Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, July 10, 2020

Life in Meadow Vale

A recent photograph published on the internet, generated a variety of questions regarding the location and history of Meadow Vale.  We will make an effort to provide more details about life in the area known as Meadow Vale, possibly fill in some details about the community 

Meadow Vale was originally a farming community located in the north west corner of Elk River township.  For individuals looking at a map, consider section 6 of township 33, range 26, with some overlap into section 31, township 34, range 26. 

Meadow Vale Schoolhouse
Perhaps the most common photograph associated with the community continues to be the image of District 28 schoolhouse (references vary, some research refers to the school as District 18).  The school, along with the nearby church, served as the community centers for Meadow Vale.  Still later, the local Grange Hall also acted as a community gathering place. 
Memories of the community, written by Mildred Hill Felix, remember the borders of the unincorporated neighborhood.  “Meadow Vale, in those days extended from the George Keasling place to the Antlett place, then west and south to the Taylor and Englebretson places.  No more.  Anyone coming from other communities were considered outsiders.” 

The schoolhouse and church (Meadow Vale Union Church) were both built on the southwest area of the community.  “About a quarter of a mile east of the school, a lovely little church was built on the south side of the road,” Ms. Felix remembered.  “One summer evening during an electrical storm, lightning struck this church and it burned.  Another church was then built on the opposite side of the road.  This church was later sold and moved away.” 

Meadow Vale Union Church
Several of the community events in Meadow Vale included a literary club and missionary society meeting.  The Felix memoirs noted, the literary club “was just what the name implied—discussing of books, poems and other writings.”  She went on to remember, the missionary society “met monthly and there was always a big dinner, and all the men attended this dinner.  I’ve known there to be as many as 15 or 16 cakes, and many tried to taste them all.”  The missionary society raised money during the meetings to support missionary work in Turkey. 

Ms. Felix also remembered the origins of the Sherburne County Fair in Meadow Vale.  “A Meadow Vale fair was started showing needle work, baked goods, garden crops, fruits, etc.  People came from Elk River, Big Lake, Orrock, Zimmerman and around.”  The Sherburne County Fair grew out of this Meadowvale fair and moved to Elk River. 

In the years of its existence, Meadow Vale residents clearly maintained a busy community life.  Between church and school, fairs and philosophical societies remained active.  Even in this isolated area of Sherburne County.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Sherburne County Dairy Industry

Orrock Creamery circa 1900
Notice the multitude of milk cans in each wagon,
 waiting to do business with the Creamery

With the closing of June as National Dairy Month, it seemed appropriate to recognize the importance of the dairy industry and the creameries to Sherburne County.  For decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, farmers recognized Central Minnesota as a significant producer of dairy.  As late as the 1980s, the region was recognized as the “golden buckle of the dairy belt.”  In the middle of this region, Sherburne County creameries offered quality milk, butter and cheese.  The multitude of milk producers and their distributors in Sherburne County need to be recognized for their impact on the local economy and history.  From the Elk River Creamery, and its related Twin Cities Milk Producers Association, to the Orrock Creamery and Becker Creamery, they all served a significant role in the agriculture history of the county.

Advertisement for Becker Creamery
Local historian Betty Belanger remembered the dairy industry as significant to the local farm economy.  The milk checks, the money paid out to farmers for their daily milk deliveries, served as the only cash money farmers received on a regular basis.  An early photograph of the Orrock Creamery shows several farmers, with wagons loaded with dairy products, waiting to deliver.  Unfortunately, the Orrock Creamery burned down in 1907 and never rebuilt. 

The Becker Creamery, Santiago Creamery and, more importantly, the Elk River Creamery filled the void to purchase from local dairy farmers.  The Becker Creamery dates to 1906, while the Orrock Creamery opened for business by at least 1890.  The Elk River Creamery also dates to the late 1800s. 
Elk River Creamery circa 1900
The Elk River Creamery served the local farming community until 1921.  That year the business sold to the Twin cities Milk Production Association.  They built a new building, serving the community until 1957. 

Although the primary product for all the operations was milk, cheese and, later, butter products came out of the creameries.  In the early years, farmers in the county regarded buttermilk as waste.  After production of butter, the farmers recovered the buttermilk to feed to their pigs. 

The large number of creameries in the county suggests they played an important role in the local economy.  As Betty Belanger noted, dairy as a cash crop impacted a significant number of farmers in Sherburne County.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Early Conservation in Sherburne County

Meeting in the basement of the Big Lake Municipal Liquor Store, September 3, 1941, a group of men and women living in Sherburne County came together and organized the Sherburne County Conservation Club.  For the next forty-one years they met to develop and discuss plans for very necessary projects, to aid conservation in Sherburne County. 

Because of drought, over-farming and several natural disasters, land in Sherburne County in the 1930s rapidly deteriorated.  Zimmerman was known as the poison ivy capitol of the world.  Sandstorms were so common, “there were days when Highway 10 was closed,” club member Art Nelson remembered.  

An early project for the club called for tree plantings to develop wind breaks and stop the soil erosion.  Over the years, the club estimates millions of trees were planted in Sherburne County as part of the Conservation Club program. 

Construction of a cement dam on Mud Lake, circa 1955, by
the Sherburne County Conservation Club volunteers
Other projects in the early years included developing fish rearing ponds to raise and transplant pike into county lakes.  The club also built a dam on Mud Lake, also known as Orrock Lake, to promote wild rice development.  The club also experimented with Pheasant propagation and wild turkey introduction.  Both of these projects appeared less than successful because of the lack of understanding on how to raise pheasants and turkeys.  The wild turkeys originated from Texas.  The birds apparently could not adapt to the changing weather extremes. 

 In the 1960s and 70s, the state and federal governments superseded the plans of the Sherburne County conservation Club.  By 1974, the club ended their annual improvement projects.  In 1982, the club quietly disbanded.  At times their activities generated some controversy, yet, the goals of the group enhanced life in Sherburne County until a time when the government took an interest.  Starting with a meeting in the basement of a liquor store, county residents identified a need and moved to improve their community.  Not always successful in their efforts, their early attempts mark an important chapter in Sherburne County development and conservation.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Typical Tasks for Homesteading Sherburne County

Recent research at the Sherburne History Center disclosed a copy of memoirs, describing the work of early settlement on farmland in the county. Written by Vernon Bailey, it provides interesting insight in the multitude of tasks needed to ready a farmstead for occupation. 

Between other work during the winter, Father and Charles cut and hewed the logs and timber for the new house, hauled them together in the snow.  When spring came, the foundations of the house were laid, the walls were rapidly built up of great logs, fitted tight together and hewed smooth on the inner surface.  The roof was framed of dry tamarack rafters, wide roof boards, and good pine shingles.  A cellar for vegetables was dug under the house after the roof was on but later an outside bank cellar was constructed in the side hill at one corner of the house where milk and meat and vegetables and fruit could be kept cool in the summer and from freezing in winter. 
When the house neared completion,
a clearing was made on the warm slope nearby and garden vegetables, potatoes, turnips, corn, peas, and beans were planted in the rich mellow wood soil and before summer was over an abundant supply of fresh vegetables yielded luxurious fare for the rest of the season and a substantial store to carry the family through the winter.  Our two cows supplied milk and butter and a small flock of hens not only supplied our eggs but increased so that henceforth we had eggs to use and some to sell. 
In all likelihood, the memories of Vernon Bailey described the typical task of settlement in Sherburne County.  The process of building the cabin, building the barn, and establishing a vegetable garden remained the priorities for most settlement farmers.  Only after ensuring the survival of the family, the cash crops and building of the successful farmstead became a major concern. 

Vernon Bailey in his early years of
 his career as a naturalist for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service.
The construction skills of Hiram Bailey, Vernon’s Father, appeared as a unique feature of the Bailey settlement memoir.  In his youth Hiram Bailey developed master skills as a bricklayer, stonemason, and carpenter.  These skills allowed him to command triple wages for construction work around Sherburne County. Hiram Bailey’s skills allowed him to earn cash money, a guarantee the family never lacked for necessities.  

Although there remained unique features to the Bailey family settlement in Sherburne County, the actual construction of the farmstead illustrates typical behavior of early settlers of the county.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Memories of Strawberries

Strawberries and west Sherburne County seemed synonymous for a number of years.  At the highpoint, the Becker Strawberry Days Festival solidified the connection.  The lesser known memoirs of Sherburne County residents remain equally important to connecting the local strawberry crop and the county.  A brief paragraph in the published memories of Walter Gohman bear out this important connection:
I remember vividly a strawberry feed.  There was a strawberry patch that went the full length of the garden.  The Gohman farm had some of the most fertile soil in Minnesota and the strawberry patch produced a large crop of luscious berries.  A big strawberry feed was in order.  In the morning when they separated the milk, a large pitcher of cream was saved.  The pitcher or cream was placed on ice in the ice house.  A long table was set up by placing planks on saw horses in from of the long porch.  We were each given a bowl and told to pick our own berries.  When we were all seated beside our big bowl of berried, Bert’s Anne went to the ice house to get the pitcher of cream.  As she returned across the lawn, a large garter snake crawled across her foot.  She screamed and tossed the pitcher into the air.  What was intended to be strawberries with sugar and cream turned out to be strawberries with just sugar. 

Although created as a means to sell more fruit, the Becker Strawberry
Festival highlights the important connection between the county and
the local strawberry farms
Walter Gohman didn’t enjoy his berries and cream on that day, yet his memories reinforce the importance and enduring impact of strawberries in Sherburne County. The berries continue to impact the community and the economy to this day.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Fear and Anger in Elk River

An abundance of stories exist describing the anger and backlash against Germany during World War One.  Numerous stories tell of American cities changing street names to no longer reflect a German influence. Or, restaurants changing menu items, such as the hamburger suddenly became a Liberty sandwich, or sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.  Memoirs in the Sherburne History Center collections serve as reminders that Elk River displayed an animosity towards Germany.  The story of this animosity, however, faded from memory and did not come back to light until the 1990s.  The actions in Elk River expose an interesting character trait for the small city. 

In 1917, with the United States preparing for war, patriotic fervor seemed omnipresent.  In the case of Elk River High School students initiated action to force the removal of German language instruction from the curriculum.  Students walked out on strike, refusing to return to the classroom until the teaching of German ceased.  The action threatened to divide the town until the County Attorney entered the fray to negotiate an end to the protest.  The teaching of German would stop, the textbooks were removed from the school, and students were required to attend early morning classes to make-up for lost instruction. 
Although during WWI German text books were removed
from the schools many German language books like
this collection of German folk tales remained in the
households around Sherburne County

The students returned to the classroom and the protest faded from memory until 1990.  In the 90s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church developed plans to paint the exterior of their building.  At the top of the building a slender finial “stretched to the heavens.”  When the painters began to paint the belfry, they found the usual debris of frayed rope from the bell tower, and a large number of weathered, rotten books.  The German textbooks from 7 decades earlier.  Apparently, the German textbooks from the World War One protest had been stored in the church belfry and forgotten.  Only to come to light when the new paint work neared completion. 

The memory of the disappearing German textbooks suggests interesting insight into the community of Elk River.  While the war inspired heated passions that threatened to divide the town, the County Attorney and leaders of Holy Trinity church came forward in an effort to reduce the tensions and find a solution to the student demands.  By the time the war ended and life in Elk River returned to some semblance of normal, the textbooks were forgotten and allowed to sit in the church belfry for nearly 70 more years. 

In large cities and in small towns, World War One generated deep passions and revealed significant emotions for the times.  Fear and anger revealed themselves in the populace of Elk River in these years of the first great war of the twentieth century.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sherburne County Before Electricity

Electricity in Sherburne County generates a variety of unique stories about living and growing up in the county.  Providing electricity to the entire county stretched, in time, for over forty years.  Electrical power first arrived in Elk River in 1917.  In other areas, isolated farms, in the county, electricity came available in the 1950s.  Stories of electricity and the times before electrical power provide a unique perspective on life in Sherburne County.  The edited oral history of Angela Goenner. of Clear Lake, is one of these unique stories.  

Born in Nebraksa, Angela (Eikmeier) Goenner found her way to Minnesota as a child.  Her parents operated a general store in Stearns County before moving to Sherburne County.  Angela married Ernest Goenner in 1933.  She lived on the family farm, in Clear lake, until her death in 2001.  She remembers her family getting electricity in 1948.

I can remember a lot about what it was like before electricity, I'll tell you.  The icebox with a little pan underneath for the water that you had to drain every so often.  We were lucky to have the ice because we lived right next to a lake here, you know.  We made our own ice. 
The first thing we got was an electric refrigerator.  That was my prime thing that I wanted was a good electric refrigerator because I was sick and tired of dumping that water all the time for keeping things.  It kept things so much cleaner and also cooler.  It was so much more handy.  We put a motor on the cream separators so we could run that by electricity.  Then we had lights in the barn and lights in the house.  Before that our lights were Coleman gas lamps, gas lanterns.  The boys used lanterns out in the barn and we had what they call the gas lantern.  I don't know if you have any idea what they are like?  It was so nice just to be able to flick that little thing over there and get the lights in the house.  It was really, really wonderful.  Then, the ironing.  I got a nice electric iron.  Before that I had a gas iron.  I don't know if you remember what they were like.  They were an iron with a little bulb on the end of it that you put gasoline in.  It had to be white gas, you know, real good gasoline.  Then, you pumped the pressure in there, and then that would force the thing, and you lit it, and then that would keep the iron hot, and you could iron with it—rather than wait till bread baking day so you could get your irons hot on the stove.  We used to do it that way.  We had irons that you heated on the stove and did the ironing with that.  Then when I got that little gas iron, oh, I thought I was in seventh heaven, you know, because that worked so slick.  You could keep right on going.  But then when the electricity came along, all you had to do was just plug that thing in and it was hot. 
Electric iron circa 1950
The irons themselves were much lighter to handle back and forth as compared to those chunks of iron that you had that you put the little handle in, on the stove.  I can remember doing the ironing with those, and back and forth to the stove, get another fresh iron, come over here and iron some more.  Then when that gets too cold, you take it back, and set it on the stove, and take another one.  You had a set of three, with three you could pretty well go along with it.  And you could always kind of plan your ironing around the day when you baked bread, because you had to have the stove hot anyhow to get the oven warm enough to bake the bread.  That was just a good day to keep the irons hot on the stove.  You had to kind of compromise with a lot of those things, especially in the summertime.  In the wintertime, the stove was lit all the time.  In the summertime, you didn't light the big stove because a lot of times it got too hot from that big wood stove.  We had little kerosene stoves that we used, but you couldn't put the irons on those, and bread baking was still done with the wood stove.  One day a week, you always had to light that big wood stove and bake bread and iron. 
Pre-electricity sadiron was used by heating on top of
a wood burning stove, generally in groups of three.

Just one example of the challenges of pre-electricity life in Sherburne County, ironing presented some unique challenges to daily life.  Other simple tasks with their unique challenges might include reading and writing, cooking, and washing clothes.  Clearly, pre-electricity life in Sherburne County presented a uniquely challenging lifestyle.