The first stop of most visitors upon arriving in Bemidji, MN, are the infamous statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox located in Paul Bunyan Park.The park is also home to a few of the sculptures along the Bemidji Sculpture Walk that spans into the downtown area. One of the oldest art forms in Bemidji is housed inside the Tourist Information Center, the Fireplace of States.
The Fireplace of States began in the 1930s when a local resort owner, Harry E. Roese began soliciting stones from around the state to be used for a giant fireplace. Roese wrote letters to state governors, Canadian provincial governors, high ranking officials at our nation’s state parks, and even the President of the US, requesting stones to be used in the fireplace’s construction. When the collection was completed he contacted, the US Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) whose chief goal was to put people to work during the Great Depression, often building roads, structures, water towers, etc. Many of the structures of Minnesota’s state parks exhibit this signature style of the WPA, traditionally hand-cut field stones and mortar construction.
The fireplace was built under the guidance of the WPA during 1934-35. Many of the stones have their place of origin embossed on them, while others have long since lost their attached tags. Very little is known about many of the stones, as there was little info provided at the time, and even less available now. It is said that there are stones from all 48 states, the Canadian province, many national parks, and every county in Minnesota.
Mark Morse was the stone mason in charge of building and designing the fireplace. The fireplace was completed at the end of 1935 and was a part of the octagon shaped Bunyan House tourist information center and museum on the shore of Lake Bemidji.
In 1995 the Bunyan House was raised to make room for a renovated Paul Bunyan Park and a new Tourist Information Center (TIC) was built to include the Fireplace of States. The move was carefully articulated. It was divided into sections, shrink wrapped, and lovingly moved by crane to it’s location in the new TIC. Visitors today can still appreciate the art and unique craftsmanship of Bemidji’s Fireplace of States.
Some of the stones of interest include:
Stones from the original US Capitol Building in Washington DC
Large “M” and gopher stones from the University of Minnesota
Part of Old Fort Gary from Winnipeg, Canada
Winona County mantel stone
In addition to the Fireplace of States, the Bemidji’s Tourist Information Center is also home to dozens of other Paul Bunyan artifacts including his personal effects, such as his shotgun, toothpick, belt, and boxer shorts.