Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, August 7, 2020

World War Two Impacting Sherburne County

 

The anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan arrived this week. It seems an appropriate time to recognize the impact of the war on Sherburne County. Unfortunately, and tragically, World War Two impacted everyone. Whether through rationing or military service, or a multitude of other means, every individual in Sherburne County, between 1940 and 1945, felt the war.  

 An oral history collected from Edmund Babcock makes an interesting point of this: “When my high school class had its fiftieth reunion, we invited every class member to get up and take the microphone and tell a little bit about what had happened in their life since graduation from high school. We invited a dear lady who was one of those teachers that everybody in the class knew and liked. She was getting to be an elderly person at that point. Her daughter, who happened to be a medical doctor, drove her out from Minneapolis and stayed with her through the whole evening. We had a reception the next day, and at that reception, the lady’s daughter was there again. I got into a conversation with her, and she said, “That program last night was just a memorable thing for me because each of you got up and started saying, ‘I joined the Navy,’ or ‘I joined the Army,’ or ‘I joined the Marine Corps’, or the girls said that they took a job or they joined the service or that they got married and their husb
Charlie Brown, one of many
Sherburne County residents
to serve in the war.  Brown was 
killed in Europe, 1944
and went into the service.” She said that she realized that the war had an effect on everybody and changed their lives, but it had never come true to her so clearly until she heard each one of these high school graduates begin to tell their story, and, because it was a wartime story, she realized that the war had a real effect on everybody, and it changed everybody’s life.” 


For Babcock, wartime service meant joining the Naval ROTC while at the University of Minnesota. Later, he served aboard a troop ship in the Pacific theatre of the war. “I finally was commissioned in December 1943 at the university, and I’d never been on a ship, but I was commissioned as an ensign,” he remembered. “I was assigned to a cargo ship, the Alnitah, the AK127. It was essentially a liberty ship, a ship that had been built in a hurry. There were many of them constructed. This particular one that I was assigned to was designed to carry troops. They weren’t carried in much style. “ 

“I was in Pearl Harbor the night the war ended,” Babcock said. “Coupled with the end of the war was the announcement of the atomic bomb and the damage in Japan and Nagasaki. This was another one of those events that you never forget. You remember where you were and when you heard about it. Somehow, it sticks with you.” 


 With the end of the war, Babcock returned to the University of Minnesota, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a law degree. And, as his reminisces make clear, World War Two impacted everyone in Sherburne County.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Fishing: Creating the Outfit and Landing the Trophy


Fishing holds a rich and extended history in Sherburne County.  The first resort in the county, Brown’s Hotel, in 1855 advertised Big Lake as a premier fishing spot. In the last 165 years, fishing remains an important sport and pastime in the county.  Stories abound of landing that great catch, that trophy fish.  Yet, a detail of the sport, not often discussed, concerns the creation of that most personal of items, the fishing outfit. 

 Walter Gohman, in his memoirs, writes of the fishing kit he devised with hard work and a little creativity.  “I made a fishing outfit by selecting a very special willow pole,” he wrote.  “I skinned the bark from this pole and treated it with oil.  I found a wooden fish line spool and fastened this the side of the pole.  I made a crank handle with a bolt and used screw eyes to guide the line.” 

Gohman went on to swear by the effectiveness of his outfit.  “We caught many fish of all sizes,” he wrote.  “We caught so many fish that my mother told us not to bring any more home.  We had all that we could eat.” 

Ben and Lillian Keays fishing on the Elk River.
Notice, Ben's outfit consisted of a large tree limb.
Soon, Walter Gohman’s outfit needed some upgrading.  He set out to improve his gear.  “I wanted a regular reel for my outfit.  I saw one in Tilmans Hardware in St. Cloud for $1.25.  This was a very simple reel.  I started saving money to buy this reel.  I would check the store window often to make sure that the reel was still there.  I was a great day when I finally was able to buy the reel.  I polished it all of the way home.”  

Further in his memoirs, Gohman expanded on his fishing adventures. “As a sportsman I had three ambitions that I often fantasized about.  These were to catch a muskie, to spear a buffalo fish and to shoot a goose,” he wrote.  “I never shot a goose.  I had a chance to spear a buffalo fish, but ‘chickened out’ when the fish was bigger than I was.”   

Gohman’s memories of landing a muskie make for an interesting story.  Using salvaged lumber and wire, Gohman and his compatriots crafted a raft to anchor in the middle of the Mississippi River.  “The raft was anchored at a deep spot in the part of the river we called the slough.  A tree and fence had washed into the river and settled on the bottom of the slough,” he wrote.  “We caught rock bass from this raft.  I was landing a rock bass when it seemed that the fish had wrapped the line around one of the tree limbs.  To salvage the line it seemed necessary to pull the limb up and unwrap it.  I proceeded o do this when suddenly there was a tremendous splashing of water and I pulled a large muskie onto the raft.  The muskie too the rock bass as bait and got hooked, he explained.”  After struggling with the fish, Gohman freed the hook and sent the fish on its way, back into the river. 

Every fisherman, including Walter Gohman, remembers landing that one great fish.  In addition, creating the very personal fishing outfit remains an equally enticing and vital story to the history of fishing and Sherburne County.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Sherburne County and Education


With the current discussions of disease and quarantine, the condition of schools and student attendance, I am encouraged to look back in the history of Sherburne County and explore the development of schools in the area.  It quickly becomes obvious; education played an important role in early Sherburne County.  

Elk River school, circa 1900
 As early as 1869, Elk River witnessed construction of a brick school, with multiple classrooms.  This was not simply the one-room schoolhouse similar to those scattered around the county.  This was a true school with several teachers and separate classes for students based on grade level. 

In 1876, the County Commission set aside specific township sections to benefit education in Sherburne County. The idea originates with federal law, mandating sections of land be set aside for education, the actions of the commission, however, reinforce the importance of teaching county children.

In 1883, every child in Elk River realized a dream come true: the school building burned to the ground.  Yet, in spite of this setback, education continued in Elk River and Sherburne County. A new, two story school replaced the burned-out facility, and education moved forward.  

In 1885, county educators reported 1,257 students in the schools.  This at a time when population in the county came in at about 5,000 people.  Elk River estimated a population of 600.  With a quarter of the population being students, the county administrators excitedly reported receiving state education funds of $477.66.   

Within five years, the county educators noted higher quality teachers arriving in the Sherburne County schools.  Some of these county educators suggested the local school boards slowly eliminating debt and finding the funds to pay teachers a higher wage. 

Although an unidentified photograph, children posed in
capes provides a unique image worth viewing.
Events leading up to 1900 show education as a significant priority in the families of Sherburne County.  In particular, the investment in Elk River education is noteworthy.

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.