Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Sherburne County Ice Harvests

Ice harvesting developed into a significant industry in early Sherburne County.  Particularly around the City of Big Lake, ice earned a national reputation for purity and quality.  The seasonal work also established itself as a significant part of the local economy.  The lucrative process of harvesting the ice also proved tricky and dangerous.

Ice Cutters and the Big Lake Ice Company warehouse
 circa 1910
News reports in the 1920s and 1930s suggested a significant contribution to the local economy.  The Sherburne County Star News in 1925 quoted Justus DeBooy, the president of the Big Lake Ice Company.  He estimated harvesting the ice led to the employment of nearly 150 men on a seasonal basis.  He went on to suggest nearly 55,000 tons of ice would be harvested from Big lake alone.  The company warehoused 35,000 tons, while the Northern Pacific Railway company hauled away 20,000 tons for its own use. 
 
The technique to harvest ice also provides interesting insight.  Ice is plowed and cross cut into 14 inch by 30 inch squares.  These squares measure 20 inches deep.   Next, deeper cuts form large rafts of ice.  These rafts are “floated” to a conveyor belt.  Final cuts are made to break up the raft and the ice loaded on the belt to be hauled into the warehouse. 

Working on slippery ice, that is also floating free in the lake, the work can quickly turn to disaster if the harvesters are not sure footed. 

Yet, each year, the ice on lakes around Sherburne County are harvested, sold to the railroad companies of shipped to larger metropolitan areas for public consumption. 

A significant contribution to the county’s economy took place in the months of January and February of each year in the early history of Sherburne County.    



Thursday, November 9, 2017

Celebrating The Armistice—the End of the War to End All Wars

The cease fire to end World War One came on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.  When news arrived in Sherburne County, celebrations started early in the morning and continued throughout the day.

A.E.F. troops in France, 1918
“The Union church bell began clanging out the good tidings to the sleeping public” the Sherburne County Star News reported.  “Soon the school bell joined in.  A freight engineer went through town with his whistle blowing drum beats.”  The paper went on to report the community anticipated the news.  “Without any further information Elk River knew that Germany had surrendered.” 
 
With the news, a spontaneous celebration involved the entire city of Elk River.  A spontaneous parade developed, taking over the main streets throughout the city.  Businessmen closed their shops and joined the celebration.  “Old and young were included in the ranks of the paraders,” the newspaper reported.  “Every conceivable noise making instrument was used in announcing the progress of the revelers.” 

The entire country had been anticipating the end of fighting.  Unfortunately, one week earlier the local news had prematurely reported and end to the war, only to disappoint Elk River citizens with a retraction of the report.  In spite of the false report most citizens realized peace was near. 


The readers of the Star News celebrated the end of the war and predicted this would introduce an extended time of peace.  “Never again will the wires carry such momentous news as was flashed over the country,” the paper predicted.  Unfortunately, only 23 years later, the wires carried news of a new war to end all wars.  The Great War would become known as World War One and a new generation of men would be called upon to defend the country.  But on November 11, 1918, the celebration carried the day.  The war ended and peace was at hand.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Remembering Veterans This Year

With the fast approaching Veteran’s Day, we wanted to take a moment and thank all veterans for their service.  We also wanted to recognize some of the men who made the ultimate sacrifice for all of us.

Men who died in the service of their country from Sherburne County, Minnesota include:

Leo A. McBride
Arthur Bernard Embretson
Oscar Engbloom
James L Brown
Funeral service of Charles Brown, Becker, MN circa 1944
Lyle Illif
Howard Palmer
Robert Darrow
Harold Gohman
Charles Brown
George Meyers
Lawrence E. Lindorf
Reginald “Mike” Smith
Robert Brown
Orvile Anderson
Donald Borst
Orville Hartman
Robert Bell
Carl Trovall
Carl N. Nielson

This is not intended as a comprehensive list of men from Sherburne County who have died in service.  We would welcome any information about others who have served.

Thank you and have a safe Veteran’s Day 2017


Friday, October 27, 2017

"Talkies" Make It To Elk River

Transitioning from silent movies to “talkies” challenged any number of local movie theaters in the United States.  Elk River held a unique position in entertainment history as the local newspaper documented and criticized the efforts to introduce sound motion pictures to Sherburne County. 
Advertisement for the first sound motion
picture at the Elk Theatre, March 1930

The manager of the Elk Theatre announced plans to introduce “talkies” in the spring of 1930.  Referred to as “Manager Kizer,” the Sherburne County Star News reported the theater manager would close entertainment spot in February.  After two weeks of redecorating and remodeling, “talkies” would entertain the Sherburne County public.  The theater set a goal of February 22, 1930 to introduce the new technology.  Kizer missed his deadline and opened in March. 

The technology to the new motion pictures “gives the very best of sound picture effects,” Kizer promised.  And, with much fanfare and advertising, the first motion picture with sound in Elk River offered two different selections.  The grand opening featured a musical, “Words and Music.”  A midweek offering featured Will Rogers in the movie “They Had To See Paris.”  Unfortunately, reviews of the “talkies” suggested the sound from the films was an inferior form of entertainment.  The newspaper noted a “rasping and echoing which bothered a great deal.”  Kizer and the newspaper speculated the theater needed some renovations to improve acoustics.  The Elk Theatre discontinued “talkies” until the sound issues could be resolved. 

After some renovation work, motion pictures with sound reappeared in the Elk Theatre in September of 1930.  The reintroduction of sound featured a well known movie, “The Sophomore” starring Eddie Quillen and Sally O’Neil. The Star News reported a much improved sound system with the theater renovations. 


The newspaper failed to review the improvements to the theater.  But, the hard work of Kizer must have paid off.  The theater continued to show “talkies” while the silent motion pictures ended in Elk River.  

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Competing Technologies in Elk River

We found these two advertisements side-by-side in the Elk River Star News.  It struck us as interesting that it highlights the challenges of jobs versus new technologies.  The ad ran in May 1, 1930 issue of the newspaper. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Jack Bade: Sherburne County Flying Ace

Senior Class photo of Jack Bade, 1938.
When I first arrived in Sherburne County I began to explore the history of the county through biography.  I was developing my list of “profiles in courage” in Sherburne county, a type of historical/biographical exploration.  Recently I was directed to the life of one man in Sherburne County that most assuredly should be on a list of “profiles in courage:” 

Jack A. Bade was born in 1920 in Minneapolis.  His family moved to Elk River when he was still an infant.  He grew up in Elk River.  In high school he played football and basketball, and had the lead in the school play, Robin Hood.  After he graduated in 1938, he attended the University of Minnesota majoring in engineering.   For a time he worked at Honeywell Corporation before enlisting in the Army Air Corps.  

He received his commission and flight wings at Luke Airfield on July 26, 1942.  He then joined the 44th fighter squadron of the 18th Fighter group in the Pacific theater in December.
During his service in the Pacific theater in 1943, he earned the unique title of flying ace.  From January through September of 1943 Lt. Jack Bade was credited with destroying 5 enemy aircraft with one more probable.  Lt. Bade earned a Distinguished Service Cross for heroism on 13 February 1943.  In the citation Bade is credited with heroism while piloting a P-40 fighter to protect bombers from Japanese Zeros.  At one point, the citation notes, “Undeterred by complete lack of fire power and suffering great pain, he put his damaged plane through a series of headlong passes with such formidable aggressiveness that the Japanese airmen broke off their fight and fled.” He was reassigned to the home front in September of 1943.  For the remainder of the war he served as a flight instructor.  At the end of the conflict he worked as a test pilot for Republic Aviation.  He was killed in a test flight on May 2, 1963. 

World War II clearly brought out courage and the best in many men and women from Sherburne County, if not throughout the United States. Jack Bade is just one example of these men and women referred to as “the greatest generation” and certainly warrant attention on any list of “profiles in courage.” 


Friday, October 6, 2017

Remembering Arthur Embretson

During World War One, the United States first recognized gold star families, families who lost a member during war time.  In Sherburne County, the only gold star family in the area of Big Lake came with the death of Arthur Embretson in 1918. 

Serving aboard the U.S.S. Cyclops, Embretson was one of 306 sailors lost when the ship sank in March 1918.  Because of failed radio transmissions, the exact location of the ship was lost for many years.  The ship could have been captured or sunk as it sailed along the North Carolina coast.  The exact cause of the sinking remained inconclusive, although maritime experts believe the Cyclops had been overloaded and storms in the Atlantic Ocean caused the ship to founder or break apart.  The sinking of the Cyclops remains the single largest loss of life aboard a United states naval ship not directly involved in combat.  
 
Before he enlisted in the navy in 1917, Arthur Bernard Embretson left a small mark in history.  Born in October 1888 to Ole and Marie Embretson in Orrock Township.  He apparently lived on the family farm until his naval service.  In the Navy he attained the rank of fireman, third class.
 
Very little is written about Arthur Embretson.  During his service, the Sherburne County Star News published three reports from letters Embretson sent home.  In July 1917, he sent his photograph, in uniform, to friends reminding them to write often.  The January 18, 1918 issue of the newspaper, his letter sent thanks for the Red Cross Christmas package.  “I sure did appreciate it and am glad to see the old friends and neighbors remember me,” he wrote.  By April, 1918, the Navy declared the U.S.S. Cyclops missing.  On June 1, 1918 the ship was declared lost and all hands aboard as deceased. 


Because Arthur Embretson died at sea, his remains were never recovered.  A memorial stone in Orrock Cemetery marks the life and death of Arthur Bernard Embretson, the only resident of Orrock and big Lake Townships to give his life in the service of the United States in World War One.

Photos courtesy of LuAnn Watzke

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Remembering The Old School Days

With the arrival of autumn, it seemed appropriate to turn our attention to school and education.  We found two photos of schools for Sherburne History we wanted to share.  the top photo is the meadow vale schoolhouse dated around 1885.  The second photo is a more recent building of learning, Elk River school around 1900.  Both can be found in the collections at the Sherburne History Center.

Friday, September 15, 2017

More Tales of Prohibition in Sherburne County

Although not found in Sherburne County, this photograph
illustrates the equipment needed to create moonshine.
A news report in the pages of the Sherburne County Star News provides entertainment and also highlights the challenges police faced enforcing the 1920s prohibition laws.

The Sherburne County Star News reported in February 1929 of a burglary at the county jail.  “It is not often that anyone cares to break into jail,” the paper wrote. 

The cause of the “jail break-in” began several days earlier.  Saturday night, February 9, 1929, Sherburne County police arrested an unidentified bootlegger.  Police caught the man transporting 120 quart bottles of whiskey from Fargo, North Dakota to Minneapolis. 

After a weekend in jail, the man pled guilty to bootlegging.  He paid the $240 fine and left the county.  The whiskey remained in the county jail waiting disposal.  Tuesday night, 12 February, an unknown thief broke into the jail and removed all 120 quart bottles.  The police speculated the bootlegger returned for the whiskey.  Tracks around the jail suggest the thief used a truck to hauled away the alcohol.  By the time of the discovery Wednesday morning, police theorized, the bootlegger completed his delivery and the alcohol distributed on the streets of Minneapolis. 


In addition to being an interesting story, the reports of bootleggers breaking into jail highlights the monetary value of bootleg whiskey and suggests why prohibition failed and was repealed in 1933.   

Friday, September 8, 2017

Airplanes Soar Through Sherburne County

Airplanes, literally and figuratively, soared through Sherburne County in the 1920s.  The magical technology of flight sparked the imaginations of more and more Sherburne county residents as the decade proceeded.   In 1928, the fascination with airplanes culminated at the Christmas celebration in Elk River. 
A group of young ladies admire 1920s aircraft
 in Orrock Township 

Beginning with the post war period, Sherburne County held a fascination with airplanes.  As early as October 1919, the Sherburne County Star News reported on deliveries to Elk River merchants via air transport. 

Interest grew until August 1927, a race and good will tour passed over Elk River.  At that event, letters addressed to Elk River Mayor Beck dropped from planes, requesting city leaders place signage on the highest building in town.  During the race pilots used the signage as a navigation tool.  Still later in the year, an aerial circus performed above Elk River.  Wing walker and acrobat George Babcock, performed a variety of feats, including hanging from the plane “by his knees, hands and teeth,” the paper reported.
 
With an appetite for airplane technology, Elk River entered enthusiastically welcomed 1928.  Early in the year, local businessmen explored plans to develop an aircraft assembly plant.  In February, construction of a Curtiss Bi-plane began in an undeveloped, yet planned, airplane landing field west of Elk River.  Although the construction plant never came to fruition, the Elk River dedicated the airfield in May 1928. 

For the people of Elk River and Sherburne, the high point of air transportation in 1928 arrived in December.  “The scream of the fire siren and the roar of the big creamery whistle announced the coming of Santa Claus in his first flying visit to Elk River” the newspaper reported.  Just two weeks before Christmas, the Elk River Commercial Club arranged for Santa’s visit.  A plane from Robbinsdale flew to the headquarters of Santa Claus, the paper reported, to deliver him to Elk River. 


Although never able to capitalize on the business and technology in airplanes, Elk River and Sherburne County maintained an interest in airplanes and flight into the 1930s and through the Second World War.  Yet, interest seemed at the high point in the magical year of 1928 when plans for the city and dreams of aeronautical development soared.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Tuberculosis An Epidemic in Sherburne County

With the reported end of Minnesota measles outbreaks; and school beginning (where most children receive inoculations) I think of the multitude of epidemics and diseases that have plagued Sherburne County.

Tuberculosis, although generally not associated with epidemic disease; in the early 1900s the “white plague” caused significant worry in households throughout the United States.  Sherburne County suffered a share of panic and death from the disease.  An example of the concern and worry about the disease appeared in the local newspapers in December of 1928. 

In 1928 a vaccine for tuberculosis remained in experimental stages.  The American Lung Association carried out a fundraising campaign to cover research costs and patient treatment.  Part of the campaign included selling Christmas Seals in communities throughout the United States.  Locally, to promote the campaign and sell the Christmas seals, the Sherburne County Star News personalized the disease, reporting 5 terminal cases of Tuberculosis in the county.  The report promoted the Christmas Seals program seeking a cure and an end to the epidemic disease. 

A second promotional campaign consisted of information distribution.  A popular flyer from the Lung Association, handed out by the County Board of Health, reminded citizens that spitting in public spread Tuberculosis.  The front page of the flyer reminded people not to spit in public.  The reverse emphasized the health concern, “Do your bit, don’t spit.”  

Tuberculosis is also referred to as the white plague, consumption, or simply TB.  Most prevalent in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the symptoms most patients included a persistent cough and physically wasting away.  Doctors found the disease difficult to diagnose until patients were in a terminal stage.  “Minnesota now has more than 14,000 active cases,” the 1928 newspaper reported.  “Many of these are not even suspected as yet by the persons themselves, who are each day lessening their chances for recovery and spreading the disease to members of their families.”


Although the medical community developed a vaccine in 1906, the post-World War Two generation experienced the first mass immunization against the disease.  The 1928 Sherburne County reports possibly marked the highpoint of epidemic tuberculosis.  The fear in every household seemed a legitimate concern.  As the newspaper reported, even in Sherburne County “No home is safe from tuberculosis until all homes are safe.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Elk River Football

As the end of summer nears, the football season beckons.  It seemed appropriate to share this photo of the 1914 Elk River High School football team.  As an added challenge, if you recognize any of the players, let us know.  As a hint, the gentleman dressed in the suit and bowler hat is School Superintendent Arthur D. White.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Camp Cozy Revisited

Photo of Camp Cozy dated approximately 1938
 courtesy of LeeAnn Watzke
Camp Cozy, Elk River experienced several different lives as a resort and gathering place in Elk River.  Originally created as a resort for overnight guests and campground, many regarded Camp Cozy as a technological marvel.  In 1925 A. W. and J. B. Jesperson created a series of canals and flues allowing canoes to float over and around, up and down the Elk River.  Unfortunately, their resort failed with the economic downturn of the depression. 

Late in the 1930s a bar/dance hall/ roller skating rink, and fast food joint reopened at Camp Cozy.  This gathering place for Elk River residents kept the city entertained for nearly twenty years before portions of the resort burned and the remainder sold.  Yet, Camp Cozy held a distinctive position in the history of Elk River keeping visitors and city residents entertained for many years.  
 
While researching Camp Cozy, the lack of information became terribly apparent.  If anyone would like to share photos, or memories of Camp Cozy, please contact the Sherburne History Center.  We would like to hear from you.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Politics in Farming Ever Present in Sherburne County

Action in politics and serious lobby efforts remains an unappreciated yet constant presence in the lives of farmers in Minnesota.  A reminder of this omnipresent activity appeared in the pages of the Sherburne County Star News in June of 1927.    

The newspaper reported nearly 5000 attended the Farm Bureau picnic held on June 7,  at Eagle Lake.  According to the paper, Farm Bureau President J. F. Reed addressed the large crowd and “illustrated the numerous ways” the Farm Bureau and local farmers helped each other. The overall message at the picnic revolved around the value of the Farm Bureau Federation and how the organized farmers produced “favorable legislation in the state legislature,”   

Aside from the politics of the day, the local picnic committee created a number of events and contests to entertain the crowd.  The committee consisted of J. J. Stumvoll, C. C. Dawson, guy LaPlant, Carl Bender and O. E. Tincher.  The contests included: a hog calling contest, won by S. F. Seeley; a chicken calling contest won by Mr. George Rush; and a dinner calling contest won by Mrs. Joe Weis.  The committee seemed determined to recognize and award as many people as possible at the picnic.  Recognition at the day’s events included: girl with the prettiest red hair went to Inga Olson of Santiago, largest family in attendance went to the Ed T. Cox family.  He brought 11 children to the festivities.  The longest resident was Henry Orrock of Santiago and the tallest woman prize was given to Mrs. John Lindquist of Becker.


Through all of the contests and enjoyment, at the end of the day, the purpose of the picnic remained political activism in Minnesota.  The late 1920s were difficult economic times for farmers in Minnesota.  Picnics and gatherings similar to the Farm Bureau picnic were important tools for lobby efforts to the state legislature. The picnic reminded county residents the strength of unity within the community.

Friday, August 4, 2017

More Crime In Sherburne County

Paddy wagon in front of St. Cloud Reformatory, circa 1920
Improved roads and new automobiles delivered an unwanted result to Sherburne County in the 1920s.  Crime flourished in the area.  Perhaps the high point of the 1920s county crime spree occurred in 1927. 

That year, a bandit gang of five men terrorized communities on the outskirts of Minneapolis.  Led by Frank “Slim” Gibson, the crew included Jack and Lester Northrup, and Ralph and Lester Barge.  In a crime spree expanding beyond Sherburne County, all the way to North Dakota, the men robbed banks and burglarized businesses.  The intrepid police work of Sherburne County officers led to their capture and prison sentences. 

Beginning in 1926, the outlaw crew robbed merchants and banks throughout central Minnesota and North Dakota.  In November 1926 the gang robbed the bank in Wheelock, North Dakota.  Frank Gibson murdered bank cashier H. H. Peterson.  Continuing into 1927, the gangsters robbed the Stanchfield State Bank in addition to banks in Delano, Grandy, and Hamel.  They also attempted, and failed, to rob the Brunswick, Minnesota bank three times. 

As the bank robberies provided limited success, the gang turned to burglarizing local merchants.  The five men stole over $1000 of silk from Mattson’s store in Braham, Minnesota.   The gang reveled their vicious nature with a burglary in Isanti, on December 21, 1926.  That night the man attempted to break into a warehouse in Isanti.  Discovered by town Marshall, Frank Dahlin, gunshots were traded.  Marshall Dahlin died from two gunshot wounds to the chest.  On April 28, 1927, the gang attempted another robbery in Isanti.  The gang handcuffed gas station attendant Gus Peterson to a post and shot him.  Luckily, Peterson survived his wounds.

Only two weeks later the gang attempted to steal tires from a warehouse in Zimmerman.  Police intercepted the two cars driven by the thieves heading south toward Elk River.  A running gun battle stretched to Anoka. The first car, containing Jack and Lester Northrup, was forced into a ditch.  They fled into the nearby woods and were later captured.

Deputy Sherriff Mike Auspos chased the second of the cars to near Anoka, trading gunshots with the gangsters as they drove.  As the gun battle neared Anoka, Officer Auspos ran out of ammunition and was forced to give up the chase.

After their capture, the Northrup brothers confessed their crimes and identified the other three members of the gang.  Police arrested Gibson and the Barge brothers in Minneapolis.  Gibson and Jack Northrup received life sentences in the Stillwater prison for the murder of Marshall Dahlin.  The other three received lesser sentences at the St. Cloud Reformatory for their involvement in the Zimmerman robberies.  When they fulfilled their sentences for burglary, the Isanti District Attorney promised to pursue the greater charge of attempted murder of Gus Peterson.

Ten years later, Frank Gibson again appeared in the news.  June 1936, the state transported Gibson to St. Peter for a psychological evaluation.  While there, he and 15 other convicts escaped.  Gibson remained the only prisoner to avoid immediate capture.  In January 1937, Gibson was identified as one of eight men killed in a train accident in California.

The careers of these bumbling and violent criminals ended through the bravery and hard work of Sherburne County police.  The state carried out quick arrests and convictions through hard work of men such as Deputy Sheriff Mike Auspos.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Typesetter's Challenge

Sherburne County Star News, frontpage
January 11, 1900
An interesting column published in the Sherburne County Star News emphasizes the challenges of 1920s technology.  This brief statement generates some appreciation for the 21st century ability to communicate: 

"The Star news admits that it occasionally make typographical errors and we are not ashamed of it,” the paper reported.  “Possibly the general public does not know it, but in an ordinary column there are 10,000 pieces of type.  There are 7 possible wrong positions for each letter, 70,000 chances to make errors and millions of possible transpositions.  In the sentence, “To be or not to be,” by transpositions alone 2,759,022 errors can be made.” 

The paper concluded their column with the defiant claim, “No paper is ever without errors and there never will be one.” 

Considering this, spell check on my word processing program makes me appreciate the computer technology more than ever.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fred Corey: Another Local Profile in Courage

Inherent dangers exist in the timber industry.  A brief biography of Fred Cory illustrates some of these dangers.  His life also serves as an example of courage and hard work to overcome obstacles. 

Born in Otsego and living in Elk River, Fred Corey worked the first half of his working life in the timber industry.  In 1895 he received the appointment as a land inspector for the Minnesota State Auditor’s Office.  His job as timber cruiser demanded he inspect land in the Iron Range, identifying trees suitable for harvest as lumber.  “He is honest and competent and will perform the duties of the office in a faithful and conscientious manner,” the Elk River Star News speculated.  The job, though, led directly to an accident that left him disabled for the rest of his life. 

In March 1895, while cruising timber in the Iron Range, his compass failed him.  He became lost.  Shortly afterwards, a spring blizzard hit the area.  Corey became stranded overnight in freezing weather.  “It was a bitter cold night,” the newspaper reported.  “Twenty below zero, the snow being two feet deep,” Corey struggled to keep moving through the night.  Finally, able to walk out the next day, he found his camp despite suffering from frozen ears, hands and feet.   The Star News report summarized Corey’s condition and surgery.  “Several fingers were amputated and a portion of both feet,” the paper reported.  “Mr. Corey stood the operation well, and it is hoped his recovery will be speedy.” 


In spite of hard work, Fred Corey never recovered to full health.  He left the timber industry and received an appointment as the Elk River Postmaster.  He held the position for 17 years.  As a political appointment, his dedication and hard work counted for little, Woodrow Wilson replaced him as postmaster in 1915.  Beyond his disabilities, Fred Corey remained active in his retirement at the Union Church in Elk River and as a Mason.  Fred Corey an example of dedication to life and devotion to hard work, died February 1924.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thieves Beat the High Cost of Living in 1920s Sherburne County

“Somebody,” the Sherburne County Star News in November 1919 reported, “has discovered a new way of reducing the high cost of living.”  Thieves victimized farmers in Sherburne County for several years by stealing anything they might be able to eat or sell. 

A thieving crime wave first appeared in 1919, Jim Brown a Livonia Township farmer reported a two-year-old steer butchered in his field.  The thieves took “everything along except the head the entrails,” the paper reported.  According to the reporter, Brown’s steer was the second Sherburne County theft by butcher that year.  The paper also recalled several sheep had been similarly stolen.  “It may be that an organized band of thieves are operating in this section,” the Star News suggested. 

Later in the 1920s, organized gangs of thieves again operated in the county.  For more than three years, 1921 to 1924, butter thieves targeted creameries owned by the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association.  In October 1921, the Star News reported the thieves hit the Elk River Creamery and made off with 445 pounds of butter.  Police speculated the thieves might have gotten away with more except some unknown disturbance frightened them away.  Earlier in the year the gang of thieves hit the Forest Lake Creamery.  There “they took away everything they could find including the butter in tubs as well as prints.” 

After diligent investigation, police closed down the ring.  Charles Blad, from St Paul was identified as the leader of the gang.  Police convinced him to plead guilty for a sentence in Stillwater prison of “an indeterminate term.”  

Police paused to catch their breath before they began investigating yet another crime ring in Sherburne County.  In December 1925 thieves victimized county chicken farmers.  “A series of raids, bearing all of the earmarks of the deeds of experienced professionals culminated with the theft of between 60 and 75 blooded Rhode Island Red Chickens,” the Star News reported.  The thieves, the paper speculated “are of the type who travel in automobiles, steal, and market their products in the Twin Cities.”  Police speculated the capture of the thieves would be difficult.  In response, the paper reported, “the farmers of western Sherburne County are setting their man traps and oiling up their shotguns.” 

For whatever reason the thefts stopped in Sherburne County.  Although never violent crime, the value of the property stolen from the farmers and citizens of Sherburne County was significant.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Sherburne County Fair: History of the Early Days

Promotional announcement for the
Sherburne County Fair in the
Star News 1915.
Sherburne County Fair, 2017, meets on July 20 to 23.  It seemed appropriate to look back at the early days of the fair and experience the Great Sherburne County Get-Together from 128 years ago.

The fair first met at the A. B. Carlson farm in 1889.  After the first year, the event moved to the Meadowvale School, the future site of the Sunbeam Grange Hall.  Later sites for the fair included the Houlton property near the Mississippi River and the current site near Highway 10. 

Until 1915 the county fair consisted of a one day meeting.  Farmers brought out samples of their best crop, while women displayed craft work, baked goods, and jams and jellies.  The day concluded with a potluck picnic.  October first and second, 1915 the fair staged a two day event.  Slowly, over time the Sherburne County Get-Together expanded to the four day event of today. 

Over the years, the Sherburne County Agricultural Society, the group responsible for staging the fair, suffered growing pains.  At least three times the group reorganized and redefined themselves.  The group organized in 1889, they reorganized in 1915, in 1945, and again in 1989. 
Scheduling the fair forever challenged the fair board.  The original fair met the end of September 1889.  By 1972, the dates of the fair crept into July when the county gathered on July 14 through 16.  Weather considerations, heat and rain, as well as the work schedules of farmers tested the planning capabilities of the fair board.  The event, today, remains in July.

Continuing through to today, the support for the fair appears throughout the county.  Perhaps the most ardent boosters of the fair include the Sherburne County Star News.  Under headlines in 1918, the newspaper announced, “Another Great Success Scored By The Sherburne County Fair.”  The reporter for the news went on to describe the fair as “a complete success from every viewpoint.  The exhibits were plentiful and of a high quality, while the attendance was most satisfactory.”  Other years, the newspaper promised “More Exhibits Than Ever,” and “Prospects Are That the Sherburne County Fair This Year Will Be a Hummer.”


In spite of the many challenges and needs to reorganize, the Sherburne Fair remains a central event in Elk River.  An event inviting county residents to the “Great Get-Together” that promises to be “another great success.”

Friday, June 30, 2017

Arson in Big Lake

Arson often caused a shivering chill of fear to many early Sherburne County residents.  A simple fire could devastate a family.  A fire intentionally set generated fear in an entire community. 

Big Lake, in 1925, experienced such a fear.  In September and October at least nine fires burned eleven homes around Big Lake and Lake Mitchell.  Police and community members “staked out” neighborhoods around the two lakes.  On October 8, 1925, after a chase from Big Lake into Wright County and the Silver Creek community police captured a suspect. During the chase police shot at the fleeing vehicle.  The suspect suffered bullet wounds in the shoulder, this wound caused him to lose control of his automobile.  Police found the wrecked vehicle and the wounded suspect.  After his arraignment in Elk River court, the suspect was transferred to the St. Cloud hospital.  The newspapers identified a local veterinarian being in police custody and charged with arson.  However, reporters compounded the confusion about the identity of the arsonist when they later noted the suspect as a local telephone technician.   

At the trial, the Sherburne County Star News noted a tremendous amount of local interest.  The trial “attracted a large number of people, especially from Big Lake and vicinity, the court room being crowded to the limit,” the paper reported. The news also acknowledge the lack of solid evidence against the suspect.  “Most of the evidence,” the paper reported, “is based on circumstantial evidence.” 


Interestingly, the newspaper never reports the outcome of the trial.  The arson cases, however, stopped in Big Lake.  Yet, the fear of arson and fire continued to concern numbers of Sherburne County residents.  Fire prevention and organizing community fire fighters became significant concerns in many communities in Sherburne County in the 1920s.  Flames from a traveling locomotive, or from a poorly extinguished cigarette, or from arson all caused more than a little apprehension in Sherburne County.  The fear generated by an arsonist in Big Lake in 1925 was not an event any community wanted to experience.

Friday, June 23, 2017

More About Mail Service

Harold Keays prepares to deliver the mail on his Harley Davidson
motorcycle, just one of several modes
of transportation for his postal route.
On October 28, 2016 this blog highlighted the workload of mail carrier Harold Keays.  Local newspapers in 1915 estimated he delivered 11,000 letters and parcels each month.  After some research, we wanted to update the career of Harold Keays and acknowledge other postal workers in Sherburne County.

After the news article appeared in the Sherburne County Star News, reporters further investigated the work load of Sherburne County mail carriers.  While working in Elk River, John Keen, the mail carrier on route number 3, handled the largest monthly workload.  According to the newspaper, he delivered approximately 14,000 pieces of mail each month.  Charlie Reed, on route 2, worked the lightest of the delivery schedules, delivering 10,000 pieces each month. 

Four years after the paper reported these statistics, Harold Keays announced his retirement.  Mail recipients along route 1 held Harold Keays in high esteem.  The year of his retirement, his customers gifted him a gold watch.  Yet, after 18 years of service he chose to take some time off.  At his retirement, Keays estimated several startling statistics.  In his career he traveled 168,480 miles.  He traveled 4680 miles by bicycle; 28,080 by motorcycle; 48,840 in a Ford automobile, and 86,880 on horseback.  He conceded the Ford was the most reliable means of transportation.  In his 18 years, he delivered nearly 26 tons of mail or 2,134,080 pieces. 


It seems almost an understatement, in his retirement announcement, Keays noted the job became too strenuous and hastened the end of his postal career. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

The First Hospital in Elk River

Doctors and medical care often gauge the permanence of a frontier community.  The presence of a doctor in a small town suggests a stability similar to a developing religious congregation.  So, the existence of the medical profession in pre-1900 Elk River seems appropriate.  The interesting detail of medical history in Elk River is the relative late arrival of a hospital or clinic.

Hospital announcement from the
Sherburne County StarNews,
August 23, 1923
The Sherburne County Star News reported in 1923 of the incorporation and opening of a hospital in Elk River.  Prior to this opening, doctors in Sherburne County made house calls.  There were no hospitals in the county to send desperately ill patients.  Dr. Arthur Roehlke served as the primary physician with Marie DeBooy serving as the administrator at this new hospital. 

With great fanfare the hospital purchased and remodeled the interior of the Andrew Davis residence.  With two private rooms, two wards, a surgery and administrative offices, the building promised to house and care for up to 12 patients.  It appears the hospital was too selective about the patients it would treat.  In an announcement published in August 1923, the hospital offered care for obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, and general medicine.  Yet, “no contagious or objectionable diseases accepted” the announcement concluded.  In spite of the selectivity, the first patient for the hospital was admitted.  “To Miss Kate Noot, of Bailey Station, goes the distinction of being the first patient at the new hospital,” the newspaper reported. 

Elk River may have been a very healthy community, or the hospital may have been too selective regarding patients.  By March 1924, after only seven months of business the hospital closed permanently. “At no time,” the newspaper reported, “have there been enough patients to pay the expenses.”  

Elk River clearly exhibited the stability of a permanent community; capable of supporting a hospital.  Yet, the first attempt at a medical clinic quickly failed.  In 1924 a hospital with a resident medical staff remained a future goal for Elk River.

            

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Interesting ad for Wrigley's Chewing Gum

In our search for interesting information about Sherburne County, we occasionally come across unusual advertising that reflects the broader culture of America.  This ad for Wrigley's Spearmint Gum found in the Sherburne County Star News in November 1924 has a number of unusual features we wanted to share.  Take a look:
 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

SHC Collecting Veterans' Histories

This week we commemorate the 73 anniversary of the D-Day invasion of World War Two.  The entire year we commemorate the centennial of United States involvement in World War One.  Next year, 2018 will be the 120 anniversary of the Spanish American War.  In the 20th century, the United States also fought in Korea, Vietnam, and several times in the Middle East. 

Here at the Sherburne History Center, we appreciate the significant number of men and women from the county who have served in some branch of the United States military.  We would like to document this service. 
 
Are there veterans in Sherburne County that would like to share their military history?  We would like to hear from you.  We simply want to document the military service of the many men and women that lived and helped build Sherburne County.  If you would like to help us by offering your military history, please contact Mike Brubaker, Executive Director at the Sherburne History Center, 10775 27th Ave, SE.  Becker, MN 55308, or call us at 763-262-4433.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sherburne County and Mapping Minnesota

1849 map of Territory of Minnesota
Maps provide wonderful information and great appreciation for the early history of Minnesota.  An early map of the Minnesota Territory, dated 1849, holds significant information about the settlement of Minnesota and the creation of Sherburne County.  One of the original counties of the Minnesota Territory, Benton County, along with the two other counties, Washington and Ramsey, covered large areas of land.  In 1856 the Minnesota Territorial legislature created Sherburne County out of a small, southernmost section of Benton County.

Sherburne County, we all know, was named after Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Moses Sherburne.  Senator Thomas Hart Benton, of Missouri, served as the namesake for Benton County.  The other original counties also held political significance in their names.  Washington County, obviously named in honor of President George Washington.  Ramsey County honored the first Territorial Governor, Alexander Ramsey. 

The politics of the times guided the naming of a multitude of counties and communities in Minnesota.  Sherburne County serves as an example of these political honors. The geography provides more insight into the settlement of Minnesota.  And, the changing borders and county lines raises some speculation about the development of the territory and State.

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.