By Cecelia Wattles McKeig (from The Depot Express newsletter, Fall 2015)
We seldom see a specific reference to Grand Forks Bay anymore, but from 1902 until 1940, there were frequent references to the popular vacation spot on Lake Bemidji, and Grand Forks Bay even had its own column in the Bemidji Pioneer and in the Grand Forks Herald! Do you know where it was?
Grand Forks Bay was the oldest summer resort on the lake and was platted on the northwest shore of Lake Bemidji. After the Great Northern Railroad completed the connection from Fosston to Duluth in 1898, Bemidji became a center of tourism. The newspapers in Grand Forks, North Dakota told of the wonderful fishing near Bemidji, and North Dakotans came over to the lake region to get plenty of pike. In 1901, the Bemidji Pioneer stated that during the spring it is nothing to go out on Lake Bemidji in a rowboat and catch one hundred walleyed pike in an hour. In four days of fishing, a party of four Grand Forks fishermen caught “about 300 pounds” of walleye. They kept every pound.
This area was platted and built in 1902 by residents from Grand Forks who regarded the area as a kind of health resort during the summer months. Soon the area had 25 summer cottages. The residents never tired of boasting of “Beautiful Bemidji” and the wonderful effects of a summer spent among the pines. Grand Forks Bay was so popular that in 1906 Mayor A. A. Carter convinced a second group of Grand Forks citizens, including his relatives, to purchase and establish a second resort colony on the east shore of Lake Bemidji.
The area was served by several launches from the docks at Third Street in Bemidji. The boats made regularly scheduled trips all summer to the resort areas, making it more convenient to travel by boat than by car. In 1907, the newspaper reported that a merry party started out in the “Swallow,” with their lunch baskets, from Grand Forks Bay and traveled to the Mississippi outlet to picnic and explore the woods for blueberries. There are frequent references to Captain MacLachlan and the “City of Bemidji,” as well as other boats on the lake.
There were many splendid cottages at Grand Forks Bay, and the property was considered very valuable. In 1908, Professor Merrifield, president of the University of North Dakota, was reputed to own the very best summer home on Lake Bemidji. The building was of modern design, had a massive stone chimney and wide porticos, and was regarded as being is in every way an ideal summer home.
Grand Forks Bay was named in the land description regarding the location of the new normal school in Bemidji in 1915. The site for the college comprised forty acres, ran from Doud Avenue to the lakeshore, and extended from Fourteenth Street to Grand Forks Bay on Lake Bemidji. So now we know that Grand Forks Bay extended from the north side of the college northward to Bemidji Beach, where the Jacobi’s also had a summer cabin. If that rings a bell, it will be because G. R. Jacobi was an insurance agent from Grand Forks. His granddaughter, actress Jane Russell, was born at the Bemidji Hospital in 1921, because her parents were staying in their cottage at Bemidji Beach (just south of Birchmont). An early map shows the location of the Bay area along Lake Bemidji.
The area suffered a wave of vandalism in April 1905. Over a period of ten days considerable damage was done. Almost every cottage had been entered and articles removed. Two of the cottages were stripped of their contents, even heavy articles like beds and extension tables were removed. In one or two cases, doors were chopped down in order to gain admittance. Bemidji promised a quick crackdown. It did not want to lose its valuable summer visitors.
Cottages at Grand Forks Bay were again broken into in March 1915. The cottages had been entered and a great deal of the furniture stolen. Owners reported the same to the police and an arrest followed. “The arrested woman was given a lecture and put on probation. It is hoped that this will serve as an example to people of this character who make a practice of breaking into the cottages at Bemidji during the winter months. Many Grand Forks people have considerable money invested in Bemidji, and it is unfortunate that their property should be the subject of raids of this character.”
Grand Forks Bay had its own social column in the Grand Forks Herald called “G. F. Bay Breezes.” In July 1916, the newspaper reported that Mr. and Mrs. Michel of Willowbend, South Dakota, had purchased the McVey bungalow at the Bay and had then returned to their home in South Dakota after spending ten days in their new summer home. The Michel family then advertised their property for rent: Beautiful ten-room summer cottage, completely furnished at Grand Forks Bay, Lake Bemidji. Large screened porches, fireplace, boat, etc., everything but bedding and silverware. Price for the season: $150. References required.
Tenting was also popular at Grand Forks Bay in 1916, and the newspaper noted, “The rapidity with which the tents are being set up proves the popularity of Grand Forks Bay as just the right place for campers.”
Eventually, many Bemidji people also owned property at Grand Forks Bay. Although they had homes in downtown Bemidji, the attraction of the lake and the summer breezes drew many to acquire a second piece of property at the lake. For example, Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Knapp moved to their cottage at Grand Forks Bay on May 1, 1916.
Lloyd Knott wrote about his home in 1976. “This home that I have [1928 Birchmont Road] is one of the original houses known as Grand Forks Bay. Looking through the abstract, it is land originally owned by Freeman Doud. I bought it from Ray Ward. He built the fireplace and the fireplace room. He told me he built the fireplace all by himself.”
Bemidji underwent a wave of construction and improvements in 1922. There was a general belief that times were going to get better in the immediate future. They had no inkling that the Roaring 1920s would end with the Crash in 1929. The Minnesota Electric Light & Power Co. began its l922 construction program by wiring Grand Forks Bay, Lamoure, and Diamond Point. The wiring was connected up at Irvine Avenue and Twenty-Fourth Street, then strung into Lamoure on Birchmont Road, and then to Grand Forks Bay and onto Diamond Point. Summer residents had requested this action for a number of years. Light wires to the Teachers College had been installed for some time, but this line could not be extended to accommodate the cottages at the Bay, because of its limited carrying capacity. The Irvine Avenue line could carry any kind of load and therefore the line was built from this connection.
Cottage residents could now cook, heat, and light by electricity!
Eventually there were many summer resort areas platted around Lake Bemidji – Bemidji Beach, Birchmont Beach, Lakeside, Lavinia, Riverside, to name a few — but Grand Forks Bay was the first.
In 1937-1938, residents of Grand Forks Bay included Joseph Boninger; J. Raymond Olson, manager of the Gambles Store; Harry Gray, Chief of Police; and Mrs. Theodora Bradford. About 1939, the street addresses were changed and the same residents lived at 1912, 1920, 2112, and 2302 Birchmont Drive respectively!