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Northern Headwaters Region








The Buena Vista Town Site         
Site Number(s):   21BL175  
County:   Beltrami, MN  
City Township:   Turtle Lake Twp.  
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Few archaeological projects in the Northern Headwaters area have involved historic sites with standing structures. One such project was a field survey undertaken to assess the eligibility of the abandoned townsite of Buena Vista for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).


Buena Vista, a former lumber town in Beltrami County north of Bemidji, was established in 1896 when entrepreneurs built a store and hotel beside an old Indian portage trail. The portage led over the continental divide between Turtle Lake and Lake Julia, at what has been called the northern or Julian source of the Mississippi. Fur traders may have once wintered at the spot. The economic mainstay of Buena Vista, however, was logging and businesses that fed off the lumber industry.

Forthun Store in Buena Vista
N.S. Forthun's store in Buena Vista, 1900. The sign over the door of the store reads: "The St. Paul Cheap Cash Store" Among the merchandise on display in front of the store are some pants, a box marked "shoes," and a tea kettle. Minnesota Historical Society Collections.


Turtle Lake Hotel in Buena Vista
The Turtle Lake Hotel, built about 1895 in Buena Vista, is shown above. Pictured are Adeline Hazen, Eva Peterson, Pete Peterson, Lottie Peterson and Eva Wells. Minnesota Historical Society Collections.

In 1897, when Beltrami County was organized, a post office opened in Buena Vista and the enthusiastic residents asked that the town be made the county seat. Their bid failed, but the community continued to grow. By 1901 Buena Vista was a bustling center with three stores and hotels, a church and school, several saloons and livery stables, and a blacksmith shop. Later a box factory and sled manufactory were added. A sawmill located on the south shore of Lake Julia provided lumber and other wood products for these enterprises.


In 1905 the railroad bypassed Buena Vista. It was a death blow. Over the next ten years the remaining pine forests were cut and most of the people moved away. Only a store and one hotel remained open for business. Attempts to keep the town alive through tourism and the development of new industry failed. The only building now surviving is a wood-frame schoolhouse built in 1898. It is used as a public meeting hall.


Buena Vista Feature 30
Buena Vista site feature 30 in 1995.

Buena Vista feature 5 in 1995
Buena Vista site feature 5 in 1995


A study of Buena Vista was conducted in 1995 by archaeologists from IMA Consulting (IMAC), working under contract with the State Historic Preservation Office. Personal interviews and a literature review were used to assemble background information and to develop historical contexts. Field investigations involved a reconnaissance survey, shovel tests, and the mapping of surface features.


19th century whiteware
19th century whiteware.

20th century porcelain
20th century porcelain.


Shell Button
Two-holed shell button.

Table Glassware
Table glassware with pressed diamonds.


Metal Nail and Spike
Wire nail (left) and spike (right).

Unidentified metal hardware
Metal hardware, unidentified.


The study concluded that Buena Vista is a good representative example of a northern Minnesota lumbering town and eligible for listing on the NRHP. The final report of the survey poses a series of research questions related to themes like the nature and quality of daily life in the town, the use of space and industrial technologies, and the interrelationship between habitation and work environments.



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Updated 27 Jun 1999