Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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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.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Women Going to War

 

WAAC recruitment poster, 1943

During World War Two, young men receive a significant amount of attention in joining the service or being drafted to serve.  Rightly, we need to recognize their service to the country.  Yet, many young women also served in the military.  Their service also warrants recognition.

There were a few opportunities for young women to serve the country during the war.  The government called upon women flyers to ferry aircraft to Britain that had been manufactured in the United States.  Nurses served an equally important role in the military.  And a multitude of administrative duties put the efforts of women enlistees to the task.

The first of the women branches of service, other than nurses, organized as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  Beginning in 1942, the Army recruited 150,000 women to serve in administrative duties and still later as mechanics stationed around the United States.  In February 1943, Carol Jean Briggs, of Elk River, joined the WAAC service.  Ms. Briggs taught school in Elk River for two years before enlisting, explaining her experience might be better utilized in the army.  At the same time, Betty Truman joined the Army nurse’s corps as a second Lieutenant. 

Later on, in 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps reorganized as the Women’s Army Corps.  Their work proved so successful, the Navy created the WAVES; the Coast Guard created the SPARS; and the United States Marine Corps organized their Women’s Reserve.  General Douglas MacArthur described the WAC’s as “his best soldiers” because of they complained less and worked harder than most men.

Perhaps the most secretive of the women in war time service involved the code breakers and translators stationed along the west coast in the war against Japan.  Francis Scroggins Beck, of rural Elk River, served as a cryptologist for serval years during the war.  As a cryptologist she translated secretly intercepted communications from the Japanese. 

Although only three listed, a number of women in Elk River and Sherburne County joined the military effort to fight the war.  Sherburne County recognized the men drafted into service.  Women enlistees quietly went about the business of war with little or no recognition of their service.

Ladies, thank You.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Recognizing Labor Day

 

With the coming holiday weekend, we need to stretch outside of Sherburne County History to explore the origins of Labor Day.  Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing to the declaration of a national holiday, the day to celebrate workers remains important.  

Quarry workers in west Sherburne County

The commemoration of labor and working often associated with May 1, May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.  In the United States, in the late 1880s, May Day became more closely associated with radical philosophies often associated with socialism, anarchy, and communism.  A variety of more conservative labor unions and activists started promoting the first weekend in September as an alternative; a new Labor Day. 

The Haymarket Massacre, on 4 May 1886, further solidified May Day as a celebration of radicalism.  In 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize the Labor Day holiday in September.  Within 7 years, thirty states commemorated Labor Day.  Although the federal government recognized Labor Day as a holiday for federal employees, it wasn’t until the 1930s the holiday was recognized as an official holiday. 

In Minnesota, a number of significant activities revolve around the September holiday.  Many schools in Minnesota open after Labor Day.  Some suggest this scheduling allows young children to fully participate in the state fair, which closes on Labor Day.  In addition, fall sports activities schedule their opening based on the Labor Day holiday. 

Informally marking the end of summer, Labor Day emerges out of the more radical history of May Day to play a significant role in yearly life cycles in the United States.  It provides an exclamation point to end summertime activities and signals to Americans now is the time to develop plans for the fall and winter activities.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Nuclear Energy in Elk River

 

Newsletter advocating for
reactor in Elk River, 1955

A truly unique anniversary passed this week, 57 years ago, on August 24, 1963.  On that date, the Elk River atomic reactor generated the first nuclear power in Minnesota.  After eight years of campaigning and planning, the Elk River nuclear plant opened for business.  Unfortunately, the plant operated for only a brief time.  Yet, it served as a highly informative experiment in nuclear plant operations. 

Only ten years after nuclear power proved its strength, the Rural Cooperative Power Association of Elk River developed a campaign to introduce nuclear energy into the upper Midwest.  According to a proposal submitted to the Atomic Energy Commission in June 1955, a nuclear plant in Elk River could reduce electricity production costs by fifty percent in five years. 

The Atomic Energy Commission looked favorably on the Elk River proposal.  In 1958, they granted approval to the project and construction began on this unique project.  After five years of construction, the reactor first generated power and became the first reactor operated by a rural cooperative in the United States.

Unfortunately, the experiment at the Elk River plant failed.  After five years of operation, the plant closed in 1968.  Officials reported the plant lacked cost effectiveness.  By 1975 the entire reactor had been dismantled. 

Planning and construction took more time than the operation of the plant itself.  Although the operation of the plant failed, the experiment provided insight into the construction and operation of a nuclear plant in the United States.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Joseph F. Bean: Sherburne County Pioneer

Recent discussions of early settlement presented an individual to consider as a pioneer serving a significant, yet unheralded, role in the settlement of Sherburne County.  We need to look at the life and times of Joseph F. Bean of Livonia Township. 

Joseph Bean spent his childhood and early days in New Hampshire.  He made his way to Sherburne County, stopping first in Wisconsin before landing in Elk River.  Finally, in 1856, he and his new bride, Betsy, settled in an area of Livonia Township.

The Bean homestead located on the stagecoach road between Elk River and Princeton.  In addition to farming, Bean also provided rest to travelers along the road.  He also served the role of Postmaster, the mail for area farmers being delivered by stage and later by the early morning trains.  In addition, both Bean and his wife Betsy emphasized education.  Both worked as teachers before settling in Livonia Township.  Evidence suggests the Bean household served, for a time, as a school.

A fire, in 1891, destroyed the original farmhouse.  The family quickly rebuilt their home and continued to farm and provide services to the community of Zimmerman, that developed just east and south of the Bean farm. 

Comparing the Bean family history to other early settlers, a pattern becomes evident.  Much like the homestead of Orlando Bailey, Joseph Bean established a farm while providing a rest stop for travelers along the road.  In addition, he provided services as the postmaster and may have opened his home as a schoolhouse. 

With all of this work and community service, Joseph F. Bean and his family clearly contributed to the settlement of Sherburne County.  They were important, early, pioneers in the County.

 

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.