The Salvation Army has always been at the forefront of Bemidji's social services

The Salvation Army's work and enthusiasm to support Bemidji businesses and organizations spans decades.

Salvation Army window display.jpg
A shop window features a Salvation Army display in this undated historical photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society
We are part of The Trust Project.

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

The Salvation Army was at the forefront of social services from Bemidji’s very beginning. Bemidji had a reputation for being a very rough town and the Salvation Army responded by sending in workers.

The Bemidji Pioneer reported many details of their work and enthusiastically supported the Bemidji businessmen and organizations that assisted with fundraising for the organization. It has been impossible to determine where they were headquartered in their earliest years because they did not own property until 1922 and the earliest copy of a city directory was 1904.

Capt. Simpson was one of the first to work here. He was reassigned to Crookston in April 1900, and a farewell service was given in his honor. Capt. Sherman, aka “Red Hot Johnny,” was the speaker at the Army Hall a few nights later in front of a large and delighted congregation.

The Salvation Army hosted an old-fashioned banquet at the City Hall on May 2, 1900, in order to wipe out the balance of the debt incurred in fitting up the barracks in Bemidji and the officers’ home.


The Salvation Army moved many times in Bemidji before finding permanent quarters. It’s a reasonable guess that they were in a one-story frame building at 208 Second Street in 1900. In 1905, they announced meetings in their newly opened hall on Fourth Street. This was likely in the Mayo building at 208 Fourth St. Roe and Markusen took over this site for a grocery store in 1906.

At least one of the staff knew how to draw a good crowd. On Aug. 9, 1900, a notice in the Bemidji Pioneer advertised a special meeting at the Salvation Army Hall on Second Street when “Capt. Williams will expose a robbery that has taken place in Bemidji, which the authorities have failed to detect. He will expose the guilty parties and offer the reward for the return of the stolen goods.” Who could resist this enticement?

The Salvation Army was not without its troubles either. The first criminal case in front of the District Court in 1901 was that of the State vs. Ensign Miller, of the Salvation Army. He was accused of assaulting a young woman in June 1900 and the case went to the grand jury.

County attorney Street was without a doubt fully convinced as to the guilt of the defendant, and criminal attorney L. H. Bailey was sincere in his belief that Miller was innocent of the crime. A full day was devoted to taking testimony, which was not revealed to the public. The case went to the jury after supper and at 11 o'clock they brought in a verdict of “Not Guilty."

In 1903, the city devoted a week to raising funds for the work of the Army. The editor of the Pioneer suggested: “During the Army's Self-Denial Week, April 5 to 12, we can all show our interest in a very practical way. We are called here as generous people; let us see that in this instance our reputation as a town is thoroughly sustained.”

Among other activities of the Army, the staff tried to rescue young women who had fallen in with bad company. In one instance, a young girl had been a member of the Salvation Army but had turned away and entered a “house of ill fame” in Nymore. Lieutenant Wilson arranged for the girl to go to Minneapolis to a rescue home in that city, but when she returned to Bemidji in the summer of 1905, she took up her old life at the C. C. Blake establishment in Nymore. They couldn’t save everyone.

A hall for services

The local barracks seem to have moved then to 213 Minnesota Avenue. On Dec. 23, 1908, the body of Lacy Walsh, an old-time lumberjack, was found in a bed above the Salvation Army barracks in rooms conducted by N. W. Brown.

When Colonel Stephen Marshall, who supervised the Salvation Army work for the northern province, visited Bemidji in November 1909, the meeting was held at the City Opera House. Attorney P. J. Russell presided and introduced Colonel Marshall. Members of the G.A.R. and the Ladies Circle attended the meeting as a group. Captain Story rendered several musical numbers on the concertina for entertainment.


Salvation Army Christmas and New Year's.jpg
Salvation Army Christmas and New Year's collections are pictured in this undated historical photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Many women served in Bemidji with the Salvation Army. Two ladies, Capt. Bunch and Lt. McFall from Marshal, arrived in 1900. In 1910, Captain Rosie Kirchner, in charge of the Bemidji Salvation Army barracks, fell down the stairs of the Salvation Army Hall in Minneapolis and broke both her arms below the elbow and two ribs.

She was rendered unconscious and, under the care of Lieut. Beach, also of the Bemidji barracks, was rushed to medical attention. Lieut. Beach took over local duties until her superior officer was able to resume work. Captain Elizabeth Pendray served in Bemidji in 1915.

The Salvation Army conducted a street meeting in Nymore in 1915. A large crowd gathered to hear the singing and speaking, and eventually, Nymore had its own hall for services.

In August 1919, Captain Orchard turned over the barracks in Nymore to Mrs. Mattenson, who had been burned out in a recent fire. Having no place to take care of her roomers and boarders, Captain Orchard gave her permission to move into the building until a suitable place could be found.

'Doughnut Day'

When the American Expeditionary Forces went to France, Lt.-Colonel William Barker was sent to see how the Salvation Army could best provide services to the troops. He believed that some of the women could relieve the boys’ homesickness by providing a little home cooking.

The first war doughnut was fried by two Salvation Army Ensigns over a wood fire in France in October 1917. The first 300 were fried without a hole because the top of the baking powder can, which was their only accessible cutter, didn’t provide a way to cut the donut hole. Some enterprising person figured out that they could use the inside tube of a coffee percolator to cut the hole.

Once they were fully equipped, they produced 9,000 per day, and the donut habit spread all along the line of trenches of the Salvation Army huts. These Salvation Army women became known as the “Doughnut Girls,” and the soldiers as “Doughboys.” The Salvation Army became the most popular service organization along the western front.

Bemidji Gas Company on Beltrami Avenue was the headquarters when the women of Bemidji rallied to raise funds for the home service campaign of the Salvation Army in September 1919.


"Cash in on the succulent sinkers," was the war cry on "Doughnut Day." Throughout the business district, doughnuts sold at two for five cents or 25 cents per dozen. The women eagerly worked on the campaign, with the goal of building a new post headquarters in Bemidji.

When a lonely doughnut was left at the Bemidji Association headquarters after “Doughnut Day,” W. L. Brooks and Earle A. Barker of the association, auctioned off the doughnut for $135 and presented the donut to Miss Amy Dorith, a volunteer from Chicago. Photo and caption appeared in the October issue of the War Cry, the monthly magazine of the Salvation Army.

Moving from place to place

By 1920, the Salvation Army desperately needed new barracks. The Salvation Army building on Minnesota Avenue had been condemned as a fire hazard. Bemidji was the headquarters of a Salvation Army district that comprised three counties, Beltrami, Hubbard and Cass.

Workers canvassed the city for donations for the construction of a new building. In 1921, the corps leased quarters from Geo. Baker at 116 Third Street and then had temporary quarters in the old Bemidji Hardware building on Fourth Street. Finally, on Dec. 10, 1922, Col. William Barker officiated, and they held the ceremony for laying the cornerstone.

Salvation Army working man's reading room.jpg
The Salvation Army working man’s reading room at 213 Minnesota Avenue is pictured in the early 1900s. It was later condemned as a fire hazard in 1920.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

An advisory board was made up of interested citizens who supported the drive for funds and the continuing work. In 1927 the board officers included Earl Barker and A. D. Johnson.

The local Salvation Army was under the direction of two women in 1927: Capt. Mildred Hendrickson and Lt. Carlson. When interviewed, Miss Hendrickson was very modest about her work, but she did admit that the furnace in the Army building consumed a ton of coal a week in cold weather and that she shoveled all of it into the furnace.

The Salvation Army opened a family service store at 305 Third Street in November 1962. The store was used to eliminate crowding in the basement of the Citadel where the clothes had been stored.

The Salvation Army barracks, known as the Citadel, was at 211 Minnesota Avenue until the building went up for sale in 1965. Holiday Bell Ringers annually remind us of the services provided by the Salvation Army.

More Beltrami County Historical Society columns
The challenges of the past three winters have been unique to most of us, but previous generations experienced hardships and disruptions that can give us a different perspective on today’s issues.

What To Read Next
The Bemidji Senior Center will host a Valentine's Bingo Party at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at the senior center, 216 Third St. NW.
The city of Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department will host Yoga Mornings from 8 to 8:45 a.m. on Wednesdays, Feb. 8-15, in the Historic Carnegie Library's Lakeview Room, 426 Bemidji Ave. N.
The Bemidji Senior Center will host Dennis Doeden and Friends for a Valentine's concert at 1 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, at the senior center, 216 Third St. NW.
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program will provide free tax preparation assistance, especially for ages 50 and older or with a low to moderate income, Feb. 6 through April 14 at the senior center.