By Sharon Geisen (from The Depot Express newsletter, Fall 2014)
Have you looked at a picture and wondered: Who are these people? What did they do for a living? Why did they come to Bemidji? If they moved away, where did they go? Where was this picture taken? What happened to that building? What did these people accomplish? Many questions like these stir in our minds just from looking at a picture, and I recently had those questions while looking for pictures to hang in the hallway of the Beltrami County History Center.
I came across this wonderful black and white photograph of two couples with their bikes somewhere in downtown Bemidji. There are several things in the photo that made me start wondering: the architecture of the building, the clothing being worn, and curiosity about the people in the photograph.
The two couples in the picture were identified as Francis Spinner Arnold and his wife, Elizabeth M. (Ridenour) Arnold and Fredrick William Rhoda and Melvina Eva (Yunk) Rhoda. The photo indicated it dated to 1904-1908. Researching these two couples I discovered they both came to Bemidji and became long-time residents of Bemidji and very prominent citizens.
Francis and Elizabeth Arnold are the couple in the middle of the picture. Elizabeth was born December 21, 1868, in Rochester, Iowa. Her parents were John Daniel Ridenour (March 23, 1835 to June 11, 1907) and Sarah Cordelia “Cora” Kester (October 27, 1840 to May 2, 1911).
Elizabeth was one of eight children born to John and Sarah Ridenour. She and Francis married January 10, 1905, in Minneapolis where Elizabeth was employed. They adopted a girl they named Hazel Mildred Arnold. The family is buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Bemidji.
Elizabeth’s obituary gives us a wonderful look at the active and civic life of Mrs. Arnold. She was active in the Red Cross, a charter member of the Women’s Study Club formed in 1903, and a member of the Beltrami County Welfare Board and the Beltrami County Historical Society. Francis, Elizabeth, and Hazel lived at 802 Beltrami Avenue from 1907 to her death. That home burned in 1968. Elizabeth died June 29, 1952 at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Cronemiller at 609 Bemidji Avenue.
Francis Spinner Arnold was born March 1, 1867, in the District of Columbia. He graduated from law school at Georgetown University in 1892. Francis was a member of the bar in the District of Columbia and was associated with the United States Court of Claims and the U.S. Court of Prior Land Claims for a number of years, during which time he served as a government representative in Cuba for about a year. He continued law practice in Washington until 1900 when he came to Bemidji and entered a law partnership with L. H. Bailey under the firm name of Bailey and Arnold. Leslie Harrison Bailey was a brother-in-law to Francis and Elizabeth. Mr. Bailey was married to Elizabeth’s sister, Ida Cordelia (Ridenour) Bailey.
For a number of years Mr. Arnold engaged in the abstract business with the Beltrami County Abstract Company dealing mostly in title work, and was well known among the court house employees as a “walking dictionary.” He was considered conversant on current events as well as matters of law and title.
Mr. Arnold played an important role in securing the location of the Bemidji Normal School (later Bemidji State Teachers College and Bemidji State College, and now Bemidji State University). In the early days, he was secretary of the Metropolitan Club, an organization of more than 100 business and professional men of Bemidji who were active in the development of this North Country. Mr. Arnold died May 31, 1937, several months after a stroke.
Fredrick William Rhoda is standing on the far right and Melvina Eva (Yunk) Rhoda is standing on the far left. Melvina Eva Yunk was born in Marinette, Marinette County, Wisconsin on August 11, 1891. The 1905 census shows that she was one of nine children born to Matt Yunk and Mary (Weber) Yunk. Both of her parents were born in Germany (Prussia). Melvina came to Bemidji in 1906. She and Fredrick married in Bemidji in 1907 or 1908 when Melvina was only 16 years old. Melvina lived from the time she married at their home on America Avenue until her death on June 12, 1959. She is buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Bemidji.
Fredrick William Rhoda was born on July 19, 1869, on a farm where the village of Swanville is now located in Minnesota to Albert Julius Rhoda and Matilda Rhoda. Albert came to the United States in 1856 at 19 years of age with his parents, Karoline Friederike Wilhelmina Fischer (Born April 12, 1809, in Kremen, Germany (Prussia) and died September 17, 1904 in Winsted, McLeod County, Minnesota) and Christian Wilhelm (William) Rhode (Born September 8, 1801, in Kremen, Oberhavel, Bandeburn, Germany (Prussia) and died March 23, 1888 in Waconia, Carver County, Minnesota).
Fred was Clerk of District Court for Beltrami County from January 1903 until he died at his home at 423 America Avenue on November 27, 1938. When he was a young man, Mr. Rhoda moved with his parents from the farm to Long Prairie and served for a number of years under his father, Albert, who was a deputy county auditor of Todd County. In 1892, Fred went to Staples where he worked as cashier in the Bank of Staples. In 1895, he moved to Park Rapids and became cashier of the Bank of Park Rapids.
On December 24, 1897, Mr. Rhoda came to Bemidji and with William M. Taber started the city’s first bank, the Bank of Bemidji. It was before the days of incorporated state banks, and so it was a private institution. In 1898, the bank sold out and became what is now First National Bank. In 1898, Mr. Rhoda started the Merchants Bank of Bemidji and operated it until the turn of the century, when it was sold to the Lumberman’s State Bank.
Fred and Melvina had one adopted son, Albert M. who was born September 17, 1918. In 1940, Albert, at age 21, was living with his mother at their home at 423 America Ave. Albert was a bookkeeper for a retail lumber yard. I believe that Albert is still living in Bemidji and is 95 years old. I would love to talk to Albert about his long life in Bemidji. Think of all the changes he has seen and the wonderful stories of his parents and the Arnold family. If anyone knows Mr. Albert Rhoda, please contact the History Center so a visit with him could be arranged. I would also love to hear from the children and grandchildren of the Arnolds.
Doing research on these two couples is like being a detective. Maybe my love of history, mysteries, and suspense novels explains why I find looking for information of this kind very fascinating. Doing my own family genealogy over the years has been just as interesting for me as looking for these two families. I found the information for the article at the Beltrami County History Center. If you are trying to uncover your own family history or want to play detective, the History Center is a great resource, and independent research there is free. Obituaries in newspapers are a particularly great source of information. The Arnold family has listed a great deal of information on Elizabeth’s family that can be found at the website Find a Grave, including family photos of Elizabeth’s parents.
What building is that behind our couples? I think it is the building on the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Third Street in Bemidji. The Third Street front was the First National Bank. The side of the building on Minnesota Avenue is shown in this picture. Some of the original railings shown in the picture are still there today. It appears that people lived in this building. You can see curtains in a window and it looks like a walk-up entrance. Notice the beautiful designs of the metal stairs and railings.