A new chapter: Bemidji Elks Lodge sells downtown building after more than 100 years

After over 100 years as a prominent downtown location, the Bemidji Elks Lodge has sold its building, opening a new chapter for the organization as it looks to the future.

Bemidji Elks lodge.jpg
The long-time Bemidji Elks Lodge building is located at 116 Fourth St. NW in downtown Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — After well over a century of history tied to its central downtown location, the Bemidji Elks Lodge is saying farewell to its organization’s building.

While the Lodge will continue to exist, the organization made the decision to sell its building at the corner of Fourth Street and Beltrami Avenue late last year and is currently meeting at the Eagles Club.

“As the building was getting older and needed a lot of maintenance, we found ourselves at our meetings talking more about the deficiencies of the building,” shared Bill Batchelder, a longtime member of the Bemidji Elks. “We ate up all of our energy trying to maintain it.”

Alongside the continual building maintenance, the organization’s aging membership was also facing difficulties with the steep steps that led up to the Elk’s meeting room on the second floor.

“The club has that steep staircase, and as the (members) aged the staircase became a real impediment,” said Cecelia McKeig, a member of the Beltrami County Historical Society who remembers going to the Elks Lodge frequently with her parents.


“I remember my own mother struggling to go up those stairs and helping her make it up to the top,” McKeig shared.

These considerations led to the Elks’ decision to sell the building when local developer and entrepreneur Mitch Rautio made the organization an offer.

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The Bemidji Elks lodge, pictured here in April 2021, is located along Fourth Street and Beltrami Avenue Northwest in downtown Bemidji.

“Mitch Rautio offered to buy the building,” explained Mic McCrory, the head of the local Elks chapter. “He told me that he’s reopened the bar, it’s called The Lodge now.”

The signs for the Elks Lodge will be coming down from the building this spring, which will be one of the building’s last obvious remnants of the club’s extensive history at the location.

“It’s bittersweet,” Batchelder shared. “The building will be tremendously missed. The building got tired and old, and the membership got elderly, but now we’ve been lifted from worrying and arguing over repairs.”

A long history

The Bemidji Elks Lodge has been a prominent part of the city’s history since the early 20th century, first beginning their meetings in 1906. Its membership included some of Bemidji's most prominent figures, something the organization remains proud of today.

“Those names (of Elks founding members) are still relevant today, there have been so many important people involved over the years,” Batchelder said. “The Elks Lodge is basically woven into the fabric of Bemidji.”

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An old postcard photo shows participants lining the streets of early Beltrami Avenue near the E. H. Winter and Co. store during the state convention of the Elks held in Bemidji in 1908.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

It wasn’t until 1916, however, that construction of the organization’s own building began, and its second story became the meeting space for the Lodge, complete with a reception hall and a full-service bar.


This location, one story above street level, has an interesting history behind it Batchelder explained.

“When they started opening up liquor establishments (back then) you needed to belong to a club, but they had to be located on the second story of the buildings to be out of sight so women and children couldn’t look in the windows and see people drinking,” Batchelder shared.

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An early 1900s postcard shows what the Elks building along Beltrami Avenue and Fourth Street looked like in those days in downtown Bemidji.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Because of this, the Bemidji Elks Lodge and similar historical buildings across Minnesota all have their bars located on the second story.

As the Bemidji Elks Lodge grew in numbers and prominence, the building became a hub of activity, hosting events, weddings and fundraisers.

“It’s always been a key part of downtown, it was a very busy place when I was growing up,” McKeig shared. “I loved seeing all of the business people and members of the Elks having a really good time.”

In addition to hosting events, the Elks, and the counterpart group for women known as the Does, became known for their work giving back to the community, traditions that are continued to this day.

BPO Bemidji Does 1965.jpg
A 1965 Cooper Studio photo shows the Benevolent Patriotic Order of Does No. 114. According to the Does website, “The Benevolent Patriotic Order of Does is a national organization of members with the desire to work in harmony with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and dedication to the principles of patriotism, charity, loyalty and love."

“It’s just what fraternal orders and service clubs do,” Batchelder explained. “It’s an organization that started in New York City and went from coast to coast with the common goal of helping the youth and veterans of this country. That really sums up what the Elks are.”

It was the Elks commitment to service that drew in McCrory and other members to the organization.


“The community activities and the things that the Elks do really resonated with me, even way back then,” McCrory shared.

A new chapter

Even without their former building, the Bemidji Elks Lodge plans to keep up its history of community service, continuing its long-standing projects and philanthropy.

“Just because our building is closed doesn’t mean we don’t have the Elks anymore,” McCrory said. “Our goal is to keep up with the fraternal responsibilities that we’ve had for the last 100-some years in Bemidji.”

The organization is continuing to give out scholarships, take part in parades, send children to the Minnesota Elks Youth Camp, host the annual Elks Hoop Shoot and honor Flag Day with a ceremony done in partnership with the American Legion.

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The Bemidji Benevolent Patriotic Order of Elks No. 1052’s Paul Bunyan Band plays during a parade in this undated historical photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

“We’re all about kids, veterans and the community,” McCrory shared, “and anybody can be an Elk.”

Now, instead of meeting in a worn-down building, the Elks Lodge meets at the Bemidji Eagles Club, though there are hopes of finding another space for the organization in the future.

“Eventually what we want to do is maybe find our own meeting space and go from there,” McCrory said.

After the sale of the building, members of the Bemidji Elks shared that the organization is in good financial shape and its future is bright as it begins a new chapter.


“The Elks Lodge is very much alive and well,” McCrory shared. “I think we’re going to stick around, I really do.”

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The Bemidji Elks hockey team is pictured in this 1931 historical photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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