Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, March 27, 2020

The Fairway Market and George Dietz

In examining the history of the Elk River business district, one grocery store continuously receives mention: George’s Fairway Market.  Exploring the brief history of the Fairway Market provides an interesting perspective on the personality of Elk River and the business philosophies of community leaders.

In an oral history at the Sherburne History Center, George Dietz remembered the early years of operating the Fairway Market.  Dietz grew up in the retail business.  “My dad belonged to the Minnesota Food Retailer Association,” he remembered.  While moving to several retail operations early in his career, he gained his greatest experience at National Tea.  “I ended up being the produce manager at Excelsior,” he said.

The Fairway Market featuring its low prices
In August 1953, Dietz bought the Fairway Market in Elk River.  “Ann’s dad was in business in Victoria.  He was on the Board of Directors of Fairway.  There was no way I could even consider any other type of store, except a Fairway.” 

The unique feature of Dietz’s Fairway, the detail that set him apart from other stores in Elk River was his policy of cash and carry.  “Clint Walker had the Red & White [Grocery Store] and then Donald Davis had a store on Main Street next to the post office.  He was the big gun in Elk River.  They were both charge and delivery and I went cash and carry.  So I reduced all the prices in the whole store so that we would be below them.  We opened up with $1500 a week.”

In addition to his low prices, Dietz worked with a very loyal staff.  Less than a year after he opened his store, George Dietz suffered from an attack of polio. “It took me a good three, four months to recover once I got home,” he remembered. “Mrs. Kittridge, Mrs.Stafford, Mabel Johnson, Lorraine Hohlen. Then we had a meat man, and Chuck Bartusch as the carryout.  They kept the store going.” 

Until the early 1960s, George Dietz operated the Fairway Market.  Anticipating the developing suburbs, he built a new store north of Elk River.  Yet, for ten years, with low prices, cash and carry policies, and loyal staff, the Fairway held a unique place in the business history of downtown Elk River. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Clear Lake House Another Memorable Hotel in the County

Discussing Sherburne County History, the Brown Hotel, in Big lake, is often mentioned as an outstanding example of fine food and hospitality.  In Elk River, the Blanchett Hotel and the Riverside Inn maintained reputations as hotels serving delicious food and cordial surroundings.  Yet, an equally auspicious, but overlooked, hostelry entertained and housed visitors in Clear Lake for 47 years.  The Clear Lake House, an inn offering hospitality to travelers and long-term guests, anchored a section of the Clear Lake business district near the railroad depot.  The history of the inn on the west side of the county warrants attention.

Clear Lake House, circa 1900
Built in 1880 by C. W. Potter, the hotel replaced a railway eatery that had burned down a year earlier.  The hotel offered a restaurant for railroad passengers and train crews.  It also provided travelers a brief respite from long rail journeys through Minnesota.  Potter ran the hotel for nine years, passing ownership to Phillip Schwab, who served as the first of a long list of short-term owners and operators.

In 1890, the Clear Lake House earned a reputation as one of the largest and best hotels between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud.  It also offered very reasonable rates. By 1891, the inn advertised fifteen rooms and a fine livery for travelers through the area.  

In 1905, the hotel received less than favorable news coverage when the local papers reported guests being robbed.  A tramp relieved Charles Haaf, the son of the hotel manager, of $15, guest Joseph Feuker of $5, and the nearby night operator at the railroad of a pair of shoes.  Unfortunately, the thief escaped capture.

The hotel continued to receive guests for another 22 years.  In 1927 the hotel closed for renovations and never reopened.  In January 1929, the Sherburne County Star News reported “the old building known as the Clear Lake Hotel opposite the Northern Pacific Depot is being razed this week.”  Charles Haaf purchased the building with the intention of using the lumber to build a barn and poultry house on his farm site.  

In 47 years, the Clear Lake House offered good food and hospitality at reasonable rates.  The hotel contributes an important page to the history of Sherburne County along with the inns at Big Lake and Elk River.

Friday, March 20, 2020

An Epidemic From 100 Years Ago

A goal with this blog is to review the history of Sherburne County and try to create some perspective on the events in the past.  With the current COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world, it seemed a good time to review a pandemic from 100 years ago:

In rural Minnesota, during the late 1800s, death by disease seemed accepted as part of life.  Families experienced high mortality rates on infants and the aged.  Individuals living past five years old promised a better chance of experiencing old age.  This all changed with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 to 1920.  For almost two years, waves of influenza circled the world, infecting an estimated 500 million people and killing anywhere between 17 and 50 million.  On the local level, the disease took hold, yet in actual numbers, the death rate seems quite small.  The county leaders took quick action to prevent the spread of influenza and this way prevented a higher death toll. 

Samples of news coverage by the Star News in 1919
In 1918, the population of Sherburne County amounted to approximately 9,000 individuals.  As the flu epidemic spread, in the autumn season, schools closed.  County officials urged churches and entertainment businesses to lock their doors.  The closures occurred sporadically as the epidemic subsided and later reappeared.  As the flu continued into 1919 and 1920, officially, the county noted twelve deaths.  In one instance tragedy struck three members of the Amos West family.

Mrs. Amos West, the Star News reported, gave birth to twins.  In her weakened condition, the influenza took over.  She died shortly afterwards.  One of the babies also died. Within two days, Mr. Amos West also died.  Four orphans remained of the family.  Extended family from Wisconsin adopted the four surviving children.

Although the official death toll for the county remains at twelve, very often folks stricken by influenza seemed to recover, only to die of other afflictions later in the year.  The newspaper reported a significant rise in pneumonia, and death from pneumonia, following the influenza epidemic. 
A second wave of Influenza predicted in the fall of 1919

Equally disconcerting, the influenza infected and killed as many young and middle-age adults.  Survival of infancy no longer promised life to old age.

Fear of the Influenza Epidemic for those two years significantly impacted the economy and character of small communities like Sherburne County.  Action by county leaders should be applauded.  They set a path to reduce the tragedy of the epidemic for the two-year crisis.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Robert Darrow: The Ultimate Sacrifice

Every so often I strive to recognize Sherburne County men and women in military service.  Individuals who sacrificed for their country.  I want to acknowledge the life of Robert Darrow, a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, who died in combat in Italy in September 1943. 

Robert Darrow, born in Elk River; for a short time, lived in Big Lake before returning to the city.  He graduated from Elk River High School in 1939.  He trained as a pilot at the North Dakota State School of Science.  He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 and received his commission as Lieutenant in July 1942. 

Bob Darrow received some recognition as an excellent pilot.  The Sherburne County Star News published a report of Darrow, during a training session in Louisiana, landing a crippled plane at high speed.  He kept the plane, with damaged wings, in the air for an hour to allow his crew to bail out.  To a man, the crew stayed with Darrow.  He managed to land the plane with no casualties to anyone on the ground or to his crew. 

With his training complete, the Army Air Corps ordered Darrow to the European theater.  There during the Salerno Campaign, the beginning of the Allied invasion of Italy, the Allies put every pilot in the region in the air.  Towards the end of the campaign, in September 1943, Darrow flew a Mitchell B-25 bomber.  On September 19, he was shot down and killed.  

In reviewing the service of men and women from Sherburne County there exists the cliché of the ultimate sacrifice.  It may be used too often.  Yet, in the case of Lieutenant Robert Darrow, of Elk River, his family gave everything: the life of their son, to the cause of freedom in World War Two. A man, and his family, sacrificed everything.  That warrants acknowledgement for his service.

Friday, February 7, 2020

More Rationing During World War Two

Earlier, we wrote of the rationing programs effecting Sherburne County during World War Two.  Following up on the discussion, we want to shift gears away from rationing of farm necessities and scrap metal to explore the food rationing programs. 

Although the advertisement emphasizes
the scrap drives, the theme of rationing for
the war effort served as a universal message 
Although the scrap drives and farm implement rationing remained significant in Sherburne County, sugar and other food rationing gained importance beginning in the spring of 1942.  In February, the Federal Price Administration developed plans for rationing of sugar, coffee, meat, gasoline, and other household necessities.

In Sherburne County, teachers served as the registrants, to record the size and food requirements of each family in the county.  The teachers worked late nights to document members of each family and issue ration books for food and gasoline.  In the case of sugar, the teachers authorized 12 ounces per week for each person in a family.  However, a surplus of more than two pounds in the household signaled an excess and the ration might be reduced. 

Coinciding with the ration program, local newspapers carried out a campaign to pressure individuals to accept the ration programs.  “If You Fail Some Boy Will Die,” the newspaper advertising screamed.  Headlines denounced the “slackers” and pressure continued to urge the county residents to abide by the campaign. 

Although the emphasis remained on metal and scrap drives, in Sherburne County food rationing and other household necessities became equally important considerations to the war effort expanded in 1942 and 1943.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Coming Centennial of Handke Stadium

With the coming of the new decade, centennial celebrations emerge from the pages of history.  Nationally recognized centennial celebrations include prohibition and women’s suffrage.  Local centennial celebrations include the construction of Elkhi Stadium, also known as Handke Stadium.  Important not only for its age, it also serves as a monument to the center of recreation and outdoor sports in the community. 

Handke Stadium circa 1951
Before 1920 it was a mud pit, located next to the public school.  Later, with the stadium construction, the pit serves, to this day, as a landmark to the evolution of the idea of community in Elk River.  Through three phases of construction, from 1921 to 1940, Handke Stadium highlights local initiative and self-reliance that county residents regard as vitally important.  

The stadium is often associated with the Elk River schools.  Built in 1898, education officials located the Elk River School district’s first high school just north of a small pond, a pit filled with seeping water from high water table of the Elk and Mississippi rivers.  The wooden structure remained in place until 1952, while the brick school that became known as Handke School, was built in 1930.

Until 1921, the pond adjacent to the schools remained undeveloped.  Surrounded by wooded area, the water served as a place for ice skating and sliding in the wintertime.  An apocryphal story tells of a young boy breaking through the ice during a winter skate.  Whether in danger or not, the event prompted discussions on making the area safe for children.  Engineers were summoned.  They determined that filling the pond with a few feet of dirt and landfill would stop the water seepage and allow for a good playing field. 

Plans took hold and an estimated 100 to 200 volunteers, students as well as townspeople and local farmers worked on weekends to haul in dirt to fill this natural amphitheater.  For several years, the work continued to fill the pit.  In May 1925, Superintendent Clark declared the project complete.  He commissioned a sign to hand on the highway, “Elkhi School Playground, Minnesota’s Finest Athletic High School Field.”   

Construction of Handke Stadium 1940
In 1929, the school set out to expand the playing surface.  Again, using volunteer work, the stadium received an additional 2,000 yards of soil and the field enlarged to create a regulation football field with a surrounding track.  In quick order the volunteers completed the work in two days.

In 1939, ten years later, phase three of the stadium construction began.  With support from a WPA depression era work program, and the help of the National Youth Agency, workers built retaining walls, stone steps, and a warming house.  The dedication of this final phase of construction drew a large crowd for this project begun as a volunteer endeavor.    

Unfortunately, the stadium never lived up to the claim as Minnesota’s finest natural amphitheater.  It continued to collect water.  Stories abound of football games played in inches of mud.  According to these tales, the 1947 football team played games where the football floated. 

Overtime, the use of Handke Stadium came full circle.  By 1950 the school built a new football field on a more suitable, drier site.  Baseball continued for a few more years, before the teams moved.  To this day, Handke Stadium remains a popular location for ice skating, hockey, and sliding.  A pit that served as skating pond, later filled in with dirt and served as a football field, returned to its natural state as a skating pond.  Throughout the 100 years as Handke Stadium, the landmark serves as a reminder of the capabilities of volunteerism and community involvement.    

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Supporting the War: The Sherburne County Scrap Drive of 1942

It has been a few months, but with the new year, I am resolved to post more information about the history of Sherburne County.  So, here goes: 

With the anniversary of World War Two, we have all heard about the scrap drives and rationing programs.  Yet, exploring the scrap drives in more detail may enlighten us about the true value of this particular program. 

Sherburne county promoted its first scrap drive in the summer of 1942.  Elk River Mayor M. C. Tesch provided some perspective on the value of scrap metal to the war effort.  He noted fifty pounds of scrap metal would help make artillery shells.  Cartridge cases originated from discarded doorknobs. And, 25 tons of steel made a tank.  In this first scrap dive, the city of Elk River urged the citizens to deliver 30,000 pounds of scrap for the war effort.  

Although J. D. Flaherty, the chairman of the scrap drive committee, felt the city would surpass the goal, disappointment greeted him at the end of the day.  Elk River residents gave only 16,000 pounds to the drive.  This is not suggesting a penurious trait among Elk River residents.  Mr. Flaherty overestimated the capabilities of Elk River to give 30,000 pounds of scrap. Based on his goal, every family in Elk River needed to donate at least 100 pounds of scrap.  In some areas of the city, expectations clearly exceeded possibilities.
In spite of the slow start to the scrap campaign, Flaherty and others continued to organize and collect scrap to support the war effort in Sherburne county.  The scrap drives and rationing programs allowed everyone in Sherburne County to support the war from 1941 to 1945.  As we delve into the newspaper reports, the residents of Sherburne county passionately supported the war effort.