Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, May 19, 2017

More Fire In Elk River

Elk River Potato market during better times, circa 1900.  
 SHC photo collections, 1995.017.012 
Fire is all too common in farming communities.  Barns and haystacks catch on fire.  Wood buildings routinely burn.  In 1924 Elk River, however, a particularly unusual fire erupted in the potato warehouse and the Elk River Fire Chief immediately suspected arson. 

Trainmen traveling through Elk River discovered a fire in the potato warehouse at 5 am on February 2, 1924.  Luck followed the city and firefighters on this day.  The Elk River fire siren had failed earlier in the week and continue to malfunction.  The trainmen notified the telephone exchange.  Telephone operators then notified firefighters by telephone.  Fortunately, the fire remained small. 

After the firefighters entered the warehouse, they discovered several small fires.  In an hour’s time, they extinguished the fire.  Inspection of the warehouse revealed two bags of bran with two fruit cans of gasoline inside the grain.  The arsonist sealed the glass jars too tightly and prevented the gasoline from igniting. 

The manager of the warehouse was arrested and charged with arson.  Many suggested his motives included insurance fraud.  Although the newspapers do not report the outcome of the investigation and trial. 

After the warehouse fire, the county continued to suffer from a variety of fires.  The Frye homestead in Elk River burned down.  The McKinney house in Orrock burned.  The homes of R. J. Johnson in Big Lake, and the home of E. D. Smith in Becker were also burned.  And, the Big lake Depot also burned. 

Although fires were common in the farming communities of Sherburne County, 1924 seemed particularly challenging for fire fighters.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pierre Bottineau Building Elk River

Pierre Bottineau, surveyor, land developer, translator and explorer, played a vital role in the early settlement of Sherburne County and Elk River.
Pierre Bottineau circa 1855

Born to a French Canadian father and half-Dakota, half- Ojibway mother, Pierre Bottineau was native to the frontier Minnesota.  As he traveled and explored the territory, he helped develop a number of towns.  In about 1849, he arrived in the area of Elk River and commissioned the construction of a hotel along the banks of the Mississippi River.  The buildings remained in Elk River longer than Bottineau. 

Pierre Bottineau originally built a cabin near the mill races on Orono Lake.  The second Bottineau structure, built in 1849, housed the carpenter Bottineau hired to build his hotel.  In quick order, the hotel, christened the Riverside, opened for service.  The carpenter’s cabin served as a small saloon for hotel guests and the increasing population of Elk River.  By 1852, the Nickerson family paid $1500 for the property and Pierre Bottineau left the town seeking other adventures.  For another forty years, Bottineau continued to work and explore Minnesota and the eastern lands of the Dakotas.  He died in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota in 1895. 

1894 Sanborn Map noting Bottineau
cabin in yellow highlights
The Bottineau carpenter’s cabin remained in place for several decades after Pierre left Elk River.  Early maps of Elk River clearly document the location of the cabin.  A bird’s eye view of Elk River, published in 1879 shows the cabin sitting next to what was then known as the Elk River House.  A Sanborn Map of the community, published in 1894, also notes the location of the cabin. Shortly after the publication of the Sanborn map, the Sherburne County Star News reported the cabin demolition of the cabin so that the hotel could be expanded.  “Modern improvements necessitated its removal.”  

Although a brief stay in Elk River, and with a limited role in the overall settlement of the community, Pierre Bottineau played a significant role in creating the community of Elk River.




Friday, April 28, 2017

Arthur Dare—Booster For Sherburne County

Every so often we acknowledge leaders of Sherburne County.  No real criteria exists for selecting these profiles of greatness.  We simply select individuals we believe played an important role in the history of Sherburne County.  With this column, we look at the life of newspaper editor and politician Arthur N. Dare. 

Arthur Dare--1850 to 1923
Born in Onondaga County, New York on May 25, 1850 Arthur N. Dare lived an early life packed with adventure.  Living in New York until age 18, he traveled with his family to Wisconsin, and from there, at age 20, he landed in Minneapolis.  While in the cities, he studied for four years as a printer.  In the early 1870s he signed on as a sailor on a whaling ship to see the world.  After a quick journey into the South Pacific, he returned to Minnesota and settled in Elk River.  In 1878 he purchased half ownership in the Elk River newspaper.  In less than a year he had purchased the other half of the paper to become editor, publisher, and owner of the Sherburne County Star News.   

Over time, his journalistic work and thought provoking editorials gained attention throughout Minnesota.  In 1895 he was elected to the first of three terms to the Minnesota House of Representatives on the Republican ticket.  In his third term the legislature elected him Speaker of the House.  In 1901, he left the House, political leaders urged him to set his sights on Washington, D.C.  to run for the Sixth District House of Representatives.  He declined their encouragement and resumed his printing career.  In 1917 he retired from the newspaper business, turning over the operations of the newspaper to his son, Laurence Dare. 

At the time of his death, newspaper publishers throughout the state recognized him as a gifted writer, editor and publisher of the Sherburne County Star News.  In the pages of his newspaper, Mr. Dare boosted and promoted Elk River and Sherburne County.  In reading his columns no doubt existed, his goal in life was to advocate for his home county. 


Arthur Dare passed away in his home on September 4, 1923. 

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.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Betty Belanger: A Great Historian

Betty Belanger’s was a historian.  She retired as a nurse from Cambridge Hospital.  Yet, her avocation involved documenting the lives and histories of Sherburne County and the Hungarian immigrant families around Elk River.  Her research culminated with From Dairy Farms to Gravel Pits: A History of Sherburne County’s Hungarian Community.  She documented the lives of the many Hungarian immigrants coming to Sherburne County. 

The introduction noted without her work “the stories and struggles” of these early settlers “would have faded into the past, leaving behind few traces.”  Although the statement may seem overly dramatic, it is accurate.  Without Betty Belanger, much about the Hungarian settlement in Elk River would have died.
 
Betty Belanger avoided branding the first arrival, or the latest, most vital of events.  Instead her history carefully cataloged the challenges facing early Hungarian immigrants.  She explored the role of the Church in the community.  She noted celebrations and families.   Then, beginning with the family of Rose Fazekas, Betty Belanger devoted individual chapters to many of the families settling in Elk River and Sherburne County. 

Betty Belanger was definitely a historian.  In honor of Women’s History month, I wanted to offer belated, and overdue, recognition of her work.  Betty Belanger was a gifted historian and an intrepid researcher.


Friday, February 24, 2017

World War One and The Home guard in Sherburne County

Unidentified soldier World War One
in the photo collections of
The Sherburne History Center
The Minnesota Home Guard organized in 1917 after the state National Guard joined the regular army to fight World War One in Europe.  With the creation of the Home Guard, Elk River, for the only time in its history, became the headquarters of a military organization. Although the Home Guard receives little attention in the histories of the Minnesota war effort, they provided some significant service to the communities of Sherburne County as well as aid to the state. 

The creation of the Minnesota Home Guard originated by the Minnesota Commission of Public Safety.  The state organized twenty-three battalions, consisting of over 7,000 men.  The Elk River unit became known as Company C of the 12th Battalion.  The first step in organizing Company C was the election officers.  County Attorney George H. Tyler received the rank of captain, while W. T. Parry and Herbert Imholte were named first and second lieutenants.  Following elections, an estimated 60 men from throughout the county, signed up to serve. 

Enlistment in the guard required a minimum age of 26.  In addition, these men were unpaid volunteers unless called away for extended duty.  More often the men were called upon to aid in recruitment drives, bond sales, and disaster relief. 

Company C served a vital role in helping fight fires and aid in recovery efforts in northeast Minnesota in the fall of 1918.  According to the Sherburne County Star News at least fifty members of the company quickly turned out to provide aid in the crisis. 

“People who have been inclined to poke fun at members of the Home Guard of Elk River and Sherburne County have now changed their minds about the efficiency and usefulness of this organization,” the paper opined after the events about the fires and the actions of Company C became known.    


Shortly after the fires in northeastern Minnesota, the war ended.  At the conclusion of the war in Europe, life in Sherburne County returned to a normal state of affairs.  The need for the Home Guard diminished and their function ceased by January 1921.  Although the company disbanded, their service and aid to the county remains a mark of pride for Sherburne County.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Commemorating World War One in Sherburne County

Charles C. Nelson of Sherburne
County, in uniform in service WWI
From SHC photo collections:
1990.201.266
April marks the century anniversary of United States involvement in World War One.  On April 6, 1917 Congress declared war against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and their allies. In the coming year, no doubt, a number of historians will commemorate the war activities of the United States. 

For Sherburne County, the war began earlier than April 1917.  As part of the Minnesota National guard, in 1916, young men from Sherburne County served as border guards in Texas and New Mexico.  The escapades of Pancho Villa along the Mexico-Texas border led to the stationing of National guardsmen all along the border.  General John “Black Jack” Pershing commanded Minnesota Guardsmen ordered into national service in July 1916.  Some historians maintain the United States eventually would enter the European war.  The work on the Mexico border served as training for the European theater. 

The Minnesota Guard served for less than a year in New Mexico before they returned home.  Almost immediately after their return to Sherburne County, the guardsmen were called into service in France.  Additionally, in 1917 and 1918, more than 100 young men received the draft call for service in World War I.  The war also impacted the home front, with rationing, Red Cross activities, and other programs to support the war. 


Sherburne County entered World War One before the actual declaration of war in April 1917.  As the year 2017 progresses, we will commemorate and honor the county and the events during this traumatic period.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Chet Goenner Long Time County Sheriff

Sheriff Chester J. Goenner served in
office from 1952 to 1981
Photo from the SHC collections
1990.201.220
            Every so often we write of an individual significant to the history of Sherburne County.  Another name to add to the list of movers and shakers in Sherburne Ccounty is Sheriff Chet Goenner--ed. note.  

“History will record that Sheriff Goenner solved all of the murders and bank robberies during his years in office.” The quote from the Sherburne County Star News, summarized the career of Sherburne County’s long serving sheriff. Chester Goenner served as County Sheriff from 1952 until 1981.  In the time, he earned a reputation of commanding respect and using all of his resources to get the job done.

Goenner was first appointed to the position of County Sheriff in 1952, after the death of Nial Nuemann.  Before that appointment, he served as the county deputy sheriff for 18 years.  Prior to that appointment, Goenner also worked as a bouncer for a Clear Lake liquor establishment. In total time, he served over 40 years in law enforcement.  County Treasurer Lois Riecken suggested he was naturally suited to the particular career. “Chet was a big person but used no force unless absolutely necessary,” she said.   He also commanded respect from everyone he served. 

Using different technologies to provide service to everyone in Sherburne County summarizes the career of Sheriff Chester Goenner.  In the early years of service, no radios existed in the squad cars.  “He had to call the office on a telephone to get what calls had come in,” Loretta Moos, a part-time dispatcher remembered.

 A particular story illustrating Goenner’s dedication to service concerns a missing 80 year old man who had wandered away from his home.  After a day of ground search with no results, Goenner enlisted the aid of a local pilot.  Early in the morning, Goenner and the pilot left the Monticello airport and began searching the area by air.  In less than one hour time, Goenner located the man and radioed his position to ground searchers.

Every two years, Goenner won re-election as the County Sheriff until he died in 1981.  The Sheriff “made people feel important, he treated people with respect,” Lois Riecken said.  Because he could command respect he served as sheriff without wearing a gun or uniform, she said. 


After Goenner’s death, a memorial was placed in the front of the Sherburne County Government Center.  The opening sentence described Chester J. Goenner: “A man of integrity who served all mankind impartially with fairness, compassion and dignity.”

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Thank You For Your Service

This morning, 4 February 2017, I raised the flags at the Veterans’ Memorial at the Sherburne History Center.  As I finished, a wave of pride came over me.  This is a beautiful monument to honor so many men and women who served in the military.  Today is no different from any other day.  No special occasion, just Saturday February 4.  But today I feel the need to say to the men and women currently protecting us, and to everyone who served in the military: “Thank you for your sacrifice.” 


Friday, February 3, 2017

Elk River Movie Theaters: A New Type of Entertainment

Entertainment and technology took a great stride forward in Elk River in 1913 when motion pictures and movie theaters illuminated the city.  In that year two theaters, “The Elk Theater” and “Blanchett’s”, presented silent movies in Elk River.  By 1915, a third theater, the “Royal Theater,” opened its doors.  These years marked the beginning of a new age in entertainment in Elk River.

In November of 1913, the Elk Theater advertised the silent short movie “Return of Crime,” dramatic crime and punishment movie featuring the young British actress Barbara Tennant.  By 1914, the Elk presented full length silent movies such as “The Last Days of Pompeii.”  Admission prices to the hour long movie was 15 and 25 cents, the matinee appeared to be a less expensive ticket than the evening showing. 

Newspaper advertisement in the Star News,
December 2, 1915, just a week after the grand
opening of the Royal Theater
Meanwhile, the Sherburne County Star News reported “Blanchett’s” presented motion pictures.  Although the newspaper failed to note the movie shown, the reporter noted “the pictures were clear, distinct and drew a packed house.” 

The Royal Theater, the third theater in Elk River, opened its doors in November 1915.  Promising “something new every night,” the Royal presented a matinee at 2:30 in the afternoon, and a 7:30 evening show.  “We are showing some high class pictures,” the advertising promised.  The opening night premiered the movie, “The Shadows of a Great City,” a silent movie first created as a play, and later a British silent movie before the American version release in 1915. 

Like so many businesses the movie houses of Elk River struggled to gain a solid base.  The surviving theater, the Elk Theater, continued to present motion pictures into the 1940s and on.  Providing entertainment to Sherburne County residents for several decades.



Schedule of movies for the month of
December, 1945 at the Elk Theater


Friday, January 27, 2017

George Loomis Becker: Namesake of The Community

Every student of Sherburne County History knows the namesake of the county lies with Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Moses Sherburne.  George Loomis Becker, the youngest Mayor of St. Paul, lawyer and politician, also warrants attention in Sherburne County history. 

George Loomis Becker 1829-1904
The namesake of the City of Becker, George was born in Locke, New York in 1829.  He arrived In St Paul in 1849.  Elected Mayor of St. Paul in 1856 for a one year term.  Still later, he twice ran unsuccessfully for Governor.  Important for the Sherburne County story, he worked for the Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad.  From 1885 to 1901 he served as a member of the state railroad and warehouse commission.  His primary interest in those years, he promoted railroad interests and development throughout the state. 

Although never a major stop on the railroad lines, Becker and area farmers utilized the rail service to ship produce and goods.  Equally important, the road delivered a multitude of immigrants to the county.  Through the 1870s an Immigrant House operated in Becker to welcome new arrivals to the community. 

There isn’t any evidence to suggest George Loomis ever set foot in the community, yet his influence set the direction for the community of Becker into the 1900s.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Happy Birthday Saron Lutheran Church

Congratulations to the congregation of Saron Lutheran Church in Big Lake.  125 years ago a group came together and organized a church community.  Since then they have gathered each week for community worship. And this year, 2017, they celebrate 125 years of gathering for community worship.

The community first organized as a group of Swedish Lutherans living in an area known as the “Roman Settlement.”  Named after Axel Roman, one of the first settlers of the area north of Big Lake.  Officially founded on 25 January 1892, the congregation first met in area schoolhouses.  Through donations and sweat equity, a church was built.  Descriptions of the church wrote of arched windows, a tall steeple with a bell tower at its peak.  A small barn was built on the back of the church for the horses. 

Willard Moey, in his history of Saron Lutheran Church 100 anniversary, wrote the congregation named the Church “Saron,” the Swedish spelling of “Sharon.”  In Biblical references, the Plain of Sharon was the most fertile part of the coastal plain of Palestine.

Overtime, the congregation outgrew their building at the Roman Settlement.  They chose to move closer to the center of Big Lake, and build anew.  Since the move into Big Lake, the church has expanded their building and their congregation several times. 

Over the years, the congregation grew and prospered.  Albert Magney, born in April of 1892, was the first child baptized by the new congregation.  Since then several thousand baptisms, marriages and burials have marked the history of Saron Lutheran Church. 

The original arched window chapel is long since gone.  Yet, the people of Saron Lutheran Church continue to meet and the congregation continues to grow.  Congratulations on 125 years of community worship.    

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Prohibition and Moonshining in Sherburne County

Campaign button for Edwin W. Chaffin, Prohibition
Party  Presidential candidate in 1908 and 1912.
From the collections at SHC: 2000.025.061
Prohibition, wet versus dry, has long been an issue in Sherburne County.  In 1895, temperance advocates met in the Elk River Methodist Church to urge prohibition in the county.  Wet advocates countered with assertions regarding the economic benefits of alcohol.  Their position insisted saloons would increase trade and business in local economies.  The Sherburne County Times went so far as to predict annual income from alcohol licensing exceeding $2000 for the county.  As early as 1899 the Times newspaper, reported the organization of a local chapter to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the WCTU.  For two decades before national Prohibition took effect, Sherburne County voters regularly debated and voted on the issue.  Passions ran deep with each election held.   

National Prohibition (from 1920 to 1933) did not end the debate, it simply sent the operation of boot legging underground.  Reports in county newspapers, police records, and oral histories all indicate an active boot legging practice in Sherburne County.  Regarded as more prevalent in counties north and west of Sherburne, boot legging seemed popular in the local areas.  Court records noted a number of illegal distilleries in Palmer, Livonia, and Elk River townships.   In 1928, the Sherburne County Star News reported the “biggest still ever found in Sherburne County was confiscated.” 

Oral histories reinforce the popularity of boot legging.  The memories of Betty Belanger seem typical of the times, “There was a still buried on our homestead, my parents’ place.  [It was] buried in the back yard because the guy that owned it heard the feds were coming again and he had already done time in prison for moonshining.  So, he brought the still over to my dad’s farm because he knew the feds weren’t going to be checking on my dad.  They buried it in the farmyard in the sand, in the back yard where the milk truck went around in a circle.  So it was covered.  There wouldn’t be any sign that they had buried something in the yard.  [I think] it’s still there.” 

Income for the distilleries provided significant wealth and encouraged many boot leg operations.  In 1920, the County Sherriff reported purchasing “one quart of whiskey, charging and receiving therefor the sum of six (6) dollars.”  An inflation calculator suggests the price of “one quart of whiskey” in 2016 would be $81.   


The manufacture and distribution of distilled alcohol significantly impacted the local economy.  The debate remained passionate.  As the temperance advocates suggested, “the unrestricted liquor traffic is today the most evil influence upon the moral and social health of the community.”