The O’Kelliher Mercantile Company, Kelliher, MN, 1907.
by Sue Bruns (from The Depot Express newsletter, Fall 2013)
The Kelliher Diamond Jubilee includes just one sentence about the town’s name: “The town was called Kelliher, after Jerry O’Kelliher, because he was considered a ‘big stem’ in those days.” Other sources name A. O. Kelliher (sometimes spelled A. O’Kelliher) a lumber agent, as the namesake of Kelliher, Minnesota, describing him as “the man who platted the town for the Crookston Lumber Company.”
Located about 45 miles north of Bemidji and occupying just a little over two square miles with a population of 265 in 2012, the city manages to sustain a variety of businesses and services. Kelliher’s Pre-K—Grade 12 school serves approximately 250 from Kelliher and the surrounding area.
Both the town and its post office were established in 1903, the year the Crookston Lumber Company bought the timber in the area. Tall, straight Norway pine made the lumber desirable.
The population of Kelliher was at approximately 700 people in 1916. An additional 1000 farmers had settled in the area and some 2000 lumbermen camped nearby.
In its heyday, Kelliher had a train station for the Minnesota and International Railway (The M&IRR, also called the Mosquito and Insect RR).
By 1920, the population of Kelliher had dropped to 500. The last year for the big lumber companies to ship logs from the area was 1925.
In the 1930s, a WPA project brought the Kelliher Auditorium to the community. The building, later restored by volunteers, now houses the North Beltrami Heritage Center History Museum.