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Friday, February 17, 2017

Commemorating World War One in Sherburne County

Charles C. Nelson of Sherburne
County, in uniform in service WWI
From SHC photo collections:
1990.201.266
April marks the century anniversary of United States involvement in World War One.  On April 6, 1917 Congress declared war against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and their allies. In the coming year, no doubt, a number of historians will commemorate the war activities of the United States. 

For Sherburne County, the war began earlier than April 1917.  As part of the Minnesota National guard, in 1916, young men from Sherburne County served as border guards in Texas and New Mexico.  The escapades of Pancho Villa along the Mexico-Texas border led to the stationing of National guardsmen all along the border.  General John “Black Jack” Pershing commanded Minnesota Guardsmen ordered into national service in July 1916.  Some historians maintain the United States eventually would enter the European war.  The work on the Mexico border served as training for the European theater. 

The Minnesota Guard served for less than a year in New Mexico before they returned home.  Almost immediately after their return to Sherburne County, the guardsmen were called into service in France.  Additionally, in 1917 and 1918, more than 100 young men received the draft call for service in World War I.  The war also impacted the home front, with rationing, Red Cross activities, and other programs to support the war. 


Sherburne County entered World War One before the actual declaration of war in April 1917.  As the year 2017 progresses, we will commemorate and honor the county and the events during this traumatic period.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Chet Goenner Long Time County Sheriff

Sheriff Chester J. Goenner served in
office from 1952 to 1981
Photo from the SHC collections
1990.201.220
            Every so often we write of an individual significant to the history of Sherburne County.  Another name to add to the list of movers and shakers in Sherburne Ccounty is Sheriff Chet Goenner--ed. note.  

“History will record that Sheriff Goenner solved all of the murders and bank robberies during his years in office.” The quote from the Sherburne County Star News, summarized the career of Sherburne County’s long serving sheriff. Chester Goenner served as County Sheriff from 1952 until 1981.  In the time, he earned a reputation of commanding respect and using all of his resources to get the job done.

Goenner was first appointed to the position of County Sheriff in 1952, after the death of Nial Nuemann.  Before that appointment, he served as the county deputy sheriff for 18 years.  Prior to that appointment, Goenner also worked as a bouncer for a Clear Lake liquor establishment. In total time, he served over 40 years in law enforcement.  County Treasurer Lois Riecken suggested he was naturally suited to the particular career. “Chet was a big person but used no force unless absolutely necessary,” she said.   He also commanded respect from everyone he served. 

Using different technologies to provide service to everyone in Sherburne County summarizes the career of Sheriff Chester Goenner.  In the early years of service, no radios existed in the squad cars.  “He had to call the office on a telephone to get what calls had come in,” Loretta Moos, a part-time dispatcher remembered.

 A particular story illustrating Goenner’s dedication to service concerns a missing 80 year old man who had wandered away from his home.  After a day of ground search with no results, Goenner enlisted the aid of a local pilot.  Early in the morning, Goenner and the pilot left the Monticello airport and began searching the area by air.  In less than one hour time, Goenner located the man and radioed his position to ground searchers.

Every two years, Goenner won re-election as the County Sheriff until he died in 1981.  The Sheriff “made people feel important, he treated people with respect,” Lois Riecken said.  Because he could command respect he served as sheriff without wearing a gun or uniform, she said. 


After Goenner’s death, a memorial was placed in the front of the Sherburne County Government Center.  The opening sentence described Chester J. Goenner: “A man of integrity who served all mankind impartially with fairness, compassion and dignity.”

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Thank You For Your Service

This morning, 4 February 2017, I raised the flags at the Veterans’ Memorial at the Sherburne History Center.  As I finished, a wave of pride came over me.  This is a beautiful monument to honor so many men and women who served in the military.  Today is no different from any other day.  No special occasion, just Saturday February 4.  But today I feel the need to say to the men and women currently protecting us, and to everyone who served in the military: “Thank you for your sacrifice.” 


Friday, February 3, 2017

Elk River Movie Theaters: A New Type of Entertainment

Entertainment and technology took a great stride forward in Elk River in 1913 when motion pictures and movie theaters illuminated the city.  In that year two theaters, “The Elk Theater” and “Blanchett’s”, presented silent movies in Elk River.  By 1915, a third theater, the “Royal Theater,” opened its doors.  These years marked the beginning of a new age in entertainment in Elk River.

In November of 1913, the Elk Theater advertised the silent short movie “Return of Crime,” dramatic crime and punishment movie featuring the young British actress Barbara Tennant.  By 1914, the Elk presented full length silent movies such as “The Last Days of Pompeii.”  Admission prices to the hour long movie was 15 and 25 cents, the matinee appeared to be a less expensive ticket than the evening showing. 

Newspaper advertisement in the Star News,
December 2, 1915, just a week after the grand
opening of the Royal Theater
Meanwhile, the Sherburne County Star News reported “Blanchett’s” presented motion pictures.  Although the newspaper failed to note the movie shown, the reporter noted “the pictures were clear, distinct and drew a packed house.” 

The Royal Theater, the third theater in Elk River, opened its doors in November 1915.  Promising “something new every night,” the Royal presented a matinee at 2:30 in the afternoon, and a 7:30 evening show.  “We are showing some high class pictures,” the advertising promised.  The opening night premiered the movie, “The Shadows of a Great City,” a silent movie first created as a play, and later a British silent movie before the American version release in 1915. 

Like so many businesses the movie houses of Elk River struggled to gain a solid base.  The surviving theater, the Elk Theater, continued to present motion pictures into the 1940s and on.  Providing entertainment to Sherburne County residents for several decades.



Schedule of movies for the month of
December, 1945 at the Elk Theater


Friday, January 27, 2017

George Loomis Becker: Namesake of The Community

Every student of Sherburne County History knows the namesake of the county lies with Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Moses Sherburne.  George Loomis Becker, the youngest Mayor of St. Paul, lawyer and politician, also warrants attention in Sherburne County history. 

George Loomis Becker 1829-1904
The namesake of the City of Becker, George was born in Locke, New York in 1829.  He arrived In St Paul in 1849.  Elected Mayor of St. Paul in 1856 for a one year term.  Still later, he twice ran unsuccessfully for Governor.  Important for the Sherburne County story, he worked for the Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad.  From 1885 to 1901 he served as a member of the state railroad and warehouse commission.  His primary interest in those years, he promoted railroad interests and development throughout the state. 

Although never a major stop on the railroad lines, Becker and area farmers utilized the rail service to ship produce and goods.  Equally important, the road delivered a multitude of immigrants to the county.  Through the 1870s an Immigrant House operated in Becker to welcome new arrivals to the community. 

There isn’t any evidence to suggest George Loomis ever set foot in the community, yet his influence set the direction for the community of Becker into the 1900s.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Happy Birthday Saron Lutheran Church

Congratulations to the congregation of Saron Lutheran Church in Big Lake.  125 years ago a group came together and organized a church community.  Since then they have gathered each week for community worship. And this year, 2017, they celebrate 125 years of gathering for community worship.

The community first organized as a group of Swedish Lutherans living in an area known as the “Roman Settlement.”  Named after Axel Roman, one of the first settlers of the area north of Big Lake.  Officially founded on 25 January 1892, the congregation first met in area schoolhouses.  Through donations and sweat equity, a church was built.  Descriptions of the church wrote of arched windows, a tall steeple with a bell tower at its peak.  A small barn was built on the back of the church for the horses. 

Willard Moey, in his history of Saron Lutheran Church 100 anniversary, wrote the congregation named the Church “Saron,” the Swedish spelling of “Sharon.”  In Biblical references, the Plain of Sharon was the most fertile part of the coastal plain of Palestine.

Overtime, the congregation outgrew their building at the Roman Settlement.  They chose to move closer to the center of Big Lake, and build anew.  Since the move into Big Lake, the church has expanded their building and their congregation several times. 

Over the years, the congregation grew and prospered.  Albert Magney, born in April of 1892, was the first child baptized by the new congregation.  Since then several thousand baptisms, marriages and burials have marked the history of Saron Lutheran Church. 

The original arched window chapel is long since gone.  Yet, the people of Saron Lutheran Church continue to meet and the congregation continues to grow.  Congratulations on 125 years of community worship.    

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Prohibition and Moonshining in Sherburne County

Campaign button for Edwin W. Chaffin, Prohibition
Party  Presidential candidate in 1908 and 1912.
From the collections at SHC: 2000.025.061
Prohibition, wet versus dry, has long been an issue in Sherburne County.  In 1895, temperance advocates met in the Elk River Methodist Church to urge prohibition in the county.  Wet advocates countered with assertions regarding the economic benefits of alcohol.  Their position insisted saloons would increase trade and business in local economies.  The Sherburne County Times went so far as to predict annual income from alcohol licensing exceeding $2000 for the county.  As early as 1899 the Times newspaper, reported the organization of a local chapter to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the WCTU.  For two decades before national Prohibition took effect, Sherburne County voters regularly debated and voted on the issue.  Passions ran deep with each election held.   

National Prohibition (from 1920 to 1933) did not end the debate, it simply sent the operation of boot legging underground.  Reports in county newspapers, police records, and oral histories all indicate an active boot legging practice in Sherburne County.  Regarded as more prevalent in counties north and west of Sherburne, boot legging seemed popular in the local areas.  Court records noted a number of illegal distilleries in Palmer, Livonia, and Elk River townships.   In 1928, the Sherburne County Star News reported the “biggest still ever found in Sherburne County was confiscated.” 

Oral histories reinforce the popularity of boot legging.  The memories of Betty Belanger seem typical of the times, “There was a still buried on our homestead, my parents’ place.  [It was] buried in the back yard because the guy that owned it heard the feds were coming again and he had already done time in prison for moonshining.  So, he brought the still over to my dad’s farm because he knew the feds weren’t going to be checking on my dad.  They buried it in the farmyard in the sand, in the back yard where the milk truck went around in a circle.  So it was covered.  There wouldn’t be any sign that they had buried something in the yard.  [I think] it’s still there.” 

Income for the distilleries provided significant wealth and encouraged many boot leg operations.  In 1920, the County Sherriff reported purchasing “one quart of whiskey, charging and receiving therefor the sum of six (6) dollars.”  An inflation calculator suggests the price of “one quart of whiskey” in 2016 would be $81.   


The manufacture and distribution of distilled alcohol significantly impacted the local economy.  The debate remained passionate.  As the temperance advocates suggested, “the unrestricted liquor traffic is today the most evil influence upon the moral and social health of the community.”