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Friday, August 26, 2016

More About Hotels in Elk River

In recent weeks the history of hotels and hospitality in Elk River has been area of study.  The primary focus centered around the Blanchett Hotel, also known as the Merchants Hotel, and the Riverside Hotel, also known as the Elk River Hotel.  Now we are giving attention to a lesser known boardinghouse/hotel in Elk River.  
As late as the 1950s, the hotel above Kemper Drugs was the Hamlet Hotel.  Originally known as the Princeton Hotel, the space served more as a boardinghouse for long term residences, in contrast to the short stay hospitality of the Blanchett and the Riverside.  

To locate each of the different hotels, this 1894 map has been brought out from the collections to help us visualize the area.  The Riverside Hotel is located on the corner of King and Main.  The Blanchett is located on the east side of Jackson (Princeton) and on the north west corner of Jackson (Princeton) is the Hamlet Hotel.  The Great Northern Railway station was located across the street, directly north of the Merchants (aka Blanchett) Hotel. 

An important detail to note: this map documented Elk River before the many devastating fires that encouraged business owners to relocate south of the railroad tracks.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Elk River's Claim to Fame

Becker’s claim to fame includes strawberries.  Big Lake gained fame for the purity of the ice.  Another truth handed down through time: Elk River’s claim to fame is the potato. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported on March 28, 1912 “that Elk River has been famous as a great potato market.”  As proof a front page news article reported two men in an unnamed, yet famous, Minneapolis restaurant heard the demand for Elk River potatoes.  “The Elk River potato is known and called for as an especial relish of big Minneapolis restaurants,” the paper reported.  The paper went on to suggest that although some believed the men “had taken a wee bit too much of some sparkling fluid from bottles,” it was common knowledge around the Sherburne county town, “Elk River potatoes are famous and will be more so in a few years."  
The Star News felt this claim to fame warranted some action by the county to adopt a specific type of spud to market it as the true Elk River potato.  “In this way Elk River and its product would be advertised broadside and it would add much to the town as a potato market.”  In spite of the good ideas to market the potato and Elk River, no action was taken to create an Elk River potato.  

In spite of inaction, more than 100 years passed since the tuber so abundant in Sherburne County brought fame to Elk River.  Just as Big Lake has its ice; Becker gained fame through strawberries; so, Elk River remains famous for the potato.  

Elk River potato market, circa 1900
SHC collections 1995.017.012

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Diary of Eben H. Davis

A small diary in the collections of the Sherburne History Center provides fascinating detail about the early settlement of Elk River.  Eben H. Davis, at one time the Sheriff of early Sherburne County kept a travel diary in 1882.  In the autumn of 1882 he was part of a group surveying and “cruising” timber from Grand Portage to Hunter’s Island, Canada.  The final pages of this diary he provides background information about Elk River at the time of his settling in the area.  He gives two different dates for his arrival in Elk River: 1850 and 1851.   The date of his arrival matters very little.  The details of the settlement make this a valuable document. 

            In Sept. 1850 the writer hereof first came to Elk River.  Peter Bouttino was then building the Riverside Hotel.  His brother Chas. was living in and keeping Saloon in a log building about 4 or 5 rods west of the Hotel. 
            Silas Lane then lived in a house on the hill near where Harry Mills house now stands.  Chas. Donnely Donley lived about 80 rods N.E. of Robert Browns place and a man named Carver lived near Edd Kegans place.
            E. H Davis born in Town of Lowell, Maine August 29th 1835.  Emigrated to Illinois in fall of 1849 and to St. Anthony Minnesota in Spring of 1850 and to Elk River in Spring of 1851.  Was Married to Louisa M Ingersoll July 4th 1857 who died Sept. 19th 1888.  

Riverside Hotel and Bottineau cabin.  Photo from the collections of the Sherburne History Center. 1990.200.563


Friday, August 5, 2016

The Dream of An Industrialized Sherburne County

Sherburne County’s early settlers dreamed of creating a county based on industrial strength.  The economic crisis and 1857 Depression killed the dream.  Instead, Sherburne County became a farming center.  Several industrial towns and plat sites planned for Sherburne County hints at a potentially different character of the county.  If only dreams had come true.

Elk River originated as an industrial settlement by first building a saw mill and grist mill.  The Elk and Mississippi Rivers’ steady water supply guaranteed success to the mills.  The Great Northern Railroad railhead stopped in Elk River until 1866.  The community was destined to grow into an industrial giant. 

At least four communities in Sherburne County failed to develop like Elk River.  Developers platted and planned sites around the county.  All failed to develop.  The failures included: Liberty, a site planned for industrial growth in Big Lake Township; Marseilles existed on paper near Becker; Groton was platted along the St. Francis River in Blue Hill Township; and plans for the community of Wheeler developed in Haven Township.  All the sites planned construction of sawmills and grist mills.  Dreams collapsed with the economic downturn in 1857.  
Before financial ruin Sherburne County seemed destined to industrial greatness.  With the increasing crisis of the economy and Civil War, the dream of industry faded and agriculture expanded the county. 

Imagine the potential character of Sherburne County if only dreams had come true.

Elk River flour mill, circa 1887.  from the SHC collections 1990.200.551

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Blanchett Hotel: The Finest in Elk River

The Brown Hotel, the Riverside Inn, the Sherburne House, these are just a few hotels once operating in Sherburne County.  A hotel often overlooked, yet important to the history of Sherburne County is the Blanchett Hotel of Elk River.  Although the hotel served only a short time in Elk River, the forward thinking owner set high expectations for competitors and future area hotels.  

Moses C. Blanchett, born in St. George, Illinois in 1863, moved to Minnesota in 1883, and began mastering the hotel business. In 1901 he took over the Merchants Hotel and renamed it the Blanchett Hotel.  Immediately he improved the inn and built a reputation of forward thinking and luxury for his guests.  

Newspaper reports suggest Moses Blanchett enjoyed immediate success.  Regarded as a wealthy, Elk River business owner, the newspapers reported he owned the second automobile in Sherburne County.  The first was owned by transportation commissioner Charles Babcock.   

Part of his strategy to enhance his wealth, Blanchett developed plans to expand and increase his hotel ownership.  In 1903 construction on the Hotel Blanchett in Zimmerman began.  The new hotel was opened and managed by Moses and his brother George Blanchett.  
Although he attained some success in Elk River, Moses chose to challenge himself in different surroundings.  In February 1910, he announced the sale of the Blanchett Hotel for $30,000.  Apparently the sale was never finalized.  Property taxes into the mid-1910s list ownership of the hotel as Blanchett Investment Co.  The same company owned the property in Zimmerman.   

The fire of 1917 destroyed the Elk River Blanchett Hotel.  Shortly after the fire, Moses Blanchett became manager of the Angus Hotel in St. Paul.  He worked at the Angus Hotel for 19 years.  He died in 1937, still managing the Angus Hotel.  

In the 16 years the Blanchett Hotel entertained guests in Elk River, Moses Blanchett and his family excelled in providing a high level of hospitality in Elk River. The Sherburne County Star News called the Blanchett “one of the best public hostelries in the country.”   

Photo from the Sherburne History Center collections: 1990.201.601

Friday, July 22, 2016

1906 Zimmerman Fire

Fire destroyed the business district of Zimmerman on 4 May 1906, causing more than $30,000 in damages.  The Sherburne County Star News reported although the community would rebuild, the fire recovery presented significant challenges.  

Charles Iliff discovered the fire and sounded the alarm at three in the morning.  Smoke coming from the warehouse of English & Co. signaled the beginning of the coming disaster.  The newspaper reported the fire destroyed English & Co’s building, “probably the largest stock of good in the county.”  An estimate from just this store put losses at over $20,000. The fire also destroyed J.W. Mode’s General Store, the Zimmerman Post Office, and the G.N. Stendahl building.  Firefighters saved the A.O.U.W. Hall and the Zimmerman creamery.  

The lack of insurance coverage proved equally difficult to several businesses.  The newspaper reported that although English was covered for $19,000 of insurance, Mode carried only $1500 of insurance and the Stendahl Building was insured for only $500.  In spite of this, the Star News concluded, “the prospects now seem to be the burned buildings will be rebuilt … of brick or cement.” 

Although the businesses did rebuild, as these post fire photos show, not all of them rebuilt in brick or cement.  G. N. Stendahl and the Post Office built frame structures and opened for business.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Elk River and The New Bridge

“Hurrah for the Beef
Hurrah for the Liver
Hurrah for the bridge
That Spans the River.”

This is just one of several jingles heard on the streets of Elk River celebrating the new bridge completion in 1906.  Crossing the Mississippi River and connecting Elk River with Otsego, the bridge was celebrated as a “mutual benefit” with “commercial, social and financial rewards.”  Although the benefits seemed obvious, obtaining financial support and construction of this new transportation artery were never easily obtainable goals.  With the completion, though, the old ferry crossing the river closed and citizens from two counties celebrated. 

The fifty years before the bridge, consistently crossing the River at Elk River was possible only through the ferry operating since 1856.  The only other options included crossing at a ford south of town when the water was low, or cross on winter ice when the river might be frozen.  None of these options guaranteed a set schedule, nor a certainty of crossing. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported the need for a bridge became evident early in Elk River history.  As the population grew access to Wright County and regions closer to the Twin Cities also grew.  Expensive train routes, or inconsistent ferry runs, reinforced the need for a bridge as early as 1885.   

Elk River and Otsego both began campaigning for a bridge in the 1880s.  Yet, a plan that satisfied the demands of the Federal government, the State of Minnesota, as well as Wright County and Sherburne County proved daunting.  The federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers required the bridge must rise high enough to allow steamboats uninterrupted passage up the River.  Meanwhile the span must be adequate to allow boom companies free access to send rafts of timber down the river.  In time, Minneapolis engineer C. A. P. Turner designed a bridge span 226 feet long and 35 feet above the river.  After years of negotiations and politicking, appropriations of $24,000 and construction contracts with W. F. Chadbourne finally led to a completed bridge.   
“The running logs and ice and the dark nights will no longer annoy or terrify those who have occasion to cross from one town to the other,” the Star News predicted. 

After four months of operation, stories in the Star News provide evidence of the success of the new bridge.  “G. B. Pepin took his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Pepin for their first drive across the new bridge las Sunday,” the paper reported.  This was “Mrs. Pepin’s first visit to Elk River in thirteen years.”    

The newspaper summarized the general views of the bridge in an editorial after the opening of the bridge.  “The Star News rejoices with the balance of the good people of Elk river and Otsego over the completion of the splendid steel bridge,” they wrote.  “It exceeds the general expectation in appearance and substance.”   

In spite of the challenges and decades of negotiations, the completion of the bridge proved a benefit to the growth and happiness of Sherburne County.