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Friday, April 21, 2017

Industrial Elk River: The Hoop Factory

Elk River factories circa 1900
SHC photo collection
Always regarded as an industrial town, Elk River supported a number of factories and shops in its early history.  The barrel hoop factory must be regarded as one of these shops that branded the community as an industrial center.

Opening in 1895 and operating for only a brief time, the factory employed ten men and boys around the Lake Orono industrial area.  The Sherburne County Star News described the factory as a “veritable bee-hive of industry.”  Using the best cuts of elm trees, the factory trimmed and shaved the wood into thin strips.  Factory workers then heated the wood, molded, and nailed into the appropriate size hoops for wood barrels.  The newspaper went on to explain that “the very best of timber is required in the manufacture of hoops.”  The scrap wood became fence pickets and fire wood. 

The opening of the factory created an unusually high demand for elm wood. The paper reported in April of 1895 of rising theft and illegal cutting of elm trees on private land.  The trees, land owners speculated, were destined for the hoop factory.  Early reports speculated the demand for elm wood might exceed 500,000 feet in the year 1895. 


Unfortunately, the demand for barrel hoops seemed limited.  Although not yet fully documented, the factory operated for only a brief period.  Like the starch factory and the Elk River pickle factory, the challenges of shipping and stockpiling inventory led to the demise of the operation.  Yet for a brief time the hoop factory encouraged industrial experimentation and promoted the community reputation as an industrial town.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Financing World War One

Advertising War Savings Stamps in the
Sherburne County Star News, 1918
Paying for war is often a challenge for the United States government.  In the 1800s, financing war meant the government borrowed money from rich financiers.  Only with World War One did the United States government appeal to the general public for aid in paying for war.  The Liberty Bonds sales appeared to be very successful and often viewed as patriotic tests.  In Sherburne County, local leaders actively promoted the bond subscription drives and claimed significant success.

The government created four Liberty Bond programs in 1917 and 1918.  In 1919 the government also issued a fifth Victory Liberty Loan bond.  In total, Liberty Bonds raised $21.5 billion for the war effort.  With each bond program, Sherburne County received a quota of funding the county must raise.  The first Liberty Bond quota called for $130,000 from county patriots. 

The Sherburne County Star News praised the county for meeting the quota for the First Liberty Bond sale.  “Sherburne County has done its full share toward supplying Uncle Sam with funds for war purposes,” the newspaper praised. 

Unfortunately, after the first sale the quotas increased and the local population felt the pinch of war time expense.  A more active, better organized program became necessary.  A Sherburne County War Savings Committee developed plans to promote more bond sales.  The second campaign hoped to raise more than the $160,000 county quota. 

With the creation of the War Savings Committee, sales programs developed a sophistication beyond a simple patriotic appeal.  “It is planned to make a special campaign to interest the schools of the county for the sale of the war savings certificates and the stamps,” the newspaper reported. 

Under the war savings stamp program, the post office and local banks sold stamps valued at 25 cents each.  “You will be given a card to paste them on,” the newspaper ads said.  After pasting 16 stamps on the card, it could be redeemed at the local bank for a War Savings certificate.  After January 1, 1923, the certificate could be redeemed for five dollars. 

As part of the campaign, the committee encouraged competition among schools and students.  The school in Otsego “made the best record of the schools in this vicinity in the purchase of war savings certificates and thrift stamps,” the newspaper reported.  The average subscription of the 28 students in the school exceeded $40.  “Nearly $1.50 each for the pupils.” 


The liberty bond sales, the rationing and the draft, all illustrate the sacrifices made during World War One.  The first “war to end all wars” tested the citizens of the United States.  The challenges to support the war and continually sacrifice show Sherburne County as a singular population ready to step up and give.

Friday, April 7, 2017

You're In The Army Now

Unidentified soldier from World War One
SHC collections
The United States declared war on Germany and its allies on 6 April 1917.  Men not yet enlisted in the National Guard were subject to the draft.  In Sherburne County, several hundred men entered the army as a result of the Federalization of the National Guard and the draft.  Although events in training camps were never typical, letters sent home, and later published in the Sherburne County Star News, give a sense of life in the camps.

In a letter published in the Sherburne County Star News Theodore Coder described daily life in Camp Cody, New Mexico.  “We left Fort Snelling Oct. 10 and arrived at Deming, adjacent to Camp Cody, on Oct. 15,” he wrote.  “Had a delightful trip, or at least it was to me, but I did not fall in love with the country on first sight or have no deep affection for it yet.”   He went on to describe the hazards of camp life.  “The sand blows here like the snow in Minnesota, but give me the snow every time.”  He went on to point out the annoying plants and creature in camp life, including: cactus, sage brush, horned toads, centipedes, scorpions, and the occasional rattlesnake.

Overtime, life at Camp Cody became routine.  “We roll out at 5:30 and have reveille, then they double time the boys around for a while to give them an appetite,” Coder wrote. “First drill at 7:10 until 11:00.  Mess at 12 and woe unto the cooks if there isn’t enough chow.  Drill from 1:00 to 4:00.  Mess and retreat at 5:15, then nothing to do but write letters until you get ready to go bed.  Tattoo at 9:00, call to quarters at 10:00 and taps at 10:30.” 

Although a great deal of camp life might be described as boring, the community of Deming sits next to the camp.  “The First Minnesota, or 135th Infantry now, is quarantined for measles so none of us can go down town,” Coder reported.  “The town is about 3,000 population.  It is more like a carnival that a town—curio shops, fruit stands and popcorn wagons whichever way one may look.” 

In contrast to life in Camp Cody, New Mexico, some Sherburne county draftees were sent to Camp Grant, Illinois.  Life in Camp grant apparently livelier.  Built on the outskirts of Rockford, Illinois, the city organized a Red Cross station to provide entertainment to troops.  Unfortunately for these troops, this larger camp was also the sight for a deadlier strain of influenza in 1918.  Although no evidence pinpoints Sherburne County troops dying at Camp Grant, more than 4,000 died from the disease at the Illinois training installation. 
 

The letters and records of World War One suggest there never existed a typical day for troops in the training camps in the United States.  Every location presented a level of boredom and daily challenges for each individual leaving Sherburne County to enter into war.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

World War One Introduces Rationing

Shortly after the United States declared war in April 1917, citizens realized in addition to the necessary rations of U. S. soldiers, there existed the starvation of civilians throughout Europe.  The government created the U. S. Food Administration to encourage rationing and conserving food.  Under the direction of future President Herbert Hoover, the administration instituted a voluntary rationing program that included Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays.  Through the year of war and into 1919, consumption of meat in the United States dropped more than 15 percent.  Exports of food to Europe increased significantly.

Locally, the Sherburne County Star News promoted the rationing.  Referring to the Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays, the paper opined, “If these measures are necessary to win the war, let us all munch corn meal and be thankful.”  The paper went on to suggest the rationing of bacon.  “Bacon is the soldiers’ real food friend,” the paper reported.  “He can apparently do more fighting on it than anything else.”  Another effort put forth by the newspaper was the publication of alternate recipes and methods to conserve food.  The message from the Star News, “don’t be a family of willful wasters.”

Unfortunately, some of the ration programs failed.  Early in the effort “heatless Mondays” promoted rationing of coal and other heating products.  Weather conditions made this particular program untenable.


Yet, rationing in World War One allowed for significant export of food to the allied countries in Europe.  The program marked such success Herbert Hoover received the nickname the “Great Humanitarian.”  Programs continued into 1919 to aid the recovery of all of Europe from the first “war to end all wars.”  It not only fed the many troops in Europe, it helped stave off starvation amongst a desperate civilian population.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

April Means Baseball in Sherburne County

Elk River Base Ball Club, circa 1900
April is fast approaching, that mean spring training ends and Major League Baseball begins.  Although Sherburne County has never fielded a professional or semi-professional ball club, baseball was taken very seriously in the county.  Just a sampling of news reports in 1895 reveals several of the baseball clubs in Sherburne County and the serious nature of the sport. 

In June of 1895, with the start of the local season, the Sherburne County Star News presented a brief history of the rivalries in the area.  Elk River and Monticello ball clubs long remained top of the list of serious rivals.  “In olden times there used to be some battles royal between the base ballists of these two towns,” the newspaper reported.  “”Monday reminded us a little of those old times, the chief difference being that Elk River was defeated this time which didn’t used to be the case.”  In this particular “battle royal” Elk River fell to Monticello by a score of 20 to 15.
 
Reports throughout the summer covered ball clubs from Elk River, Monticello, Princeton, Becker, and Orrock.  The newspaper also covered match games between the “regulars of Elk River” and a scrub nine.  The paper reported in late July a tense rivalry between the two teams.  “The game was for blood from the start, though the scrubs hardly got their hands in the first two innings, during which the other fellows go a start of ten scores.”   

The news reports continued through September, before the season came to an end.  Just like the major leagues, with the cooling weather and the falling leaves, baseball came to an end.  The cry from the teams echoed a long held sentiment, “just wait ‘til next year” when the games continue.

Friday, March 17, 2017

More on Highway 10

1910 through 1930 was a transition period for Sherburne County
as can be seen with both automobiles and horse drawn wagons
in this photograph.  Only very gradually did pavement replace
dirt and gravel on the roads of the county.
With road construction season arriving, I wonder about the times of road construction before the big trucks and monstrous land movers.  I wonder about the construction of Highway 10 through Sherburne County.  Why did it happen?  How did it happen? When we explore the actual construction the true impact of Highway 10 becomes apparent.

Construction of Highway 10 in Elk River used “one of the biggest and latest improved concrete mixers and pavers in the state and it has the capacity of paving 600 feet a day,” the Sherburne County Star News reported.  Although small compared to modern equipment, the newspaper claimed the machines inspired crowds to gather each day and observe the work. 

Credit for Highway 10 and the benefits received by Sherburne County goes to the hard work of Highway Commissioner Charles Babcock.  Known as the “father of the Minnesota Highway system,” Babcock worked diligently to see that his native Sherburne County received significant benefits of the road system. 

With completion of the road through Elk River, the Star News summarized the benefits from the construction.  The newspaper claimed $425,000 had been spent on the project.  A census taken shortly after the highway opened showed in a one week span 10,000 automobiles traveled through Elk River.  The traffic numbers remain impressive in comparison to the number of automobiles, 849, in the county.


Highway 10 through Sherburne County significantly increased growth potential. The construction technology seems small.  Yet, the benefits to Sherburne County were immediate and they continue to roll through the county. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

WAVES in Sherburne County

Recruitment poster for WAVES in
the United States Navy, circa 1944.
Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services, the WAVES of World War Two, became an elite group of 81,000 women enlisted in the United States Navy in 1944 and 1945.  Minnesota had its share of WAVES.  Even closer to home, Frances Beck of Sherburne County served as a WAVE in a military specialty so top secret she couldn’t speak of it until 50 years after the war.  Francis Beck served as a code breaker against the Japanese. 

In the early 1940s Beck felt a passionate desire to serve.   She wanted to volunteer and do her part in the war effort, the navy, however, actively opposed women joining the service.  Finally, in 1944 Beck and 81,000 other women became WAVES.  “When I enlisted they said, “’Well you’re going to be in there until the war is over.’  I told them, ‘Well it can’t go on forever,” she recalled. 

The duration of Beck’s service lasted slightly longer than a year.  In that time she trained first at Hunter College in New York.  Hunter College was boot camp for the WAVES.  The Navy then sent Beck for a quick stay at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  While at Miami University she trained in cryptography, radio operation, and writing secret code. Her orders finally sent her to Bainbridge Island, Washington state to intercept coded messages from the Japanese.  She served there until the end of the war. 

“Until a few years ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I did when I was in the service,” she told reporters from the Sherburne County Star News.  “I was in a branch in which you had to be a second generation American before they would even put you in there.  Then when we were discharged we were told we could not disclose what we had done while we were in the service.”  
 

Francis Beck served as an elite member of a very small contingent of women in World War Two.  Only 81,000 young women could ever claim service in the WAVES.  A young lady from Sherburne County, truly unique to the community.