WHAT'S IN A NAME: Despite sign thefts, Stoner Avenue prevails
Stoner Avenue has one of Bemidji’s most controversial street signs -- what some may not know is that the street is named after local pioneer Marcus Stoner.
Editor's note: This is part of a 20-story series titled "What's in a name?" completed by Pioneer reporters for our 2022 Annual Report. Read more of the section by clicking the embed at the bottom of this article.
Stoner Avenue has one of Bemidji’s most controversial street signs.
Due to its connotations related to marijuana and those who use it, Stoner Avenue signs have been consistently stolen from street corners throughout the years, and the city has spent thousands of dollars replacing them.
With all the controversy and money spent replacing these signs, it begs the question — why name the street Stoner Avenue in the first place? What some Bemidjians may not know is that the street was actually named after local pioneer Marcus Stoner.
Though his legacy on the town of Bemidji is often overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the signs erected in his name, Stoner made a mark on the town as Bemidji’s first city engineer and Beltrami County surveyor.
Stoner originally made his way to the area during the winters of 1892 and 1893, when he and a crew of government workers surveyed the Blackduck wilderness.
Dealing with Minnesota’s extreme winters became a part of Stoner’s everyday life. He recalled that many nights he would bury himself in snowdrifts, leaving only a small hole to breathe through.
At the age of 27, Stoner moved to Bemidji. The year after his move, he was employed as the engineer in charge of the construction of the railroad from Walker to Bemidji.
Stoner settled in Bemidji and embraced its culture — he even knew enough Ojibwe to converse with his Native American friends, including the famous Chief Bemidji, Shaynowishkung.
Stoner also had a house built for him that became the first house with siding in the history of Bemidji. The house sat across the street from where the statue of Chief Bemidji is now, and is still in use to this day, though it has been moved and remodeled.
In 1999, Beltrami County changed the name of Stoner Memorial Drive NE (Beltrami County Road 30) to North Blackduck Lake Road NE due to repeated theft of the road signs.
According to a 2011 Pioneer story about the issue, “At least eight signs and sign poles were reportedly stolen from this roadway. The cost of replacing each sign, which included the labor, poles and the sign, ranged between $55 and $200.”
Though this fixed the issue of Stoner Memorial Drive, the signs of Stoner Avenue continued to be stolen. In July 2011, the Bemidji City Council voted to change the street’s name to Franklin Avenue.
The decision was short-lived and shot down just two months later when a handful of Stoner Avenue residents attended a public hearing at Bemidji City Hall in September 2011 to voice their disapproval of the name change.
Many residents rallied to keep the name Stoner Avenue, due to the hassle they would have to go through to change their addresses. If the name change went through, residents would have to update their driver's licenses, banking information and other documents.
The city instead decided to explore options to make the signs more theft-proof, like using taller signposts or different types of screws.
Now, many Stoner Avenue signs are homemade and displayed on much taller posts than other street signs, in hopes of deterring thieves.
Thus, the name remains, and though riddled in controversy, the surname of Marcus Stoner stands tall on more than a dozen street corners and presumably will continue to do so for years to come.