Greatest Natural Resource
Prior to white settlement the indigenous people traded furs. When beaver pelts neared depletion in the mid-1890s, timber took dominance. Lumber barons Thomas Barlow Walker, John S. and Charles Pillsbury, and Charles Ruggles invested millions in timber claims between 1874 and 1897. They sent timber appraisers, known as cruisers, to claim the best stands of white and Norway pine.
who then owned Red River Lumber Company of Crookston, claimed
nearly half of Beltrami County's timber. When he turned to
logging the area near Akeley, he sold both his sawmill and
timber claims to Thomas Shevlin and Frank Hixon, who renamed the
sawmill operation Crookston Lumber Company.
Crookston Lumber urged Great Northern Railroad to extend eastward and, recognizing profitable shipping markets, Great Northern brought rails from Fosston into Bemidji in 1898. Shortly thereafter, the Brainerd and Minnesota Railway extended from Walker to Bemidji, primarily to transport Pillsbury's timber to Minneapolis.
Logging was a winter industry and sawmilling was done primarily each summer. Crookston Lumber opened thirteen logging camps, each housing about one hundred lumberjacks. Men were hired, each with a job specialty. There were swampers, road monkeys, skidders, sawyers, teamsters, bullwackers, steam jammers, top loaders, walking bosses, blacksmiths and many others.
In July 1903 Thomas Shevlin and Elbert Carpenter
opened Crookston Sawmill #1 on the south shore of Lake Bemidji.
They hired 450 mill workers and ran a 24-hour a day operation.
The first year according to Lumberman's Bank president Walter
Brooks, "Crookston processed forty million board feet of prime
lumber and the village quadrupled in size."
As timber was cut, camps moved, new logging roads were cut and iced and a maze of railroad spurs were built. Millions of logs were loaded on sleighs (bunks), hauled to the lakes and piled on Lake Bemidji's ice. In the spring using a steam powered paddlewheeler, logs were boomed and towed to the mill for cutting. Massive gangsaws ripped timbers day and night. Trains continually switched the timber to and from the mill. Bemidji's sound of prosperity was the constant din that echoed through the village.
For convenience most mill workers and almost all
railroad men bought lots from E.N. French and built their homes
to the east and south of the mill. In 1904 Porter Nye and
sawmill owner, A.F. Moore, incorporated their own village,
naming it Nymore. As Crookston Lumber grew, so did the two
villages. In 1905, W. A. Gould and John Richards built the
Bemidji Lumber mill on the southeast side of Lake Bemidji and
within a year Crookston Lumber bought it renaming it Crookston
While the two wholesale mills shipped millions of board feet of prime lumber, 12 other Bemidji wood products companies were operating including E. E. Kenfield's Lumber on First Street south.
With added wood products plants, more power was needed. Warfield Electric Company built a power dam four miles from the outlet of the Mississippi River. The dam, started in 1905, was ready for use on January 9, 1909.
The era between 1907-1910 brought years of drought and local forest fires to northern Minnesota. Because of that dryness, the south and north basins of Lake Bemidji were often separated by a sandbar extending from Diamond Point to the east lakeshore, making it difficult to move log booms from the north end of the lake to the mill. Besides providing more power, the Warfield dam served to regulate lake levelsin Lakes Bemidji and Irving, thus enhancing timber production.
By 1910, Bemidji's Crookston sawmill was advertised as the nation's second largest. Walter Brooks said, "The magnificent timber production brought the City of Bemidji to the rank of 18th in the state for volume of business."
Lumber production was Bemidji's major industry; then disaster struck. The first fire occurred July 19, 1914, when Sawmill #1 burned to the ground. It was rebuilt. A few years later, Crookston #2 mill burned. By then, most of the logging in the north forests was done. The mill was not rebuilt. Then on November 8, 1924, 24 million board feet of select white pine, valued at $750,000, was destroyed at the second Crookston #1 fire. Heat was so intense it caused whirlwinds that tossed burning lumber across the lake. Seeing smoke on the horizon, volunteer fire fighters from as far away as Wilton and Solway came to help the Bemidji crews contain the fire to the mill yard.
By this time, with most prime timber logged from Beltrami
County, Crookston's owners were prepared to move operations to
the Pacific coast. This put 2,000 employ-out of work. Local
newspaper headlines read: "The Beginning of the End."
With Crookston mill yard vacated, Cyril and Leonard Dickinson bought their sawmill/lumber company from Buena Vista. Smith and Robertson continued selling their retail lumber and the Bemidji Lumber and Fuel Company, with Clarence Smith as board vice president, shipped lumber to western states and coal back to Bemidji. The Warfield Brothers started selling sash, doors, screens, and special mill work from their lumber yard. and E.E. Kenfield switched from shipping prime whole sale lumber to making wooden slats for shipping crates needed in the national markets. Production of wood products, though decreased, was still Bemidji's major industry.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the forest again came alive near Bemidji. The federal government organized programs to employ thousands of young men. They built forest roads and bridges, planted and replanted trees, and were taught sawmill operations and other forest-related jobs. Bemidji's businesses profited, providing food, materials and services for the Civilian Conservation Corps and Youth Conservation Corps programs.
During war years lumbering came to a standstill,
but afterwards, when
men came home and married, everyone needed lumber for homes. On
February 1, 1956, Bemidji businessmen urged the building of a
processed board plant near the site of the Crookston #1 mill.
The Nu-Ply plant opened and one hundred men manufactured a
product called 'hardboard.' Since then, the southeast lakeshore
is lined with massive stockpiles of logs each spring to supply
Georgia Pacific's year-round Nu-Ply-Superwood division and other
Warfield Electric Company
The first power company in Bemidji was the
Warfield Electric. Andrew and Charles Warfield came in 1898 and
built their first boiler plant at the west end of Third Street.
In 1905, using the design drawn by city engineer, Marcus Stoner,
the Warfield's started a power dam on the Mississippi River,
four miles from the outlet of Lake Bemidji. This plant, opened
in January, 1909, adding power to provide for the fourteen wood
products factories and all of Bemidji.
Minnesota Electric Light and Power
By 1924, Minnesota Electric Light and Power Company bought Warfield's Electric plant and, with E. E. Swanson as manager, opened offices at 322 Beltrami Avenue. They eventually were owned by Interstate Power of Dubuque, Iowa.
Otter Tail Power Company
Otter Tail Power Company has been pleased to be a part of the Bemidji community since November 1944. It was then that the electric power production and distribution systems for Bemidji and forty other towns in Northern Minnesota were purchased by our company from Interstate Power Company of Dubuque, Iowa. Following the purchase the local people who previously worked for Interstate joined the "Otter Tail Family" of employees and established Otter Tail as a significant employer in the city of Bemidji.
Local company employees have served the customers of the Headwaters area with dedication over the past several decades. That dedication was demonstrated in 1947 when, following WWII, the demand for electricity increased so quickly that construction of production facilities could not keep up. The ingenious personnel at the Bemidji plant helped to bridge the gap temporarily, pressing into service a retired Northern Pacific locomotive as a steam generator. More recently, the same dedication was demonstrated when the Bemidji Division achieved a record low of 5 minutes outage per customer in 1993, breaking all previous company records.
Otter Tail Power Company was founded by a family that held firmly the ideals of integrity and fairness in all business transactions. They believed, as we do today, that our success is tied to the success the communities we serve.
Beltrami Electric Cooperative, Inc.
Beltrami Electric Cooperative was formed in 1940 to provide reliable electricity to customers in North Central Minnesota including service in Beltrami, Hubbard, Cass, Itasca, Clearwater and Koochiching counties. The cooperative is currently growing at a very steady rate, and in recent years has experienced a growth with 422 new services added in 1992 and 479 in 1993.
The cooperative currently serves 13,860 customers with 2,730 miles of line and has 52 full-time employees.
Our mission remains the one it was formed under
in the first place 54 years ago, which is "to provide
electricity at the lowest possible rate, with the highest
Bunyan, Laughead made Paul Bunyan household words and he created most of the . . . characters surrounding Paul, like Shot Gunderson, Big Ole Brimstone Bill, Sourdough Sam, Chris Crosshaul, the Seven Axmen, and the Little Chore Boy." Of course, the largest of his creations was Babe, the Blue Ox and the most read was Johnny Inkslinger, Paul's camp scribe.
In 1987 Art Lee was officially dubbed Bemidji's 'Johnny Inkslinger,' and he recalls that Bemidji brought their children-of-all-ages home that year to hold 'a year-long 50th birthday celebration to honor Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, . . . the immobile, inscrutable .. . symbols and reminders of Minnesota's history in general & Bemidji's background in particular." But. why were these statues built?
Bemidji's second and third graders have seriously studied Paul's tall-tales, and they can tell you. They would say that from their studies of legends, Paul was capable of invading the minds of any good lumberjack and when all of the 'jacks' got to California, Paul looked back across the country and chose the site he wanted to remain forever. His choice was on the southwest edge of his favorite lake in the nation. The children would tell you that Paul invaded the minds of some old lumberjacks who had another sawmill on Lake Bemidji. He let them know he wanted to face west, looking toward the forested lands from which all lumberjacks brought their logs. But who were these lumberjacks who built statues?
from the August 4, 1987 Bemidji Pioneer: "According to Leonard
Dickinson, his brother, Cyril was in charge of creating Paul.
'The idea was conceived (or received) by him the same year Earl
Bucklin was Chamber of Commerce president and Earl's
measurements were used for the statue. It was a real cold winter
and for about three weeks prior to the carnival, Cyril's workmen
from Dickinson Lumber Company struggled inside a temporary
shelter to complete the 18 foot concrete and Paul Bunyan."
In a 1962 letter from Cyril
Dickinson: "We placed a tarpaulin all around, heated the
Lumberman Cyril built Paul, but it
was Leonard Dickinson with help from Jim Payton, manager of
Bemidji Electric Company, who created the Blue Ox. Babe was
constructed out of blue paper-machete-like canvas that was
placed over an International Truck and he would lead the 1937
Winter Carnival parade. Exhaust from the truck was hosed to
Babe's nostrils that would give the ox steamy breaths common in
northern Minnesota's coldest days. Babe's eyes, made from
tail-lights, glowed red in the iciest sunlight. And his horns
were so high and so long, they were a menace to low-slung
electric wires throughout town. Fire Marshall, Pete Johnson, was
designated bull-wacker and he accompanied Babe to all parades,
including 'Bemidji's Water Carnival of 1937'.
Life Magazine, in its fourth
edition printed February 1, 1937, devoted an entire page to
Bemidji's giant lumberjack and his ox. "Bemidji, Minnesota lies
in the country where Paul Bunyan, mythical giant of the lumber
camps, used to pick his teeth with a pine log and fell
whole forests with one stroke of his mighty axe." The caption
under the picture read "the huge models were to advertise
Bemidji as a winter resort." But, it was not only winter
visitors who stopped at the statues.
Art says, "Bemidji grabbed on to its pine-tree hero like the proverbial alligator with lockjaw and never let go. It wasn't just one person, one group keeping the legend alive; but the entire community claimed Paul Bunyan. Out of the impetuous humor, slippery wit and fertile minds of 'jack storytellers, a mythical image of Paul was fashioned. He was fearless, clever, strong and good—just like his role model'. And, Paul Bunyan became Bemidji's role model. They celebrate his birthday annually at their mid-January Polar Daze which includes Paul Bunyan Sled Dog races. Bemidji's high school athletes emulate their hero as Lumberjacks and Lumberjills and in Paul Bunyan's image and with all his trappings, they entertain the entire state as the most frequent state tournament competitors.
"Bemidji State University, for 30 years has had a Paul Bunyan Week, where administration, students and staff all dress in lumberjack clothing, they have competitive ice sculpting and their royalty are Paul and Carrie.
"A syndicated columnist from the Los Angeles Times came to Bemidji in 1987 and later wrote this assessment: "More things are named Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, Minnesota, population 11,000, than any other town in the nation. Paul Bunyan Drive is Main Street. Paul Bunyan Telephone Company. Paul Bunyan Playhouse. Paul Bunyan Shopping Mall. Paul Bunyan Amusement Park. Paul Bunyan Motel. Paul Bunyan Dairy. Paul Bunyan Construction Company. Paul Bunyan School. Paul Bunyan Sub-sandwich Shop. Paul Bunyan Broadcasting. And on and on." Had the writer stayed an extra day, he might have seen the only American police department in which the officers wear arm patches of Paul and Babe figures." And, now if that same man were to return, he would see Paul and Babe on both Bemidji's watertowers, on all city vehicles, including the Bemidji Buses.
Our Johnny Inkslinger, through Art Lee, assures
us that even though 'the cultural historians had over-analyzed
our Paul Bunyan, he and Babe have been and will always be
Bemidji's most famous citizens.
you tink I'm a fool
REFRAIN: I'm on
you tink I'm a fool
REFRAIN: I'm on
you tink I'm a fool
Schools in the 20th Century
The Bemidji Public Schools had their origin almost a decade prior to the 20th century and since have experienced phenomenal growth in population and geographical expansion.
In 1897 District
#7's first school was located between 4th and 5th Streets on
America Avenue and was taught by Cora Omich. District #4's first
school was on the east shore of Lake Irving with Mrs. Achenbach
serving as first teacher. By 1898 there were thirteen school
districts in the Bemidji area.
In 1900, to accommodate a 175
student population, the $32,000 Central Elementary School was
built facing 8th Street. Within two years enrollment expanded to
325 and a year and a half of high school work was offered to
those completing 8th grade. Central School was soon overcrowded
and classes were again held in the original school, the
Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church, then located at 3rd
Street and Mississippi Avenue. Under County Superintendent F.J.
Dunwoody, Professor B.E. Cooley served as principal and high
school teacher. At the outset, high school attendance was low.
Over the next decade W.P. Dyer
replaced Ritchie as Superintendent and saw the geographical
limits of the school district extended. The North School was
built at 15th Street and Delton Avenue, the East School in East
Bemidji on Lake Avenue and in Nymore which was annexed by
Bemidji in 1916. Lincoln School was built on Lincoln Avenue.
With expanding high school enrollment, in 1912 a High School Teacher Training Department was established on the second floor of the Central Elementary School with an initial enrollment of twelve. By the school year's end, 19 individuals under Edna Hill's direction had successfully completed training that gave them eligibility to teach in one-room upgraded rural elementary schools. This program was discontinued after the Bemidji State Normal School opened for classes in 1919.
During World War I, the Superintendent's position
was filled by W.G. Bolcom and later by R.O. Bagby. In January of
1919, the year following the war, Central High School was
destroyed by fire. There was controversy as to where a new high
school should be constructed, at the site of the destroyed
school, close to Bemidji's 'downtown area,' or 'up north in the
woods' along 15th Street. The 15th Street site prevailed and by
1921, with J.C. West as Superintendent, the high school opened.
As roads and transportation improved, increasing numbers of rural elementary school graduates were attracted to Bemidji's high school. Those coming first had to secure board and room in Bemidji homes during the nine months classes were in session. The great depression had forced many consolidated schools to discontinue teaching high school classes. Some established bus routes to Bemidji while retaining their elementary school and autonomy as districts. The Minnesota Department of Education designated definite high school areas and an area about the size of the state of Rhode Island was designated as Bemidji's District #7.
After the mid-1920s, enrollment in the high
school continued to increase. The City of Bemidji was becoming
an important trade, tourist, educational and government center
for an increasingly large area in the north central portion of
Minnesota. Students were choosing to continue secondary
education rather than terminate schooling at the completion of
their 8th grade, or when they attained their 16th birthday, as
state law mandated.
By the mid-1930s Bemidji High Schools graduating classes exceeded 200 students. Central and Lincoln Elementary, as well as the High School, were overcrowded. In 1935, taking advantage of the U.S. Government's depression measures to put the unemployed to work, the district applied for close to 50% of the $100,000 to build a Junior High wing on the High School building. Ray H. Witt was employed to teach science classes and to supervise the building project. By the fall of 1938, with Witt as principal, there were 150 more students than ever before enrolled in the Junior High School, 142 ninth graders coming from Beltrami County Schools.
1938 was a year of vast changes within the
District #7. First , the new junior high was added, then the 8
year elementary and 4 year high school were reorganized into a 6
year elementary, 3 year junior high and 3 year senior high
program. Except for home economics and industrial arts, all
junior high school classes met in the new wing. A third change
came when student teachers, completing their educational
programs at Bemidji Teachers College, were accepted to practice
teach in the district. A fourth was the school board purchasing
the Beltrami County Fairgrounds, immediately north of the high
school for future expansion. And finally, in late 1938, a Public
Works Administration grant was applied for to construct a
$175,000 auditorium. This facility, with a connecting tunnel to
the high school, was ready for the 1940-41 school year.
Bemidji, like other cities, was feeling the effects of war. Prior to World War II, a female teacher who married before Christmas had her contract terminated at the Christmas break and those married afterward were not given contracts for the next year. But, with the advent of war, many male faculty members took leaves of absence to enter military service and staff members left to enter government service or work in defense industries. This forced the school board to relax their long standing policy of not employing married women.
after World War II, overcrowding again became a serious problem
in the elementary schools. To alleviate the situation, voters
approved a $550,000 bond issue to construct J.W. Smith
Elementary School. In a few years there was enough in the
capital outlay fund to add 6 classrooms to the facility.
By the late 1950s the expanded elementary enrollment was moving into the Junior High School, creating crowding in both Junior and Senior High School. A $1,650,000 bond issue passed to build a new Junior High School north of 16th Street, but voters rejected the construction of an Olympic size swimming pool. In the summer of 1958, when all was prepared to move into the new Junior High School. Central Elementary School was totally destroyed by fire. The following March, a other $350,000 bond issue was approved to build a new Central School on the same location.
In 1963, after 35 years as
Superintendent, J.W. 'Prof' Smith retired. Ray Witt, who joined
the district in 1937 and had been both Junior and Senior High
School principal was appointed superintendent. Early in his
administration, voters approved construction of an Area
Vocational-Technical School. This post-secondary school located
in Nymore, opened its doors forth 1966-67 school year with E.M.
'Jake' Outwin as director. Under the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act, an addition was made to the west end of the
Senior High school to house new library facilities. District
funds were used for two Senior High School classrooms,
administrative offices for the Superintendent and a central
Prior to the late 1960s, many
Beltrami County schools within a 1,000 square mile area
Prior to consolidation Bemidji's district did not
own or operate its own buses but contracted with private
operators for transportation. With the consolidation the
district found itself owner and operator of a significant fleet
of buses. With the abolishment of his position as County
Superintendent of Schools, C.L. 'Pat Stapleton was appointed
District #31's first Director of Transportation. The district
transportation system's extensive operation necessitated a
transportation facility equipped to perform all echelons of
maintenance of its large fleet of vehicles. That garage is
located on 15th Street.
Along with student population growth, a corresponding increase occurred in faculty and supporting staff. Legislation provided all school employees — teachers, custodial and maintenance personnel, cooks, bus drivers, secretarial staff, teachers aides and middle management — with collective bargaining rights and local groups organized so they could negotiate for salaries, benefits and improved working conditions.
April of 1970 voters approved a bond issue to renovate the
Senior High School for classroom space for the district's
compensatory education program; for expansion of the Area
Vocational-Technical Institute; for a new elementary school to
accommodate students who had to be in schools at Carr Lake,
Guthrie and Nary; and the Neilson Foundation offered the
district a $100,000 grant toward the construction of a swimming
pool in the Junior High School. In September 1971, the Area
Vocational-Technical School was completed. The fall of 1972, the
Horace May Elementary School was completed and named for a very
popular elementary physical education
Ray Witt's tenure came to an end in 1972 when he decided to retire. He had been employed in the Bemidji system for 35 years, the last nine as superintendent. He was replaced by Dr. Louis Wangberg, whose superintendency terminated when he was elected Minnesota's Lieutenant Governor. Wangberg was replaced by John Schuiling, whose service to the school system started in 1938. Schuiling's departure marked the end of an era when Bemidji's superintendency was held by someone who worked within the district for a period decades. Subsequent superintendents, Dr. Clinton R. Barter, Dr. Philip Bain and Wayne Haugen came from outside the Bemidji system and they have seen continual growth.
the early 1970s overcrowding again became a serious problem.
For years the district provided one-way busing for half day
kindergarten. When it became necessary to provide two-way
busing, the program changed to a full day, every other day. To
gain space in each elementary, school, except those in Solway
and Deer Lake, all kindergartners attend the Paul Bunyan
Kindergarten Center near the airport.
In March 1980 the voters approved a bond issue for $10,910,000 to construct a Middle School and $1,910,000 for a one-section elementary school at Deer Lake. Again in the mid-1980s a bond was issued to construct a new school in Solway, and more recently another issue for expansion of the middle School, Horace May Elementary School and Northern Elementary School.
recent decades changes have occurred. Community Education, which
at time was a small program, grew to employ a full-time director
and staff. Taking advantage of federal funds, the district
sponsors an ambitious program for the fit of its Native American
population, makes up about 10% of the student body. The Area
Vocational-Technical Institute has undergone significant growth,
name changes and most recently, became a unit of regional
college system under the control of the State of Minnesota. As
happens almost every five years in Bemidji, the time not be too
far distant when another issue must be made. This one regard-the
construction of a new high school.
several schools supported by churches. In 1924 the three story
St. Philips School was built at 620 Beltrami Avenue to teach
children of the Catholic church. For many years the classes were
taught exclusively by the Sisters of St. Frances. The school has
young people through seventh grade.
Seventh Day Adventist Church has
supported the school at 15th Street and Irvine Avenue since the
Recently The Christian Academy was organized and St. Mary's Lutheran School was the most recent school supported by church funds.
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