When Tams Bixby and seven other developers bought the land near the river inlet to Lake Bemidji, Bixby was quoted saying: "Bemidji will become Minnesota's favorite summer and health resort and the summer sojourner will find ready at hand an infinite variety of a summer's day. The devotee of rod and reel and the chase could scarcely choose a more inviting point than that offered by Bemidji."
When the Village of Bemidji dedicated its first Village Hall in 1899, a Boys' Band was sponsored by the Townsite Company to provide musical entertainment. Those attending included summer visitors who were building cottages along the lake north of the present Diamond Point in an area called Grand Forks Bay. The family names were Wolfe, Dean Kennedy, Drachert, Lamb and Dr. Merrifield, the president of North Dakota University.
By 1901 the Townsite built a bandstand at the waterfront for the enjoyment of townspeople and summer residents alike. They purchased the property between Lake Boulevard and the lake knowing Bixby's stipulations were 'for park purposes only.'
When Bemidji became a chartered city in 1905, along with many new homes built within the city limits, Tams Bixby built his cottage on the north end of Lavinia at Oakwood. The Bemidji Commercial Club started organizing and advertised in both the Twin Cities' and Grand Forks' newspapers, using this ad: 'Set like a jewel in the billowy folds of nature's green, luxurious drapery, Bemidji is where devotees of angling and hunting can find surcease from the humdrum annoyances and turmoil of everyday life.' That ad worked and the next summer, C.F. Williams, Mr. Hegman and O.J. Barnes came from Grand Forks to build summer homes in Lavinia. On May 4, 1907, the Bemidji Commercial Club received their incorporation papers.
According to the Bemidji Pioneer's 1910 Tourism Book, "Bemidji was the acknowledged 'Hub', the Idealistic Pleasure and Health Resort, the Bread Basket, and the Center of the Picturesque Lakes of the Great Northwest."
In 1915, again responding to Bixby's urgings, the Bemidji Commercial Club helped finance George Cockran's venture to build the Birchmont Beach Hotel, a summer retreat hotel that became a universally recognized pleasure resort.
It was spring in 1917, with great pride in their town and desire for its continued beautification, that the citizens elected five local men to be their Park Board Commissioners. These men were hardware man Nathanial E. Given Sr., physicians E.H. Marcum and E.W. Johnson, dentist G.M. Palmer and Edward Jackson. The Park Board's first action was to move the bandstand from the waterfront into Library Park where they planted elm trees for shade and put in a drinking fountain.
According to Nat Given, 'the acquisition of Diamond Point Park started before the Park Board was established but it became one of the highlights in the Bemidji's tourism history.' The State Norm Board was debating its location for the new Minnesota Normal School. A committee, including J.J. Opsahl, A.P. Ritchie and F. S. Arnold was appointed by the Bemidji Commercial Club to make the trip to St. Paul with A.A. White of the Townsite Company. They made the offer to sell all the property from Fourteenth Street through the present Diamond Point property for $4,000, a total of almost 18 1/2 acres of waterfront land.
"After the property had been acquired by the Normal School Board, they insisted on having the whole property including Diamond Point for school purposes. However, through foresight of the committee and Mr. White the townsite agreement read: 'for school and park purposes'. When shown to Ell Torrance of the Normal School Board (he was the father of Bemidji's Judge Graham Torrance), the Normal School Board then stipulated that the city would have to acquire the two pieces of personal real estate at Diamond Point so there could not and would not be a public dance hall established there.
"When the Bemidji Park
Board was organized in 1917, it inherited that unfulfilled
contract made by the City and the Normal School Board. They established the final division of the property. The Normal School property would include Fourteenth Street from Doud Avenue (now Birchmont Drive) to the lake, north to the southern-most boundary of the Doud homestead property line, then west again to Doud Avenue. In October, 1919, the Park Board $8,000 to purchase that Freeman Doud and Tozer property as per the agreement with the Normal School Board. Those parcels became Diamond Point Park.
The Doud homestead cabin was moved from its original site just to the south of the point, and placed at the Beltrami County fairgrounds, where it is still a display of early Bemidji history. The Tozer's buildings were moved toward Doud Avenue to become the first Diamond Point Cabins. The land was brushed and cleared for tenting and picnicking.
In the early days, tourists
came in cars and pitched their tents. Later a goodly number came in cars
with their bedding to use the cabins. When families were forced to
travel right through Bemidji, the Park Board added a beat-up warming
house from 3rd Street and split it to make more cabins. Each year, they
added to Diamond Point Cabins.
It appeared the Diamond Point cabins would no longer be needed, but when the Normal School opened in 1919, Diamond Point Park became a tent-city. It was used by the families of the many women teachers who came to take summer school classes at the state's newest Normal School. The Park Board made it more camper friendly adding picnic benches and tables.
During the summer of 1920, the Bemidji Commercial Club became the Bemidji Civic and Commerce under the presidency of Nat Given's brother, Bob. In September of that year, the Birchmont Hotel burned and, with Tams Bixby's urgings, the Civic & Commerce refinanced George Cockran to rebuild the $65,000 summer hotel.
By Minnesota Legislation, the Park Board was able to levy, not to exceed 5 mills, to upgrade their parks and to maintain their boulevards. The Park Board used the funds to develop Diamond Point Park as a very popular tourist attraction for camping and picnic grounds; the Library Park as a picturesque park with a band stand, floral plantings and scenic strolling paths and the Indian Trail below Lake Boulevard were maintained. The old boathouses at the waterfront were removed and the wharf was upgraded to entice the summer residents to come into downtown. In 1921 they planted twelve soft maple trees in the Ralph Gracie Park at Fourteenth Street and Doud Avenue.
In 1922, 11.4 acres of land west of Diamond Point was purchased and the Park Board soon developed the Bemidji Zoo to attract even more summer visitors. Park Superintendent Peter Cameron tended animals native to the area, including bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, porcupines, beaver, raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, turtles, rapture birds, and "brick bats". A large grazing area was fenced for deer, elk and eventually a buffalo.
For winter sports, the Park Board purchased the site of the old Central High School when it burned and in 1922, the Bemidji Skating Arena and Curling Club was built between 6th and 7th Streets and America and Irving Avenues. Also, in 1922 the Park Board bought a block of land from E.H French and built a park in Nymore for those youngsters.
As Bemidji grew and improved in appearance, so did its parks. By 1924 Diamond Point got a new bathhouse, dock and waterwheel, a well, plumbing and wiring. The Park Board purchased the Merrifield cottage (called the Brown House; and used it for offices. It eventually became Elsie Moore's most popular tea room.
The Diamond Point Zoo became a `must see' attraction for the tourists and locals alike. According to Nat Given's report, "they saw the largest number of visitors at the zoo one July Sunday in 1941, with 1700 registered to enter the gates." His report went on, "The first Sunday in June they had 800 visitors and the last Sunday in September reported 940."
Following World War II, the American Legion Post #14 bought and dedicated the Mississippi Avenue Neighborhood Park in memory of Gordon Falls, the first World War II fatality.
In 1933-34, under the presidency of Harry Roese, the Civic and Commerce collected stones from throughout the state, the nation and Canada to erect a Fireplace of States within an octagonal log building. Bemidji now had a major tourist attraction that drew visitors from throughout the nation.
Then, in 1936, the Statue of Paul Bunyan was commissioned by the Bemidji's Rotarians as another tourist attraction. It was unveiled January 15, 1937, to kick-off a Winter Carnival that drew over ten thousand visitors. Much of the event's success came from the participation of the thirteen Civilian Conservation Corps units in the area.
On January 15, 1949, the skating arena roof collapsed under the weight of the snow and left Bemidji with no skating rink and curling facility.
The Park Board discontinued their activities in the 1960's when the Parks and Recreation Department was developed within the city offices.
However, the quest for tourists in Bemidji did not stop. In 1963, the Junior Chamber of Commerce held its first meetings and for fifty years has been the primary organizer of Bemidji's Fourth of July Water Carnival. In July, 1980, the Civic and Commerce incorporated as the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce and since 1987, Bemidji City Council instituted the Vacation and Convention Bureau, which now is responsible for telling Bemidji's story.
From one of their most
recent ads: Bemidji ... First City on the Mississippi.
If there is a vacation Camelot in Minnesota, it lives on in Bemidji Where the arts and traditional cultures are complemented by the breathtaking beauty of forests and
lakes. And where the present day ambience of a Minnesota vacation town mingles with the ever-present sense of history, accentuated by the legends and lore of the great northwoods.
Prohibition Comes To
It looked like the end, the absolute end of liquor in Bemidji. Every saloon in northern Minnesota was to be forced out of existence by the United States government.
The ruling to ban booze came from the U.S. Department of the Interior through the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs when it was discovered that there was a treaty clause banning alcohol within Indian districts. The legal interpretation was vague on whether the city of Bemidji was or was not an 'Indian district'. Nevertheless, the closing orders making Bemidji "dry" for the first time since it was founded were issued by agents of the Department of Indian Affairs as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court having sustained the provisions of the Indian treaty of 1855.
The anti-barroom ruling was to take effect on December 1, 1914, and that would include all the surrounding communities of Bemidji, totaling 264 saloons. The end of an era had been decreed. During the early years of the century, Bemidji had gained the reputation of being a wide-open town; that was all to end by midnight November 30, 1914.
From a strictly financial point of view, the saloons in Bemidji were moneymakers for the city directly and indirectly. Liquor licenses were the largest single source of income for the operation of city government, for example. The largest "saloon" loser was the Bemidji Brewery with a payroll of about $1,000 per month. At the time of the closing date, the brewery had some 1,000 barrels of beer nearing the drinking stage, worth $10,000. However, the brewery was permitted to let the beer mature and was granted permission to ship it out of the territory before closing for good. It would never reopen.
Many Bemidji saloons closed their doors that fall prior to the final moment, but The Pioneer reported there were still 19 saloons going on November 30th. As midnight neared, thirsty patrons gulped down their last legal drinks and for the last time helped themselves to the roast pork, the sausages, the strong cheese and the pickles piled high on the free lunch plates atop the bars.
All the barrooms were crowded that last night, and in many places there were bargain sale prices for wet goods. For as the doors were closed after the lastpatron left, they were locked for good, bringing to an end the rowdiest and wildest days in the city's colorful past.
The next day, however, a few saloons were still operating! That information immediately brought to Bemidji nationally famous liquor crusader William E. (Pussyfoot) Johnson. Headed by Pussyfoot in person, a group of men representing the Department of Interior swept down on Bemidji and in Carrie Nation fashion, destroyed all the remaining liquor stocks they could find and shut down every saloon. As quoted in the newspaper, "With axes, hatchets and wrecking bars, the Indian agents went to work, and when they were finished, the saloons were a wreck and every ounce of liquor was gone.
A considerable portion of Bemidji residents, of course, supported the closing of the saloons and the elimination of liquor, with one person quoted as saying: "The wiping out of the saloons is making a wonderful change in Bemidji—working a transformation. The barkeeper and his white apron will disappear, and in his place will come dainty maids with ice cream and hot chocolate and tiddl-de-wink tea."
In a year's time Bemidji would make the national news, including an article in Colliers, on the success of a year's prohibition and the positive results in Bemidji.
There was an increase in bank deposits of $90,000; the number of arrests had dropped from 556 during the previous year to 168 the next. Churches had gained 222 new members; $150,000 had been spent in building improvements. There were only 100 arrests for drunkenness compared to 419 the year previous. Of 24 saloon buildings vacated, 22 had been occupied by new businesses. Called "The Bemidji Experiment", national newspaper articles seized on Bemidji as an example of the good things that happened in a "dry" town. The Bemidji situation provided a good argument for national prohibition and was an explosive cap that helped touch off the militant campaign that eventually swept the entire country on to the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the nation prohibition of alcohol in 1920.
It looked like the end, the absolute end of liquor, not only in Bemidji, but also in the entire nation.
Yet, on December 5, 1933, during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency, the 21st amendment repealed the 18th — The Prohibition Amendment.
A History of Bemidji
State University: Thumbnail Sketch
"I'm the First Person in my Family to Go Beyond High School."
That simple statement essentially explains both the reason for Bemidji State University and what it means for the people of northern Minnesota. That basic declaration could have been written by at least three-fourths of the nearly 35,000 students who have graduated since the school opened its doors in the summer of 1919. In the 75 years since it started, the school has become a comprehensive regional University committed to the education of students of all ages so they may live as responsible, productive, and free citizens in what has become a global society.
Bemidji State University, celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 1994, is not and never has been a snob-school. There is instead reverse-snobbery. Instead of feeling any remorse about lacking Ivy League luster, students and faculty alike have felt a source of pride. In the Minnesota North Country, there is located a pretty good school which over three quarters of a century has kept getting better and better as it got bigger and bigger. This lack of affectation is in the best American tradition. American history is replete with figures who had humble backgrounds but who made the best opportunities available to them and rose to become not only acceptable members of society but real assets to that society. As the only baccalaureate institution in northern Minnesota, Bemidji State attracts both faculty and students of widely diverse backgrounds and aspirations. Here in the beautiful northland, Bemidji State has offered extraordinary opportunities and made equal contributions to the people of the region. For these reasons and more, all Minnesotans can and should be proud.
A Cultural 'Mecca'
The school is and has been more than an academic community. Beyond the obvious offerings of classes and programs, it has been the cultural Mecca of the Northland. To the uninitiated who ask, "But what is there to do in Bemidji in the arts? What is there to hear, to see amid all this...er...woodland?" Answer. There is so much to do and see and hear in Bemidji that the question becomes rather, "Which cultural attraction will I have to miss because there's something else going on at the same time?" The primary reason there are so many cultural and artistic events in the community is Bemidji State University. That simple. That good. It has become a widely known fact that persons choose to move to Bemidji—whether for employment or as a retirement spot—because of the multiple and ongoing offerings provided by the University. It can be cold outside, but inside there is a plethora of cultural activities all year 'round.
Part of the State System
Bemidji State is one of
seven state universities in the systems (along with Winona, Mankato,
Saint Cloud, Moorhead, Southwest at Marshall, and Metropolitan State in
Saint Paul). The institutions evolved according to a pattern familiar in
American higher education: from Normal Schools to State Teachers
Colleges to State Colleges to Universities, the last designation coming
in 1975. In this pattern of evolvement, the schools changed from the
training of elementary school teachers only to today's multifaceted,
multiprogram, multi-colleges within a University structure. And they're
large in size. Two of the state universities, Mankato and Saint Cloud,
have larger enrollments than the major universities in neighboring
states. By the late 1970's,
even SUS schools' enrollments went over 65,000 and easily surpassed the enrollments at the University of Minnesota.
Bemidji State Grows and Grows
The most obvious changes
for Bemidji State can be measured both in student numbers and monies
appropriated. As a brand new Normal School just starting in the
Fall of 1919, it enrolled 38 students; seventy-five years later over 5,000 were rolled. The lovely campus is bounded on east by Lake Bemidji and on the north, west and south by the city of Bemidji, with stands of big pines, oak and birch throughout the campus, reflecting the presence of the north woods. It is literally a University the Pines. In 1920 there were two buildings on a 20-acre site; by 1990 there were 25 buildings on 89 acres. The first year's budget-operation in 1919 was barely $50,000; the 1994 budget is $28 million. It's become a big business and a major factor in the town's successful economy. And the school almost ended up not being here!?
`The Normal School Fight'
Minnesota celebrated the 50th anniversary of its admission to statehood in 1908, and it was about this time that interested citizens in northern Minnesota began to agitate for a Normal School to be located in their area. Distance was the primary factor in the desire to obtain a new Normal School in the northern part of the state. The closest teacher-training schools to the Bemidji region were at Duluth and Moorhead, each about 150 miles away. In those days when any traveling was an adventure, distance was highly significant.
The first mention of the topic in the Bemidji newspapers occurred on January 10, 1907, when the local superintendent of schools, Absie P. Ritchie, submitted an article to The Pioneer newspaper calling for action on the legislature to pass a bill that would place a Normal School in his town, Bemidji then having a population of just over 5,000 people. The Cass Lake Times not only picked up the topic but the fiery editor also made the assertion of where this new school belonged, in Cass Lake, of course. And the fight was on.
Cass Lake, then with a population of 2,000 people, came about as close as any community would come to getting a state institution of higher learning located within its borders.
After a protracted struggle, a bill to locate the sixth Minnesota State Normal School in Cass Lake passed both houses of the legislature in 1909, and with the bill's passage the good folks in Cass Lake celebrated mightily for two days! But the victory celebration ended abruptly when Governor John Johnson vetoed the Cass Lake bill. So ended Round One.
Because of lingering bitterness and anger in the communities relative to the initial Normal School fight, the area newspapers did not pick up the topic for another three years. This second time, however, in 1912, the small city of Thief River Falls jumped into the fighting ring, demanding the new Normal School for northern Minnesota be located in their community of 4,000 population. Soon it became the 'woods counties' versus the 'plains counties,' and Round Two of the fight started again. But this time the legislature chose not to pick the site; instead they picked a commission of five men and these men were to inspect the sites that the various northern towns had to offer and then select the best one. Any northern community that had a 20-acre site to offer the state was eligible to be chosen, which opportunity was heady wine for town leaders who suddenly got together to plot and plan and dream of a state Normal School being placed in their particular community.
Which Town Will Win the New School?
The commissioners had agreed among themselves to spend one day in each town reviewing locations and listening to town-boosters attempt to sell their product. For the commissioners, it was an unenviable situation to be in as their final decision would please only the one winner while disappointing if not embittering the many losers. They began their tour of site-selection in early July of 1913, traveling by train, of course, and starting their journey from Saint Paul by traveling first to Thief River Falls which had not only one but six 20-acre sites available. They looked, listened, and asked questions.
When they got to Bemidji, their questioning soon addressed the issue about the town's label of being a wide-open, lumberjack settlement, the stereotyped Jackpine Savages.' One commissioner asked pointedly: "How many saloons?" Answer: "Only 29—and the number is being decreased." (Correct answer: 54) Next question: "Is it true that you have sporting houses here?" Answer: "That is not true. There is not a place of that kind within the city limits of Bemidji." (Correct answer: 7)
The commissioners went on the next day from Bemidji to Cass Lake and the day after that they went to Park Rapids, the final community making a bid for the school. At this point all the towns could do was sit back and wait expectantly for the decision which would be announced July 15, 1913, Let the Bemidji Sentinel describe the decision made in a 4 to 1 vote of the commission:
With 15 minutes after a bulletin had been received Tuesday afternoon—a week to the day after the commission's visit here-flashing the news that Bemidji had won, the city had gone crazy with joy. As soon as it was known...the city's great fire siren was turned loose and almost simultaneously the fire bell began clanging out a joyous message to the startled populace. An impromptu automobile parade formed quickly and a mile of machines heavily loaded with men, women and children began circling the business streets, the occupants of each crashing tin pans, blowing horns, pounding drums, dangling cowbells, tooting whistles, firing revolvers, and making any other noise possible, and from out of the Pandemonium continuously came the shout, "We win!"...Farmers and others in the country who heard the weirdly shrieking fire whistles and din of other noises bellowing out from the city were struck with terror, believing the city to be at the mercy of an Indian uprising...or that an earthquake had broken loose, or more logically that the place was in flames.
Because the school was brand new—existing only on paper—the immediate central difficulty was getting the initial state appropriations. It wasn't easy. In the face of economy-minded legislatures, along with the unsettling times surrounding World War I, getting started provided major difficulties. From the victory fire-bell-ringingeuphoria of 1913, it took another five years of slugging and watchful waiting before sufficient funds could be scraped up to actually start the first building construction in April of 1918. Finally, it was on its way.
One set of politicians gave life to Bemidji State Normal School, a second set nursed it, got it started at last, soon named it 'teachers college' (in 1921), and sent it forward, until, something like Topsy, it just grew. Oh how it grew!—mainly in the turbulent 1960's when a veritable building boom found new buildings popping up on an expanding campus like proverbial mushrooms. And it has hardly stopped growing since.
So What Do We Have By 75?
The changing times have been good for Bemidji State. Although on the surface geographically 'isolated,' the school has benefited mightily from the Information Revolution. Technology and transportation improvements have nullified what had been provincialism. Fax machines move information as quickly to and from Bemidji as to Burnsville—or London. The new Beltrami County Airport on the edge of town constantly finds school personnel in the morning flying off to meetings in Minneapolis and flying home that same evening. Vax computers and E-Mail enable profs and students to communicate not only nationally but internationally. The future is now.
Although the school may specifically focus on the region—and get most of its students from the area—the graduates go all over the country and the world. It's a global economy in a new world order. Bemidji State has striven not only to keep up but to stay ahead. Changes, always changes. By design, in the last 25 years international students from over 25 countries have been recruited to the campus by the hundreds so that the student union at times resembles a little United Nations. The multi-cultural, multi-racial student body has been good for essentially everyone. In a legion of ways—and measured by a variety of criteria—it's a far different school and yes, a constantly improving school, since World War II, How good? Well, a retiring board member of the entire system privately told a Bemidji State President in 1993 that "Bemidji State is the flagship of the system."
The Pressures and Signs of Change
Of course the school of the Post-War Years—or any time before or afterwards—never did or could operate in a vacuum. Like individuals who are subjected to the many pressures of societal changes, so did Bemidji State adopt and adapt to the changing times. The geographic location of Bemidji had meant both opportunity and responsibility to serve the Native American population that surrounds the community. Thus in the past 20 years, BSU has had 200-plus American Indian students enrolled each year, and has produced more American Indian graduates than any school in Minnesota. Recognizing Bemidji's location, having four Indian reservations surrounding it, the 1994 legislature voted over a million dollars to build a major Native American Indian Center on campus.
Sometimes the outside motivation to adopt and change came from popular culture and it was all for fun, like the once-popular Sadie Hawkins Day Dances in the 1950's, a la L'il Abner and Al Capp. Nothing like that for the students of the 1990's; indeed most of them never heard of Al Capp. Nor would the 50's students who lived under the strict rules laid out by the Deans of Men and Women understand the 90's freedoms, whether the absence of mandatory dormitory hours—nor the mandatory requirement that all 90's students complete a sexual harassment training program or else not be allowed to register for subsequent quarters. 40's students appreciated the technology of electric adding machines, while a word like `computer' appeared in science-fiction. Any 90's student illiterate in computer use remains that—illiterate. Those new electric typewriters of the 1960's were state-of-the-art technology; in the 90's they're museum-pieces. AIDS in the 1970's could mean financial, an insurance company, or the American International Development Services; a decade later it became a dreaded medical term. A storage room on campus has used computers piled to the ceiling; they're relics; they're obsolete; they're three years old. Obviously the times—"they-are-achangin'."
Oak Hills Fellowship and Bible College
T J Salley
The Oak Hills Fellowship is an evangelical interdenominational missionary organization. In 1925, W.S. and Julia (Holmburg) Cummings, itinerant missionaries with the American Sunday School Union; Father Campbell, a sewing machine salesman; George Till, a buttermaker at the Bemidji Creamery; Bert Grover, a farmer; Harry Stilwell, a teacher and Henry Sawyer, a woodsman, purchased a recently 'lumbered off piece of land three miles south of Bemidji on the shores of Lake Marquette. In 1927 the group incorporated Oak Hills Fellowship and Camp Oak Hills. In 1946 Oak Hills Christian Training School opened its doors, offering a 2-year diploma, operating during the winter months. Eventually the school grew into what is now Oak Hills Bible College, with emphasis both for training Christian laymen and preparing workers for rural pastorates.
|Today the Oak Hills Fellowship, Bible Camp, and College still carry on the vision of the original founders. Besides the College and summer conferences, the Fellowship provides support services to the region's rural churches. Cummings Library provides a regional resource for anyone wishing to study the Bible, Christian theology, or comparative religions. Fellowship members work with Native American Christians to strengthen their local churches and have an American Indian Resource Center on campus to help those to better understand Native American thought, religion and the history of Christian missionary activities among such people.|
In conjunction with Bemidji's 1996 Centennial, the Oak Hills Fellowship and Oak Hills Bible College will be celebrating their 75th and 50th anniversaries.
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