Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of 20 stories called “What’s in a Name?” completed by Pioneer journalists for our 2022 Annual Report. To learn more about the section, click the embed at the bottom of this article.
Stoner Avenue has one of the most controversial street signs in Bemidji.
Due to its connotations related to marijuana and those who use it, Stoner Avenue signs have been constantly stolen from street corners over the years, and the city has spent thousands of dollars replacing them.
With all the controversy and money spent to replace these signs, the question arises: why name the street Stoner Avenue in the first place? What some Bemidjians may not know is that the street is actually named after local pioneer Marcus Stoner.
Although his legacy on the town of Bemidji is often overshadowed by the controversy surrounding signs erected in his name, Stoner made his mark on the town as Bemidji’s first municipal engineer and Beltrami County surveyor.
Stoner first visited the area during the winters of 1892 and 1893, when he and a team of government employees surveyed the Blackduck wilderness.
Coping with extreme Minnesota winters has become part of Stoner’s daily life. He recalled that many nights he would bury himself in snowdrifts, leaving only a small hole to breathe.
At the age of 27, Stoner moved to Bemidji. The year following his move, he was hired as an engineer in charge of the construction of the railway 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 famed Bemidji chief Shaynowishkung.
Stoner also had a house built for him which became the first siding house in the history of Bemidji. The house was located opposite where the statue of Chief Bemidji now stands and is still in use to this day, although it has been moved and remodeled.
In 1999, Beltrami County renamed Stoner Memorial Drive NE (Beltrami County Road 30) to North Blackduck Lake Road NE due to repeated traffic sign theft.
According to a 2011 Pioneer article on the issue, “At least eight traffic signs and posts are believed to have been stolen on this route. The cost to replace each sign, which included labor, posts and the sign, ranged from $55 to $200.
Although this solved the Stoner Memorial Drive problem, Stoner Avenue signs 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 was reversed just two months later when a handful of Stoner Avenue residents attended a public hearing at Bemidji Town Hall in September 2011 to express their disapproval of the change. name.
Many locals rallied to keep the Stoner Avenue name, due to the hassle they would have to go through to change their address. If the name change were to pass, residents would need to update their driver’s license, banking information and other documents.
Instead, the city decided to explore options to make the panels more theft-resistant, such as using taller panels or different types of screws.
Today, many Stoner Avenue signs are homemade and displayed on posts much higher than other street signs, hoping to deter thieves.
So the name remains, and while riddled with controversy, Marcus Stoner’s family name stands proudly on more than a dozen street corners and will likely continue to do so for years to come.