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Bemidji, Minnesota Community Guide

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Timber, Bemidji's Greatest Natural Resource
Rosemary Given/Amble

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.

Walker, 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.

25,000 feet of logs drawn by four horses.

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."

Saw mill around the Bemidji area.

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 Mill #2.

Crookston Lumber Company, Bemidji, Minnesota.
Crookston Lumber Company, Bemidji, Minnesota.

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 levels in Lakes Bemidji and Irving, thus enhancing timber production.

Logs on Lake Bemidji.
Logs on Lake Bemidji.

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."

Crookston Lumber Company, Bemidji, Minnesota.

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 pulp-using factories.

Logging trucks travel to Nu-Ply's plant in town, to Northwoods Panel-board to the west or east to Potlatch's Strandboard Plant and Pine Sawmill. Many Bemidji men are loggers and truckers. Timber continues to be one of the primary natural resources for the people and the prestige of the City of Bemidji.

Power Companies
Rosemary Given Amble, T Drexler, Roger Spiry

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.

Warfield Electric hydro generating station was started in 1905. The first dam on the Mississippi River is four miles east of Bemidji.
Warfield Electric hydro generating station was started in 1905. The first dam on the Mississippi River is four miles east 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 quality service".

Paul Bunyan
Art Lee and Rosemary Given Amble

Art Lee, Bemidji State University's history professor, wrote in Legend of Paul Bunyan in the North-woods that Paul Bunyan is "strictly an American figure and strictly from the Northwoods. Of all the lumberjacks, the greatest 'jack of all time' is Paul Bunyan.. . the only folk hero in American history whose legendary fame has continued throughout the 20th century. The oral narratives trace Paul Bunyan's origin to actual incidents in lumbercamps that have been exaggerated to become wild tales of a huge lumberjack. Paul's legends floated aimlessly throughout America's lumber-camps from Maine to California."

Eighteen foot Paul Bunyan
Eighteen foot Paul Bunyan
unveiled January 1937

Historian Art tells us that, "In 1900 (when Bemidji was four years old) it was a boomtown — a lumberjack town with some 10,000 'jacks within a radius of twenty miles. Lumber was king, Bemidji its regional throne, and the courier in between was the Great Northern Railroad . . . The timber barons made their money from the region's virgin pine timber and Bemidji made its money from the lumberjacks." He relates that by 1907, Bemidji had two huge Shevlin-owned mills (Crookston Mills) employing 2,000 men inside and 20,000 outside in the woods; their massive gangsaws ran 24 hours a day and made so much noise as to keep Bemidji citizens awake at night when the sawmill doors were opened in the spring and summer."

"In 1914 William Laughead, an employee of Thomas Barlow Walker's Red River Lumber Company at Akeley, Minnesota, .. . published the brochure, introducing Mr. Paul Bunyan . . . and over 100,000 copies were given away . . . it was so popular that there was a new edition almost every year until 1944 ... Although he did not invent the name Paul

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?

Babe the Blue Ox as he rode on an International Truck 1937-1939.
Babe the Blue Ox as he rode on an International Truck 1937-1939.

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?

Quoting 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."

1933 Winter Carnival Ice Castle, Bemidji Minnesota
1933 Winter Carnival Ice Castle.

In a 1962 letter from Cyril Dickinson: "We placed a tarpaulin all around, heated the
inside to protect the men and materials freezing during the intense cold weather. The tarpaulin teepee rested on Paul's head and the top was not sufficiently lighted, which accounts for the area of the head and shoulders of the statue being so out of proportion. . . I was disappointed . . but Leonard told me Paul was an unusual character;  therefore it was not out of keeping that he should be unusually proportioned man.

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'.

Paul Bunyan Winter Carnival of 1937 with crowds of Civil Conservation Corps men.
Paul Bunyan Winter Carnival of 1937 with crowds of Civil Conservation Corps men.

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.

1939 Babe the Blue Ox permanently placed at waterfront.

Art Lee tells us "people came off the road to stare up at the 18 foot Paul and his massive Babe to the point that Kodak Corporation announced several years back that Paul and Babe were the second most photographed statues in America, trailing only that barber-shop quartet located at Mt. Rushmore." And, in the summers now, we watch third and fourth generations taking pictures standing at the foot of Paul and Babe, telling their grandchildren the Paul Bunyan stories they learned as children. They may also tell them that Cedric Adams, WCCO newscaster and columnist for the Minneapolis Star daily newspaper, read those wonderful Paul Bunyan stories that advertised Bemidji as Home of Paul Bunyan's Playground. Or, more recently, they may have heard Jonathan Winter's tapes of Paul Bunyan stories and music.

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.


Maybe you tink I'm a fool
Because I din't go far in school
I vork vit a mule, eat like a horse
Sleep like a log, care not who snores
My friend the cook his name is Pete
Vot he cooks I alvays eat.


I'm on the loose
Vi't snoose and boose
Me vit vinter undervear
Don't cut or comb my hair
Nothin' bothering me!
Vhoopee! Vhoopee!

Bemidji's Public Schools in the 20th Century
John Schuiling

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.
Central School building in Bemidji about 1900 facing 8th Street.
Central School building about 1900 facing 8th Street.

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.
As late as 1905, the year A.P. Ritchie became District #7's Superintendent, the total high school enrollment consisted of only eleven girls and one boy. By 1908 interest in secondary education increased and construction was authorized for a high school to be located between 6th and 7th Streets and America and Irvine Avenues. By 1909 high school students exceeded 100, and by the fall of 1910 the $50,00 school opened for occupancy. Total District #7 enrollment had reached 1100, and twenty-three teachers were employed.

Central Elementary School built 1902, Bemidji Minnesota
Central Elementary School built 1902.

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.

Bemidji High School 1908.
Bemidji High School 1908.

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.

Bemidji High School after the fire of 1919.
Bemidji High School after the fire of 1919.

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.

Bemidji High School on 15th and Beltrami opened 1921

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.

Lincoln Elementary School built 1907 in Village of Nymore annexed to Bemidji in 1916
Lincoln Elementary School built 1907 in Village of Nymore annexed to Bemidji in 1916

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.

Shortly 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.

J. W. Smith Elementary School completed 1956, Bemidji Minnesota
J. W. Smith Elementary School completed 1956

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 staff office.
Central Elementary School rebuilt in 1958 after the fire, Bemidji Minnesota
Central Elementary School rebuilt in 1958 after the fire.

Prior to the late 1960s, many Beltrami County schools within a 1,000 square mile area
maintained independence by transporting their junior and senior high school students to Bemidji for high school. Then the State of Minnesota enacted legislation that required all districts not maintaining their own high school to consolidate with the district that had been receiving their school students. Although Northern Consolidated District considered establishing its own high school, they found it proved not to be financially feasible. Among the districts that consolidated with Bemidji were: Carr Lake, Debs, Edgewood, Ergan, Guthrie, Meadowview, Nary, Northern, Pinewood, Pony Lake, Solway, Sunny Hill of Becida, Wilton and Unorganized Territory. The district, now greatly expanded in size, came Independent School District #31.

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.
Horace May Elementary School 1972, Bemidji Minnesota
Horace May Elementary School 1972.

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.

In 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
supervisor and high school baseball coach who, a short time before the school naming, succumbed to a terminal illness. Finally, the swimming pool was added to the junior high school building.
Bemidji Middle School built in 1982 for 6th through 8th grades.
Bemidji Middle School built in 1982 for 6th through 8th grades.

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.

In 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.

Northwest Technical College - Bemidji Minnesota
Northwest Technical College - Bemidji.

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.

In 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.

Parochial Schools

Bemidji has 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.

St. Phillip's Parochial School, Bemidji Minnesota,  (dedicated 1926) for 200 pupils.
St. Phillip's Parochial School (dedicated 1926) for 200 pupils.

Seventh Day Adventist Church has supported the school at 15th Street and Irvine Avenue since the early 1950s.
Seventh Day Adventist School, Bemidji Minnesota - 1950's.
Seventh Day Adventist School - 1950s.

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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