Here is a list of the TOP TEN sites (asterisk) considered to be the premier locations that have the most colorful history, and would make good places to stop at on the guided tour to give out more in depth information. This will hopefully encourage some interaction with the group on the tour. It's likely some in the group have stories to tell and we can glean even more history! There will be a separate info. sheet on these for the tour guide to carry, in addition to the regular brochure, below. As of May 1, 2008, we have intregrated ALL of the Brochure info. to here, so the Guide need only carry this one Book. The folks on the tour will carry the Brochures. We also have a smaller version of the Poster to use as Flyers as hand-outs in stores, an 8-1/2 X 11" verion which can be cheaply made on any photocopier. See Posters & Flyers on the left.

The Guide Book sheets below are designed to be carried by the Walk's "Tour Guides". These can also be used to train new Guides. If you or a group would like to lead your own group, just contact us! We can walk the Walk with this informative Guide and in an hour you too will be an expert Guide! The actual hard copy will include photos, especially of the buildings that no longer exist. The copy below will be updated and dated right here EACH time it is modified. Please feel free to print out the copy below to make your own Guide Sheets! Thanks!!!

Updated 5/12/2008:

Notes for Guide for Brainerd History Walk

[Items in these brackets are directional instructions for the tour guide, not to be read aloud. You might ask if someone in the group would like to read the Brochure portions of the tour. If the group is large it would be helpful to have them carry one or two of the photo pages. Pre-read this entire Guide Book and determine the items you want to read, depending on how much time your group has slotted. This guide as read can take up to 2 hours, and we are advertising it as closer to one hour. Describe the degree of physical difficulty of the Walk, ask if anyone has any disabilities, etc. ( see below)]

*= Top Ten sites

1) LIBRARY: present...start here!

---There are no stairs or steep grades, but high heels should be avoided due to some sidewalk irregularities and we will be crossing the RR tracks twice. We’ll be walking a bit over 2 miles.

---We will be following the crosswalk walk signals correctly at all times so that there are no accidents!

---Let me know if you need to take a rest!

How did you find out about the Walk, and what attracted you to it?


In 1870, the U. S. Government was focused on extending railway lines to the Pacific Coast and the Northern Pacific Railroad was formed as a commercial venture to take advantage of this opportunity. There were three key activities for the NPRR, 1) the building and operation of the railway to the Pacific; 2) the identification of business opportunities linked to the railway, 3) the settling of the towns through which the railway went. As part of the incentive for the railroads, they were given property along the railway lines, and could sell this or use it. Exploiting lumber and mineral rights was an important part of the business of the railroads. The three types of activities drove the development of the early years of Brainerd, and extended well into the 20th century. In fact, the railroad continues to be active in the city, although in a different way than in the 19th century.

The initial buildings and settlement was planned and implemented by the NPRR, and we will see how the city was organized around the railroad, with the commercial section of town, government and residential. The railroad also supported the logging industry, as an important customer, at least for two decades or so before 1900.

The settlement started in 1870, and by 1880 there was a population of 1,864, and by 1900 this had reached 7,524. Reflecting the amply supply of lumber, most of the first buildings were made of wood, and none of these have survived, in part because there were frequent fires in the early days.

On our tour I want you to be on the lookout for 2 things. One is the 3 major building projects in the last decade in downtown Brainerd, 2 being obvious, but the third not so easy! The second is to find those 3 districts through which we will pass.

Before we get to our first historic site, here is a bit of history of early Brainerd as we make our way to the first stop.

[Talk & walk starting E on Norwood St. to South Sixth St., then N to US Bank.]

The city owes its existence and much of its importance to the Northern Pacific Railway. Before it was decided that the railroad would come to the area, there was no Brainerd and no thought of a settlement here.

In an effort to provide the northernmost crossing of the Mississippi river to points west, the railroad sought a good place to cross. The original crossing point was long going to be the settlement of Crow Wing, but financial dealings with the landowner failed so the railroad looked farther north, in fact to a shallower and less-steeped location at French Rapids two miles upriver. When this failed in a similar manner, the site of the present Laurel St. bridge was chosen. Since there was not yet a city plat nor name, the "town" was merely called "The Crossing" in 1870. The early settlers called it OGAMAGUA, translated in Indian language as "a swift movement across a river".

On Sept. 23, 1871, when the plat of Brainerd was filed for record, a center square was left from subdivision and marked "reserved." This area became Gregory Square. It was named from the middle name of John Gregory Smith, the first president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The name chosen on the plat was only then called Brainerd, which was the maiden name of Mr. Smith's wife.

[Show 1874 map.]

2) FRED DREXLER'S BLACKSMITH SHOP: (1971 monument here, but is missing the stone pedestal, plaque is in the ground left of the bank entrance.) We just found out that these plaques were made at the Brainerd Foundry, and 17 were planned, but we can only find 8. This is NOT ancient history! This was Brainerd's first blacksmith shop, the only place providing harnessing and shoeing for the horse-drawn wagons for many years. The only way to get to Brainerd in those days was by rail, river or horse, unless you really liked to walk! When Fred was not busy he made ice fishing spears, one of the few who stamped his name on them. Not only are these spears of superior quality using the wedge-key method of assembly, they are one of the most prized spears worldwide amongst collectors. So if you find a spear stamped "F. DREXLER", you have made an historic find indeed!

[Go N to stop lights on Laurel St., cross street to the NW corner.]

3) IRON EXCHANGE BUILDING: [NW corner, building gone, show photo.] 1911, burned July 12, 1970, gone but not forgotten, was on the NW corner of 6th and Laurel Sts, probably the largest building in downtown Brainerd, then or since.

[Cross street going E. on Laurel St.]

4) ELKS HOTEL: [Continue E.] 1926, Elks Lodge & Hotel build for $175,000, but the mortgage was burned in 1944, quite a feat!

5) *PARKER BUILDING, now the "E. L. Menk Building":

Built in 1909 by Charles N. Parker to house the former Northern Pacific Bank. In 1906 the bank becomes the Citizens State Bank and in 1920 Con O’Brien buys the building, which is located on the northwest corner of Seventh and Laurel Streets.

In 1980 this wonderful building made of unique red brick was put on the National Registry of Historic Places. Stand back to the edge of the curb and look up and you will see the stone inscription of the Citizens State Bank still there!

6) BRAINERD STATE BANK: Now Downtown Art & Frame across the street to the S. [Show photo of original facade.]

[Looking across the street to the E, point out the 2 blocks that are dated or named or both at the top. See if they can find the "modernized" block, and its date…is it covered? The one skirted in metal seems out of place here. Thoughts? Continue E.]

7) *O'BRIEN MERCANTILE: [Look across the street to the E on this and the next.] In those days all of N & S 8th St. was called Broadway St. Look carefully and you'll see in front of this building and to the N is some of the last of the cut granite curbing.

Originally established in 1883 as a saloon by Cornelius (Con) O’Brien, Sr. Located at 221 South Eighth Street (Broadway), later the building houses the O’Brien Department Store.

Mr. O'Brien pretty well had this corner tied up over the years, owning 3 of the four corners. The latest corner housed his business on the SW corner, later JC Penny Co., currently a furniture store.

8) SLEEPER OPERA HOUSE: [Show photo.] Formerly on this location 1882. This imposing building seated 1,000 and was made of Brainerd red brick. It burned down January 2, 1898.

[Go N just past current Last Turn Saloon, which is the Lakeland Building.]

9) *LAKELAND BUILDING-1913: The same 3 men who a year before built homes on lots in St. Columbo on Gull Lake, namely W.A. Barrows, D.L. Fairchild and Carl Zapffe, incorporated here the Brainerd Model Laundry Co. and instituted the first up-to-date laundry and completely equipped cleaning establishment in Brainerd. It was specially erected to accommodate this new and large business. It brought laundry by rail express from as far away as Crookston, MN. In 1924 E. F. Meyer of St. Cloud purchased the business then in 1936 moved it to Washington Ave. Later tenants were the US Employment Service, and the MN Division of Employment and Compensation. Walk past this brick building and look back and up, and you'll see the remnants of the Brainerd Model Laundry sign still painted on the north brick wall, there likely so it could be seen from the trains.

[Cross Front St., then head W.]


11) CULLEN BLOCK: [Stand at N end of 7th St.] 1880, built by a pop manufacturer, SE corner of 7th and Front streets. Most of the buildings are named and dated at the top. Here notice how most buildings are still original at the top, or above the first 10' or so, refaced only where one can easily see.

[Continue W to NE corner 6th & Front Sts., you are standing in Hobo Park, read the next 4 on this corner from here.]

12) *FIRST NATIONAL BANK, AKA “W. W. HARTLEY BUILDING”: [Point out 2 other blocks that are named or dated on the way.] The bank also has its name at the top, in gold no less!

Located on the southeast corner of Front and Sixth Streets, better known as the First National Bank building, it is built in 1882. In 1916 the building is purchased by the officers of the bank and is remodeled--the first of three such remodels.

[Read story below if time, or just condense to mention the bank robbery.]

Zane Smith's obit. and story: Zane Smith passed away at Bethany Good Samaritan Village in Brainerd. He was 89.

Smith was a young man -- just a few years out of high school -- when he arrived to work at 8:15 a.m. Oct. 23, 1933, at the First National Bank building at the corner of Sixth and Front streets in Brainerd, where he worked as a clerk and messenger boy.

He told The Dispatch in 1999 that he had recently started working at the bank, a building that still has bullet nicks in the brick from that October day when Baby Face Nelson and his gang held up the bank, holding hostage several bank employees, including Smith.

Smith said that morning he carried the day's mail to bank president George D. LaBar's desk and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, even though five bank robbers, armed with at least two machine guns and .45-caliber automatics had been inside the lobby and working as look-outs in the street for about two hours. They had gained entry at gunpoint just before 6 a.m. when a worker came to check on the basement furnace, he said.

"Baby Face Nelson crouched down on his knees in front of a huge pillager," said Smith in 1999. "He jumped to his feet and took after me. He took ahold of the top collar of my top coat and twirled me around and socked me in the jaw."

The blow knocked Smith off of his feet and he was dragged across the floor to a spot where the bank janitors, Mr. and Mrs. L.A. Peterson, and guard Bob Titus, were located.

One by one the bank employees were corralled and stretched out on the front office floor until they numbered a baker's dozen. When the tellers arrived, each was taken in turn to open their separate vaults.

In the end, the bank robbers stole $32,000 from the bank. The loss was covered by insurance.

With the money collected and the time approaching 9 a.m., Baby Face Nelson and his gang left the employees in a rear bathroom. The robbers sprayed the lobby with machine gun fire as they exited and as a Chicago salesman attempted to enter the building.

Smith said between the yelling and the spray of bullets, the employees thought the salesman had been shot. Additional gunfire spattered nearby buildings.

"They simply sprayed up and down the street as they left to make sure that no one was going to bother them," said Smith.

The gunmen had been staying at a resort on the north side of Round Lake and were familiar with the first names of bank employees, work schedules and escape routes.

"It was quite the experience," Smith said, "but one I wouldn't like to go through again -- after it was all over and you realize what could have happened."

13) RANSFORD HOTEL: [Show photo.] 1904, demolished Aug. 9, 1975. Built by Ransford Rogers Wise, earlier Bly’s block-1871, burned 1904. SW corner 6th and Front Sts.

14) YMCA, NP: Built by the NP railroad, the original building is gone. Later it was the Golden Grill Cafe. [Show photo.] First opened 1889, NW corner 6th and Front Sts. In 1901 out front was laid Brainerd’s first sidewalk. Closed 1924.

15) *HOBO PARK: You are standing here. [Show 2 photos if available, Baehr Building & the toboggan slides.]

Located on the east side of Sixth Street just south of the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks. AKA Depot Park, a popular meeting place and once had a 2 block long, 2-way toboggan slide here, where one would slide to one end then climb the other one for the return trip! Later location of the Baehr Building-1936/Brainerd Theater-1938, demolished 2/1999. The original Gregory Park band stand stood here for a quarter century, its last home of 3.

[Head N on 6th] Here at the RR tracks looking NE we can see the Carneige Library, which will be on a future North Loop Walk. We are now entering a new district. Which one? Look up now at the Water Tower since it is so tall, it's a great view of it.

16) DEPOT, NPRR, FIRST: [In front of the Chamber Of Commerce building, point out the 1971 stone monument, show photo.]

Built by the Northern Pacific Railroad in March 1872 it stands on the southeast corner of Washington St. (then called Main St.) and Sixth Streets, near where the concrete water tower now stands, this depot burns down in 1917, later replaced by the water tower.

17) *WATER TOWER: The 1971 stone monument here is interestingly also a Minnesota Historical Site.

The contract for this elevated storage tank is let in 1918; it is located on the southeast corner of Washington (Main) and Sixth Streets. L. P. Wolff of St. Paul is the Consulting Engineer and the City Engineer, R. T. Campbell, does the local engineering. The City Water and Light Board handles all the construction work with its own work force headed by its Superintendent Henry Roberts. This storage tank is 134 feet tall with a capacity of 300,000 gallons and is the first all-concrete elevated water tank used for a municipal water supply ever built in the United States. The bowl that holds the water is made in a single continuous pouring. The tower is complete on October 1, 1922.

A spiral stairway winds around the inside walls of the water tower. The stairs end at about the 90-foot mark on the inside of the tower. A window allows access to the outside set of stairs that lead to the ledge that encircles the tower. The all-concrete landmark has been dry since 1960. The tower is 129 feet tall from its crown-like top to the ground level. The observation ledge is 90 feet above the ground. Inside the tower a 20-foot ladder leads to a hatch, which is at the bottom of the tower's bowl. The sky can be seen as the hatch is opened to access the inside of the bowl lined with red brick, which once held 300,000 gallons of water. Inside the bowl is a 40-foot freestanding ladder, which rises to the top of the bowl. (Brainerd Daily Dispatch, 25 May 2003)

October 1920. "Water is being pumped into the new water tower today. The 300,000-gallon concrete water tower of the new waterworks system near the Depot is being filled. A full tank means an added weight of over 2,000,000 pounds."-Dispatch

[Cross 6th St., S side of Washington St., and stand on the SW corner.] The next 2 were both on this corner, long gone.

18) ARLINGTON HOTEL: [Show photo.] about 1889, burned January 1, 1904. Replacing the burned Headquarters Hotel on nearly the same location, this hotel was moved here piece by piece from North Dakota by Ransford R. Wise, and reassembled with not one light or window being broken.

19) HEADQUARTERS HOTEL: [Show photo.] NPRR Mar 1871, Brainerd’s first hotel, later burned. This 3 story building had an overhead reservoir for a water supply and a 7 ton ice house. Replaced by the Arlington Hotel in 1889. There are just remnants of a 1971 monument here. Where do you suppose the bronze plaque went to?

20) *DEPOT, NPRR, second: [Show photo.] This is a sore subject with many locals! A lot of folks think it should have been preserved. The Sawmill Inn across the street will also be on a future North Loop Walk. Does anyone know why it is called the Sawmill Inn? [Answer: A chef moved this building from NE Brainerd, which was the unused office building for the Brainerd Lumber Co.] In the next 2 block walk westward, look for the 1971 stone monument across the street....yep, on a later tour. We can't tell you what it is for!

[The next stop is 3-1/2 blocks away, so ask if there is enough time for the group to visit it. It will add about 15 minutes. If not, they can see it after the walk, or another time. It is at the present Dairy Queen location.]

21) *TRADING POST: [1971 monument here by the picnic table at the present Dairy Queen.]

The first buildings are built circa September and October 1870. One is a trading post operated by Fuller & Huestis and on 10 October a hotel and boarding house for railroad workers is completed by Stuart Seeley, it is the second building to go up.

"...I found my father in charge of the construction of a building for Fuller & Huestis. That building still stands; it is the old Indian trading post and has been used for fifty-two years as saloon, hotel, trading post and dwelling. Hundreds of carloads of blueberries and tons and tons of deer saddles pass through its doors during the many years when James Hallett has it as a trading post. This is the first frame commercial building in the growing city." -I. U. White, 1921

The second building in Brainerd, built of hewn logs by Stuart Seeley, is completed on 10 October 1870, and used as a boarding house, saloon and dance hall, until it burns three years later. It is located on the east bank of the river, north of the railroad bridge.

[If returning from the Trading Post, go back E to 1st St., then S to the present Fire Hall on Laurel St., then on the S side of Laurel St. head E.]

[If NOT doing the Trading Post run, go W on Washington St. to 4th St., then S. You'll have to do the next 2 looking a block away, or at the end.]

22) *COUNTY JAIL AND SHERIFF'S RESIDENCE, second: 1919. Built at the same time as the neighboring Court House to the east. This building was both the County Jail in back, and the Sheriff's Residence in front. It now houses the Crow Wing County Historical Society, and has research facilities and meeting rooms in the basement. People wishing further historical information can visit the museum.

Six sheriffs and their families lived in the house between its construction and 1962, the last was Albert J. Kreuger, who died in office in 1962. In 1962 Sheriff Warnberg decided not to move into the house, and the residence became the sheriff’s offices. A woman was hired to cook for the prisoners and the kitchen continued to be used to prepare the food. The sheriff’s department moved to the Law Enforcement Center, next door, in 1979.

The building was then restored and remodeled by the Crow Wing Historical Society and opened as a museum in 1979.

The house is restored to appear like a typical middle class home of the first decades of the 1900’s in Crow Wing County. None of the furnishings are original to any of the sheriff’s families; area residents have donated almost everything.

Along with the Crow Wing County Courthouse, build in 1920, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Jail:

The jail originally had thirteen cells. Eight cells were located in the area where the logging exhibit is now. Four women’s cells were located on the second floor where tow cells and a shower are still on display. The tiled room near the entrance to the sheriff’s house once had a padded cell. The ramps now have displays on the lumber, railroad and mining industries, which brought most settlers into the county.

23) COURTHOUSE, second-1920: This was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

24) Last Turn Saloon-about 1872: The ORIGINAL, not the existing one, at SW corner of 4th and Front Sts. This was diagonal from the Nash Finch Building.

25) *NASH FINCH COMPANY: 1901-Brainerd Flour & Feed Co., 1905-Brainerd Wholesale Grocery Co., 1927-Nash Finch Co., 1985- Country Foods & Produce, Inc., 1986-vacant, 1996-printing shop. Just removing the 6 walk-in coolers took more than a month helping to ready it for a printing press, weighing 18,000 pounds. The building was set along the railroad track with a spur to accept groceries on a covered dock. The area from here west to the river was the commercial dockage location for non-railway company freight, including a host of brewers, petroleum products and gaseous bottled fuel. Information from a Brainerd Dispatch article Oct. 4, 1996, for Brainerd's 125th anniversary.

[Go E on Front St.]

26) FIRE HALL: First fire hall, long gone. Fire Dept. first organized Feb. 13, 1872 in Milt Askew’s Billiard Hall, with 37 members paying $1 each.

27) RUSSELL CREAMERY: Meadow Gold products, 425 Front St. This building was about in the same place as where the fire Hall was.

28) PARK OPERA HOUSE-1890: Later the Paramount Theater, demolished 1995, after sitting vacant for several years.

29) BANK OF BRAINERD-1879: SE corner 5th and Front Sts. Coincidentally, still a bank on this location!

[Go S on 5th St.]

30) FIRE HALL, second-1914: Now houses Community Action and others. This was not connected with the City Hall originally.

31) CITY HALL: Built 1914. [Stand on this corner for this and the next 3 sites.] Beautifully restored, this building came dangerously close to the wrecking ball!

32) ARMORY: [Look across street to the W.] First 1936, demolished afterwards. This was the original location.

33) GREYHOUND BUS DEPOT: 1945, replaced Gardner Block. Unique 1940’s Moderne styling.

34) LIVELY GARAGE/AUTO COMPANY: Later Mill’s corporate headquarters. Go to the Answers section below before leaving this corner.]

ANSWERS to questions:

1) 3 major building projects were the new brick office building at 416 S 6th, nicely done to look like a period building, the new county government buildings on Laurel St., and the addition to the Lively Building, to its east, matched so closely it's hard to tell it was added.

2) The first district walked was the Business District, then after the RR tracks started the Residential District, then crossing the tracks coming back south was the Government District.

[Head back to the library on 5th, unless you skipped the Trading Post and saw #'s 22 & 23 only from afar, you can go one block W to see these close up, and go between the two, then cut back to the library through the parking lot.]


-Why was Brainerd's growth limited from the start? It was "landlocked" [show map]. It had a river on 2 sides and a ravine on the E. It wasn't long until we needed to access the west side by the Laurel St. bridge, and the east side by a bridge and electric RR bridge over the ravine. The latter especially made Brainerd grow since brickyards, the dam, lumbering and the pulp mill were ALL in NE Brainerd. So well used were these bridges that it was eventually filled in with earth, hence the area is to this day called "The Fill".

-Are there any questions?

-Was the tour enjoyable, and should we develop more?