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Schmitt family is bound to the land ancestors homesteaded in late 1800s

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Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
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Schmitt family is bound to the land ancestors homesteaded in late 1800s
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

While driving along Becida Road, you're in Schmitt territory.

John and Christine Schmitt came to the area in the late 1800s. They purchased 137 acres of land and homesteaded in 1898.


Their grandson, Charles Schmitt Jr., said it was quite possibly the first farm on the Mississippi.

Not only is the house still standing, but it still is being lived in - now by John and Christine's great-great-great--grandson Ryan Martin, whose two children represent the sixth generation to use the home.

John and Christine were German, but they met in Wahpeton, N.D., after coming over separately from Europe. With two children already in tow, they moved here and had another eight kids, raising them all inside the original one-room home.

Of the 10 kids, they had seven girls, Geneva, Christine, Dorothy, Rose, Ann, Mary and Genevieve, and three boys, Adam, Ellis and Charles. As adults, most of the children stayed nearby (Charles and Adam married sisters); and two of the daughters moved to Milwaukee.

When the couple got older, they planned to build a log house down the road. But Christine got sick and died. Charles and his wife, Alma, were now living in the home with John. Charles bought 80 acres from his parents and eventually bought the remaining land from his two brothers. (Back then, property was passed on to sons, not daughters).

Charles and Alma became the landowners and raised their four children in the home, and John continued to live there too. Additionally, one of Charles' brothers lived in the home and the teachers who taught at the nearby Riverside School stayed with the Schmitts during the school year.

"We grew up in the best of times," said their son, Charles Schmitt Jr.

All the kids were involved in 4-H and helped with farming and chores around the house. They grew potatoes and grain and raised cows, pigs and chickens.

"The fun part was every night we went swimming right there in the river," said Clara Lou Burnham, the sister of Charles Jr.

There used to be solid white pines throughout the back yard, but they were removed years ago. Charles Jr. has since worked to replace them.

"Dad worked hard to clear them, and now you've worked hard to plant them," Clara Lou said.

Charles Jr., lived in Silver Bay for five years, but later returned home. He married Donna, a woman who lived nearby on Beltrami County Road 7, and they raised six children.

Charles Sr. and Alma continued to live in their home until Charles Sr., at the age of 89, died in 1993. Alma remained in the home until 1997, "the year of the bad winter," and moved out the following summer, Charles Jr. said. Alma died in August 1999.

The house was then temporarily vacant.

When his grandson, Ryan Martin, moved into the home about two years ago, a few updates were needed. The chimneys were cleaned out, and a furnace was installed. A new pump and a water heater also were put in.

The house has remained a focal point for the descendants of John and Christine and Charles and Alma. When Charles Jr. and Donna celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year, a party was held at the homestead. It also has hosted family reunions and get-togethers.

Time has taken its toll on some of the buildings. There once was a large, red barn on the property, but it collapsed about 10 years ago. There also are several other buildings - a garage, a chicken coop, a milk house - that are slowly deteriorating.

But one landmark has only aged more beautifully with the passing years - a willow tree that was planed more than 100 years ago.

Each generation has played in the tree, which has grown along the ground and then upward. Upon entering their senior years of high school, many relatives have had their senior pictures taken while sitting in its branches.

"Every kid has crawled on that tree, from us to our grandkids to our great-grandkids," Clara Lou said.

John and Christine had 10 children, and their son Charles Sr., who ended up with the land, had four kids of his own. Those four - Clara Lou, Charles Jr., Carolyn Eichstadt and Alys Ann Edwards - produced a combined 15 children Those 15 have since had their own kids, who are now having children of their own.

The entire family remains close - in both location and sentiment. Clara Lou lives next door to the original homestead; Charles Jr. lives down the road a little way. Other family members are speckled throughout the immediate area.

They also haven't forgotten their roots. In fact, they seem to relish them. In Clara Lou's home, right next to the patio door that offers a view of the homestead, hangs a portrait of Charles and Alma.

Bethany Wesley
(218) 333-9200 x337