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Former Governors' Mansion - History

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."

FGM ParloursIn 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.

In late May of 1893, Governor Eli Shortridge became the first governor to occupy the house. 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 toward the end of his term moved into the newly constructed governors residence on the state capitol grounds.

In 1961 the house was converted into office space for use FGM Interiorby the Mental Health and Retardation Services Division of the State Health Department. In 1974, the Society for the Preservation of the Former Governors' Mansion (SPFGM) was formed with the support of Governor Art Link and First Lady Grace Link. This organization of citizens interested in the preservation of the house supported legislation to transfer the house to the custody of the State Historical Society. On March 18, 1975, Governor Link signed HB1315, which transferred custody of the mansion to the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

In 1975 restoration of the house was started and was completed by the spring of 1984. The house was placed on the National Register of Historical Places on April 16, 1975.

FGM interiorInterior 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 is 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.

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Address:
320 East Avenue B.
Bismarck, North Dakota 58505
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Hours:
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

Contact SHSND:
phone: (701) 328-2666
fax: (701) 328-3710
email: histsoc@nd.gov