Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, November 20, 2020

Communication With The Church Bell


Union Church Bell currently housed at the 
Sherburne History Center
As we explore communication devices in Sherburne County, attention to the telephone and the telegraph remain important considerations.  Yet, before the telephone and telegraph, the county needed some technology to sound fire alarms and arouse the citizenry in the middle of the night.  Every small community wrestled with the question of how to sound an alarm.  Some communities used steam whistles from factories.  Others used the ever-present church bell.

The leaders of Big Lake chose to utilize local church bells.  An example of the church bell warning system remains in the collections of the Sherburne History Center.  The church bell from the Union Church served for many years as part of the warning system for Big lake.  Some residents remember, “you could hear that bell for miles.”  With every fire, or other catastrophe, the Union Church bell rang out.

Installed at the church in 1891, Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company from Troy, New York manufactured the bell.  The Meneely company crafted bells first in 1826 and remained in business until 1952.  In the 126 years of business, the company produced over 65,000 bells.  Meneely reportedly used melted down, surplus cannons from the Civil War to create the Union Church bell.  The Union Church building originally resided near the southeast corner of Highways 10 and 25, the center of Big Lake. 

Before the days of telephones and mass communications, the ringing bell from a local church, like the Union Church bell, served to warn and bring out community members.  The clear sound of a bell, from a church located in the central part of town served as the early warning system for more communities like Big Lake


Friday, November 13, 2020

Sherburne County Voting Rights


With the end of the 2020 elections, an interesting letter in the archival collections of the Sherburne History Center warrants some discussion.

As background information, the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote in national elections passed in August 1920.  Prior to the approval of the 19th Amendment, in Minnesota, women voted in some local elections.  Of particular interest, women voted in elections concerning local school boards.  This makes sense when we realize a responsibility of all women concerned the education of children.  This belief extends back into the 1800s.

In a letter sent to concerned citizens of Clear Lake, Sherburne County, Assistant Attorney General Montreville J. Brown reaffirmed the right of women to vote in local school board issues.  His only caveat to this voting right being that women must be residents of the district in question and “they are of the age twenty-one years and upward and possess the qualifications requisite of a male voter.” 

The voting history of Minnesota and Sherburne County emphasizes that the question of voting rights lacked simplicity.  Suffrage maintained several nuances, rather than simply suggesting women won the right to vote.  Women maintained some voting rights; the 19th amendment expanded those rights. 

Understanding these rights leads down an interesting historic path.

Friday, November 6, 2020

More Telephone History


As a follow-up to the recent report documenting the development of telephone technology in Sherburne County, a collection of documents highlighting the day-to-day operations of the telephone companies came to light.  The by-laws and expectations of users of the telephone company provide interesting insight.  The rules and bylaws from the Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company, and the Haven Rural Telephone Company provide details of construction as well as telephone etiquette for the 1910s and 1920s.  these documents provide some enlightening insight into early Sherburne County.

The Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company organized in 1905 with a strict set of bylaws and rules of etiquette.  Article 2 of the bylaws set down strict penalties for failure to follow the rules of the company: “Should any members of this company neglect to keep their phone in order or willfully disobey the rules or bylaws or do anything to hinder the harmonious working of such lines, the directors may disconnect their lines from the system.”   The bylaws went on to state, “Phones are not intended for playthings.  Parents are earnestly requested to prohibit hallowing, whistling, or singing in the phone by children and others or in any way obstructing the line to the great inconvenience and annoyance of those who have business to transact.”

Haven Rural Telephone
Company incorporation
Finally, the bylaws emphasized the telephone as a tool for business.  Article 5 of the bylaws stated, “Business must always have preference to mere pleasure or amusement.”  The rules also limited conversation time, “No one shall be entitled to the use of the line for more than five consecutive minutes especially when someone else is waiting to use the line.” 

Equally interesting, the contract between the Haven Rural Telephone Company and Northern States Power Company, signed in 1924, details the construction requirements.  The telephone lines installed by Northern States extend from the St. Cloud city limits to the town of haven.  Along the line the company agreed to use 20-foot cedar poles with five feet of creosote to prevent rot.  The agreement went so far as to specify the sized of galvanized nails and the types of insulators used on the poles.

The contracts, bylaws, agreements, and meeting minutes provide remarkably detailed insight into the operations of the rural telephone companies and the habits and behavior of Sherburne County residents and their early use of the telephone.  Documents such as these serve as a valuable resource to understanding Sherburne County

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Telephone in Early Sherburne County

A new exhibit on the Sherburne History Center web page explores postcards and their popularity as a means of communication.  An equally interesting development in Sherburne County history is the adoption and use of the telephone.  Beginning in the early 1890s and continuing through the 1920s several small telephone companies organized in Sherburne County to offer this unique method of communication.  Delving into the early history of companies such as the Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company and the Haven Telephone Company, and the efforts of anonymous companies in Elk River provide an interesting appreciation of a rising telephone technology in the county. 

Drawing of candlestick style
telephone common in 1900

As early as 1893, the opportunity to reach out to friends in distant communities arrived in Elk River.  The Elk River Star News reported a telephone company installed a “hello line” at the Merchant Hotel.  A telephone at the hotel allowed residents to communicate as far as Winona.  The company promised the service would soon reach Chicago.  An amazing technology that allowed individuals to reach and connect with distant family and friends.

The hello line, although exciting, functioned with some drawbacks.  Often long-distance connections required fifteen minutes, or more, to complete.  Charges for the call seemed relatively expensive, charging five cents per minute.  Privacy also seemed a challenge.  Within a year the telephone moved to the Babcock and Son Store.  A room in the back of the store promised more privacy than the office of the hotel. 

As the 1890s progressed, the value of telephone communications became more apparent.  The newspaper reported in 1899 plans being developed to provide a local exchange for Elk River residents.  In 1902 telephone service within Elk River came available as a local telephone exchange opened.  Within seven years Elk River and larger areas of Sherburne County gained access to the telephone.  In 1906 the Sherburne County Rural Telephone Company connected the communities in the western portion of the county.  Telephone lines connected Big Lake with Becker, Zimmerman, Clear Lake, Orrock, Santiago, and Blue Hill.  That same year, the Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company provided additional connections between Elk River and Zimmerman. 

Beginning in the 1910s and into the 1920s, more technology and development enhanced the business and culture of the telephone in Sherburne County. Creating connections first in Elk River, with other parts of Sherburne County following suit, the telephone developed into an important tool for communication.  Letters and postcards remained important, yet the new technology quickly moved to the forefront of daily life.  Beginning in 1893 and continuing into the 1920s, connecting Sherburne County residents became an important feature of Sherburne County.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Labor Shortages in WW II Sherburne County


Labor shortages, in World War Two the phrase commonly referred to necessary work in the factories and armament industry.  Often associated with Rosie the Riveter, the phrase suggested a shortage of workers to man the factories and build necessary war machines.  Yet, the phrase carried a tragic and not often considered meaning in Sherburne County.  Although the federal government exempted most farm workers from the draft and created programs to provide more farm workers, the area around Sherburne County witnessed a severe shortage of labor during the war years of 1943 to 1945.  These labor shortages in farming caused more than a few farm failures and forced auctions.

            With the opening months of 1943, a new phase of the war developed.  The conclusion of the North Africa campaign signaled success for allied troops.  Plans for invasion of Italy continued.  And the offensive against japan showed measured success.  All of this demanded more war material.  Rationing and increased production placed greater stress on farming communities like Sherburne County.  Some farmers found it impossible to carry on their work.  In particular, farm workers seemed impossible to hire.

            The federal government created programs to train teen age boys to work on the farms during summer months.  Still later, the government enlisted prisoners of war, from Italy and Germany, to work in the food processing plants and in some of the larger farms.  Yet, the programs fell short for Sherburne county farmers.  The Sherburne County Star News, in April 1943, reported on a program to train young men in the Twin Cities to work on farms throughout the state.  Other reports noted Italian POW’s working in the potato warehouse in Princeton.  Yet very few of the programs and workers made their way into Sherburne County.  The government efforts fell significantly short.  

This inadequate effort led to farm failures and forced auction liquidations around Sherburne County.  Several advertisements for auctions appeared in the newspapers, beginning in 1943 and continuing into 1945.  Many of the ads explained the inability to find workers as the cause for the auctions. 

Labor shortages remains an unusual phrase in exploring World War Two and farm production.  Yet, the newspaper columns during those years reveal a series of unfortunate farm failures as a result of labor shortages and the lack of manpower in the rural counties like Sherburne County.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Charles M. Schulz--Another Minnesota Artist


A few weeks ago, I wrote of artists from Minnesota.  I failed to mention perhaps the most significant artist in Minnesota history: Charles Monroe Schulz, (1922-2000).  A master illustrator and creator of the widely read and enjoyed comic strip of all time: Peanuts. 

Schulz, born in Minneapolis, lived in the twin cities for nearly forty years.  The exceptions to this, was during his service in World War Two and a brief time spent in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not published his first original illustration.  A 1937 drawing featuring the family dog, a hunting dog that ate unusual household items such as pins and tacks.  This illustration he signed as “Sparky” a family nickname for the young Schulz.

Seventy years ago, October 2, 1950, seven newspapers published the first Peanuts comic strip.  The syndicated comic grew to the point 2600 newspapers in 75 countries carried the daily antics of the Peanuts gang.  Schulz instated on doing the drawings and lettering himself.  In the end he produced an estimated 17,897 strips.  The comic also outlived the creator.  Schulz died on February 12, 2000.  The last Peanuts strip published the next day.  

Although the comic syndicate owned the strips, they agreed with Schulz that no other artist be allowed to carry on with the Peanuts strip.  Since his death, until today, the Peanuts strip reruns remain a popular segment of local newspapers. 

Although lived outside of Minnesota for the last forty some years of his life, Charles Monroe Schulz remains a significant artist in Minnesota history.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Visual Artists in Minnesota


Minnesota Artist Anton
Gag (1859-1908),
self portrait

This past week, at the Sherburne History Center, the annual Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase exhibited work from several local artists.  With art history playing around in my mind, I wanted to take a moment and give mention to a couple of Minnesota visual artists.  I want to acknowledge there is a force within the state that inspires painters, illustrators, photographers, and other visual artists.  Here are four artists born or lived in Minnesota and played a significant impact on the national art world.

Sarah Louise Judd (1802-1881) born in Farmington, Connecticut.  She came to Stillwater, Minnesota in 1845 as an educator.  She also produced daguerreotypes and later, other portrait images.  She is regarded as the first photographer in the state of Minnesota.

Perhaps the best known of all Minnesota visual artists, Wanda Gag (1893-1946) trained under the tutelage of her father, artist Anton Gag (1859-1908).  Anton immigrated to Minnesota, settling in New Ulm where seven children, including Wanda, were born.  Anton worked as a photographer and painter, best known for his oils depicting events of the Dakota War.  Wanda trained at the Minneapolis School of Art and became a major illustrator and artist.  Perhaps, best known for her published work, Millions of Cats.

Another Minnesota artist, Adolf Dehn (1895-1968), worked closely with Wanda Gag.  As a lithographer, Dehn gained fame in the school of Regionalism and Social Realism.  Although a brief period of artistic expression, Regionalism gave focus to views and images from the Midwest.  As a significant artist in the school, Dehn received two Guggenheim fellowships to pursue and expand the influence of the period. His work appeared in a variety of popular magazines in the 1940s through 1960s, including: Vogue, New Yorker, and Life magazine.

Adolf Dehn, Anton and Wanda Gag, and Sarah Louise Judd serve as significant reminders of the many visual artists to develop in Minnesota.  And, with the Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase, we continue to explore the artists and their imagination from Minnesota.