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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Charley Babcock's New Car

An interesting bit of local detail: Charles Babcock, native resident of Elk River and Minnesota’s first State Commissioner of Highways, can claim yet another first in Sherburne County.  The Sherburne County Star News reported on 18 April 1907: “Charley Babcock is the first to invest in an automobile in this village.  His is a fine ‘Buick’ car, propelled by a 22 horse power engine.” 

A brief search indicated the car’s speed topped out around 40 miles-per-hour. 

The newspaper reported the novel contraption entertained local friends and neighbors.  “His longest run since bringing the machine home was to Princeton and back last Sunday.  His wife, mother and Cora Babcock accompanied him.” 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

John Ormsbee Haven A Pioneer in Sherburne County

An early example of the dedicated and adventurous settlers of Sherburne County is the namesake of Haven Township, John Ormsbee Haven.  A local public servant, John O. Haven established himself as an early leader in Sherburne County. Although his life history is sparse in detail, it is worth noting and acknowledging.   

Born in Addison County, Vermont on October 3, 1824.  He graduated from Middlebury College and began teaching.  In 1854 he migrated to St. Paul, then to Wright County, Minnesota.  During his time in the county to the south, he surveyed both Monticello and Big Lake.  In 1866 he relocated north of the Mississippi River to Big Lake.  There he took up the many duties of public servant.  The next few years he served as: Sherburne County auditor, Register of Deeds, Surveyor, Superintendent of Schools, Clerk of the District Court, and County Commissioner.  In 1872, he also had time to represent Sherburne County in the State Senate.   

In addition to his public service, Haven also had time for family and friends.  He married Vienna McAllister in Vermont in 1852 and had two children.  He belonged to the Union Church of Big Lake.  And after his retirement from public service he owned a general merchandise store in Big Lake. 

He died in 1906 just one month short of his 82nd birthday. 

There is no definitive explanation as to why Haven was recognized with the naming of the township.  Yet, his life history suggests the honor was well earned by his hard work and dedication to his family and his community.    

Photo courtesy of: Middlebury College Special Collections and Archives, Middlebury, Vermont


ed. note:  For many months I have had the opportunity to work with a great research volunteer.  Ms. Phyllis Scroggins has provided me with information, has offered story ideas and advice on how to write articles.  I am sorry I am so late acknowledging her contributions to this blog.  Phyllis, the work wouldn’t get done without your help.  Thank you for so many contributions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A One Man Crime Spree in Sherburne County

It is tough to keep a good man down—even a thief.  Sherburne County learned this difficult lesson at the hands of W. S. McDonald, a “sneak thief” and robber of local post offices. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported in July of 1906 at least two men removed window panes, gaining access to the Elk River Post Office.  A year earlier the safe in the post office had been blown open and never replaced.  Due to the earlier robbery, few valuables were kept in the office.  The 1906 robbery thieves made away with about $10 and books of stamps.  The police arrested McDonald in St. Cloud.  He had stamp books in his possession at the time.  These books connected him directly to the robbery.  The police had captured this nefarious criminal.

Unfortunately, for the police, McDonald somehow managed to escape from their custody.  Trying to immediately recapture McDonald, bloodhounds from the reformatory were brought in to track his scent.  These efforts failed.  It appeared he had successfully eluded the police.  Almost two months later, police recaptured McDonald in Anoka County.  He was sent back to St. Cloud and held for a grand jury hearing scheduled for November.

The Star News suggested the court immediately turn McDonald over to federal authorities based on the charges of robbing the post office, a federal offense.  “If a grand jury has to be called on account of this man, the cost of keeping and conviction will certainly be somewhere between $400 and $500,” the paper noted.  “All of which will be borne by Sherburne County.”

The newspaper went on to note McDonald had a unique talent for evading the criminal justice system.  The headlines reported McDonald robbed the Big Lake Depot in 1903.  Although there isn’t much detail, the paper reported, “McDonald is the man given a jail sentence a few years ago for breaking into the depot at Big Lake.”  No explanation is offered how or why McDonald was out of jail after his earlier escapades.


About the only details surmised from the reports about the post office robbery and the apparent thief.  W. S. McDonald seemed to favor Sherburne County as he carried out his one man crime spree.  In the end he was convicted and sent to federal prison for his recent crime wave in Sherburne County.  Citizens of Sherburne County could sleep easier knows their streets were now safe from the likes of W. S. McDonald.