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Downtown marker recounts almost a century’s worth of Brainerd history

A marker was erected in September 2022 with information about the Headquarters Hotel, the Arlington Hotel and the second Northern Pacific Railway depot after the original was struck by a snowplow.

Second Northern Pacific Railway depot
The second Northern Pacific Railway depot was built in 1920 and demolished in 1968.
Contributed / Carl Faust
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BRAINERD — When people travel, they need a place to stay.

Northern Pacific Railway officials knew this better than most. The company with ties to early Brainerd history built the Headquarters Hotel on the southwest corner of Sixth and Washington streets in 1871.

The three-story structure was located on a 2-acre lot. It had somewhere between 50 and 60 sleeping rooms, a dining room seating over 100, parlors, offices and other rooms.

“Water from an overhead reservoir is piped to all the rooms. The hotel has an icehouse of 700 tons capacity, arranged so as to provide refrigerator storerooms for fruits, vegetables and meats,” according to “Brainerd’s Half Century,” published by General Printing Co. in 1923.

Fires destroyed a great many buildings and structures from Brainerd’s past, including the Headquarters Hotel. It burned down sometime during the night in the winter of 1882.

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“Some of the guests had to jump from the roof of the porch to the ground … a kerosene lamp in the ladies’ waiting room at the Headquarters Hotel in this place exploded,” according to “Brainerd’s Half Century.”

The Northern Pacific Railway encouraged Ramford R. Wise to build his Arlington Hotel on the same site following the fire. The Arlington Hotel rose in 1889 from the Headquarters Hotel’s ashes. But in 1904, the Arlington Hotel was also destroyed by a fire.

Brainerd’s second railway depot opened in 1920. The first one burned down in 1917, but prior to its construction in 1872, the Headquarters Hotel served as the actual first passenger depot.

“After the (first) Brainerd depot burned, the Northern Pacific Railroad donated the land where the old depot sat for the site of a proposed municipal water tower,” according to Jeremy Jackson, a historical researcher.

A historic marker was placed on the corner of Midtown Center, diagonal from the now-closed Sawmill Inn, on Sept. 30, 2022, according to Carl Faust, a local historian.

“This was no ordinary location, and it was no ordinary marker. It depicts three major buildings that occupied this busy intersection,” Faust said about the Headquarters Hotel, the Arlington Hotel and the second Northern Pacific Railway Depot.

Workers erect a historic marker on Washington Street on the corner of Midtown Center on Sept. 30, 2022.
Workers erect a historic marker on Washington Street on the corner of Midtown Center on Sept. 30, 2022.
Contributed / Carl Faust

“The (marker) is not cast aluminum due to cost, but rather upgraded to a more modern format of vinyl on aluminum, and technology now allows photos and other graphics. This way, a good history compilation of the site can be placed right on the site.”

The spot was marked back in about 1975, but the pedestal was hit by a car and the marker was not found again until about 2008, according to Faust.

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“The old 1971 Headquarters Hotel marker, cleaned up and repainted, was going back up, and at the same time, the other two important buildings that were on that corner were featured,” Faust said.

He added, “It was no small trick getting 97 years of history all on one marker, but it is all there now and in one spot.”

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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