ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Brainerd history 2.0

When Andy Walsh set out to create a Facebook group on Brainerd history last month, he never expected the kind of response it's received. In the five weeks since Walsh began administering "Share history and stories about Brainerd" on the social me...

The Paramount Theater was located on Front and Fifth streets until it was demolished in 1995. The building once contained the Park Opera House, which was built in 1890. Submitted photo
The Paramount Theater was located on Front and Fifth streets until it was demolished in 1995. The building once contained the Park Opera House, which was built in 1890. Submitted photo

When Andy Walsh set out to create a Facebook group on Brainerd history last month, he never expected the kind of response it's received.

In the five weeks since Walsh began administering "Share history and stories about Brainerd" on the social media website, the page has gained more than 4,500 members and amassed a large enough collection of photos and stories to make historians envious.

Walsh discussed how his personal interest in area history blossomed into a community conversation through an American Sign Language interpreter Wednesday at Central Lakes College.

Now a postal worker serving the East Gull Lake area, Walsh has fond memories of his childhood in Brainerd. His love for historic buildings originated in his time at the Minnesota School for the Deaf in Faribault, where he enjoyed exploring the classrooms, dorms and tunnels.

"When I came back to Brainerd, I started researching this area, too," Walsh said.

ADVERTISEMENT

He remembered as a child playing in the area of North Seventh Street and Bluff Avenue along the banks of the Mississippi River, an area where the remains of a water pumping station destroyed by flood in 1896 are visible if one searches hard enough. A steam generator plant was also once located in the area.

Walsh and Carl Faust, a local amateur historian, have made several trips to the floodplain, yearning to discover more about the buildings that once stood there.

"There's a lot of old foundations that are still there," Walsh said. "I was trying to figure out where the electricity was before. Just recently I started working on being able to find the old slab and follow that from where the power house was. I believe that's where they first set up electricity in this area."

Faust, who led a project earlier this year to collect historic photos through the Brainerd Public Library and the Crow Wing County Historical Society, said his only regret about the Facebook page is he didn't think of it first.

"Some people are reading it to their parents that do not use the internet," Faust wrote in an email. "It was not long (before) a few researchers realized that this Facebook page was more than just plain fun. We were gleaning information about many topics that we just did not know before. Coming in were otherwise unknown photos from personal photo albums, and names of people in old pictures."

An example of this, Faust said, is when Walsh posts more general remembrances of the past, such as a particular kind of candy or toy. Members of the group tend to build off of one another's comments, and soon enough, the conversation turns to the item's relevance to the Brainerd lakes area.

"Sooner or later, someone writes in that they used to buy it at a certain Don's store, let's say," Faust wrote. "Then Don's daughter writes in, then her brother sends in a photo of the old store in 1958, then someone says their dad bought that store from Don. ... What a unique way to ferret out history."

Some of Walsh's favorites on the page so far are the many depictions of the Paramount Theater, a movie theater that once stood on the corner of Front and Fifth streets. The theater, which was originally erected as the Park Opera House in 1890, contained castle-like architecture and was a popular place for Brainerd residents for the more than 100 years it stood.

ADVERTISEMENT

"It was so beautiful, what a wonderful building," Walsh said.

Another of his favorites is a 1934 photograph of a line of Brainerd police officers dressed in uniform. A caption written on the photo states the officers are patrolmen from District No. 2. According to the inscribed date, the photograph was taken fewer than six months after Baby Face Nelson famously robbed the First National Bank in Brainerd.

Walsh's passion for Brainerd history led to a concern for the city's future, and he said he hopes to drum up some pride among Brainerd's residents.

"I see Brainerd's becoming, it seems to be going downhill, so I thought it would be fun to set something up on Facebook so people who have memories can see that and can enjoy it and share their memories with each other," Walsh said.

One thing members are discussing is how to save the historic water tower in Brainerd, a landmark that in recent years has begun crumbling and is in need of major repairs.

"I really don't want to see that decline, because it's part of our history," Walsh said. "The old railroads, the old businesses, I'd really like it to be able to stay the way it is. I think the reason it's changed a lot is because Highway 371 has moved. People have just ignored downtown Brainerd. ... It's really sad for me to see that."

Perhaps ideas to revitalize the historic downtown will arise from the modern-day meeting of minds the group represents.

Interested in the group?

ADVERTISEMENT

Search Facebook for "Share history and stories about Brainerd lakes area."

The posts made by administrators and members are searchable, making it easy to find all information shared on a particular topic.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Related Topics: BRAINERD HISTORY
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What To Read Next
Inmates in-custody in the Todd County jail in Long Prairie, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Wadena County jail in Wadena, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Aitkin County jail in Aitkin, Minnesota
Inmates in-custody in the Beltrami County jail in Bemidji, Minnesota