May 26, 2016
The large stone house that sits prominently on the corner of Washington Street and Avenue A has quite a history.
The mansion, built in 1902 for lawyer and businessman C.B. Little and his wife, Caroline, was an impressive site in an otherwise underdeveloped frontier town of Bismarck. Even now, surrounded by other structures, the house stands out as an architecturally grand home that anchors a part of town known for its historic homes.
Although the Little family hasn’t owned the home for more than 70 years, family members still visit occasionally to recall the life of a man who only intended to pass through Bismarck on his way to the West Coast, but ended up leaving quite a legacy.
C.B. Little’s great granddaughter and Fargo resident, Beth, along with her sons Dylan and Andrew Walter, stopped by the former family home last year. Beth had visited once when she was about 14 years old. She said her grandmother, Viroque, had come to live at the house for some time when her father, Clarence, was around age 2 until age 14. Clarence would return for summers and holidays while attending boarding school in Minnesota. The family would often spend winters in California, but the Little home in Bismarck would always be his base.
C.B. Little and his wife, Caroline, were married in Boston on Nov. 24, 1885. Caroline died in 1933 and five years later, he married Irene Shepard. He and Caroline had two children, Viroque Mabel (b. 1887) and George P. Little (b. 1889). Viroque had one son, Clarence Bradley (b. 1917). Clarence married his childhood sweetheart and neighbor Ruth Sandin in 1940. They had three children, David, who lives in Junction City, Kan., and Carol and Beth who live in Fargo. George never married or had children.
The exterior of the home has stood the test of time. A stonemason was brought over from Sweden to work on the house, with much of the work also done by prisoners of the state penitentiary. South American mahogany wood is dominant throughout the home that was adorned with velvet and silk drapes, oriental rugs and massive furniture for the Little family.
Even today, after some renovations at various stages, the home retains its remarkable layout. When built, the first floor consisted of a library, living and dining rooms, kitchen, pantry and butler’s pantry. Near the fireplace in the living room was a $45,000 pipe organ, which is now in Bismarck’s Trinity Lutheran Church. The second floor consists of bedrooms, while the third floor provided quarters for the housekeeper and other personnel. The family’s chauffer lived in the carriage house located north of the house. That structure was taken down a few years ago.
Originally, the grounds contained two greenhouses and a large grape arbor. Every summer, palm trees were planted along the front walk. During winter, they were kept in the greenhouses.
About C.B. Little
The original owner, Clarence Belden (C.B.) Little, was born in New Hampshire in 1857. After graduating from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, he began practicing law in 1883. Later that year, he was en route to Seattle to practice law and stopped in Bismarck along the way. He became enamored with the frontier town and, instead, decided to stay.
In 1885, Little was elected a director of the Capital National Bank and two year later was elected president, which position he held until the bank was consolidated with the First National Bank in 1896. The First National Bank was established in Bismarck in 1879, and was the second oldest bank in the state. The original bank building burned in 1898 and was replaced with another building built in the same location at the corner of 4th Street and Main.
He was connected with several business enterprises in the area and held the presidencies of several banks. He was elected judge of probate of Burleigh County in 1884 and held that office for four years. He was appointed inspector general, with the rank of colonel, of the territorial troops and held that position for three years.
As evidence of his personal popularity and qualification as a successful businessman, voters elected him to the State Senate upon North Dakota's statehood in 1889; where he served until 1908. The
North Dakota Magazine of biographies of public officials said of Little, “There has not been a more tireless worker or keener observer of legislative proceedings than the senator from the Bismarck district.”
To get a better glimpse of Little’s public persona, the magazine went on to say, “Colonel Little is an affable, genial and polished gentleman and popular with the public and especially so with his senatorial associates.” Coming from the big cities of the East Coast, he had made quite an impression on the people of the wide-open plains.
Little worked and lived in Bismarck until around 1940 when he became ill and was hospitalized. After he died in 1941, the diocese purchased the home.
Converted to a convent
In 1942, the home was converted to a convent for the St. Mary’s sisters. In 1947, the parish convent evolved into Annunciation Convent, temporary motherhouse of the Benedictine Sisters. Theses sisters lived in the C.B. Little house until 1959, before moving to the newly constructed convent at the site of Mary College (now University of Mary).
After the sisters moved out, the diocese utilized the home in many capacities including office space for employees. From 2004-2014, the Bar Association of North Dakota rented the house for offices. The diocese has recently moved employees back into the house and is currently renovating the home for more offices.
Information taken from the Perseverance in Faith: A History of the Catholic Church in Western North Dakota, State Historical Society of N.D., and bismarckcafe.com.