Solway has generations of history within its acres of land
Along U.S. Highway 2, about 13 miles west of Bemidji, nestled among vast farmland, sits the town of Solway, with a current population of just over 90 people.
Editor’s Note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area . For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org .
Along U.S. Highway 2, about 13 miles west of Bemidji, nestled among the vast farmland of Lammers Township sits the town of Solway, with a current population of just over 90 people.
Settled in the year 1899, Solway has generations of history within its acres of land. Some of the buildings and businesses currently in Solway have been passed down through generations.
Jacobson's Auto Body Shop, built in 1946, has been in business for over 70 years. JD’s Outpost, a bar and grill just off Highway 2, claims to have the “best wings in town.” JD’s is located in the old Solway Mercantile Store, which was built around 1899 and was one of the first businesses to open its doors in Solway.
The Solway Lutheran Church, tucked away among the remaining residential homes of the area, has stood tall with its white steeple since 1921, only one of two of the original churches built in town.
The post office is another building that has been in Solway since 1898. The “Old Solway School,” now an antique shop, was established in 1937 after the first two schools were destroyed by fires that swept through the area.
A few blocks from the schoolhouse is the Solway Town Hall, a small building with a plaque that reads: “This monument was placed here in honor of the early pioneers who founded this village and developed the community and to commemorate the Minnesota Centennial celebration held here on the 60th anniversary of Solway.”
The village supposedly got its name from a Scottish engineer in 1898. He claimed that because of all the saloons in the area, the village had become “wet” and reminded him of the “Solway Firth,” the inlet of the Irish Sea that lies between England and Scotland. However, no one knows for sure where its name originated so that will forever remain a mystery.
At one time the village of Solway had a hospital, a jail, a bank, four or five saloons, five hotels, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, a mercantile shop, a newspaper called the “The Solway Advocate,” a train depot and a fire department.
Logging brings life to Solway
What made this thriving and successful community die out over time? What was the cause of the quick expansion and then the rapid decrease of the population? There were several factors that played a part in this decline, but one of the key elements was the logging industry.
The first logging camp in the area was reported to have been built near Pinewood in 1898, five miles north of Solway. With the surrounding forests being mostly of white pine and an abundance of other timber, men like Sumner Bagley, Albert and George Lammers, and T.B. Walker took the incentive and began logging the millions of acres given to them by treaties signed by the U.S. government and the Ojibwe tribes.
T.B. Walker, one of the richest men in the world in 1923, made lumber a huge asset for small towns like Solway since the trees were plentiful and there were plenty of men seeking jobs.
He saw the potential in these forested areas and ventured throughout Minnesota looking for towns to become a part of his lumber industry.
His son Fletcher eventually took over for his father in Solway, having his own office in one of the local hotels. But without the help of Sumner Bagley, who was already doing some logging in the area, along with the Lammers brothers, the town may have never been noticed by the lumber tycoon, and the lumber industry might not have been as successful.
Solway became the main headquarters between Red Lake, Itasca, Bagley and over 20 other lumber camps.
In 1898 Swedish immigrants began building homesteads in Lammers Township. Minnesota being one of the more popular states for the Swedish population because of its agriculture and opportunities, a total of 11 families first settled in Lammers and became known as the “First Generation.”
The 'Swede Settlement'
Those families included: Gustaf Johnson, Axel Johnson, Lars Anderson and L.D. Johnson, arriving in Lammers in 1898. In 1899, Johnnie Lindell, Joseph Lindell and Amanda Lindell built their homestead. John Thoren, Josef Olson and Andrew Larson also arrived in Lammers in the late 1800s and Peter Erickson settled there in 1901.
The area became known as the “Swede Settlement,” and soon more families settled there such as O.A Sime, Albert Smerud, Nels Bye and T.J Lommen. They, too, became cultivators of the land and lumberjacks hired by local lumber mills.
It is important to note that it wasn’t only the Swedish people who settled in Lammers; there were immigrants from Norway and Denmark as well, and it was because of these immigrants that Solway grew in both economic status and population.
From the Lammers logging camp, 60 million logs were cut and processed in just a single summer and were sent down the Clearwater River. The millions of logs that were sent down river to nearby sawmills were shipped across the country. It is estimated that over 4 billion feet of lumber were logged off in the Solway area during this time in history.
From roughly 1887 to 1905, the logging boom took over the village of Solway, bringing in hundreds of people and dozens of different businesses, but most importantly it brought a legacy to the remaining families that still reside there.
Jo Johnson, who wrote on the history of Solway in his book “Lest We Forget Lammers & Solway” in 1982, explains the remembrance of the town perfectly:
“One does not like to see these living, growing, moving and exciting days pass away. The forests, lumberjacks, sawmills, and “river rats” and trading centers are all but gone. Yet it is not good for one to regret but rather to enjoy the reminiscing over the good parts of other days. We can also be alert to the possibilities of improvements and opportunities about us. Let not the past discourage you but rather let it fortify you.”