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Residents of the Grand Forks, N.D., area developed a summer colony now known as Lavinia on the east side of Lake Bemidji. Pioneer Photo

Lavinia area has long been a summer resort

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After the entry of the first railroad into Bemidji in 1890 from the west, residents of the Grand Forks, N.D., area developed a summer colony on the east side of Lake Bemidji.

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They bought land for astoundingly little money and built cabins in Lavinia. A Dec. 9, 1915, article in the Bemidji Daily Pioneer "Booster Edition" described Lavinia as "One of the best cottage resorts in northern Minnesota. Safe bathing beach for ladies and children." The article also noted the land was suitable for plum, cherry and grapes raising, with "good orchard farm tracts $12.50 to $30 per acre."

A post office was established in 1906, discontinued in 1907 and re-established as Northern Post Office in 1915, according to Beltrami County Historical Society archives. The federal government at first wouldn't allow a Lavinia Post Office because of already established post offices by that name in Iowa and Tennessee. But Northern Post Office, as it was named, caused even more problems because there was a town of Northern where letters were often mistakenly directed. These ended up in the dead letter office. In 1915, federal authorities in response to residents' petitions, agreed to the name Lavinia.

Lavinia also had a station of the Minnesota and International Railway - referred to as the M&I or, by some, the Mosquito and Insect Railway. Mothers and children from North Dakota would spend the summer with weekend visits from the men of their families.

Ann Niemann of DeWitt, Iowa, granddaughter of the Lavinia postmaster Walter Hatch, said in a telephone interview she believes Lavinia was the name of the Minnesota and International Railroad agent's wife.

According to Beltrami County Historical Society archives, one of the early land buyers was Roy Cross, who purchased 160 acres in 1919. Cross, who taught school in Redby and Ponemah on the Red Lake Reservation, built a canning plant. At first, he and his wife, Nora, canned fruits and vegetables from their own farm and did custom canning for area farmers and gardeners "thereby giving housewifes (sic) more leisure during the canning season."

He charged 7 cents per can for small cans and 11 cents for large cans. When questioned why people would pay that much for a can of vegetables when grocery stores charged about 9 cents, he cited the higher quality and food value of his products.

"Mr. Cross does not make the practice of canning vegetables which have been ripe a long time," Lloyd Halseth wrote in 1937.

By 1938, the Cross Waite Canning Co. had expanded to commercial canning and Cross quit teaching to concentrate on the family business. He described the advances in canning during her career. When he started, he said a pin hole was left in one end of each can to let the air out during processing. The hole was soldered over when the can had cooled. By the 1930s, the cans were sealed as soon as they were filled.

Because tourism was a major source of Bemidji area revenue by that time, some of his customers would buy sweet corn, bring it to Cross' plant, have it canned and take it back to the Twin Cities or Grand Forks.

Paul Shough, who has lived in Lavinia since 1970 when he was 9 years old, said he remembers Roy and Nora Cross as storekeepers with an establishment on the corner of Bluebill Lane and Lavinia Road Northeast.

"They were like ancient when I came here," he said.

There was also a Lavinia School, with one teacher for all eight grades, said Virgil Silverthorn, who was a student at the school.

"My dad, Harry Silverthorn, used to drive the school bus with horses," he said. "It used to be quite a little town there years ago."

Virgil Silverthorn also bought Roy and Nora Cross' 160 acres.

"I farm some of it - grain and hay - and I've got trails for my ATVs," he said.

However, the canning factory is long gone, he said.

Margaret Chandler Burns wrote in the 1989 edition of "North Country History" about her father selling out his farm in North Dakota in 1906, clearing land in Lavinia and planting an orchard. It fell to the children to water the young trees.

"With buckets, we kids took the water from the barrels to trees in an endless procession day after day," she recalled.

She also described the transportation by packet boat from Lavinia to Bemidji.

"All the lakeside and Lavinia people gathered at the landing and then en masse at the store for the daily mail," Chandler Burns wrote. "The boat was later remodeled to the Bemidji Star and burned on the lake."

Now, Lavinia Road is closed at the north end, taken over and restored as woodland by Lake Bemidji State Park.

Pat Shough, Paul's mother, said some people in the neighborhood like the change, but some find going around the south shore of Lake Bemidji to get downtown inconvenient.

"To us, it feels pretty nice not to have that traffic by our front door," said Neimann, who spends summers at her Lavinia lake home.

Pat Shough said about a third of the Lavinians are year-round residents. The remainder are still summer vacationers. As in the beginning of the settlement, many summer folks still travel to their lake homes from the Grand Forks area.

"This is Little North Dakota," she said.

But they no longer arrive at the depot by train. The tracks and ties have been pulled up and the roadbed of the M&IRR is now a bicycle and walking trail.

As for the future of Lavinia, residents generally expect few changes.

"I think it's just a really nice vacation place," said Pat Shough. "The future of it would be to stay the same."

mmiron@bemidjipioneer.com

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