Joseph Bell DeRemer was born September 14, 1871, in Montana, Warren County, New Jersey, the son of James K. and Nancy (Bell) DeRemer. Joseph Bell DeRemer sprung from a tradition in carpentry and building which his family had practiced for six generations. It was not a coincidence that he too would show talents and skills in this profession that would eventually take him to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where he created for himself an illustrious and prosperous architectural practice.
He was a carpenter from 1886 to 1896 in Warren County and became a master of the trade working with his father and brothers. His skills and talents in carpentry so impressed friends that they encouraged DeRemer to pursue architecture. Interested by the idea, DeRemer enrolled at Columbia University in a special one year course in architecture taught by Professor William R. Ware. In June 1897, DeRemer left the university and returned to Warren County to establish an architectural practice.
It is believed that between his return to Warren county in 1897 and his departure westward in 1902, DeRemer had already completed 78 commissions in New Jersey. His relocation to Grand Forks was an accidental one prompted by an initial resolve to move to the West Coast in order to find better architectural opportunities. But upon arriving in Grand Forks on March 3, 1902, DeRemer was convinced by D.H. Beecher to stay and participate in the town’s growth and booming economy. A little more than several months later, DeRemer secured the commission to build the Oxford House.
By 1904, DeRemer had become such a prominent member of the Grand Forks community that he was featured in the Silver Anniversary Issue of the Grand Forks Herald. In 1906, he joined the town’s influential people by moving to a residential home on Belmont road. By 1912, his buildings were a crowning achievement throughout the state of North Dakota and Northwestern Minnesota.
His Grand Forks buildings, 1902-1912, exhibit classical and renaissance revival detail and proportions. They include the Y.M.C.A., the Clifford Building, the Grand Forks Public Library (all of which have been razed), the Ontario Store (Griffiths), the Corliss Block (Panovitz Store), the Widlund Block, the Masonic Temple, the New Hampshire Apartments, the Elks Lodge, the Central High School Gym, and the addition to the Presbyterian Church. DeRemer residences included his own home at 625 Belmont, the McCoy home at 401 Reeves Drive, and the 1906 remodeling of the Clifford house at 406 Reeves Drive.
In 1912, DeRemer left Grand Forks for Los Angeles, California, to expand upon his architectural vision. However, this move did not sever complete ties with North Dakota, as he designed the North Dakota State Building for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held in San Francisco, California, in 1915. In November 1917, DeRemer returned to New Jersey and worked with his brothers in a company they operated, the Washington Casket Company.
DeRemer returned to Grand Forks in 1919 and began a partnership with his son, Samuel Teel DeRemer. Their architectural firm designed many Art Deco and Art Modern Buildings during this period, including Whitey's Bar in East Grand Forks, the New Ryan Hotel, the United Lutheran Church, the administration building for the Grand Forks Municipal Airport, the addition to the Grand Forks County Courthouse, and the first California-style bungalow in Grand Forks at 706 Belmont Road.
Joseph Bell DeRemer was the architect for several buildings at the University of North Dakota: the President's House (now Oxford House), Woodworth Hall, Commons Building, Liberal Arts Building, Merrifield Hall, Delta Gamma Sorority, and Sigma Nu Fraternity. DeRemer, along with William F. Kurke, was also the architect for the new North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck begun in 1932, in addition to many other buildings in various cities in North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.
Joseph Bell DeRemer married Miss Elizabeth Myers on November 11, 1891, in Stewartsville, Warren County, New Jersey. The couple had a daughter, Delores, and a son, Samuel Teel. Joseph Bell DeRemer retired from active practice in 1937 and died in Grand Forks February 16, 1944.
Additional material was donated by:
Joe B. DeRemer, East Grand Forks, Minnesota, on March 25, 1982 (82-967)
Margery McCanna, McCanna, North Dakota, on May 29, 1990 (90-1703)
The Book Fair, Grand Forks, North Dakota (via Al and Alice Thureen, East Grand Forks, Minnesota) on September 15, 1999 (99-2401) and on October 3, 2000 (2001-2508)
Lee Furman, Grand Forks, North Dakota, on June 6, 2000 (2000-2442)
Royce Yeater, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Chicago, Illinois, on May 30, 2002 (2005-2782)