By Cecelia Wattles McKeig (from The Depot Express newsletter, Spring 2015)
The best definition I can find is that a block was a multiple occupancy building. In Bemidji, a block such as the Dalton Block might house several offices or businesses and, very likely, apartments or rooms to rent as well. The term block is also used to define a piece of real estate such as Lot 1, Block 3, but that was different than the way the term was used to describe buildings in Bemidji. These blocks were more like “building blocks” – or not!
Over the years there were many blocks, and some of them are still standing. Bacon Block, Barker Block, Battles Block, Dalton Block, Goodman Block, Ibertson Block, Kaplan Glass Block, Masonic Block, Nangle Block, Naylor Block, Suman Block, Troppman Block and so on.
One of the most mentioned in early days was the Miles Block. It was built by C. H. Miles on the corner of Third and Beltrami, on the corner where the Northern National Bank stood and now the Northwest Foundation has restored the elegant old building.
C. H. Miles purchased the property on the corner, reportedly paying the handsome sum of $6,000 for it in 1901. He set about to have one of the finest buildings possible. The building was of solid brick, 50 x 80 feet, two stories, with a basement. The corner room was to be occupied as a first class saloon, the adjoining one would be for rent, and the second story was built for offices. His two saloons were the Great Northern and the Golden Club.
Bailey & Loud secured the two front office rooms, which were the largest in the building, and an adjoining library room. Probably no law firm in the state had better or more convenient apartments. The firm hosted a large gathering of their gentlemen friends in honor of having located in their elegant offices, and the evening was spent playing whist and enjoying a lunch.
Dr. Morrison also established himself in this building and rented several rooms. He used the one in the front as an operating room and the other as a reception room. The rooms were described as large and “decorated as beautifully as a lady’s boudoir.” When Dr. Rowland Gilmore came to Bemidji in 1902, he also took a suite of rooms in the Miles Block.
Charley Miles also had the first automobile in Bemidji. It was a two-door Ford painted brilliant red. It was quite a car. Miles was a nice appearing fellow, a very good dresser and courteous man. He could sign only his own name and that is all he knew, but he made quite a success of his business here. He had all kinds of roulette machines, slot machines and poker tables, all wide open, and he could not help but make money. He eventually moved to St. Paul to pursue his theatrical interest and sold the building in 1908 to George and Gearlds. On January 1, 1910, the former Lumberman’s Bank, renamed the Northern National Bank, moved to that corner and stayed there for decades.
Earle Barker came to Bemidji in 1900. He started business as a jeweler and in June of 1903 purchased the Mayo Drug Store. In 1907, he built the Barker Block. The newspaper reported that “the Barker block will be of solid brick, one story high, 100 feet long by 25 feet wide, with a basement running the entire length of the building. The front will contain very heavy plate glass, and will have two of the finest show windows to be found in the northwest. Contractor Kreatz expects to have the block ready for occupancy in time for Mr. Barker to make an elegant display of holiday goods in the spacious windows of his new location.” For the next years, there was not much mentioned about the block itself, although a great deal of attention was paid by the local newspaper on the military life of Lieutenant Earle Barker. He was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and headed Bemidji’s Naval Militia, which was the first contingent of Bemidji men to leave for service on April 17, 1917.
Then in late 1921, a new Barker block was built west of the original block. Otto and Carl Johnson opened a ladies’ ready-to-wear establishment on the main floor of the new building. The upper story of the new block was furnished for office purposes. Barker added a public rest room and beauty parlor in the basement. He also advertised the presence of a trained attendant for the children, free stationery, free telephones, free reading material, and a phonograph for the entertainment of those resting. In the store he provided use of a free weighing machine, free telephone service and a Sanitary Stamp Vending Machine.
Earle Barker sold Barker’s Rexall Drug Store in 1940 to Buck Buchanan and H. Arthur Vanderby, but it continued to be known as the Barker Block. Dr. Groschupf and Dr. McCann’s offices were located upstairs. This is where I had my tonsils removed. No hospital stay – but in the doctor’s office. Dr. Groschupf was our family doctor, and although his office was upstairs over Barker’s, he made home visits. I remember him visiting our home several times when I had bronchitis.
The drug store was sold once again in 1954 and August Ulrich opened the Bemidji Pharmacy in 1955. In April 1956, he established Just a Little Drug Store in the same setting and operated it until his retirement in 1974.
Fred Troppman bought the Malzahn Block about 1905 and remodeled it several times. The Malzahn building was one of the oldest in Bemidji. An organizational meeting for the First Presbyterian Church was held there on August 24, 1896. It held many different businesses, but had a serious fire in 1904. Troppman bought the property and although he owned it, it still was referred to as the Malzahn Block for years until Troppman replaced it with a new brick structure in 1916. Troppman’s new building was considered the most conspicuous business block in the city, as well as the newest and best office building. The building was erected at a cost of approximately $20,000.
An ad in May 1916 read: “It is two stories high, one hundred forty feet long and fifty feet wide and is the home of nearly a dozen different institutions. The ground floor is occupied by the Troppman Department store and the Henrionnet Millinery Parlors. Housed on the second floor in large, commodious well lighted rooms are the following business men: Attorneys Andrews, Gibbons and Huffman, in a suite of four fine rooms; Attorney H. L. Loud, occupying a suite of two splendid rooms; Doctors A. E. Henderson and L. A. Ward using excellent quarters in the front corner rooms. To the left of the wide spacious hallway will be found the offices of J. W. Wilcox, who sells Overland and Willys Knight cars and farmlands; the Dean Land Company, who have for the past forty four years been selling Minnesota lands; and Mina A. Myers occupying quarters equipped for a modern hair dressing establishment. When you see the Troppman Block connect these various institutions with it in your mind’s eye and you’ll never forget who is who in this, Bemidji’s best office and business block.” (May 19, 1916)