Bemidji is the county seat of Beltrami County and was organized in 1896. The name is derived from the Ojibway (Chippewa) Indian words Bay-me-ji-ga–maug, meaning a lake with water (river) flowing through. This is a reference to the Mississippi River, which enters Lake Bemidji from the west.
In 1835, early explorers referred to Bemidji as Pamitchi. In the early 1890s, a small settlement grew up around the Carson Trading Post, which was located on the south shore of Lake Bemidji.
On August 17, 1894, Myrian E. Carson established the “Bermidji” Post Office at his trading post and the name was not corrected to “Bemidji” until April 13, 1898.
A sawmill was erected on the east side at the exit of the Mississippi River from Lake Irving in 1895. Word went around that developers were going to establish a town on the southwest shore of Lake Bemidji, west of the Mississippi River. In the fall of 1895, a small hotel was erected at the corner of Third Street and Beltrami Avenue.
The Carson brothers then built a trading post kitty-corner from the hotel, where Patterson’s Clothing Store is located today.
A grocery store went up on the corner of Third Street and Beltrami Avenue and when spring came around, town fever was in the air.
On March 19, 1896, the first Bemidji Pioneer newspaper was published, followed soon by the Beltrami Eagle. The Bemidji Pioneer was a weekly paper until it then became a daily paper in 1903.
In 1896, the Presbyterian Church was built, and is still located at the corner of 5th and Minnesota. In November 1899, a 24-bed hospital was established on the second floor of the building at Third Street and Minnesota Avenue (presently the American Legion). This was Bemidji’s first hospital.
By 1900, Bemidji had 2,183 inhabitants. Logging was the principle concern of the people in the early 1900s furnishing direct income and employment. It also attracted railroads, and railroad right-of-ways determined the location of emerging towns.
Bemidji’s first high school building was built in 1908 and dedicated in the fall of 1909. It was located at Sixth Street and Irvine Avenue. When it burned in January 1921, houses and pine trees were cleared from two square blocks at the north end of Beltrami Avenue and the new brick and concrete school was ready for the class of 1923.
Today, Bemidji is a far cry from the rough lumber town that once served hoards of lumberjacks. It has matured into a highly diversified region that continues to grow in a fast-paced world. Bemidji is well equipped to prosper as it begins its second century of growth.
To learn more about the history of Bemidji, please visit the Beltrami County Museum History Center at 130 Minnesota Avenue SW, Bemidji. You can also find them at www.beltramihistory.org or call 218-444-3376.