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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.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Amazing Young Men In Their Driving Machines

In contrast to the recent blog about Charles Babcock and the first automobile in the county, we have reports of the second and third automobiles in the county. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported on August 29, 1907: “M. C. Blanchett wasn’t satisfied with the horseless carriage that was sent him and refused to keep it.  He now has a “Buick,” like Charlie Babcock’s machine.”  

The citizens of Sherburne County waited another three months to discover the extent of Blanchett’s satisfaction.  November 28, 1907 the Star News reported: “M. C. Blanchett made the run to St. Cloud and back with his auto last Saturday afternoon in three and a half hours.  The home run was made in 85 minutes.  This shows what an expert driver “Mose” is getting to be.”   

Citizens of Sherburne County are moving rapidly into the 20th century.