Bemidji Minnesota, Mom’s Home Town

When I was growing up Mom always said that Bemidji was known as “The Icebox of the Nation.” Well, now, imagine my surprise to learn that International Falls, MN. not only claims this title but in fact holds the trademark to it! Mom would be disappointed. Now International Falls is located about 100 miles north of Bemidji, right up on the border between Canada and the U.S. and is a very cold place indeed. The coldest temperature recorded there was in 1909 when the thermometer registered -55 degrees, but since Bemidji’s coldest recorded temperature was -50 in 1950 there’s not much use in quibbling over which place is the coldest.

Bemidji Winter Carnival, 1932

Bemidji, which incidentally was settled in the late 1800’s, sports a few monikers of its own: “The Curling Capital of the U.S.A.” and “The First City on the Mississippi,” are a couple and while not quite as spiffy as “The Icebox,” they’re still quite respectable.

When my brother and sister and I would complain about having to walk to school in the wet Pacific Northwest winters, mom reminded us that her school experience in Bemidji included walking about three miles to school in -30 degree weather. We eventually joked that she walked 30 miles to school in -3 degrees.

Mom getting around in Bemidji

The “Village of Bemidji” as it was first known is now the City of Bemidji and is watched over by none other than Paul Bunyon and Babe the Blue Ox. They stand down near the lake for their vigil which includes greeting visitors to the city.

During the early 1900’s my grandfather Walker was Station Agent for the Minnesota and International Railroad, later to become part of the Northern Pacific. Mom remembered that the family lived above the depot for about seven years. As you might guess, the snow sometimes caused train wrecks, and in 1912 the newspaper reported: “1 Dead, 13 hurt in Wreck on M. &. I at Farley, Southbound passenger running two hours late hits switch point. Day coach and sleeper crashing on edge of 10 foot embankment; Rescuers work in temperature of 52 below; passengers hurled from seats into debris of broken glass, limbs being broken, ears torn off, scalps cut, and internal wounds inflicted.” Amazingly, only one person died from this wreck. Grandfather Walker wrote the following in his report: “There is one thing, it couldn’t have been possible that the train was running at 50 miles an hour, or anywhere near that speed at the time, because the train had to stop at Farley. Farley is a regular stopping point. Anyhow, 50 miles an hour is a faster rate of speed than is permitted on that stretch of track.”

Depot, c. 1900

So there you have it. A snapshot of Mom’s Home Town of Bemidji. When my husband and I visited there about 20 years ago it was fun to look up some of the locations mom had talked about such as the headwaters of the Mississippi located not far from Bemidji, and the old courthouse whose records provided my first inspiration to pursue the family history. I’ve never looked back, except to muse about the Walker family and their life in Bemidji, Minnesota.

Written April, 2008 for the Carnival of Genealogy, Susan J. Edminster

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10 Responses to Bemidji Minnesota, Mom’s Home Town

  1. Pat says:

    I could just call you and I probably will yet, but I
    thought it would be fun to enter a comment in here.
    This is great & I hope a great many read it.

  2. Janice Brown says:


    I would imagine the moniker “The Icebox,” would not encourage tourism. Thanks for the interesting story. My grandfather was the station agent for a railroad depot in the much warmer climate of New Hampshire 😀


  3. DALE A BLY says:

    I was born in Bemidji in 1930 and left there in 1941 for Everett, Washington. I,m proud to be from Bemidji but I do like it here in Washington. I don,t have to shovel the rain. Dale

  4. susaned1 says:

    Hi Dale,
    Nice to hear from you! My mom talked about how cold the winters were….. “there were 9 months of winter and 3 months of poor sledding!” HaHa. You and I are practically neighbors now as I live in Granite Falls. Thanks for your contact.
    Sue E.

  5. Stuart says:

    As a former International falls resident (6 years) and Bemidji resident (12 years) I can attest to how cold the winters can be. I remember when my dad threw a pot of boiling water into the air only to have it flash freeze before it hit the ground! Very nice towns both, and now that I live in the Bay area of CA I miss the snow and ice.

  6. susaned1 says:

    Nice to hear from you Stuart! Thanks so much for commenting.

  7. This is my town:Bemidji says:

    It was -40 (yes that is negative 40 degrees) here in Bemidji yesterday morning.

  8. susaned1 says:

    Oh my, Mom used to talk about this…. she seemed to just give a chuckle. Of course she was living out here in balmy Washington by that time.
    Thanks for your comment.

  9. patty (Gunvalson) Johnson says:

    I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and went to college in Bemidji. My father was one of the first l3 official DNR biologists hired when the DNR was started and he worked out of his home, covering all of region 8 up to the border. He actually used snowshoes in the early days to cover his territory and trust me, it was cold. TBemidji deserved the title icebox of the nation but if I remember right they were upset about the title because of winter tourism and they changed where they did the readouts for the official temp guide.

  10. susaned1 says:

    Dear Patty, Thanks for your contact! Mom would be happy to know people are reading about her girlhood home. Thanks again. Sue Edminster

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