For those who receive the UND Alumni Magazine, the William Budge Circle lists the elite donors who have given $1 million to $5 million to the university. It was Budge who donated the land upon which UND was built.
In 1895 Budge led the effort to save the university when its funding was vetoed by Gov. Roger Allin. Budge solicited donors to pay the faculty until the Legislature could restore the funds in the next legislative session. Webster Merrifield and other professors agreed to reduce their salaries temporarily and the institution survived the crisis. Our community owes a great debt to this humble pioneer.
William Budge was born in a village called South Ronaldshay, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland on Oct. 11, 1852. He was raised in the home of his grandfather, James Budge, and attended school. In 1869 when he was 17 he boarded a ship that would take him to York Factory on Hudson’s Bay in order to work for the Hudson’s Bay Fur Company. He was assigned to a post on the Saskatchewan River. One winter on the Saskatchewan was enough for Budge and according to George Winship (who later founded the Grand Forks Herald), in the spring he “hotfooted” it away from the Canadian frontier and made his way to Winnipeg. There he met an associate of Winship, Alex Stewart, who was purchasing supplies for their camp at Pembina. Stewart told Budge he could join the group in Pembina if he contributed a sack of flour and a slab of pork. Budge procured the supplies and a few days later arrived in Pembina joining the camp of Stewart, Winship and James Robb.
In the beginning, Budge’s heavy accent was difficult for the new partners to decipher but Winship recalled the group managed to translate it after a few days. He was an excellent cook and soon became the chef for the group. Budge went to work for a brick factory in Pembina while Winship worked as a clerk and part-time bartender at a post near the military fort. In 1871, when word reached Pembina about a new stage coach line running up the valley to Pembina, Winship suggested to Budge that they could become partners and set up a station at a site he planned to claim near the mouth of the Turtle River.
Budge and Winship ran Turtle River Station at present day Manvel until Winship moved on, intending to return to newspaper publishing back in Minnesota. In a memoir written in the 1920s, Winship wrote that the station stood where the Great Northern Railroad bridge crosses the Turtle River at Manvel. Jacob Eshelman bought Winship’s interest in Turtle River Station in 1873. He was a native of Pennsylvania, descended from Mennonites. In 1874, Budge and Eshelman relocated to Grand Forks. William’s mother and three brothers arriving from Scotland joined him here.
As the Great Dakota Boom heated up in the 1880s, the real estate business boomed as well. Budge and Eshelman made land claims with plans of developing Grand Forks. Their partnership included Alexander Griggs in the construction of the first brick business block in Grand Forks in 1883. Known as the Syndicate Block, it stood at the northeast corner of South Third and Kittson.
The same year, Budge donated 20 acres of land for the university. In 1885, Budge and Eshelman were officers of Citizen’s National Bank, which was renamed First National in 1890. Eshelman died unexpectedly in 1889.
He also donated land for a local synagogue and a cemetery.
The close of the 1880s ended the frontier days of Grand Forks. Wood-framed buildings downtown were quickly being replaced with brick buildings. Fraternal organizations and social clubs were thriving. In 1889, a corporation formed with the intention to construct a grand opera house in the city. The Metropolitan Opera House opened on Nov. 10, 1890, with S.S. Titus president and Winship vice president. William Budge is listed on the inaugural program among its stockholders.
William married Minnie Grow, a native of Decorah, Iowa, in 1890. After William completed a term as postmaster for Grand Forks, Minnie was appointed and held the job until 1900. They had a son and a daughter, Alexander and Jean. In the early 1900s, Budge purchased an orchard in Oregon and moved there.
After attending UND for one year, Alexander Budge enrolled at Stanford University and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Jean Budge graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. William died in San Francisco in 1938, Minnie passed away there a year later.
In his lifetime William Budge crossed the ocean, settled a wilderness and played a large part in developing our city. There are Budges living in and around Grand Forks. William’s older brother, John Budge, raised a large family here. A younger brother, Harry, died young, leaving a wife and two small boys. Another brother, George, was a druggist and moved to Great Falls, Mont.
An examination of the records of the Hudson’s Bay Fur Company shows nearly 20 men named Budge who left South Ronaldshay, William’s hometown, between 1793 and 1869 to work for the company. So there is a good possibility that Budge descendants in and around Grand Forks are related to William.
Leah Byzewski is director of the Grand Forks County Historical Society.