent in Minto, N. D., Mr. Twamley and his family have made their home in Grand Forks since 1881.  Mr. Twamley was a member of the first board of regents of the University of North Dakota and was largely instrumental in getting the institution located in Grand Forks.

He was an active member of the Old Settlers’ association, and was deeply interested in all affairs of public welfare.

Grand Forks Herald
Sunday, December 3, 1916
Volume XXXVI, Number 29, Page 1


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