Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, August 10, 2018

WW II Draft Explained to Sherburne County

History describes the draft in World War Two as an arbitrary, straight-forward, yet fair method of selecting young me to serve in the armed forces.  We all understand men between the ages of 21 and 45 registered for the draft.  Local draft boards would determine the fitness of each man and his ability to serve.  A man could be excused from service for several reasons: family and dependents or possibly essential occupations.  Yet rarely is the arbitrary nature of the draft explained. 

Each man receives a number.  The numbers are drawn from a lottery in Washington, D.C.  But, how are these numbers assigned?  And, how does Washington determine the quota for each state? 

Shortly after the creation of the draft process in 1940, the Sherburne County Star News explained the process to readers.  According to the newspaper, local draft board registered and examined between 6,000 and 6,500 men.  Based on the population of Sherburne county in 1940, in all likelihood, one draft board examined the entire county.  After all men were registered, the local board shuffled the cards and assigned numbers to each card.  When young men speak of their draft number, this is the number they reference. 

During the process, the board placed each potential soldier into four categories:
1-      available for immediate service.
2-      Deferred as a result of an essential occupation
3-      Deferred because of family and dependents
4-      Deferred by law, such as legislators, judges and others.

Drafted men received an examination to determine their physical ability to serve.  If the quota, assigned to the state and the local draft board, could not be met by men available for immediate service, the board then drafted from the deferment categories.

Washington D.C. assigned a quota to each state.  The number took into consideration the population and the number of men already serving in the army or navy. 

The World War Two draft started October 1940.  The requirements quietly expanded so the men ages 18 to 45 eventually registered for the draft.  The arbitrary assignment of numbers provided a sense of fairness to the draft, something that had plagued earlier call-ups from wars dating back to the Civil War. 

The World War Two draft, the first peace time draft enacted in the United States, provided an equitable method to build an army.  By the end of the war, the United states armed forces totaled 16 million.  Almost 11 percent of the total population served.  The draft, with the limited deferments, provided an equitable method to call men into war. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Times they Are Changin'

You have to read alot of verbiage, yet the advertising in the Sherburne County Star News (in 1940) documents some interesting changes in the county. Electricity reached out to the citizens of Sherburne County to the point they need to consider re-wiring their homes.  Meanwhile, the Bank of Elk River urges their customers to save a trip into the bank, and bank by mail.  "We'll give the same careful attention as if you came in person." 

Reading the advertising from a different era reveals a variety of changes to modern life.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Recognizing National Camera Day

Today, June 29, we recognize National Camera Day.  A day to commemorate the camera, its invention, and the photographs and images cameras create.  For historians and history museums, the camera provides important evidence and resources that help document life in the past.  In honor of this momentous day, we provide images from the collections of the Sherburne History Center (dated to approximately 1880) and samples of cameras (dated much later in time) that made this documentation possible.

None of these photographs have been identified.
Details within each photo assist in dating the images

Friday, June 22, 2018

Miss Elk River 1939: Promoting the Community

Beauty contests have been the rage of popularity in the United States.  In 1939, while the country emerged from economic doldrums, the Miss Elk River beauty contest gained the enthusiastic attention of Sherburne County.  The wave of popularity continued into 1940 as Miss Margaret Spence represented the community at the Miss Minnesota contest. 

The contest in Elk River presented an unusually popular spectacle. “The contest attracted to Elk River one of the largest crowds seen here for a long time,” the Sherburne County Star News reported.   Ticket sales required a second and third show to entertain everyone interested in the pageant.  Unfortunately, news reports failed to detail the talent portion of the contest.  Yet, the reports emphasized the poise and charm of all the contestants as they presented themselves to judges. 

Miss Spence went on to compete in the Miss Minnesota Pageant 1940, staged near Marshall, Minnesota.  The reports do not note Miss Spence’s placement.  The winner of Miss Minnesota 1940, Virginia Kepler, hailed from Minneapolis. 

Business leaders sponsored the Elk River contest and covered all expenses for Miss Spence to continue in the state contest.  Clearly, the merchants sponsored the program to promote Elk River and boost the local economy.  An event that succeeded in bringing money and visitors into Elk River for at least one day in 1939.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Recognizing National Donut Day

National Donut Day originated by the Salvation Army in 1938.  A means to recognize all of their members that served donuts to soldiers during World War One.  The Salvation Army served more than donuts to soldiers.  According to Wikipedia, volunteers established huts near the front lines in France to serve baked goods to U. S. troops. 

National Donut Day began as a fundraising event for the Salvation Army, and remains a source of income to this day. 

In honor of National Donut Day, here at the Sherburne History Center we publish this photo of Bake Anderson and his Bakery in Elk River.  From a different time than the World War One volunteers; Bake Anderson provide culinary delights to a generation of Elk River.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Technology Provides Interesting Improvements to Sherburne Farms

Improving technology significantly impacted Sherburne County in the 1930s.  Increasing access to electricity made life so much easier for local farmers.  The local telephone company promised a telephone in the house could save your life.  Electric refrigerators reduced waste caused by the less functional ice box, the new machines also provided “26 percent more storage space.”  Perhaps the most significant advances in technology allowed farmers more time and greater productivity. 

The advertising for new farm equipment seemed magical in the enhanced production the machines provided.  The Allis-Chalmers Sherburne County Star News advertising Allis-Chalmers tractors in March 1938, promised “work just melts away.”  The ad promised “with an air-tired WC you plow up to 5 miles an hour.”  With this speed it was like adding extra equipment to a “slower outfit.” 

The Allis-Chalmers ad alluded to other technological improvements.  In advertising later in the month, the newspaper praised the virtues of rubber tires over steel wheels.  According to the advertising, rubber tires reduced costs, saved money of repairs, and increased productivity.  Clearly, new air-tired tractors, with greater speeds could only help the farmers of Sherburne County. 

New technology in the household and on the farm made life so much better for Sherburne County residents during this age of new development.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Shadick's Yet Another Elk River Institution

Summer’s beginning, memories of luxurious heat and the pleasure of cold ice cream springs to mind.  Memories takes us back in time, one constant fixture of summer in Elk River continuously comes to mind: Shadick’s Confectionary.

Opening in 1928 and remaining on Main Street until 1954, Ernie Shadick introduced new and unusual treats to the Elk River palate, providing sweet flavored relief from summer heat.  Yet, his early life in Anoka County gave no indication Ernie L. Shadick was destined to operate the sweet treat institution in Elk River. 

Born in 1899 to Herbert and Bertha Shadick, he spent his early life in and around St. Francis.  He served in the Army Air Corps during World War One.  Discharged December 1918, after ten years in Minneapolis, he found his way to Main Street, Elk River. 

Pineapple, one of the many
unique flavors offered up at
Shadick's in 1938
Beginning in 1928, Shadick purchased and modernized the Riverside Confectionary in downtown Elk River.  In 1931, the Sherburne County Star News noted the Riverside, under the ownership of Shadick kept “a large number of ice compartments full of different flavored ice cream.”  The store also improved the ice cream freezers.  A move that allowed even more variety of uniquely flavored ice.  The newspaper noted, the new equipment manufactured “brick ice cream with fancy centers, fresh fruit ice cream, sherbets, malted milks and ices.”  The machine also guaranteed production “under the most sanitary conditions.”  As the company improved the store name evolved, often referred simply as Shadick’s. 

Still later in his career, Ernie Shadick created a popcorn phenomenon.  In 1937, he purchased a popcorn machine and proceeded to sell over four tons of popcorn in the first twelve months.  Shadick’s popcorn, the newspaper claimed, “sold throughout Minnesota, and is a popular product,” found everywhere in the state. 

In the 1940s, in spite of restrictions and rationing, Shadick’s Confectionary continued to offer quality treats in Elk River.  The shop remained in place until 1954, when Ernie Shadick sold his enterprise.  After the sale, an institution in Elk River slowly faded so that only the memories of chocolate ice cream and big bags of popcorn from Shadick’s Confectionary stir in our mind as spring heats into summer.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Improved Roads Create a Need for Speed

Transportation advertising found in the
Sherburne County Star News, 1938
Country roads became smooth bands of pavement throughout Minnesota in the 1920s. As gravel and mud disappeared, replaced by sleek, flat thoroughfares, roads generated a new need for speed and power.  Automobiles graduated from the small buggy model-T’s to the V-8 power of Ford and Chevrolet. 

Newspapers in the 1930s witnessed a dramatic change in the object of advertising.  No longer the small cars or buggies.  With the completion of the Jefferson Highway through Sherburne County, and roads running north, the Sherburne County Star News began advertising what must have seemed like truly powerful machines of transportation.

Deluxe Ford V-8’s “bigger and more luxurious than any previous Ford V-8,” the newspapers advertised.  Delivered for only $802, “why pay more” the ads wondered.  Chevy and Buick also promised greater power in their automobiles.  In addition, they offered new improvements and options such as: a glove compartment, hydraulic brakes, three ashtrays, a spare wheel, and 2 tail lights.

The improved highway system gave justification to greater speed and more luxury in automobiles.  Yet, probably unforeseen by transportation planners, the need for speed marked a significant change in viewpoint for the residents of Sherburne county. 

Ironically, the newspapers documented another change.  In the same pages urging “buy your modern car now!” Harold Caley urged framers “it’s a good time to look over your harness before spring work starts.”  Some traditions died more slowly than others.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Weather Extremes 1936 Caused Major Challenges to Sherburne Farmers

Weather extremes, the newspapers documented in 1936, wreaked havoc in Sherburne County communities.  Floods and high water in April and a ten-week drouth in August the weather played a significant role in life during a bad year in the 1930s economic depression.

The headlines of the Sherburne County Star News, in April 1936, reported high water marks on the Elk River.  Camp Cozy suffered the greatest catastrophe.  The newspaper reported flooding and ice flows destroyed footbridges crossing the Elk River.  High water destroyed cabins along the river.  Yet, these reports seemed only a precursor to the weather extremes of later in the year. 

In the summer months, heat waves burned crops and killed people in the upper Midwest.  The St Paul newspapers in the summer 1936 reported 100 people dying from heat.  Newspapers noted the heat allowed men to fry eggs on the city pavement.  The heat in Sherburne County seemed lower, yet still destructive.  A ten-week drouth ruined crops throughout the farming communities of Sherburne County. 

The county newspaper reported a lack of rain from June to August 1936.  The heat seemed so oppressive entire families slept outdoors to possibly catch an evening breeze.  By August 13, the newspaper reported “66 days without an appreciable rain.”  When it finally rained, hailstorms wiped out any crops that might have survived. 

On a positive note, the newspapers reported a good hay crop.  Dairy and cattle farmers may survive the drouth as indications suggested farmers held on to a surplus of hay from 1935 and managed an early harvest in 1936. 

A reprieve from extreme weather conditions in September provided relief to the county.  Along with aid from WPA programs, farmers in Sherburne County survived another season of weather extremes.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Veteran Bonus Impact Reached Deep into the county

World War Adjusted Compensation, billion dollar words that generated 20 years of controversy and bloodshed in the United States.  Although Sherburne witnessed no violent protest, the law passed in 1924 impacted Elk River and the county for a generation. 

In 1924, Congress pass legislation awarding veterans of the World War a bonus for their service.  Veterans received promises of bonds to be paid after 20 years maturity.  President Calvin Coolidge opposed the legislation, arguing “patriotism bought and paid for is not patriotism.”  Despite his veto, Congress passed the World War Adjusted Compensation Act, promising veterans money in twenty years. 

The arrival of the economic depression in the 1930s, unemployed and homeless veterans asked for their money earlier than promised.  In 1932, Bonus Army protests in Washington, D.C. led to riots and the deaths of two veterans.  In 1936, Congress passed a new legislation promising the veterans their money. 

In Sherburne County, the promised money reached an estimated 300 veterans.  The Sherburne County Star News estimated the county veterans would receive $181,000.  Over a third of that money, $75,000 would be paid to Elk River veterans. 

With the assistance of American Legion Posts throughout the county, veterans applied for, and received bonds from the Federal government.  The vets redeemed the bonds at any post office or bank.  
In 1936, in the midst of the economic crisis; unemployment high; and civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA maintaining projects in the county, this monetary windfall surely delivered hope to a number of Sherburne County residents. The full amount paid to Sherburne County veterans remains unknown, the implied economic impact played a significant role for Sherburne County veterans and their families.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Depression Era Relief: A Tricky Challenge

Depression era relief programs required unique enforcement skills in 1935.  This became apparent from newspaper reports in the Sherburne County Star News in the spring of that year.

In May 1935 the local newspaper urged local farmers and other county residents to report any relief recipients turning down opportunities to work.  “All clients who refuse work when it is offered are to be taken off relief rolls,” the paper reported.  According to the news reports, county residents remaine3d on the relief rolls while supplementing their income with egg and dairy sales.  “relief is being given only as emergency relief,” the paper reminded.  “As soon as a family’s income is larger than their budget, they will be taken off relief.”
WPA construction crew in Handke Stadium circa 1935
In farming communities throughout Minnesota federal investigators found families willing to receive federal relief and farm income at the same time.  “A concerted drive is being put on throughout the state to shut this down.”  The paper went on to remind readers receiving relief while receiving regular income constituted a fraud against the federal government.  “In many cases these people are being brought into court.” 

Yet, in spite of the challenges with relief programs in all Minnesota, a desperate need for aid remained in Sherburne County.  In the same year, 1935, over 4800 men and women worked on relief jobs in the Sherburne County-St. Cloud district.  Jobs included work like the WPA project at Handke Pit, and Civilian Conservation Corps jobs throughout the state.  In the month of December 1934, 116 people worked on relief project in Sherburne County. 

Providing relief while enforcing federal limitations on that relief presented a unique challenge in Minnesota.  At a time when residents desperately needed aid the federal government came through with assistance while minimizing the duplicity.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Advertising in Elk River

Some interesting advertisements in the Sherburne County Star News in 1934 and 1935 give us a sense of life and times in the county: 

With the rising standard of living, it would appear the telephone is becoming more of a necessity and less of a luxury in the daily lives of the people of Sherburne County.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cater Family Memories

Charcoal Print of Joshua Cater, in the
collections of the Sherburne History Center

The Cater Family served a prominent role in the settlement and development of Sherburne County.  Settling in the area of Haven Township in 1860, Joshua Otis Cater and his descendants contributed significantly to the early history of the county.  Lottie Cater Davis, the granddaughter of Joshua Cater, the daughter of Levi Woodbury Cater, provided an oral history to the Sherburne History Center, remembering some of the early settlement:

My dad farmed in a big way—he had over 1,000 acres of land.  We had an older house in Becker, south of here on Highway 10.  I was born in the old house in 1896.  When I was four, my dad wasn’t working and he built that great big house.  We had that house built in 1900 and moved in there.  I can remember when there we ten buildings on that farm, right in the yard.

They could buy land for five dollars and acre, but to get that $5, I don’t know how the young people today would do it.  They raised hogs—they had to raise the corn by hand.  Cut it by hand and raise the hogs, butcher them and haul them to what was then Pig’s Eye, (St. Paul) and sell them for five cents a pound.  It took a 100 pound hog to buy one acre of land.

My grandmother made butter at first.  Her job was taking care of the milk and cream.  They set flat pans—great big flat pans—in the basement.  She would skim off the cream, churn it and pack it in her crocks with a layer of salt on top.  Then they would haul a whole load to St. Paul.

Up north here, my dad had 160 acres.  They made tons and tons of hay out there and Grandpa sold it—a lot of it went to the place where the stagecoach stopped in St. Cloud—they sold lots of it there.  

Grandpa was quite a poet.  Any little thing that kind of amused him.  He lived with us over here the last part of the time and every once in a while he would come out with a little smile on his face.  My mother and I would know that he had made a poem.  Just any unusual incident and he would make up a poem.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Following Up On Herman Greupner

After publishing William Greupner’s oral history, a news article the Sherburne County Star News published came to light, providing more details about the business history of Herman Greupner and Greupner Shoes.  The article, published April 5, 1934, provides new insight into the business history of Greupner Shoes, it also gives information regarding the layout of Elk River’s business district.

1894 map of Elk River business district.  Looking
closely Greupner's Shoe Store most likely in the bottom
edge of the map, along State Street.
When Herman Greupner arrived in Elk River, in 1884, he opened his first shop next door to “the Henry Wheaton general store on the north side of the railroad tracks.”  The newspaper reported, in 1885, “W. H. Houlton built a new shop for Mr. Greupner on Princeton Street,” (today Jackson Street) still north of the railroad tracks.

“When my business increased,” the paper quoted Mr. Greupner, “making dress shoes for the best people of Elk River, I moved to a larger place near the post office, where Joe Libby was postmaster.” 

The fire of 1898 destroyed the entire business section of Elk River.  Greupner Shoes opened temporary quarters until Houlton built new space south of the railroad tracks.  Greupner moved into these new quarters in 1901, only to suffer another destructive fire in 1910.  “I had accumulated a very nice stock of goods and tools,” he remembered.  “But after the fire I didn’t have as much as a pegging awl.” 

Again, he rebuilt.  The shop remained in place until his death.  Mr. Greupner died four months later, August 15, 1934.  A series of newspaper reports paid tribute to the business man and his fifty-year history in Elk River. His personal history provides greater understanding of the development of business in Elk River.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

Remembering Greupner Shoe Shop

Recently we have been exploring county landmarks with the use of oral histories in the collections of the Sherburne History Center.  Greupner Shoes developed into a business institution in Elk River.  Established in the 1880s, and remaining in the city for more than eighty years, the small shop that served Elk River and Sherburne County became a significant icon in the county history.  William Greupner remembers the store and his father:

Greupner's Shoe Shop before the 1895 fire
From the collections of SHC
My dad, Herman Greupner, came to Elk River from Germany in 1883.  He had two sisters and a brother in Germany.  He was in the army over there.  He was in the army for three years.  And then he was in the reserve.  He really shouldn’t have left, I guess, because in the reserve you aren’t supposed to leave the country.  He did anyhow because he thought, he told us so many times, he thought silver dollars were hanging from the trees.  But he found out different when he got here. 

He spent one year in St. Paul, [then] in Eau Claire and then from there he came up to Elk River because it was mostly on account of he made boots for the fellows that worked on the river.  They [the boots] were called parks or cults.  He had all the patterns for these men and he make ready-made shoes for them.  They sold, as I recollect, or as my dad told me, he made these boots for around $6.50 or $7 a pair, which compares today with would cost probably $150.  The men worked seven days a week.  They worked every day and Sunday.  [They received] kind of top pay then.

Well, my father was in Elk River.  He was single for eight years before he met my mother.  And, my father was sixteen years older than my mother, but they still reared nine children.  One child died in infancy.  But there were eight of us that lived.  We all we of age before our parents passed away. 

When [my father] was fourteen years old he started training in shoe repairing and making new shoes.  So then when my brother Fred, who was six years older than I was, when we got old enough, we helped.  I started helping in the store when I was about eleven or twelve years old.

My father had several fires [at the store].  The first one in the town, which was 1898, the whole town burned out.  He had insurance all those years, but this particular time he shorted some lamps and so he didn’t collect a cent.  But he inherited $300 from his folks in Germany.  That’s what really saved him, so he could start up again in business.  Then, again, we had a big fire in 1910, which we lost everything.  Then we started over again. 

In 1910 we had about $5000 inventory, and his insurance was $2,500.  So, he paid his debts and started over again from scratch.  There is where I spent fifty years of my time, from 1910 on. My brother and I, our father taught us shoe repairing.  We [were doing] shoe repairing, and we also had, of course, shoes and men’s sport clothing.  And so, we kept on until my brother passed away in ’66.  My wife and I, we kept on for a couple more years. Then, I became 65 and that’s when we sold out.

Monday, February 26, 2018

First Outdoor Movies in Elk River

Several communities in Sherburne County, today, present outdoor movies to entertain the local residents.  The first outdoor movies presented in Sherburne originated nearly 85 years ago in Elk River.  Interestingly, the band concerts and the park gatherings inspire long memories, these first outdoor movies remain nearly forgotten. 

Manager of the Elk River Theater, Mr. Christiansen, developed plans to present an outdoor movie in conjunction with a band concert on Thursday evening, July 19, 1934.  With expenses paid for by a long list of business sponsors, “Arizona Terror” starring Ken Maynard became the first outdoor movie projected in Elk River.  The Elk River Star News described the presentation as “a story of an innocent cowboy who become a fugitive from justice.”  For audience members not favoring the western story line, the newspaper added, “a western love story helps keep up the interest, and there is a lot of shooting and adventure before it turns out happily.” 

Mr. Christiansen developed a portable projection booth with sound speakers.  The plan developed to project the movie on a blank wall situated behind the Standard Oil Station.  Unfortunately , the presentation lacked crowd control.  “Some difficulty was experienced,” the paper reported.  “the projecting booth was hit by a truck and one of the lights was broken.  The crowd was not well handled and automobiles were parked in various positions leaving little room for people to sit or stand and watch the picture.”  The newspaper also estimated an overly large crowd at “close to 1000.”

After a few days to review the presentation and improve conditions, the outdoor theater projected a second movie on the next Tuesday, July 24.  Elk River police controlled the crowd and parking at this second viewing.  The smaller crowd and traffic control allowed for a pleasant presentation of another western, “Wyoming Whirlwind.” 
The newspaper announced future movies after dark.  Unfortunately, the newspaper makes no mention of the later presentations. 

The limited newspaper coverage may explain the limited memories of the first outdoor movies in Sherburne County.  These first movies, however, mark the development of a unique form of entertainment briefly available in Elk River.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Kemper Drug: A Significant Landmark in Elk River

Marking the history of Kemper Drug reinforces the significance of this landmark in Elk River.  This oral history collected from Bob Kemper provides new insight into the building and also contributes understanding to the business history of the city.

When I bought the store it was the only drugstore in town; and it remained the only drugstore for quite a while.  But, of course, eventually, all the grocery stores had pharmacies in them.  So, it’s quite a different picture, although Kemper Drug is still there.

My dad had a drugstore in Perham.  My older brother is also a pharmacist.  So, we grew up in the drugstore.  I worked in several stores after that.  And then, of course, the war came on; I went and joined the navy.  Then I came back and bought the store in Elk River.  My partner was my brother.  We also had the Perham drugstore.  Eventually, we separated and I owned the Elk River store and he, the Perham store.

Well, my dad had our drugstore in Perham, and when I graduated from high school, he asked me—I think the way he worded it—he said, “What do you expect now to make the world a better place to live in?”  I didn’t have an answer to that, so he said, until you know what you’re going to do, you can come to work for me.  So, I worked in the drugstore in Perham for a year.  And then, in the meantime, my father died and my mother died, and my brother and I were partners then and we wanted another store, so we bought a store in Elk River. 

When I came here, I was the only drugstore in town; but a situation existed that was kind of bad.  All the doctors had their own dispensaries, so when you went to the doctor and you needed some pill, he’d get them.  He didn’t write a prescription.  Well, I kept working on it.  I thought eventually I’ll get the guys talked in to do thing the way they ought to.  And they could practice medicine and send the people to the drugstore.  But I had a pretty good business even without the prescriptions.  We had a soda fountain.  We were sitting on the corner.  Lot of cars by and traffic, and so we had a pretty good business without that.  But I wanted to get the prescription business a little better.  Eventually it happened.

Kemper Drug after fire destroyed the
building in January 1960
Of course, about the fire: it was a cold, very cold day (January 6, 1960) a bitter cold day.  And we had opened the store and we had the hotel upstairs, too.  I owned that, too.  So, one of the clerks came to me and said, “Gee, there’s some smoke coming up on the side of the store here.”  And I went over there, and then I went down the basement.  Mac Hamlet, who took care of my store, the heating and whatnot, said the furnace acted up.  He had one of those fireman feeders.  He overdid it but says “I can fix it.”  So, I said, okay and I went back up to the store and everything was okay.  And then that clerk came back again and said, “there’s smoke coming up over there.”  So, I went down there and by that time, there was fire in the ceiling in the basement and Mac Hamlet was still there, and I said, “I guess we better get out of here.”  And then I had to go back to the hotel to be sure there weren’t any people there. 

So, at any rate, it was a big day, and cold, and we had fire departments from Monticello and Anoka.  A lot of people working on that fire, and this is a bitter cold day. 

It was a terrific blow.  And, I didn’t know quite what to do.  I had several people helping me, had some ideas I should find a place in town the would rent.  And people sent me back to Minneapolis to get some stock.  I went back to the wholesale drug company and told them what happened; and they were all excited.

Of course, now we lost the hotel upstairs, which was really not such a bad deal.  I didn’t like the hotel business.  So, I didn’t have that big building anymore; and I built a nice new building.  It almost, you might say, worked out pretty good for me. 

Bob Kemper rebuilt and the building standing on the corner of Highway 10 and Jackson Street remains a significant landmark to the city.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Betty Belanger Remembers Elk River

Nationally, there have been recent discussions about immigration and citizenship.  On a local level, here at the Sherburne History Center, in recent weeks, we have been called upon several times to discuss immigration and ethnicity in the county.  With so much information about immigrants in my brain, I wanted to visit one of the truly unique and valuable oral histories we have collected about immigrants and Elk River. 

Betty Belanger lived her entire life in Elk River.  She was born to Hungarian immigrants north of Elk River.  In the household, Hungarian was the language of choice until Betty started school at age six.  Although a brief excerpt of her longer oral history, Betty provides interesting insight into growing up in Elk River:

I was born on the farm with a midwife who was a Hungarian immigrant.  She delivered a number of babies for the Hungarian moms in the neighborhood.  Her name was Theresa Toth.
I grew up on the farm and started school at age six.  I fought with my parents to not make me go to the little country school.  I wanted to go to the big city school and ride the bus.  So I did go to school in town, in Elk River at the wood frame schoolhouse.  The Handke building was already built by the time I started school.  The senior high was over there in the new brick building and we were still in the wood frame building.  We rode the school bus for a long time because there were only a few buses, so we had a good one hour ride (each day).  
View of Jackson Street in downtown Elk River.  Some
of the businesses visible include: Kemper Drug,  the Bank
 of Elk River, the Variety Store, and Dare's. 

Downtown Elk River was awesome back then.  We knew all the businessmen and all the businessmen knew all the citizens around here.  It was really neat.  The best part of downtown Elk River was the park. With this wonderful gazebo, we had band concerts every Thursday night.  So everybody went into town for the free band concerts, and farmers did their shopping and listened to the music.  It was an awesome gathering of a community.  

My mother never went to town.  She never learned English well enough to be able to communicate with the store keepers.  But my dad and brother would go into town with the milk check and if I hollered loud enough they’d take me along and maybe I’d get an ice cream cone. 

Once a month the milk check would come in the mail from the Princeton Milk Producers Association then the next day he would go to the bank, he would cash the check, make his mortgage payment, and buy groceries.  And they could go in the bar and have a beer and buy me an ice cream cone. 

My father did dairy farming, but he also dabbled.  We always had a lot of chickens.  We took the eggs into the grocery store to sell.  I can remember going in the back room where the grocer would “candle” the eggs to make sure they weren’t fertilized.  And then the ones that were okay he would accept and he would pay my dad for the eggs and then Dad would use that to buy groceries with. 

Betty Belanger’s memories are rich in detail.  In discussing the business district of Elk River, she remembered a multitude of stores and businesses.  She explained the telephone company had offices and the switchboards upstairs above the Bank of Elk River.  She remembered the Fairway Grocery, the Federated Store, Dare’s Furniture and Funeral Home, Andy’s Electric, The Golden Pheasant, the bowling alley and the movie theater.  Like so many of the oral histories collected at the Sherburne History Center, Betty’s memories are truly rich and valuable. This brief excerpt provides a sense of growing up in Elk River during the late 1940s.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Maps Provide Interesting Information

An absolutely fascinating collection at the Sherburne History Center includes the many maps of the communities and the county.  This image is a portion of an Elk River map, probably dating around 1895.  The map contains the original street names of Jackson and Highway 10, originally Princeton and State Street.  Looking closely at the map, the two original hotels, located on the corner of Princeton and State Street, and near the corner of Main Street and Quincy, show themselves.

Exploring the growth and development of Elk River is an interesting process.  Using the maps from the collection enhances the research.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Townships: The Political Building Blocks of Sherburne County

The development of Sherburne County and the political divisions are common questions.  When were specific townships created?  How was the county originally divided? 

The Minnesota Territorial Legislature created Sherburne County from the southern lands of Benton County in 1856.  This legislation designated Humboldt (later renamed Big Lake) as the county seat.  Special elections chose Elijah Cutter, John Stevenson, and Ephraim Nickerson the first County Commissioners.  The newly created county was divided into three assessment districts.  The county Commissioner, two years later, created the original five townships of Sherburne County.  On September 13, 1858, Baldwin, Big Lake, Clear Lake, Elk River, and Briggs Townships came into being.  Briggs Township was later renamed Palmer. 

Although this map is dated 1874, a significant error on this
township map is the omission of Blue Hill, created in 1868
yet not designated on this sheet.
Over time, six other townships developed.  The county drew lines for Livonia Township in 1866, Santiago Township on January 7, 1868, and Blue Hill Township May 5, 1868.  Becker became a township in 1871, Haven in 1872 and Orrock in 1875.  More than 100 years later, in 1978 Elk River Township and the City of Elk River consolidated and the township ceased to exist as a political division. 

Beyond the townships, the villages, towns and cities of Sherburne County continued to grow and develop.  Yet, for a large part of the history of Sherburne County, the basic unit of government, designated to provide for the residents of the area, remained the township.  Knowing their dates of creation is the first step in appreciating the history of Sherburne County.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Sensational Crime in Elk River: Bank Robbery of 1929

Although not the site of the 1929 bank robbery, the lobby
of the Bank of Elk River gives a sense of the security
and business atmosphere in the bank.
In the heyday of bank robberies and crime, the 1920s; in the time of Al Capone, Bonnie and Clyde, and a slew of other criminals; Elk River experienced what the Sherburne County Star News called “one of the most sensational crimes committed in Sherburne county.” 

In the morning of August 9, 1929, three bank robbers kidnapped Dr. George Page, his wife, Zella, and bank cashier, T. E. Olson.  While one bank robber held Mrs. Page hostage, the other two escorted Dr. Page and Mr. Olsen into the First National Bank of Elk River.  After entering the bank, Mr. Olsen announced the robbery.  Cashiers turned over $7200 to the robbers. 

After leaving the bank, the robbers retrieved their third member at the home of Dr. Page.  Surprisingly, the bandits did not confine their three hostages.  After the robbers left the Page house, Dr. Page noted the license plate and description of the getaway car.  The bank robbers fled to Birch Lake where they picked up a fourth accomplice, a woman by the name of Alice Hull.  The robbers then fled towards Princeton. 

The detour to Birch Lake gave police time to organize, identify the bank robbers and track them towards Zimmerman.  Mike Auspos and Earle Brown, both from the Minnesota Highway patrol, identified the bandits and engaged in a running gun battle with the bandits.  Brown managed to wound August Becker, the bandit driver, and forced the getaway car off the road where all four suspects were arrested.  Because of his wounds, Becker’s arm was later amputated.  

In their court hearings, all three of the men pled guilty to robbery and kidnapping.  They received life sentences in Stillwater Prison.  Alice Hull maintained her innocence in the episode.  She claimed to be an unwitting accomplice of the bank robbers; a young woman simply wanting to experience a “good time” with the three men.  

The outcome of her trial is not reported.  

Although a seemingly exciting episode on paper, the bank robbery in Elk River proved to be dangerous to innocent victims and the bank robbers themselves.  Those that suffered the most were the bank robbers.  And, the “good guys won” in the end.  Yet, the perceived excitement of a bank robbery and car chase quickly looses the romance factor when the dangers of the episode come to mind.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Orlando Bailey and Bailey Station Worthy of Historic Note

Bailey Station Depot circa 1910
A number of early pioneers, or settlers, of Sherburne County deserve recognition. Every few months we  notice one of these individuals.  Orlando Bailey, founder of Bailey Station, warrants recognition as an influential person in the settlement of Sherburne County. 

Born in Chautauqua, New York in 1820, he migrated to Sherburne County with his family in 1852.  He built a small farm five mile west of Elk River and developed a stage station and hotel.  The site later expanded into a railway station and still later a gas station.  Orlando Bailey founded a transportation site encompassing every form of locomotion for 150 years. 

After Orlando Bailey settled the area, he built (for the times) an elaborate hotel.  A 1944  family history written by his nephew Vernon Bailey, remembered Orlando Bailey and his home.  “We stayed for a time with Uncle Orlando in his big house, no longer used as a tavern, but roomy and pleasant with broad piazzas along two sides, a large laundry and woodshed at the rear and ample barns and stables for the stage horses and considerable stock of cattle and farm horses.”  By the time of Vernon Bailey’s stay at the Bailey Station, the railroad companies had bypassed Bailey Station.  Orlando Bailey and his son Albert, devoted their energies to farming.  “Uncle Orlando and his son Albert were both lovers of good horses and kept the best to be had for both heavy work and for fast driving teams,” Vernon remembered. 

In addition to settling and farming outside of Elk River, Orlando Bailey actively supported the community of Sherburne County.  For a time he served as County Sheriff, County Commissioner, Justice of the Peace, and Postmaster.  He also instilled the importance of public service to his children.  Orlando’s son, Albert, served 40 years as Sherburne County Probate Judge. 

Acknowledging some of the early pioneers of Sherburne County remains a goal of the Sherburne History Center.  His work to settle the area and his contributions to public service for the county, Orlando Bailey stands out as an early settler providing significant contributions to the early community of Sherburne County.