By Cecelia Wattles McKeig (from The Depot Express newsletter, Spring 2014)
The new Bemidji Post Office facility opened on Sept 24, 1980. The one block area bounded by Fourth and Fifth Street and Irvine and Mississippi Avenue was chosen as the best site for the new post office facility. In 1979, the council said that while it was a residential area then, business development in that area was predicted with the completion of the Highway 2 bypass. The site also had the fewest and the oldest houses of the three sites considered and the least assessed valuation. Here are three of the homes that bordered Irvine Avenue on that block.
413 Irvine Avenue
On the west side of Irvine Avenue there was a very large house which was owned by Fred W. Rhoda in 1904, and next by Fredrick Eberlein, a German beer brewer, who was the president, treasurer and manager of the Bemidji Brewing Company. After it was occupied by D. C. Breneman in 1910, it next was occupied by M. E. Smith, owner of the Smith Retail Company located at 424 4th St. This house was large and appears to have had two families living there most of the time. On a summer afternoon on July 24, 1913, it was the scene of a small wedding when Miss Alice Senear hosted a wedding for her cousin Carrie Cochran and Mr. Peter Kanz, and the room was reported to be beautifully decorated with ferns and flowers.
By 1918, it was the residence of Reuben “Rube” Miller and family. He was a machinist and had Miller’s Repair Shop at this address also. He came to Bemidji in 1900 with his parents and operated a gunsmith and locksmith shop with his father until the latter’s death. From 1916-1941, he operated the shop alone. He joined the Bemidji fire department in 1911 and continued until his death in 1941.
Michael Downs, his wife Kathleen, daughter Kathleen, and adopted son James all lived here from 1922 to about 1935. Canadian M. A. Downs came to Bemidji about 1899. He went into business with George Fleming and formed the firm of Fleming and Downs. By mutual consent, they went out of business in October 1905. Fleming continued the business and Michael Downs then went into business with Fred O’Leary and opened the Downs-O’Leary Grocery Store in 1906. They were featured in the 1909 Souvenir edition of Bemidji. It was considered an exclusive grocery store. It didn’t work out and they went bankrupt on Sept 9, 1909. He went to work as a switchman for the M & I Railroad. Michael Downs married Kathleen Walker on Sept 13, 1904 in Bemidji. They lived at 506 Fourth Street from 1905 until they moved to the Irvine Avenue address sometime during the early 1920s. Michael died by 1935 and his family moved to the Lakeview Apartments.
Wendell and Addie Gregg lived here in 1946, about the of the photograph below. It was then purchased by Wilfred and Agnette Marks. Mr. Marks was the agent for Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance (1951). In 1953, it was the residence of Louise Anderson and the Hair Fashion Studio. There were several owners after that including Herman Ihde and his family from 1956 into the mid 1960s.
417 Irvine Avenue
The first resident listed in the 1904 directory for this address was Joseph Barney, a local bartender and his wife. By 1907, it was the home of Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Ibertson, the local undertaker and coroner for Bemidji for many years. Mrs. Ibertson entertained the members of the Eastern Star at the Ibertson home in 1907. On Feb 2, 1909, Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Ibertson celebrated their fifteenth wedding anniversary on Friday evening with a “crystal” wedding at their home. There were twenty-six guests present and all enjoyed a social evening. The Ibertsons received many cut glass presents in commemoration of their crystal wedding. The Ibertsons then moved and this became the residence of John and Grace (Toombs) Hormann, who were married in 1911. He was associated with the Peoples Meat Market and then Hormann’s Meat Market on Third Street. His young wife, Grace, died at the house in February of 1914 when she was only 25 years old after a relatively brief illness. Her daughter Grace was only sixteen months old. The funeral was held at the house as was common in that period. Mr. Hormann hired a housekeeper and stayed with his daughter in the house until putting it up for sale in 1920. It was advertised as 5 rooms and bath, on a 50 ft. lot, surrounded with an iron fence. He then married Sophia Larson Gustafson on May 5, 1921 and continued to work as a meat cutter. They moved to Nymore.
Dr. Ed Franklin and his wife moved into the house. Dr. Franklin traveled in northern Minnesota for Drs. Larson and Larson but spent whatever time he could with his family at the house. His father, Wilbert Franklin, a retired carpenter, was staying with the family in 1924 when he took sick and died at the Lutheran Hospital. Between 1930 and 1942, Leo and Gladys Phillips owned the house. He was proprietor of a billiards room on Third Street for 24 years. He retired and moved to California about 1946.
Michael and Beatrice (Gould) Corrigan owned the house in 1946. Sons James, John, and Thomas also lived there. In the 1930s, Michael owned a hotel on Third Street. Michael and James worked for the State Highway Department in 1946. Thomas was a student. John was manager of the VFW. By 1953, Beatrice was a widow and lived with her son John at this address. He was sales manager for Land O’Lakes Motors in 1953.
By 1956, Ed O’Malley and his family had became the new neighbors and lived there until the house was removed and replaced by the post office. The O’Malley girls were the neighborhood babysitters. Ed O’Malley was a linotype operator at the Northland Times and then for the Bemidji Pioneer.
421 Irvine Avenue
Matt Thome, a saloon owner, moved to Bemidji in 1899 and settled with his family at this address. You may have noticed the Thome name on a building or two in town. His saloon was in the Rex Hotel and then at 400 Minnesota Avenue. When Bemidji was declared to be in Indian country and the saloons were forced to close, Matt did not give up his business interests. In 1915, he made front page news when special officers discovered and confiscated wines, whiskey and champagne, valued at approximately $200, in the cellar of the residence. The officers upon introducing themselves, went directly to the cellar of the residence, found a barrel containing 35 gallons of port wine and a keg in which they found five gallons of blackberry cordial. In suitcases well hidden were found four pints of champagne and 10 quarts of imported wine. In a small hole beneath the flooring of the cellar the officers found 37 quarts of whiskey. The entire “plant” was destroyed. Thome retired from business and took up farming in Wisconsin. After that, the house had new owners about every five years until it was purchased by the city from the last owner, Dewey Johnson.