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From log jams to quiet residential neighborhood

Logs were floated down the Mississippi River to the south shore of Lake Irving in this photo dated 1903. Beltrami County Historical Society

In 1832, when Ozawindib was guiding Henry Rowe Schoolcraft to the Headwaters of the Mississippi, they traveled through lakes called by the Ojibwe Bemidjigumaug and Little Bemidjigumaug.

Lake Bemidji's name was eventually shortened from the original, but Schoolcraft renamed the smaller lake to the southwest, connected to Lake Bemidji by a short stretch of Mississippi River, after Washington Irving, his favorite author. (A relative of Schoolcraft, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, used the explorer's descriptions of the North Country and his notes on the Ojibwe language as the source for his poem "Hiawatha.")

Ozawindib, whose name translates as "Yellow Head," is remembered today in South Lake Irving's Yellowhead Road Southwest.

South Lake Irving, now a quiet residential neighborhood, was the scene of many log drives in Bemidji's early days. John and Joseph Steidl built the first sawmill on Lake Irving in 1895. According to research by Norma Miller, South Lake Irving's historian, the first timber the Steidls sawed was used to floor the birch bark house Shaynowishkung, "Chief Bemidji," built between the lakes. Shaynowishkung traded a winter's supply of moose meat for the lumber.

Beltrami County was organized in 1897, and the arrival of the railroad in 1898 stepped up the pace of logging. Railroad tracks led to South Lake Irving where the cars were loaded with lumber.

"You can still see a height of land where the trestle was," said Miller.

A 1909 report in the Bemidji Daily Pioneer noted the Douglass Lumber Co., which opened in 1907 on the west bank of Lake Irving, turned out 10,000-12,000 board feet in a 10-hour shift and employed 100 men. In 1913, the mill was sold and the equipment was dismantled, according the Beltrami County Historical Society archives.

As the big timber was cut down, the logging boom waned. The Sept. 11, 1926, edition of the Bemidji Daily Pioneer reported that the Kruger-Broughton Lumber Mill bought the rights to salvage deadheads - sunken logs - from Lake Irving and the Mississippi River. The article stated the mill had sawn two million board feet from the recovered timber in the first two months of operation.

Even fishing for logs soon played out. The May 4, 1929, Bemidji Daily Pioneer announced the closing of the K-B mill: "Bemidji is witnessing the passing of the industry which gave it birth, but in its place there is arising a greater variety of industries, industries that will not pass with the cutting of trees."

Shortly after this report, people began building houses on the south side of Lake Irving. Miller said Leo and Marie Wills were the first residents in the area. In 1931, Archie Bowers also built a home in the area, and part of his plat was used for a road into the area. At that time, what is now South Lake Irving Drive was called Aragon Avenue.

The Aragon Ballroom was located at the corner of what is now South Lake Irving Drive and Irvingside Lane. Miller said it was known as a popular gathering place during Prohibition, but it burned down in 1932 or 1933.

There was also a brick factory on the lake, and some of the houses along South Lake Irving Drive were built with those bricks.

"When we moved out here, it was just a small group of people, but very friendly," said Jean Schmeckpeper, who has lived in the area since the mid-1940s.

In the winter, people could make a shortcut to Bemidji across the Lake Irving ice. Miller's research recounted the story of the first school bus to take children from South Lake Irving to Central Elementary School. Bud Carver outfitted a Plymouth delivery truck with bench seats and a yellow sign on top.

"He asked the superintendent if he could get paid for driving kids to school," she said.

When Carver died, his son, Terry, a senior at Bemidji High School at the time, continued to drive the makeshift school bus. When Terry graduated, the bus was sold to neighbors, the Aylesworth family, who started Bemidji Bus Lines, now located in Nymore.

In 1972, South Lake Irving women formed a "Know Your Neighbor Club."

"The women would get together and sew and knit," Miller said.

The club morphed into the South Lake Irving Association. The current president is Doreen Kuhrke, who has served for five years.

Miller said Ed Aalberts and Roger Lehmann also organized area residents for environmental protection of the neighborhood and the lake. The South Lake Irving Roger Lehmann Park was developed partly on land donated in his memory by the Lehmann family. The park offers tennis courts, picnic area and a playground.

"We have a yearly picnic there on National Night Out," said Sue Cuperus. "It's a close-knit neighborhood. We get 100 people at that picnic."

She added that the neighborhood has been celebrating with a fish fry since National Night Out was inaugurated in 1984.

Kuhrke said her duties as association president include organizing the picnic and other activities such as the spring cleanup, safety presentations by the Bemidji Fire Department and other groups and musical socials. The neighbors also get together at the park or the Kuhrke home to discuss any concerns they have.

She said the neighbors built the picnic shelter, with the assistance of the Rotary Club, and they helped install the playground equipment supplied by the city.

"We've also worked on restoration of our lake," Kuhrke said.

One of the neighbors regularly measures the water clarity with a Secchi Disk.

Another project was production of a South Lake Irving cookbook.

"When we first talked about it, everybody thought it would be just the ladies, but the men got into it," Kuhrke said.

As for the future of South Lake Irving, residents said they expect no changes in the quiet, low-traffic, friendly neighborhood.

"All the neighbors watch out for all the other neighbors," Kuhrke said.

"It's going to remain residential; it's going to stay the same," Cuperus said.