Settlement in Beltrami County did not begin until late in the nineteenth century. The area, made impenetrable by bogs and dense forests of red and white pine, remained a wilderness as landseekers sought acreage suitable for farming and near transportation routes. But as populations grew, the need for lumber increased rapidly. Inroads into the pinelands were inevitable, and in time the north woods was filled with the sound of axes and saws and the voices of as many as 400 loggers.


In May of 1897 the village of Bemidji consisted of 97 acres and a population of 200. It had a sawmill, a bank, a saloon, a few hotels and other businesses. It had a street filled with ruts and pine stumps, and a very small log school. It did not have a church.


Wives and mothers in the little community, already uneasy about their nearness to the wilderness, became even more worried about the loggers who came to town. Saloons now filled the remainder of the street occupied by the bank. On the edge of town but far too close were houses of ill repute. Something had to be done.


The ladies met, talked, and decided, then contacted the Presbytery in Duluth, asking them for help in organizing a church and Sunday School. The Presbytery sent the Reverend Samuel Blair, who had considerable experience in establishing churches. He arrived by canoe on the shore of Lake Bemidji, and a prayer meeting was held that evening.


In August of the same year a white frame church, First Presbyterian Church, the first church in Bemidji was built on the site where First Presbyterian Church stands today. The Reverend Joseph Zoll was its first pastor and remained for two years.


He was succeeded by Frank Higgins, the well-known “Sky Pilot” whose passion was preaching to the lumberjacks. The Bemidji Church brought him closer to the lumber camps, where he preached during the week and then returned to First Presbyterian on Sunday.


But as the camps moved farther north it became increasingly difficult for him to get back to Bemidji in time for the Sunday services. He gave up snowshoes for a dog team during the winters, but eventually the time came when he could not get back to Bemidji in time and the church was without its Sunday sermon. Given a choice between the loggers and First Presbyterian, Rev. Higgins chose the loggers who, he reasoned, had no one else.


Throughout its 121 year history the church has had only ten ministers. The longest serving minister was the Rev. Lester P. Warford, who served the church for 34 years. 


In 1928 the original church building was replaced by the present building. The Christian Education wing was added in 1957.


Throughout its history, the First Presbyterian Church in Bemidji has worked to impact the community for the better.  We have been instrumental in forming Churches United, an ecumenical crisis relief ministry.  We are active in the Christmas Tubs of Love program, Bemidji Food Shelf, Meals on Wheels, and Soup Kitchen ministries.  Through our time, energy and money, we work to carry out Christ's call in our community.


May 26, 2024



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11:00am  Fellowship Hour


All are welcome! 



10:00 - 2:30pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday


Communion is open to all who have been baptized in the Christian faith.  


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