By P. J. Reynolds (exclusive online content to accompany The Depot Express newsletter, Summer 2014)
Bemidji has changed a lot over the years. Tons of tourist attractions have come and gone, but there is one attraction that many old timers will always remember: the Bemidji Belle and the Dixie Belle. During the 1950s the Bemidji Belle and the Dixie Belle were very popular tourist attractions. They used to sit at a dock which was at the water front near the Paul and Babe statue.
The Bemidji Belle was a 66 foot knotty pine stern-wheeler. It was launched on May 21, 1953, its captain being Don Holmes. It held up to 125 passengers. While they snacked and listened to music from either a jukebox or live orchestra, they cruised around Lake Bemidji for about 30-40 minutes at a time. A year earlier, the Dixie Belle was launched in 1952, and Don Holmes also operated this boat. Also in 1952, the City Council approved for Don Holmes to install rides on the lake front. Holmes thought that it would increase tourism to the small town of Bemidji. Don called this place the Paul Bunyan Playground. Don Holmes did many things to bring more life to this community and for the tourists that were exploring Bemidji at the time.
But sadly the Paul Bunyan Playground disappeared in 2006. And the Bemidji and Dixie Belle were finally docked in 1973 and were never sailed again. Don Holmes passed away September 9th, 1999 here in Bemidji. Don Holmes is gone, but he left a memory behind, the memory of Paul Bunyan Park. Where kids and parents could go and spend a fun afternoon together. He left behind a memory of fun, and he will never be forgotten and neither will the Bemidji Belle and the Dixie Belle.