Biography of James Twamley of Grand Forks North Dakota

James Twamley, former president of the Old Settlers’ Association of the Red River Valley, arrived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1876. He and Frank Viets established the first wholesale business in North Dakota in 1878. Educated in New York, Twamley worked in wholesale dry goods before moving to North Dakota due to health concerns. He was a significant figure in education and Masonry, serving on the University of North Dakota’s board of regents and as grand chief templar. Twamley married Mary E. Hawkins in 1866, with whom he had two children, J. Fred and M. Edna.

James Twamley, ex-president of the Old Settlers’ Association of the Red River valley, came to Grand Forks, North Dakota, 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 Trail 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.

Having a preference for commercial life, he engaged in the whole-sale 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. Far-well 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, Minnesota, 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 pur-chased the corner now occupied by R. B. Griffith, and some years later sold it to him. He has always taken an interest in educa-tional 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-ap-pointed 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, of 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. 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.


C.F. Cooper & Company, History of the Red River Valley, Past And Present: Including an Account of the Counties, Cities, Towns And Villages of the Valley From the Time of Their First Settlement And Formation, volumes 1-2; Grand Forks: Herald printing company, 1909.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top