Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, December 8, 2017

Sherburne County Faces Challenges in 1920s

The 1920s proved a challenging decade for Sherburne County.  The period seemed particularly tough in the community of Clear Lake.  Coupling crime and economic challenges presented significant difficulties.  The tenacity of business owners and residents kept the village moving forward.  Examples, such as the history of Frank Hankemeyer and his general merchandise store reveal the resolve of character in the local residents.  Despite the challenges of the decade, the persistence of men and women like Frank Hankemeyer reinforce the character of the community. 

The county newspaper, the Sherburne County Star News, suggest the 1920s a crime riddled era for Clear Lake. The news regularly reported businesses burglarized and hold-ups in the small town.  Thieves burglarized the local creamery.  In broad daylight, bandits robbed Joseph LeBlanc’s general store at gun point.  The newspaper regularly reported thefts of livestock and burglaries.  The Clear Lake crime wave culminated with the arrest and conviction of the school district Treasurer for embezzlement in 1933. 

Hankemeyer General Store, circa 1910, Clear Lake

Perhaps the greatest challenges presented, fell in the lap of Frank Hankemeyer.  In the 1920s, the newspaper reported, thieves robbed Hankemeyer’s store nine times.  Located on the main street of Clear Lake, thieves regularly pried open a side door and burglarized Hankemeyer’s in the dark of night.  During a burglary in 1928, the Star News reported, thieves helped themselves to approximately $500 of merchandise.  After ransacking the store, they broke open a gas pump and fueled up the getaway car before leaving the scene.

The ultimate challenge to Hankemeyer’s presented itself three months later, in November 1928.  A fire erupted in the building, causing more than $30,000 in damages.  Although insured for only $17,000, Hankemeyer resolved to rebuild and reopen.  He overcame the challenges of crime and fire to become a long-time fixture in Clear Lake.  Hankemeyer’s store remained in place into the 1950s.

Hankemeyer’s general store reflects the tenacity and resolve exhibited throughout Sherburne County history.  An insistence to flourish in spite of the many challenges put in front of the community.  In spite of crime, fire, natural disasters, or economic challenges, Sherburne County residents continuously reveal their persistence in moving Sherburne County forward.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ending Prohibition Proves Disappointing

Advertisement for beer sales,
published in the Sherburne County
Star News
, April 13, 1933
Prohibition officially ended April 1933.  Sherburne County officially ended prohibition April 6, 1933.  City Councils adopted ordinances allowing for the sale of beer and other spirits.  Although the local newspaper reported excitement, the availability of alcohol was not immediate.  And after the arrival of the newly distilled spirits, the paper reported a level of disappointment.  The legislation allowing the sale easily passed.  The challenge came in finding brewers and distributors to provide the previously prohibited drink.  Locating a palatable drink to distribute also presented a challenge. 

With the end of national prohibition in 1933, the Sherburne County Star News recalled Elk River as dry in 1915, four years before the national movement.  All of Sherburne County voted dry by 1916.  Yet, with the end of prohibition in 1933, the newspaper reported an excitement to sample legally manufactured spirits.

Headlines in the March 1933 issues of the Sherburne County Star News announced the end of prohibition and promised “beer will be available in Elk River by April 7th.”  Unfortunately, the local population had to wait for their opportunities to imbibe in the legal alcohol.  “Breweries of the twin cities being swamped with orders were unable to make deliveries in the country districts,” the paper reported. 

When the beer finally arrived, many thirsty patrons expressed disappointment with the taste and “lack of stronger kick.”  Possibly due to the lack of flavor or “kick” the newspaper also reported zero instances of public intoxication on the first few days of a more open community.

April 1933 marked the end of prohibition, yet the month presented new challenges to the hospitality trade in Elk River.  Locating breweries, distributors, and quality drink all proved new challenges for Sherburne County establishments.  A new twist on the end of prohibition, how the local bars and restaurants first developed this new offering. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Farm Protests in 1930s Sherburne County

Front Page Headline from Sherburne County Star News, October 1933
Farm prices and foreclosures in 1932 generated a radical reaction by farmers in Sherburne and Anoka Counties that revealed a unique effort at organizing the Minnesota farm industry into a unified organization.  After nearly a decade of falling produce prices and rising foreclosures, nationally, farmers organized what became known as the National Farmers Holiday Association.  More commonly known as the Holiday Movement, the group advocated for sympathetic refinancing on farm debt and it suggested the federal government guarantee farmers a minimum income to cover production costs.

The Holiday Movement, originally organized in Iowa, made itself known in Sherburne county in October 1932.  Farmers and sympathizers tried negotiating with the state legislature for relief in the midst of the Economic Depression with no results.  In the second week of October farmers set out pickets to prevent truckers from delivering produce to the markets in the Twin cities.  The pickets attempted blocking the roads leading from Elk River to Minneapolis. 

The pickets received an unusual signal of sympathy from local police.  Police had organized the truckers into caravans, forcing the trucks through picket lines with minimal difficulty.  Blockades along Highway 10 the police escort halted the caravans and gave the picketers 10 minutes to appeal to the truckers to stop their deliveries.  After ten minutes the caravan proceeded into Anoka County and to their delivery points. 

State Highway Commissioner Charles Babcock broke the protest a week later.  After investigating the issue, Babcock used the authority of the Highway Patrol to prevent any halting of traffic on state highways.  The picketers reacted to the law enforcement by placing nail studded boards and rubber belts in the roadway.   After a few days of this angry reaction the picket lines disappeared.  The protest was broken. 

Although the farm protest lost this battle, they won the war.  In February 1933, newly elected Governor Floyd B. Olson issued an executive order halting farm foreclosures in Minnesota.  Nationally, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Farm Credit Association and the Agriculture Adjustment Act providing further aid to farmers. 

Briefly, because of plummeting farm prices and increasing foreclosures, the United States experienced a radical farm movement unusual to the industry.  Farmers in Sherburne and Anoka County played significant roles in expressing dissatisfaction to the state and national leadership.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sherburne County Ice Harvests

Ice harvesting developed into a significant industry in early Sherburne County.  Particularly around the City of Big Lake, ice earned a national reputation for purity and quality.  The seasonal work also established itself as a significant part of the local economy.  The lucrative process of harvesting the ice also proved tricky and dangerous.

Ice Cutters and the Big Lake Ice Company warehouse
 circa 1910
News reports in the 1920s and 1930s suggested a significant contribution to the local economy.  The Sherburne County Star News in 1925 quoted Justus DeBooy, the president of the Big Lake Ice Company.  He estimated harvesting the ice led to the employment of nearly 150 men on a seasonal basis.  He went on to suggest nearly 55,000 tons of ice would be harvested from Big lake alone.  The company warehoused 35,000 tons, while the Northern Pacific Railway company hauled away 20,000 tons for its own use. 
The technique to harvest ice also provides interesting insight.  Ice is plowed and cross cut into 14 inch by 30 inch squares.  These squares measure 20 inches deep.   Next, deeper cuts form large rafts of ice.  These rafts are “floated” to a conveyor belt.  Final cuts are made to break up the raft and the ice loaded on the belt to be hauled into the warehouse. 

Working on slippery ice, that is also floating free in the lake, the work can quickly turn to disaster if the harvesters are not sure footed. 

Yet, each year, the ice on lakes around Sherburne County are harvested, sold to the railroad companies of shipped to larger metropolitan areas for public consumption. 

A significant contribution to the county’s economy took place in the months of January and February of each year in the early history of Sherburne County.    

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Celebrating The Armistice—the End of the War to End All Wars

The cease fire to end World War One came on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.  When news arrived in Sherburne County, celebrations started early in the morning and continued throughout the day.

A.E.F. troops in France, 1918
“The Union church bell began clanging out the good tidings to the sleeping public” the Sherburne County Star News reported.  “Soon the school bell joined in.  A freight engineer went through town with his whistle blowing drum beats.”  The paper went on to report the community anticipated the news.  “Without any further information Elk River knew that Germany had surrendered.” 
With the news, a spontaneous celebration involved the entire city of Elk River.  A spontaneous parade developed, taking over the main streets throughout the city.  Businessmen closed their shops and joined the celebration.  “Old and young were included in the ranks of the paraders,” the newspaper reported.  “Every conceivable noise making instrument was used in announcing the progress of the revelers.” 

The entire country had been anticipating the end of fighting.  Unfortunately, one week earlier the local news had prematurely reported and end to the war, only to disappoint Elk River citizens with a retraction of the report.  In spite of the false report most citizens realized peace was near. 

The readers of the Star News celebrated the end of the war and predicted this would introduce an extended time of peace.  “Never again will the wires carry such momentous news as was flashed over the country,” the paper predicted.  Unfortunately, only 23 years later, the wires carried news of a new war to end all wars.  The Great War would become known as World War One and a new generation of men would be called upon to defend the country.  But on November 11, 1918, the celebration carried the day.  The war ended and peace was at hand.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Remembering Veterans This Year

With the fast approaching Veteran’s Day, we wanted to take a moment and thank all veterans for their service.  We also wanted to recognize some of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.

Men who died in the service of their country from Sherburne County, Minnesota include:

Leo A. McBride
Arthur Bernard Embretson
Oscar Engbloom
James L Brown
Funeral service of Charles Brown, Becker, MN circa 1944
Lyle Illif
Howard Palmer
Robert Darrow
Harold Gohman
Charles Brown
George Meyers
Lawrence E. Lindorf
Reginald “Mike” Smith
Robert Brown
Orvile Anderson
Donald Borst
Orville Hartman
Robert Bell
Carl Trovall
Carl N. Nielson

This is not intended as a comprehensive list of men from Sherburne County who have died in service.  We would welcome any information about others who have served.

Thank you and have a safe Veteran’s Day 2017

Friday, October 27, 2017

"Talkies" Make It To Elk River

Transitioning from silent movies to “talkies” challenged any number of local movie theaters in the United States.  Elk River held a unique position in entertainment history as the local newspaper documented and criticized the efforts to introduce sound motion pictures to Sherburne County. 
Advertisement for the first sound motion
picture at the Elk Theatre, March 1930

The manager of the Elk Theatre announced plans to introduce “talkies” in the spring of 1930.  Referred to as “Manager Kizer,” the Sherburne County Star News reported the theater manager would close entertainment spot in February.  After two weeks of redecorating and remodeling, “talkies” would entertain the Sherburne County public.  The theater set a goal of February 22, 1930 to introduce the new technology.  Kizer missed his deadline and opened in March. 

The technology to the new motion pictures “gives the very best of sound picture effects,” Kizer promised.  And, with much fanfare and advertising, the first motion picture with sound in Elk River offered two different selections.  The grand opening featured a musical, “Words and Music.”  A midweek offering featured Will Rogers in the movie “They Had To See Paris.”  Unfortunately, reviews of the “talkies” suggested the sound from the films was an inferior form of entertainment.  The newspaper noted a “rasping and echoing which bothered a great deal.”  Kizer and the newspaper speculated the theater needed some renovations to improve acoustics.  The Elk Theatre discontinued “talkies” until the sound issues could be resolved. 

After some renovation work, motion pictures with sound reappeared in the Elk Theatre in September of 1930.  The reintroduction of sound featured a well known movie, “The Sophomore” starring Eddie Quillen and Sally O’Neil. The Star News reported a much improved sound system with the theater renovations. 

The newspaper failed to review the improvements to the theater.  But, the hard work of Kizer must have paid off.  The theater continued to show “talkies” while the silent motion pictures ended in Elk River.