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Builders First Source in Pequot Lakes has ties going back 127 years

Pequot Lakes' first lumberyard predates the city.

Builders FirstSource in Pequot Lakes
Builders FirstSource is the latest name for a business that has been bought and sold in Pequot Lakes for 127 years.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal
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PEQUOT LAKES — The city of Pequot Lakes has long had a variety of businesses serving virtually all of its citizens’ needs. Few might realize how big one such business really is.

"Builders FirstSource is the largest building materials supplier in the nation," said David Lester, manager of the Pequot Lakes store that sits just off Patriot Avenue on East Sibley Street.

However, the building wasn't always Builders FirstSource, so it might be even more surprising how much history is behind the Pequot Lakes branch of the company.

The interior of Builders FirstSource in Pequot Lakes
Builders FirstSource in Pequot Lakes is a one-stop-shop offering tools, materials, delivery, installation and drafting among other services.
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

"We've been in Pequot Lakes for a long time as a lumberyard," Lester said. "Servicing lumber, foam, shingles and everything like that for cabins and houses."

Given the importance of the lumber industry in the history of Pequot Lakes, as well as the state of Minnesota, it may be no surprise that Builders FirstSource in Pequot Lakes has ties going back before the city's founding.

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According to the "Pequot Lakes High School Project Centennial'' book, the earliest lumberyard in the city was on the shore of Sibley Lake in 1895, where a sawmill had been set up to provide materials for the construction of early Pequot Lakes.

According to a Pequot Lakes Area Historical Society column published in the Echo Journal detailing early commercial endeavors as drawn from the diaries of Myrtle Mabbot, her father, Ludwig Mathison, built the first lumberyard. Mabbot said her uncles, Otto Lund and Anton Lund, worked closely with him.

In 1897, a second sawmill followed, owned by the same family that founded the Bemidji Woolen Mills. For many years from this point on, the city of Pequot Lakes boasted not one, but two lumberyards.

The history gets complicated from here, as Mabbot's recollections clash with not only the centennial history book, but also with two October 1914 industry magazines, the "American Lumberman" and the "National Lumberman.” Mabbot said her father sold the company to James Ingram, who sold it to "Mr. Broker."

According to the two magazines, Ingram Lumber Company became Broker Lumber Company in 1914. To further complicate the timeline, the centennial book says in 1914 the Lund and Broker (as in Otto Lund) Lumber Company added a 25 horsepower motor to its mill the same year with help from the Arvig brothers.

According to the Centennial book, Mathison Lumber Company was still in operation as late as Oct. 31, 1924, when the business burned to the ground and left 15 men unemployed for the winter.

The book records the arrival of Aldro and Myrtle Mabbot to Pequot Lakes on Oct. 31, 1930, when it reads, "Aldro will help Ludwig Mathison at his Pequot Lumber yard."

In 1920 and 1922, Broker Lumber was operating separately from Mathison Lumber Company, as indicated by records of fires that nearly destroyed the mill in both of those years. In 1920, the destruction was not well documented except that it nearly resulted in the complete destruction of the business; and in 1922, the fire destroyed a planing mill and 70,000 board feet of lumber.

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On April 30, 1926, the Centennial book says Broker Lumber Company was sold to Standard Lumber of Winona. At the time, Standard Lumber owned stores in Nisswa, Crosby and 38 other Minnesota lumberyards. Otto Lund remained with the company when it changed hands yet again, now as manager instead of an apparent partner.

Mabbot said he stayed with the company until his retirement on an unknown date, though in January 1964 the manager was Harold Herboldt.

Even though the Centennial book has record that a burglary at Standard Lumber cost the company $10 in September 1941, the book does not go into such detail about when the lumberyard moved from the shore of Sibley Lake.

It's likely been in its current location since Dec. 18, 1947, when the new Standard Lumber building, constructed by Otto Berg, had its grand opening. The Centennial book states: "It was built where Day and Son Garage had stood. With the ‘new’ 371 coming through town it was necessary to move the lumber yard a few hundred feet to the east."

This last statement indicates that the lumberyard had been moved away from the lake at some earlier time, though when is a mystery. Today's general manager has enough information to fill in the blanks after the company's acquisition by Standard Lumber.

"I've been up here about seven or eight years," Lester said. "I know some of (the history) but I don't know the exact dates. We've had a few legacy companies before BFS. 2015 is when we became BFS. Before that we were Pro Build starting in 2007. Before that we were United Building Center. I think it was 1983 we became UBC and before that we were Standard Lumber Company."

A lot has changed in the past 127 years. What began as a sawmill on Sibley Lake eventually grew into a full lumberyard and hardware store. In its early years, residents of Pequot Lakes likely bought their lumber for roofing, framing and siding from Mathison and his company with nails and other hardware coming from Ellingson's Blacksmith Shop.

By the time it became Standard Lumber Company, lumber and hardware were likely available all under one roof. Lester said the lumber company was also the city's source of heating coal. Today, Builders FirstSource provides expertise as well as materials.

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"We sell everything from foam to trim for the inside of the house. We deliver windows, we have in-house drafting, in-house estimating and sales guys who can either stay in the yard or go to the job site to help homeowners or contractors," Lester said.

"We have our own trucks and we deliver with our semis or trucks with flatbed trailers. We have an install crew that will do spray-in foam or blow-in insulation for attics. We've been doing that for years," he said.

Lester said the business is trying to get a second installation crew. Their ranks are always growing. When he started with the company, Lester said there were nine employees. Today, the store has 13 and is looking for four more.

What was once a niche business today has almost everything under one roof with the most recent addition last year.

"Last year we started having an in-house designer to draw the houses," Lester said. "She started, I believe, in April or early spring of last year. That was new for us to have in-house design."

Having a larger company behind the wheel has its advantages. What isn't necessarily done in Pequot Lakes might still be handled by Builders FirstSource.

"We do manufacturing," Lester said. "We have millwork facilities and block plants throughout the country. We don't necessarily do that in the Pequot location, but overall for the company we do have a vast variety of work we do, and we continue to grow."

Lester said plans for future growth include not only a second installation crew, but newer equipment and more sales professionals.

"We're trying to do more things in house," Lester said. "We can draw for them, we can sell the materials, we can do installation for them."

Lester said the internet is constantly changing the industry so he and his staff are constantly training to understand their products, markets and customers better.

"The internet has really changed the business as well as the knowledge our customers have that we have to keep up with," Lester said. "(They say), ‘I saw this on Pinterest,’ or something like that. We're constantly trying to keep up on training and what's new."

As in many industries, the quality of the staff determines the quality of the product or service, and Lester believes his staff has the quality needed to continue to stand the test of time.

"I just realize how good the people I have are," Lester said. "I can't stress enough that I have one of the best teams around. It's very encouraging and it makes me happy how well my team does. They make me look good. It's a nice area. Everybody is nice and I have a really knowledgeable staff. I'm just proud of my team and I want to stress they don't get enough credit. I'm excited to see what they do in the future."

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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