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Bagley celebrates 125 since first mentions of its establishment in February 1898

By December the date was set to hold a vote on incorporation on Jan. 2, 1899. The result was reported in the 13 Towns newspaper with just one line: “Bagley carried incorporation by a large majority.”

bagley 1900.jpeg
Main Street in Bagely is pictured in 1900. The Bagley Post Office and Townsite of Bagley was established Feb. 10, 1898.
Courtesy / Clearwater County Historical Society

BAGLEY — This year marks 125 years since the first mentions of the establishment and incorporation of the town of Bagley.

Information about the early days of Bagley is not easily found. The first newspaper, the Bagley Independent, burned twice —in 1911 and 1918 — destroying any newspaper files that could be used to trace the town’s development.

Several books have been published over the years that touch on some of Bagley’s early beginnings. In 1948, Peter M. Pederson wrote “50 Years of Progress — Historical Highlights of Bagley” a small pamphlet that was available for Bagley’s 50th Anniversary celebration that was held on June 19, 1948.

A second book was written for Bagley’s 75th Anniversary in 1973, “Bagley Minnesota; 1898-1973; A glance at Bagley’s first 75 years,” by Dwight P. Baker.

More recently Debra Harmon compiled a history of Bagley for its centennial in 1998, “Bagley — A Celebration of a Century; Looking Back at Bagley’s first 100 years.”

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The history center has copies of these books for reference, and copies of the most recent one by Debra Harmon are for sale.

All of these books tell essentially the same story. There were settlers in the area in the 1890s. Bagley itself began as a logging camp and as the logging declined, farmers began to come to the area.

The beginning of a town

Towns were springing up all over the place. Fosston was well settled by the time Bagley was being considered. It was at the “end of the line” of the railroad and served as a “jumping off” place for settlers coming into the area.

Looking through the 13 Towns newspaper, published in Fosston, one of the earliest mentions of a town called Bagley is on Feb. 11, 1898.

The headline is “ESTABLISHED” and the story reads:

“The new post office of Bagley, in Beltrami County (remember Clearwater County wasn’t established until 1903) has been established by the post office department. This is the place that was to have been called Lomond, but which had to submit to change its name on account of objections in the department.

"It is to be located at the Great Northern Station opposite the mouth of the Walker Brook, on the Clearwater, and just in front of Sand Lake. The name was changed to Bagley at the request of the owners of the town site, Messers. A.A. White and W.F. Street and of the Great Northern Officials.

"Next to Bemidji, this is the most beautiful of all the town sites on the line from the Fosston extension and is beside the one most richly endowed with a tributary country of good settlers and rich soil. It already has good roads running to it from all directions of the compass and will command immediate attention from the incoming people looking for business locations.

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"Bert Getchell, the locator, is already putting up a hotel on the town site, opposite the depot location and other parties are preparing to put up a bank and a store building. There are several sawmills in the neighborhood and lumber and shingles can be had cheaply and conveniently for building purposes. The town site is located upon a tract of land entered by W. F. Street with soldier’s script and A.A. White’s father’s and guarantees the title.”

The Bemidji Pioneer's Feb. 10, 1898, issue also mentions that “The new town at the mouth of Walker Brook, 25 miles west of Bemidji, will be named ‘Bagley’ the Duke of Clearwater being the inventor of the location.” S.C. Bagley was often referred to as “The Duke of Clearwater.”

A focus on Solway

A short mention in the 13 Towns' Feb. 18, 1898, issue mentions that S.C. Bagley was not happy about the name change from Lomond to Bagley. He had been out of town and when he got back and saw that his name was being used, it was reported that he a “made a kick” about it.

Interestingly, in January, S.C. Bagley has been purporting establishing a town site several miles east of Fosston, near Grant Creek. He had secured a contract for building 10 miles of the new rail line under construction between Duluth and Fosston and he “expects to build a town, or start one, and a large lumber camp supply house will be put there.”

He added that when he was ready to “Boom his town everyone would know it.” “His town” was where Solway would eventually be established with the backing of S.C. Bagley and others. In the Feb. 23, 1898, issue, S.C. Bagley told the 13 Towns that Solway wasn’t quite ready for lot sales yet.

In April, the partnership of S.C. Bagley, Thomas Shevlin, Geo. and J.A. Lammers, announced that they had purchased the land and platted the new town of Solway, although there was some indication that the town might be renamed.

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Lammers Avenue in Solway is pictured in this undated historical photo.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

By May 1898, the supplies had been received to open the post office at Bagley. Mrs. Maggie McArty was appointed the first Postmaster. Mail to and from Bagley was to be carried by the Bemidji Stage Line on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

On May 6 in the 13 Towns, S.C. Bagley published his famous newspaper notice refuting his interest in the town of Bagley:

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"Mr. S.C. Bagley requests us to state that as a wrongful impression has been circulated regarding his connection with or interest in the Townsite of Bagley, he wishes to inform the public that he has no interest whatever in the town site named after him and that he has no financial or other connection with it or any part of it."

This has always seemed odd, but once you understand that he was promoting his own town site of Solway, it now makes perfect sense.

A regional boom

As mentioned, town sites were popping up all over the place. By May 1898 post offices had been established in Bemidji, Buena Vista, Bagley, Copley, Langor, Leon, Moose, Itasca, Pine Lake, Popple, Red Lake, Teckla, Spaulding, Winsor and Willborg.

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The William Worth family is pictured in front of the Buena Vista post Office around 1900. William Arosina, and children Albert, George, Clarence and Lee.
Courtesy / Beltrami County Historical Society

On May 20, 1898, T.T. Sater was doing business in Fosston and told the 13 Towns that there were now three general stores in Bagley. That would be his store, Ole Lee’s Mercantile and P.H. Pederson’s general store.

In June, the Getchell Hotel was ready for plasterers. In August, the Bagley Independent editor announced he would publish his first edition on the day the first passenger train arrived in Bagley.

The last spike for the rail line between Duluth and Fosston was driven on Sunday, Aug. 25, with no fanfare. It was announced that the first regular trains would begin on Sept.16, the 60th birthday anniversary of J.J. Hill.

Bagley begins

In the Sept. 2, 1898 edition, 13 Towns began to publish an occasional column called “Whiskers From Bagley.” It was a newsy column that chronicled the growth of the new town: who was buying lots; who was traveling to get supplies, when the lumberyard started making sashes and doors, and that A.L. Morris was one of the first to send a telegraph from Bagley. (Morris was the telegrapher.)

In early December 1898, 13 Towns reported that the citizens of Bagley had held a meeting at the bank building to talk over the matters of incorporation. The plan was generally favored by taxpayers and it was decided to look up a few legal points, and if possible, begin the work of incorporation. Mr. McArty was appointed to go to the county attorney in Bemidji to draw up the papers.

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By late December the date was set to hold a vote on incorporation on Jan. 2, 1899. The result was reported in the 13 Towns newspaper with just one line: “Bagley carried incorporation by a large majority.”

Its first official meeting was set for Jan. 16. At that first meeting Bert Getchell was elected president, and trustees were C.K. Lee, A.L. Morris, H. Espeseth. The recorder was S.S. Hanson, treasurer was P.H. Pederson, the Justices Of The Peace were M.A. Brekke and E.V. Erickson and the constables were T.E. Thompson and Fred Magnusson.

It is fortunate that 13 Towns and the Bemidji Pioneer made mention of the new town of Bagley in its newspapers. Without that, we’d have little “first-hand” knowledge of the process. Happy 125th anniversary Bagley.

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