Not all people who came to Griggs County in the late 1870's and early 1880's made their fortunes entirely by farming.  Rollin Cooper sold land, besides farming it.  H. P. Hammer expanded from farming into hardware stores, implements, banking and real estate.  Peter E. Nelson began in farming before he went into bookkeeping and hardwares.

But there were also people in Griggs County who made their fortunes in business that did not start in farming at all.  One of these was Halvor S. Halvorson.

His parents, Syver and Anne Halvorson, immigrated to the United States in 1867 and for 14 years tried farming in Wisconsin.  Their move to Dakota Territory in 1881 brought many difficulties including the death of two of their six children from diphtheria contracted at a farmhouse during the move.

Additional difficulties arose two years later when Halvor's father died.  The Griggs County Courier noted his death this way, in the November 9, 1883 edition:

"Sever Halvorson, living 6 miles east of this place (Cooperstown), and brother of the first precinct County- Commissioner Elect died Tuesday of typhoid pneumonia at the age of 38 years.  He was an industrious farmer, and leaves a wife and several children to deplore the fate that called him away.

A year later, Anne and her five children, including one born shortly after Syver's death, were badly impoverished.  In an affidavit filed in December 1884, Anne said that:

"At the time of his death said Syver Halvorson left the following property viz: one team of oxen, three cows, which was all the personal property of which he was possessed.€

She pleaded that a fee due on her homestead claim be postponed until she could pay it.  She had found no one who would loan her the money to pay for it and without the homestead claim her family would be destitute.

It was this poverty that Halvor left several years later for a job with Hammer & Condy at age ten in Cooperstown.

By 1899, Halvorson had started his own business in McHenry.

In 1904 Halvorson and his former employer, H. P. Hammer, formed the H. S. Halvorson Company.  It was the first of many business enterprises that Halvorson became involved with Hammer.  The McHenry TRIBUNE often took note of his frequent travels to Montana, Fargo and other places to conduct business.

He began an association about this time with the First National Bank of McHenry that would end with his death.  In 1912 the Federal Reserve conducted one of its regular examinations of the bank's operations and finances.  Halvorson was president of the bank at this time.  The audit reported the bank to be in good financial condition and estimated Halvorson's personal net worth at $200,000.  It did note that "loans exceeding limits of Section 5200" have been issued to -H. S. Halvorson Company (corp.) $2500, and overdraft $412.93 - not secured, maker thoroughly responsible.€

The bank was declared insolvent July 3, 1929, almost three years after Halvorsorn€™s death.

While busy building his business empire, Halvorson also took an interest in building a family.  He married Clara Johnson of Moorhead, Minnesota in 1904, and five years later she left him a widower with two small children, Carvel and Ernest.  The two children were primarily cared for by their grandparents during the next few years.

Anna Dvorak, the daughter of Bohemian immigrants, arrived in McHenry in 1910 to "make her fortune" and teach school.  She taught school for two years before she returned to her family's home in Muscoda, Wisconsin.  She returned to McHenry in the spring of 1913 as Mrs. Halvor Halvorson.  Halvor, probably wealthy enough to afford it, took her on a five-week-long honeymoon to Florida and Cuba after their January 1913 wedding in Wisconsin.

On his return to McHenry from the honeymoon it was business as usual for Halvor.  A week after it noted the return of the newlyweds from their honeymoon, the McHenry TRIBUNE wrote

-H. S. Halvorson is looking after some business at points in Montana this week.€

The Halvor Halvorsons moved to Cooperstown in 1915, buying a fashionable brick house across the street from the courthouse from their business friend, H. P. Hammer.  Their new home made it easier to visit Halvor's mother who lived on the family homestead claim in Washburn Township.  Even after she moved to town the Halvorsons made regular trips to the farm and the adjacent Ness church.  Halvor and Anna's only child, Marianne, was baptized at the church in April 1920 two months after she was born.

He made varying impressions on people during this time.  Clarence Arneson, who worked for him at the McHenry bank, remembered his ability to count quickly several columns of numbers in his head.  His daughter, Marianne, remembers his inability to say the "v" sound.  He made it more like a "wh" sound, "whisiting" instead of "visiting." others who did not know him personally may have noticed his automobile, one of the first in Cooperstown.

But the strain of Halvorson's work started taking its toll on Halvor in the fall of 1925 when:

"He fell victim to pneumonia.  He recovered, however, and again conducted his business affairs.  The results of his former illness...again told on him and he was taken with influenza, which told in his appearance and vitality.  He persisted in his work, however, in spite of his weakened constitution, and while attending to business matters in McHenry on October 20, 1926, he was taken with a partial stroke of paralysis.  Very slow improvement was noted in his condition, but relatives and friends were optimistic that he would regain health.  Friday morning (December 24, 1926), however, a change occurred and he failed rapidly, passing away between half past four and five o'clock that evening."

The worsening economic conditions in North Dakota in the 1920's may have reduced Halvor's personal wealth before his death but it is not known if it had or by how much.  It is not known how much his widow ever received of his estate, although it was very little if anything.  Halvor and Anna's only child recalled the years immediately after her father's death.

Anna Halvorson opened the Halvorson Shoppe, a dress shop, in 1930, which she operated until her retirement in 1955.  Like her husband, she had found a way to survive the death of a family member whose death had left the family destitute.  She never made a fortune as large as her husband's but she sought it in business like her husband.  And it was in business that many early Griggs County settlers made their fortunes.

Source: Griggs County History 1879 - 1976 Page 65


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