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Alida, Bear Creek: Tiny towns to hold reunion

Kristi Bessler, former resident of the Alida area and Alida-Bear Creek Reunion organizer, looks over historic photos and documents concerning the little Clearwater County towns. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

In the late 1890s, settlers established two villages south of Shevlin in what was then the western part of Beltrami County.

Clearwater County was carved out of that area in 1902, and the little towns of Bear Creek and Alida grew up with stores, schools churches and saloons. A stage coach made daily runs between the towns and Shevlin, and later, the railroad provided service.

The towns now hardly exist, but former residents of the area plan a reunion for all who recall the times when Bear Creek and Alida were more substantial than miniscule dots on the Clearwater County map. The gathering will be held beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday. Aug. 22, in the Alida City Park near the Town Hall/Fire Hall. Organizers recommend attendees bring lawn chairs, memories, photos, memorabilia and family and snacks to share. Coffee and lemonade will be provided.

The Bear Creek School was built in 1897, and Alida School was built in 1902. Bear Creek closed in 1942 and the 46 students transported to the Alida School, about 12 miles south of Shevlin.

Alida was prospering in a modest way at the time, with a population of about 40 people in the town itself in the 1930s, and students coming in to school from the outlying areas.

The Alida School closed in 1970 and the store in 1998.

"That happens to a lot of these old towns when the railroad when the railroad no longer goes through it and the loggers logged off what they wanted," said Kristin Bessler, a former Alida School student whose family ran a 50-cow dairy farm in the area. She was 18 when her family moved out of the area.

Bessler remembered happy days at Alida School. She recalled the sledding hill that seemed so steep when she was a child, and which is a gentle knoll to her grown-up eyes. She described Christmas programs when all the parents came to watch their children and lunches in the basement dining room, meals prepared by Mary Solem, "the best cook in the whole wide world."

The students also lined up to raise the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning and in the front of the schoolroom for a prayer every day before lunch, she said. Not everyone subscribed to the same religion, she said, but they all agreed on the same values.

"We were taught what the flag was all about and respect for the country and respect for each other, even though we fought sometimes," Bessler said. "And if you were in trouble in school, you were in more trouble when you got home."

She also remembered the boys' and girls' outhouses behind the school, facilities students sometimes had to use in winter when the schoolhouse plumbing froze up.

"We had visits from Smokey Bear often," she said, and the regional school superintendent, May Barnaas frequently paid calls.

"When she would come to your school, she made you feel as if you were the smartest, you had the best teacher, you were the best," Bessler said.

When the Alida School closed, a school bus already was taking high school students from the area into Bagley.

"My aunt drove a carryall, one of those old, great big station wagons," Bessler said. "That was the bus."

Bessler started seventh grade in Bagley Junior High School. She said she was academically prepared, but coming from a school that averaged three students per grade, she found the crowds at Bagley overwhelming.

"I thought it was a really tough transition for a girl," she said. "They wanted all the big farm boys to be in football, but they didn't have any girls' sports then."

Cheerleader was the only girls' option, and that didn't suit her. As a result, she said the country kids sometimes felt as if they were outsiders.