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.