Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Information Updates

Yet, another follow-up detail from the pages of the Sherburne County Star News. 

Recent research noted a depression era program offering mattresses to farm families in the county.  A program offering low income families an opportunity to “make your own mattresses.”

Although this image originates from the mattress program
 in New Orleans, it provides an understanding of the entire
mattress making process. 
Photo courtesy of the National Archives
In a follow-up article from 1941, the newspaper reported families requested and made 470 pieces of bedding in Sherburne County during the first six months of the year.  Operating out of Bowles' Garage in Zimmerman and the Clear Lake Town Hall, the program provided quite a few families with mattresses in this brief aid experiment.  Under the direction of Mrs. Charles Hetrick in Zimmerman and Mrs. John Leitha in Clear Lake, the Sherburne County Extension Office taught families how to make the mattresses and expedited the process to provide comfortable sleeping for county residents. 

Although the program offered opportunity to low income families, “Make Your Own Mattresses” developed as a plan to reduce surplus cotton supplies in the Southern United States.   Although the plan originated with the Agriculture Adjustment Administration, a second, lesser known agency provided assistance in the program. 

The National Youth Administration, another New deal agency, provided job training and work to young people between the ages of 16 and 25.  The N.Y.A. uniquely trained women and men for work outside of the home.  In the case of the “Make Your Own Mattress” program the N.Y.A. employees assisted in the construction and sewing of the mattresses.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Sherburne County Prepares for World War Two

Although the United States did not enter World War Two until December 1941, the government instituted preparations for war as early as 1940.  The plans for war impacted Sherburne County as the army drafted a number of young men in the county.  The local newspaper, Sherburne County Star News reported the draft calls and also noted national efforts to get ready for war. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Giant Visits Elk River

Robert Wadlow strikes a
pose with the
Greupner brothers during
his promotional stop in Elk River

Business relies on publicity.  In 1939, Greupner Shoe Store carried this adage to an unusual end. Appearing to promote Peters Shoe Company, and the local distributor: Greupner Shoes, the tallest man in the world arrived in Elk River.

Robert Wadlow, of Illinois, spent a day in August 1939, in Elk River.  He busied himself signing autographs and promoting the quality footwear of Peters’ Shoes.  Pointing out his own shoes, Wadlow noted the size as 37AA. 

Using a cane and braces to move through the city, Wadlow struck a variety of poses beside individuals and automobiles to illustrate his great height.  On the day of his visit, the Sherburne County Star News measured him at 8 feet, 9 ½ inches.  A year later, at his death he was measured at 8 feet 11 inches. 

During his visit to Elk River, his most memorable pose provided comparison to the height of William and Fred Greupner.  The newspaper reported Wadlow as the “giant as big as is claimed.” 

The paper concluded the report by congratulating the Greupner brothers for the enterprising promotion in bringing Wadlow to Elk River and the publicity for Greupner shoes and for Elk River.

Friday, August 31, 2018

"Make Your Own Mattress" in Sherburne County

“Make Your Own Mattress:” served as a program developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in the Fall 1940 to eliminate a cotton surplus from the South.  The USDA targeted Sherburne County as a potential location to benefit from the program.  Although small in economic impact, it provided some aid to local families.

According to reports from Washington. D. C., an over-abundance of cotton hit the market in the fall of 1940.  The Agriculture Adjustment Administration, a depression era program to help farmers, created the “Make Your Own Mattress” program to reduce the cotton surplus.

The preliminary plans reported by the Sherburne County Star News, noted an undisclosed warehouse will store cotton and “good grade ticking” so that individuals might sew their own mattresses.  The government developed the program for low income, rural families in Minnesota.  Income could not exceed $500 for a family of four and households received one mattress for two household members, not to exceed three of the mattresses.

Adult family members paid a fee of one dollar to cover the cost of needles and thread, the newspaper reported.  The families worked in the warehouse as a team to sew their own mattresses and take them home.  The County Extension Office and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration provided trained instructors to supervise the manufacturing process.  

Although a minor event in the greater activities of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, the “Make Your Own Mattress” program serves as another example of the multitude of Depression Era economic experiments to aid Sherburne County.  Although smaller than the WPA or the CCC, “Make Your Own Mattress” and other AAA projects certainly provided significant aid to the county.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Electricity Expands in Sherburne County

demand for electricity in rural Sherburne County reached a fevered pitch in the last years of the 1930s.  Reading ads in the Sherburne County Star News reveals a rising demand for electricity in areas immediately around Elk River.  Although power did not reach every corner of Sherburne county until the 1950s, the pre-war period witnessed a rising demand.

Advertising in the Sherburne County Star News in 1938, 39 and 1940.

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.