The Former Governors’ Mansion was constructed as a private home by Bismarck contractor Justice O. Grout for Bismarck businessman Asa Fisher and his family in 1884. The house when built was one of the largest in what was then the northern portion of Bismarck. The Bismarck Daily Tribune reported on August 29, 1884, that the structure "...will be a model building, large and comfortable, as well as elegant."
In 1893 the State Legislature authorized a board, consisting of the governor, attorney general and state auditor, "to purchase or erect a suitable residence for the Chief Executive of the State, and to furnish the same." An appropriation of $6,000 was made for this purpose. On May 3, 1893, the Bismarck Daily Tribune reported that "the commissioners have concluded to purchase the residence of Hon. Asa Fisher on Fourth Street, for an executive mansion. The residence is the best in the state. The commission desired to build a residence, but the meager appropriation would not admit of it." The house was purchased for $5,000, with the remaining $1,000 used to purchase furnishings.
Governor Eli Shortridge became the first governor to occupy the house in late May of 1893. During the next sixty‑seven years, twenty governors used it as their official residence. The last governor to live here was John E. Davis, who moved into the newly constructed governors’ residence on the state Capitol grounds in 1960.
The mansion was converted into the North Dakota Psychiatric Clinic in 1960. This was the first outpatient mental health clinic in the state and one of the first in the nation to utilize talk therapy as a treatment for mental health. The clinic was part of a national pilot program to develop standards of care and treatment for mental illnesses under President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act of 1963. This building served as a mental health clinic until 1972, when it became the administrative offices of the North Dakota Department of Health.
The Society for the Preservation of the Former Governors' Mansion (SPFGM) was formed in 1974 with the support of Governor Art Link and First Lady Grace Link. This organization of citizens interested in preserving the house supported legislation to transfer it to the State Historical Society. On March 18, 1975, Governor Link signed HB1315, which finalized the transfer of the property to the State Historical Society of North Dakota. The house was placed on the National Register of Historical Places a month later.
Restoration of the house began immediately and was completed by the spring of 1984, when it was opened for tours. Interior restoration was mostly limited to removal of partitions, shelving and doorways installed by the State Health Department. Following extensive research, new wallpapers where hung on the walls and wood work was cleaned up. The interior of the house was not restored to reflect a particular time period. Rather, it was designed to present the overall life of the house and the ways people lived in and used the house. Exposed layers of historic wallpaper and paint samples on the walls throughout the house show the many changes that have taken place over the life of the house.
Following archaeological excavation, structural analysis and architectural planning the exterior of the building was restored to how it appeared in 1893. Exterior restoration was extensive. The 1919 front porch was removed and a new porch was built. Other areas included stabilization of the foundation, re‑roofing, chimney re‑pointing, door and siding modification, rebuilding the south porch, painting, and landscaping.
The Former Governors’ Mansion opened as a house museum in 1984 with interpretive exhibits installed in May of that year. The Carriage House’s exterior was restored to its 1903 appearance in 2004 and the interior was remodeled into a modern exhibit space on the main floor, with the second floor restored for use as office space.
320 East Avenue B.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
May 15th - Sep. 16th, 10:00 am - 5:00 pm, Mon. - Fri.; Noon - 4:00 pm, Sat. & Sun.
October - May, 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm, Second Friday and Saturday of each month.
Other times by appointment.
Contact Former Governors' Mansion:
phone: (701) 328-9528
phone: (701) 328-2666
fax: (701) 328-3710