By Cecelia Wattles McKeig (from The Depot Express newsletter, Fall 2014)
Driving down the street last spring, I was surprised to see a backhoe at work tearing down a building at 1207 Bemidji Avenue. I quickly made a left and came back through the alley and watched as the claws of the machine tore at the old house. I wondered who had lived there and why it was being torn down. No doubt there was good reason, as many houses in Bemidji have “gone to seed” and needed to be removed. In the early 1960s, more than three dozen old houses, outbuildings, and other structures were condemned and removed by the city or torn down by their owners.
1207 Bemidji Avenue
John McDonald bought four lots on June 27, 1905, for $500 from the Bemidji Townsite Company and built a home there. In the fall of 1906, Mrs. McDonald advertised for a girl to help with the housework. J. A. McDonald advertised his barn for rent on December 27, 1907. They sold the house in 1907 to Matthew Phibbs for $2,200.
Matthew and Mary Phibbs sold the house on contract for $2,070 to Edgar C. McGregor on July 19, 1909. Tragedy followed their move when Edgar, their 5-month-old son, died after an illness of about two months. The funeral was held at the house on November 10, 1909. Edgar McGregor was a timber cruiser born in Canada, and his wife Gertie was born in Minnesota. In 1910, they lived at the house with children Ford, William, John, Daniel, and Marguerite. Ellen Johnson, 22, was the Swedish live-in helper.
Less than a year after baby Edgar’s death, the parents were stunned when their son Ford, age 9, died on July 21, 1910. He had been sick only two or three days and his death was a total shock to his mother. A baby girl named Gertrude was born in the fall on September 19, 1910.
While returning to her home in Nymore at 11:30 at night on August 10, 1911, a young woman who did dressmaking and had been sewing at the McGregor home was accosted on the bridge crossing the Mississippi. A struggle ensued, her screams frightened the man, and he released her and ran.
A son, Thomas, was born in 1913. The Ladies of the First Methodist were entertained at the McGregor home in February 1914. A son, Gordon, was born June 26, 1916. Mrs. McGregor advertised for a nurse girl to assist at the home. In July 1916, E. C. McGregor, accompanied by his son, Jack, went to the Twin Cities to visit Donald Stevens, formerly of Bemidji, for a week.
The next month E. C. McGregor kicked up some excitement when he complained about refunding license money to former saloon owners in Bemidji. The city council voted at a meeting on September 27, 1915, to refund saloon license moneys to 12 former saloon keepers of Bemidji, as follows: Thomas McCarthy, $144.99; Geo. Tanner, $37.58; Matt Thome, $378.57; Gennis & Layon, $245; E. K. Anderson, $490; Andrew Dahl, $695; Frank Lane, $653.33; F. B. Brinkman, $861.91; J. E. Maloy, $397.39; John Bye, $163.33; Harry Gunsalus, $397.39; and J. E. Croon, $144.99.
When money became available for the settlement in 1916, McGregor brought action through Attorney M. J. Brown to halt the refunding of the money. Action was brought against “the city of Bemidji, Charles Vandersluis as mayor, George Stein as clerk,…George W. Rhea as treasurer,” and the former saloon keepers to enjoin the city from returning the license money claimed by saloon keepers. Exception was made of the firm of Gennes & Layon and of Frank Lane for the reason that they closed their places of business on November 30, according to the order of the federal agents, and did not again open them as “soft drink parlors.”
McGregor filed a complaint, on behalf of the taxpayers of Bemidji, that notwithstanding the order, the liquor license holders had continued to operate their respective saloons, designating their respective places of business as “soft drink parlors,” and continued to sell intoxicating and malt liquors, with the exception of the following: “F. E. Brinkman, who from and after the 30th day of November, 1914, discontinued the operation of his saloon.”
The action went to the Supreme Court and I don’t know the outcome. Meanwhile, McGregor must have been doing okay financially as he purchased a new Reo automobile in September 1916. The sale was made through C. E. Battles, who had the Reo agency in this city.
In September 1917, McGregor put the house up for sale. It was described as an eight-room house with bath, barn, and garage on a 100-foot lot facing east and south with crab apple and plum trees, currant bushes and strawberry plants. Household Goods were advertised for sale in April 1918.
McGregor sold the property to Ernest D. Boyce, an employee of the Bemidji Box Factory, on May 21, 1918, for the sum of $3,300. The McGregors moved to Boise, Idaho and lived out their lives in Idaho.
The Presbyterian Aid society met at the home of Mrs. Ernest Boyce on September 26, 1918. It was noted: “Lunch will be served, which will be the first time for the past year, the same having been discontinued in order to Hooverize.”
Gene Boyce, their six-year-old son, was ill but recovered in October 1921. Miss Harriett Boyce was hostess to the Young Ladies Sewing club on a Saturday evening in October 1922. The Boyce family lived in the residence until about 1927 when Boyce sold the residence to G. H. Bergstrom, proprietor of the Bergstrom Flour & Feed Co. Bergstrom sold it to Charles and Etta Johnson, who lived there in the 1930s. He was a carpenter.
The property with the four lots was sold to Homer C. Baer, and then split into two properties. Lots 11 and 12 were sold to J. B. and Ida Parenteau for $600 on June 17, 1937. Lots 9 and 10 were sold to Roxie Nelson for the sum of $1,350 on June 16, 1938. Roxie was a beauty operator in 1942. The property remained in the Nelson family for the next sixty years and was listed in the city directories under the names of Roxie Nelson, Roxie Gilstad, and Mrs. Mina Nelson.
Mrs. Mina Nelson moved to Bemidji in 1937 where she operated a rooming house until her death on May 22, 1966. Mrs. Roxy Gilstad continued to own the property until her death in 1990. In 1974, her son, Private Paul Gilstad, graduated from recruit training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California.
The house was taken down by a backhoe on April 23, 2014, to make way for a future Bi-CAP Youth-Build home project. A total of three houses were torn down for the program, which is a partnership between the city, Headwaters Regional Development Commission and Bi-CAP to provide housing for low-income individuals.
315 Fifth Street
An interesting and once-lovely home was in existence on Fifth Street from 1898 until it was razed in 1970. The home was built by A. T. Clavin. The local newspaper noted that Clavin had almost completed his one-story building on the Ed Boyd lot on February 10, 1898. The old Clavin house was right across the alley west of the Presbyterian Church.
Andrew and his wife Annie were one of the first couples to settle in Bemidji. Andrew was an Irishman, born in Wisconsin in January 1849. Annie Seado was almost 20 years younger, born in 1868 in Wisconsin. They were married about 1887. In 1900, Anna, a Swedish seamstress lived at this residence as the servant. The Clavins are listed in the first Bemidji city directory in 1904, but no street addresses had been assigned yet.
Clavin was an early saloon keeper. In 1912, he was the co-owner of the Clavin & Tanner Saloon at 211 Third Street. He was also owner of the Star Theatre. In 1909, he attended the Seattle Exposition and visited with old friends. He asserted that he had one of the most enjoyable times of his career and that the “big show” is indeed a “hummer.”
In 1912, the Fire Marshall ordered George Tanner and Andrew Clavin to remove the two story building known as the “Star Theatre,” situated on lots 18 and 19 of block 17, within sixty days because it was an alleged fire trap. Clavin filed an injunction and in 1917, Judge Stanton modified the order and directed the owners of the building to repair it and to make the chimneys, heating apparatus, and electric wiring conform to Bemidji city ordinances.
Members of the Linger Longer Club surprised Mrs. Clavin on her birthday in March 1917. The members gathered at the Clavin home and prepared a sumptuous seven o’clock dinner. The hours were spent in cards and music. By this time, the house was quite imposing. The house had ten rooms and beautiful chandeliers and furniture. I remember Mrs. Clavin sitting on the porch, and my brother was her paperboy. Clavin also had property in Eckles Township.
After the death of Andrew in 1932, Mrs. Clavin continued to live there and to take in boarders. At one time, her brother John Seado lived with her. He was a retired lumberman and a resident of the Bemidji area since approximately 1920.
Mrs. Clavin died about 1952. The property passed to the First National Bank on March 30, 1954. It became a nine-unit apartment house with many problems. Firemen were called to the residence on several occasions, and in October 1970, the city passed a resolution that the building had to be either repaired or razed. The owners of the building, John and Lucille Wright, had 60 days to improve the conditions in the dwelling or to have the building torn down. Jack Wright opted to tear it down. He recalled in an article for North Country that the house had some nice chandeliers and a beautiful old china cabinet.
The Social Security office was built there later on and it is currently the site of the Chriswell Building.