Bemidji Tourist Information Center
Everyone makes an outside stop here, of course, to get their photo taken with the famous Paul and Babe. But a visit inside the Tourist Information Center is a must, as well.
Home to the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce, the Center is the source for information on everything Bemidji– events, attractions and more. Tour through the Bemidji TIC and you’ll discover artifacts of the town’s beloved lumberjack legend– an eclectic mix that include items as Paul’s boxer shorts, toothbrush and much more.
In addition to Paul’s artifacts, the Center features the historic Fireplace of States, built with 900 stones from every state in the United States (apart from Alaska and Hawaii, which weren’t states when the fireplace was built), from most every Canadian province, as well as every Minnesota county and a host of national parks.
The Bemidji Tourist Information Center is also a great place to stretch you legs and enjoy the scenic beauty of Lake Bemidji in a park setting. Outside amenities include a gazebo, playground, grassy picnic area, wildlife, and sculptures of Chief Bemidji and Niiemii, meaning “he dances” which is a tribute dedicated to all pow wow dancers.
Bemidji’s TIC is also a great place for a stroll on one of three Bemidji Wellness Walks. Routes take you through the downtown and along the Lake Bemidji, both originating and ening at the Center, which also offers public washrooms and free parking.
History of the Fireplace of States
It was the 1920’s when Harry E. Roese, owner of the Shorecrest Resort known for their classy dance pavilion, began collecting stones from around the state with the intent to use them for a giant fireplace at his resort on Birchmont Drive, along Lake Bemidji. His grand idea was to build a fireplace containing rocks from every state in the union, from every Canadian province, from all 87 Minnesota counties, and from all the national parks.
With the help of Miss Kathleen Wilson, a secretary in Harry’s office, they wrote hundreds of letters to state governors and officials, Canadian provincial governors, high ranking officials at our nation’s state parks, and even the President of the US, soliciting stones to be used in the fireplace’s construction. To their astonishment, the rocks came tumbling in. Each was numbered so an identification key could be compiled, in addititon to the inscriptions that came on many of the stones.
As the collection was amassed, Harry caught the attention of the US Federal Works Progress
Administration (WPA). The chief goal of the WPA was to put people to work during the Great Depression, often building roads, structures, water towers, etc. In fact, many of the structures of Minnesota’s state parks exhibit a signature WPA style, traditionally hand-cut field stones and mortar construction. (For more on WPA, see Camp Rabideau)
During 1934-35, things fell into place under the guidance of the WPA. The fireplace was built as part of the octagonal Bunyan House on Lake Bemidji. The idea for the original log building to house the fireplace, and the type of architecture used which was early “American blockhouse,” with hand hewn shingles (called “shakes), was proposed by Roese himself. Charles Budge was the local architect who drew the plans, and Mark Morse was the stone mason in charge of building and designing the fireplace. (Other pieces of Mark’s stonework can be still be seen– the Bemidji State University outdoor fireplace and the Greenwood Cemetery pillars).
For decades tourists admired the great Fireplace of States with its 900 rocks. It was in an interview fifty years after the feat, that Miss Wilson expressed how she still marveled at how willing people were to send their rocks to Bemidji, especially considering the costs to ship such heavy rocks!
By the mid-1990s, the Bunyan House fell to the ravages of time and needed to come down. But the great Fireplace of States was to be saved! So segmented, shrink wrapped, and moved with a crane it still rests in the Tourist Information Center, housed next to the infamous 1937 statues, where it remains today to be enjoyed.
Photos courtesy of the Beltrami County Historical Society and LakesnWoods.com