Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Visual Artists in Minnesota

 

Minnesota Artist Anton
Gag (1859-1908),
self portrait

This past week, at the Sherburne History Center, the annual Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase exhibited work from several local artists.  With art history playing around in my mind, I wanted to take a moment and give mention to a couple of Minnesota visual artists.  I want to acknowledge there is a force within the state that inspires painters, illustrators, photographers, and other visual artists.  Here are four artists born or lived in Minnesota and played a significant impact on the national art world.

Sarah Louise Judd (1802-1881) born in Farmington, Connecticut.  She came to Stillwater, Minnesota in 1845 as an educator.  She also produced daguerreotypes and later, other portrait images.  She is regarded as the first photographer in the state of Minnesota.

Perhaps the best known of all Minnesota visual artists, Wanda Gag (1893-1946) trained under the tutelage of her father, artist Anton Gag (1859-1908).  Anton immigrated to Minnesota, settling in New Ulm where seven children, including Wanda, were born.  Anton worked as a photographer and painter, best known for his oils depicting events of the Dakota War.  Wanda trained at the Minneapolis School of Art and became a major illustrator and artist.  Perhaps, best known for her published work, Millions of Cats.

Another Minnesota artist, Adolf Dehn (1895-1968), worked closely with Wanda Gag.  As a lithographer, Dehn gained fame in the school of Regionalism and Social Realism.  Although a brief period of artistic expression, Regionalism gave focus to views and images from the Midwest.  As a significant artist in the school, Dehn received two Guggenheim fellowships to pursue and expand the influence of the period. His work appeared in a variety of popular magazines in the 1940s through 1960s, including: Vogue, New Yorker, and Life magazine.

Adolf Dehn, Anton and Wanda Gag, and Sarah Louise Judd serve as significant reminders of the many visual artists to develop in Minnesota.  And, with the Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase, we continue to explore the artists and their imagination from Minnesota.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Women Going to War

 

WAAC recruitment poster, 1943

During World War Two, young men receive a significant amount of attention in joining the service or being drafted to serve.  Rightly, we need to recognize their service to the country.  Yet, many young women also served in the military.  Their service also warrants recognition.

There were a few opportunities for young women to serve the country during the war.  The government called upon women flyers to ferry aircraft to Britain that had been manufactured in the United States.  Nurses served an equally important role in the military.  And a multitude of administrative duties put the efforts of women enlistees to the task.

The first of the women branches of service, other than nurses, organized as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  Beginning in 1942, the Army recruited 150,000 women to serve in administrative duties and still later as mechanics stationed around the United States.  In February 1943, Carol Jean Briggs, of Elk River, joined the WAAC service.  Ms. Briggs taught school in Elk River for two years before enlisting, explaining her experience might be better utilized in the army.  At the same time, Betty Truman joined the Army nurse’s corps as a second Lieutenant. 

Later on, in 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps reorganized as the Women’s Army Corps.  Their work proved so successful, the Navy created the WAVES; the Coast Guard created the SPARS; and the United States Marine Corps organized their Women’s Reserve.  General Douglas MacArthur described the WAC’s as “his best soldiers” because of they complained less and worked harder than most men.

Perhaps the most secretive of the women in war time service involved the code breakers and translators stationed along the west coast in the war against Japan.  Francis Scroggins Beck, of rural Elk River, served as a cryptologist for serval years during the war.  As a cryptologist she translated secretly intercepted communications from the Japanese. 

Although only three listed, a number of women in Elk River and Sherburne County joined the military effort to fight the war.  Sherburne County recognized the men drafted into service.  Women enlistees quietly went about the business of war with little or no recognition of their service.

Ladies, thank You.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Recognizing Labor Day

 

With the coming holiday weekend, we need to stretch outside of Sherburne County History to explore the origins of Labor Day.  Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing to the declaration of a national holiday, the day to celebrate workers remains important.  

Quarry workers in west Sherburne County

The commemoration of labor and working often associated with May 1, May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.  In the United States, in the late 1880s, May Day became more closely associated with radical philosophies often associated with socialism, anarchy, and communism.  A variety of more conservative labor unions and activists started promoting the first weekend in September as an alternative; a new Labor Day. 

The Haymarket Massacre, on 4 May 1886, further solidified May Day as a celebration of radicalism.  In 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize the Labor Day holiday in September.  Within 7 years, thirty states commemorated Labor Day.  Although the federal government recognized Labor Day as a holiday for federal employees, it wasn’t until the 1930s the holiday was recognized as an official holiday. 

In Minnesota, a number of significant activities revolve around the September holiday.  Many schools in Minnesota open after Labor Day.  Some suggest this scheduling allows young children to fully participate in the state fair, which closes on Labor Day.  In addition, fall sports activities schedule their opening based on the Labor Day holiday. 

Informally marking the end of summer, Labor Day emerges out of the more radical history of May Day to play a significant role in yearly life cycles in the United States.  It provides an exclamation point to end summertime activities and signals to Americans now is the time to develop plans for the fall and winter activities.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Nuclear Energy in Elk River

 

Newsletter advocating for
reactor in Elk River, 1955

A truly unique anniversary passed this week, 57 years ago, on August 24, 1963.  On that date, the Elk River atomic reactor generated the first nuclear power in Minnesota.  After eight years of campaigning and planning, the Elk River nuclear plant opened for business.  Unfortunately, the plant operated for only a brief time.  Yet, it served as a highly informative experiment in nuclear plant operations. 

Only ten years after nuclear power proved its strength, the Rural Cooperative Power Association of Elk River developed a campaign to introduce nuclear energy into the upper Midwest.  According to a proposal submitted to the Atomic Energy Commission in June 1955, a nuclear plant in Elk River could reduce electricity production costs by fifty percent in five years. 

The Atomic Energy Commission looked favorably on the Elk River proposal.  In 1958, they granted approval to the project and construction began on this unique project.  After five years of construction, the reactor first generated power and became the first reactor operated by a rural cooperative in the United States.

Unfortunately, the experiment at the Elk River plant failed.  After five years of operation, the plant closed in 1968.  Officials reported the plant lacked cost effectiveness.  By 1975 the entire reactor had been dismantled. 

Planning and construction took more time than the operation of the plant itself.  Although the operation of the plant failed, the experiment provided insight into the construction and operation of a nuclear plant in the United States.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Joseph F. Bean: Sherburne County Pioneer

Recent discussions of early settlement presented an individual to consider as a pioneer serving a significant, yet unheralded, role in the settlement of Sherburne County.  We need to look at the life and times of Joseph F. Bean of Livonia Township. 

Joseph Bean spent his childhood and early days in New Hampshire.  He made his way to Sherburne County, stopping first in Wisconsin before landing in Elk River.  Finally, in 1856, he and his new bride, Betsy, settled in an area of Livonia Township.

The Bean homestead located on the stagecoach road between Elk River and Princeton.  In addition to farming, Bean also provided rest to travelers along the road.  He also served the role of Postmaster, the mail for area farmers being delivered by stage and later by the early morning trains.  In addition, both Bean and his wife Betsy emphasized education.  Both worked as teachers before settling in Livonia Township.  Evidence suggests the Bean household served, for a time, as a school.

A fire, in 1891, destroyed the original farmhouse.  The family quickly rebuilt their home and continued to farm and provide services to the community of Zimmerman, that developed just east and south of the Bean farm. 

Comparing the Bean family history to other early settlers, a pattern becomes evident.  Much like the homestead of Orlando Bailey, Joseph Bean established a farm while providing a rest stop for travelers along the road.  In addition, he provided services as the postmaster and may have opened his home as a schoolhouse. 

With all of this work and community service, Joseph F. Bean and his family clearly contributed to the settlement of Sherburne County.  They were important, early, pioneers in the County.

 

Friday, August 7, 2020

World War Two Impacting Sherburne County

 

The anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan arrived this week. It seems an appropriate time to recognize the impact of the war on Sherburne County. Unfortunately, and tragically, World War Two impacted everyone. Whether through rationing or military service, or a multitude of other means, every individual in Sherburne County, between 1940 and 1945, felt the war.  

 An oral history collected from Edmund Babcock makes an interesting point of this: “When my high school class had its fiftieth reunion, we invited every class member to get up and take the microphone and tell a little bit about what had happened in their life since graduation from high school. We invited a dear lady who was one of those teachers that everybody in the class knew and liked. She was getting to be an elderly person at that point. Her daughter, who happened to be a medical doctor, drove her out from Minneapolis and stayed with her through the whole evening. We had a reception the next day, and at that reception, the lady’s daughter was there again. I got into a conversation with her, and she said, “That program last night was just a memorable thing for me because each of you got up and started saying, ‘I joined the Navy,’ or ‘I joined the Army,’ or ‘I joined the Marine Corps’, or the girls said that they took a job or they joined the service or that they got married and their husb
Charlie Brown, one of many
Sherburne County residents
to serve in the war.  Brown was 
killed in Europe, 1944
and went into the service.” She said that she realized that the war had an effect on everybody and changed their lives, but it had never come true to her so clearly until she heard each one of these high school graduates begin to tell their story, and, because it was a wartime story, she realized that the war had a real effect on everybody, and it changed everybody’s life.” 


For Babcock, wartime service meant joining the Naval ROTC while at the University of Minnesota. Later, he served aboard a troop ship in the Pacific theatre of the war. “I finally was commissioned in December 1943 at the university, and I’d never been on a ship, but I was commissioned as an ensign,” he remembered. “I was assigned to a cargo ship, the Alnitah, the AK127. It was essentially a liberty ship, a ship that had been built in a hurry. There were many of them constructed. This particular one that I was assigned to was designed to carry troops. They weren’t carried in much style. “ 

“I was in Pearl Harbor the night the war ended,” Babcock said. “Coupled with the end of the war was the announcement of the atomic bomb and the damage in Japan and Nagasaki. This was another one of those events that you never forget. You remember where you were and when you heard about it. Somehow, it sticks with you.” 


 With the end of the war, Babcock returned to the University of Minnesota, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a law degree. And, as his reminisces make clear, World War Two impacted everyone in Sherburne County.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Fishing: Creating the Outfit and Landing the Trophy


Fishing holds a rich and extended history in Sherburne County.  The first resort in the county, Brown’s Hotel, in 1855 advertised Big Lake as a premier fishing spot. In the last 165 years, fishing remains an important sport and pastime in the county.  Stories abound of landing that great catch, that trophy fish.  Yet, a detail of the sport, not often discussed, concerns the creation of that most personal of items, the fishing outfit. 

 Walter Gohman, in his memoirs, writes of the fishing kit he devised with hard work and a little creativity.  “I made a fishing outfit by selecting a very special willow pole,” he wrote.  “I skinned the bark from this pole and treated it with oil.  I found a wooden fish line spool and fastened this the side of the pole.  I made a crank handle with a bolt and used screw eyes to guide the line.” 

Gohman went on to swear by the effectiveness of his outfit.  “We caught many fish of all sizes,” he wrote.  “We caught so many fish that my mother told us not to bring any more home.  We had all that we could eat.” 

Ben and Lillian Keays fishing on the Elk River.
Notice, Ben's outfit consisted of a large tree limb.
Soon, Walter Gohman’s outfit needed some upgrading.  He set out to improve his gear.  “I wanted a regular reel for my outfit.  I saw one in Tilmans Hardware in St. Cloud for $1.25.  This was a very simple reel.  I started saving money to buy this reel.  I would check the store window often to make sure that the reel was still there.  I was a great day when I finally was able to buy the reel.  I polished it all of the way home.”  

Further in his memoirs, Gohman expanded on his fishing adventures. “As a sportsman I had three ambitions that I often fantasized about.  These were to catch a muskie, to spear a buffalo fish and to shoot a goose,” he wrote.  “I never shot a goose.  I had a chance to spear a buffalo fish, but ‘chickened out’ when the fish was bigger than I was.”   

Gohman’s memories of landing a muskie make for an interesting story.  Using salvaged lumber and wire, Gohman and his compatriots crafted a raft to anchor in the middle of the Mississippi River.  “The raft was anchored at a deep spot in the part of the river we called the slough.  A tree and fence had washed into the river and settled on the bottom of the slough,” he wrote.  “We caught rock bass from this raft.  I was landing a rock bass when it seemed that the fish had wrapped the line around one of the tree limbs.  To salvage the line it seemed necessary to pull the limb up and unwrap it.  I proceeded o do this when suddenly there was a tremendous splashing of water and I pulled a large muskie onto the raft.  The muskie too the rock bass as bait and got hooked, he explained.”  After struggling with the fish, Gohman freed the hook and sent the fish on its way, back into the river. 

Every fisherman, including Walter Gohman, remembers landing that one great fish.  In addition, creating the very personal fishing outfit remains an equally enticing and vital story to the history of fishing and Sherburne County.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Sherburne County and Education


With the current discussions of disease and quarantine, the condition of schools and student attendance, I am encouraged to look back in the history of Sherburne County and explore the development of schools in the area.  It quickly becomes obvious; education played an important role in early Sherburne County.  

Elk River school, circa 1900
 As early as 1869, Elk River witnessed construction of a brick school, with multiple classrooms.  This was not simply the one-room schoolhouse similar to those scattered around the county.  This was a true school with several teachers and separate classes for students based on grade level. 

In 1876, the County Commission set aside specific township sections to benefit education in Sherburne County. The idea originates with federal law, mandating sections of land be set aside for education, the actions of the commission, however, reinforce the importance of teaching county children.

In 1883, every child in Elk River realized a dream come true: the school building burned to the ground.  Yet, in spite of this setback, education continued in Elk River and Sherburne County. A new, two story school replaced the burned-out facility, and education moved forward.  

In 1885, county educators reported 1,257 students in the schools.  This at a time when population in the county came in at about 5,000 people.  Elk River estimated a population of 600.  With a quarter of the population being students, the county administrators excitedly reported receiving state education funds of $477.66.   

Within five years, the county educators noted higher quality teachers arriving in the Sherburne County schools.  Some of these county educators suggested the local school boards slowly eliminating debt and finding the funds to pay teachers a higher wage. 

Although an unidentified photograph, children posed in
capes provides a unique image worth viewing.
Events leading up to 1900 show education as a significant priority in the families of Sherburne County.  In particular, the investment in Elk River education is noteworthy.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Life in Meadow Vale


A recent photograph published on the internet, generated a variety of questions regarding the location and history of Meadow Vale.  We will make an effort to provide more details about life in the area known as Meadow Vale, possibly fill in some details about the community 

Meadow Vale was originally a farming community located in the north west corner of Elk River township.  For individuals looking at a map, consider section 6 of township 33, range 26, with some overlap into section 31, township 34, range 26. 

Meadow Vale Schoolhouse
Perhaps the most common photograph associated with the community continues to be the image of District 28 schoolhouse (references vary, some research refers to the school as District 18).  The school, along with the nearby church, served as the community centers for Meadow Vale.  Still later, the local Grange Hall also acted as a community gathering place. 
 
Memories of the community, written by Mildred Hill Felix, remember the borders of the unincorporated neighborhood.  “Meadow Vale, in those days extended from the George Keasling place to the Antlett place, then west and south to the Taylor and Englebretson places.  No more.  Anyone coming from other communities were considered outsiders.” 

The schoolhouse and church (Meadow Vale Union Church) were both built on the southwest area of the community.  “About a quarter of a mile east of the school, a lovely little church was built on the south side of the road,” Ms. Felix remembered.  “One summer evening during an electrical storm, lightning struck this church and it burned.  Another church was then built on the opposite side of the road.  This church was later sold and moved away.” 

Meadow Vale Union Church
Several of the community events in Meadow Vale included a literary club and missionary society meeting.  The Felix memoirs noted, the literary club “was just what the name implied—discussing of books, poems and other writings.”  She went on to remember, the missionary society “met monthly and there was always a big dinner, and all the men attended this dinner.  I’ve known there to be as many as 15 or 16 cakes, and many tried to taste them all.”  The missionary society raised money during the meetings to support missionary work in Turkey. 

Ms. Felix also remembered the origins of the Sherburne County Fair in Meadow Vale.  “A Meadow Vale fair was started showing needle work, baked goods, garden crops, fruits, etc.  People came from Elk River, Big Lake, Orrock, Zimmerman and around.”  The Sherburne County Fair grew out of this Meadowvale fair and moved to Elk River. 

In the years of its existence, Meadow Vale residents clearly maintained a busy community life.  Between church and school, fairs and philosophical societies remained active.  Even in this isolated area of Sherburne County.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Sherburne County Dairy Industry

Orrock Creamery circa 1900
Notice the multitude of milk cans in each wagon,
 waiting to do business with the Creamery

With the closing of June as National Dairy Month, it seemed appropriate to recognize the importance of the dairy industry and the creameries to Sherburne County.  For decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, farmers recognized Central Minnesota as a significant producer of dairy.  As late as the 1980s, the region was recognized as the “golden buckle of the dairy belt.”  In the middle of this region, Sherburne County creameries offered quality milk, butter and cheese.  The multitude of milk producers and their distributors in Sherburne County need to be recognized for their impact on the local economy and history.  From the Elk River Creamery, and its related Twin Cities Milk Producers Association, to the Orrock Creamery and Becker Creamery, they all served a significant role in the agriculture history of the county.

Advertisement for Becker Creamery
Local historian Betty Belanger remembered the dairy industry as significant to the local farm economy.  The milk checks, the money paid out to farmers for their daily milk deliveries, served as the only cash money farmers received on a regular basis.  An early photograph of the Orrock Creamery shows several farmers, with wagons loaded with dairy products, waiting to deliver.  Unfortunately, the Orrock Creamery burned down in 1907 and never rebuilt. 

The Becker Creamery, Santiago Creamery and, more importantly, the Elk River Creamery filled the void to purchase from local dairy farmers.  The Becker Creamery dates to 1906, while the Orrock Creamery opened for business by at least 1890.  The Elk River Creamery also dates to the late 1800s. 
 
Elk River Creamery circa 1900
The Elk River Creamery served the local farming community until 1921.  That year the business sold to the Twin cities Milk Production Association.  They built a new building, serving the community until 1957. 

Although the primary product for all the operations was milk, cheese and, later, butter products came out of the creameries.  In the early years, farmers in the county regarded buttermilk as waste.  After production of butter, the farmers recovered the buttermilk to feed to their pigs. 

The large number of creameries in the county suggests they played an important role in the local economy.  As Betty Belanger noted, dairy as a cash crop impacted a significant number of farmers in Sherburne County.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Early Conservation in Sherburne County


Meeting in the basement of the Big Lake Municipal Liquor Store, September 3, 1941, a group of men and women living in Sherburne County came together and organized the Sherburne County Conservation Club.  For the next forty-one years they met to develop and discuss plans for very necessary projects, to aid conservation in Sherburne County. 

Because of drought, over-farming and several natural disasters, land in Sherburne County in the 1930s rapidly deteriorated.  Zimmerman was known as the poison ivy capitol of the world.  Sandstorms were so common, “there were days when Highway 10 was closed,” club member Art Nelson remembered.  

An early project for the club called for tree plantings to develop wind breaks and stop the soil erosion.  Over the years, the club estimates millions of trees were planted in Sherburne County as part of the Conservation Club program. 

Construction of a cement dam on Mud Lake, circa 1955, by
the Sherburne County Conservation Club volunteers
Other projects in the early years included developing fish rearing ponds to raise and transplant pike into county lakes.  The club also built a dam on Mud Lake, also known as Orrock Lake, to promote wild rice development.  The club also experimented with Pheasant propagation and wild turkey introduction.  Both of these projects appeared less than successful because of the lack of understanding on how to raise pheasants and turkeys.  The wild turkeys originated from Texas.  The birds apparently could not adapt to the changing weather extremes. 

 In the 1960s and 70s, the state and federal governments superseded the plans of the Sherburne County conservation Club.  By 1974, the club ended their annual improvement projects.  In 1982, the club quietly disbanded.  At times their activities generated some controversy, yet, the goals of the group enhanced life in Sherburne County until a time when the government took an interest.  Starting with a meeting in the basement of a liquor store, county residents identified a need and moved to improve their community.  Not always successful in their efforts, their early attempts mark an important chapter in Sherburne County development and conservation.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Typical Tasks for Homesteading Sherburne County


Recent research at the Sherburne History Center disclosed a copy of memoirs, describing the work of early settlement on farmland in the county. Written by Vernon Bailey, it provides interesting insight in the multitude of tasks needed to ready a farmstead for occupation. 

Between other work during the winter, Father and Charles cut and hewed the logs and timber for the new house, hauled them together in the snow.  When spring came, the foundations of the house were laid, the walls were rapidly built up of great logs, fitted tight together and hewed smooth on the inner surface.  The roof was framed of dry tamarack rafters, wide roof boards, and good pine shingles.  A cellar for vegetables was dug under the house after the roof was on but later an outside bank cellar was constructed in the side hill at one corner of the house where milk and meat and vegetables and fruit could be kept cool in the summer and from freezing in winter. 
When the house neared completion,
a clearing was made on the warm slope nearby and garden vegetables, potatoes, turnips, corn, peas, and beans were planted in the rich mellow wood soil and before summer was over an abundant supply of fresh vegetables yielded luxurious fare for the rest of the season and a substantial store to carry the family through the winter.  Our two cows supplied milk and butter and a small flock of hens not only supplied our eggs but increased so that henceforth we had eggs to use and some to sell. 
In all likelihood, the memories of Vernon Bailey described the typical task of settlement in Sherburne County.  The process of building the cabin, building the barn, and establishing a vegetable garden remained the priorities for most settlement farmers.  Only after ensuring the survival of the family, the cash crops and building of the successful farmstead became a major concern. 

Vernon Bailey in his early years of
 his career as a naturalist for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service.
The construction skills of Hiram Bailey, Vernon’s Father, appeared as a unique feature of the Bailey settlement memoir.  In his youth Hiram Bailey developed master skills as a bricklayer, stonemason, and carpenter.  These skills allowed him to command triple wages for construction work around Sherburne County. Hiram Bailey’s skills allowed him to earn cash money, a guarantee the family never lacked for necessities.  

Although there remained unique features to the Bailey family settlement in Sherburne County, the actual construction of the farmstead illustrates typical behavior of early settlers of the county.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Memories of Strawberries

Strawberries and west Sherburne County seemed synonymous for a number of years.  At the highpoint, the Becker Strawberry Days Festival solidified the connection.  The lesser known memoirs of Sherburne County residents remain equally important to connecting the local strawberry crop and the county.  A brief paragraph in the published memories of Walter Gohman bear out this important connection:
I remember vividly a strawberry feed.  There was a strawberry patch that went the full length of the garden.  The Gohman farm had some of the most fertile soil in Minnesota and the strawberry patch produced a large crop of luscious berries.  A big strawberry feed was in order.  In the morning when they separated the milk, a large pitcher of cream was saved.  The pitcher or cream was placed on ice in the ice house.  A long table was set up by placing planks on saw horses in from of the long porch.  We were each given a bowl and told to pick our own berries.  When we were all seated beside our big bowl of berried, Bert’s Anne went to the ice house to get the pitcher of cream.  As she returned across the lawn, a large garter snake crawled across her foot.  She screamed and tossed the pitcher into the air.  What was intended to be strawberries with sugar and cream turned out to be strawberries with just sugar. 

Although created as a means to sell more fruit, the Becker Strawberry
Festival highlights the important connection between the county and
the local strawberry farms
Walter Gohman didn’t enjoy his berries and cream on that day, yet his memories reinforce the importance and enduring impact of strawberries in Sherburne County. The berries continue to impact the community and the economy to this day.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Fear and Anger in Elk River


An abundance of stories exist describing the anger and backlash against Germany during World War One.  Numerous stories tell of American cities changing street names to no longer reflect a German influence. Or, restaurants changing menu items, such as the hamburger suddenly became a Liberty sandwich, or sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.  Memoirs in the Sherburne History Center collections serve as reminders that Elk River displayed an animosity towards Germany.  The story of this animosity, however, faded from memory and did not come back to light until the 1990s.  The actions in Elk River expose an interesting character trait for the small city. 

In 1917, with the United States preparing for war, patriotic fervor seemed omnipresent.  In the case of Elk River High School students initiated action to force the removal of German language instruction from the curriculum.  Students walked out on strike, refusing to return to the classroom until the teaching of German ceased.  The action threatened to divide the town until the County Attorney entered the fray to negotiate an end to the protest.  The teaching of German would stop, the textbooks were removed from the school, and students were required to attend early morning classes to make-up for lost instruction. 
Although during WWI German text books were removed
from the schools many German language books like
this collection of German folk tales remained in the
households around Sherburne County

The students returned to the classroom and the protest faded from memory until 1990.  In the 90s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church developed plans to paint the exterior of their building.  At the top of the building a slender finial “stretched to the heavens.”  When the painters began to paint the belfry, they found the usual debris of frayed rope from the bell tower, and a large number of weathered, rotten books.  The German textbooks from 7 decades earlier.  Apparently, the German textbooks from the World War One protest had been stored in the church belfry and forgotten.  Only to come to light when the new paint work neared completion. 

The memory of the disappearing German textbooks suggests interesting insight into the community of Elk River.  While the war inspired heated passions that threatened to divide the town, the County Attorney and leaders of Holy Trinity church came forward in an effort to reduce the tensions and find a solution to the student demands.  By the time the war ended and life in Elk River returned to some semblance of normal, the textbooks were forgotten and allowed to sit in the church belfry for nearly 70 more years. 

In large cities and in small towns, World War One generated deep passions and revealed significant emotions for the times.  Fear and anger revealed themselves in the populace of Elk River in these years of the first great war of the twentieth century.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Sherburne County Before Electricity


Electricity in Sherburne County generates a variety of unique stories about living and growing up in the county.  Providing electricity to the entire county stretched, in time, for over forty years.  Electrical power first arrived in Elk River in 1917.  In other areas, isolated farms, in the county, electricity came available in the 1950s.  Stories of electricity and the times before electrical power provide a unique perspective on life in Sherburne County.  The edited oral history of Angela Goenner. of Clear Lake, is one of these unique stories.  

Born in Nebraksa, Angela (Eikmeier) Goenner found her way to Minnesota as a child.  Her parents operated a general store in Stearns County before moving to Sherburne County.  Angela married Ernest Goenner in 1933.  She lived on the family farm, in Clear lake, until her death in 2001.  She remembers her family getting electricity in 1948.

I can remember a lot about what it was like before electricity, I'll tell you.  The icebox with a little pan underneath for the water that you had to drain every so often.  We were lucky to have the ice because we lived right next to a lake here, you know.  We made our own ice. 
The first thing we got was an electric refrigerator.  That was my prime thing that I wanted was a good electric refrigerator because I was sick and tired of dumping that water all the time for keeping things.  It kept things so much cleaner and also cooler.  It was so much more handy.  We put a motor on the cream separators so we could run that by electricity.  Then we had lights in the barn and lights in the house.  Before that our lights were Coleman gas lamps, gas lanterns.  The boys used lanterns out in the barn and we had what they call the gas lantern.  I don't know if you have any idea what they are like?  It was so nice just to be able to flick that little thing over there and get the lights in the house.  It was really, really wonderful.  Then, the ironing.  I got a nice electric iron.  Before that I had a gas iron.  I don't know if you remember what they were like.  They were an iron with a little bulb on the end of it that you put gasoline in.  It had to be white gas, you know, real good gasoline.  Then, you pumped the pressure in there, and then that would force the thing, and you lit it, and then that would keep the iron hot, and you could iron with it—rather than wait till bread baking day so you could get your irons hot on the stove.  We used to do it that way.  We had irons that you heated on the stove and did the ironing with that.  Then when I got that little gas iron, oh, I thought I was in seventh heaven, you know, because that worked so slick.  You could keep right on going.  But then when the electricity came along, all you had to do was just plug that thing in and it was hot. 
Electric iron circa 1950
The irons themselves were much lighter to handle back and forth as compared to those chunks of iron that you had that you put the little handle in, on the stove.  I can remember doing the ironing with those, and back and forth to the stove, get another fresh iron, come over here and iron some more.  Then when that gets too cold, you take it back, and set it on the stove, and take another one.  You had a set of three, with three you could pretty well go along with it.  And you could always kind of plan your ironing around the day when you baked bread, because you had to have the stove hot anyhow to get the oven warm enough to bake the bread.  That was just a good day to keep the irons hot on the stove.  You had to kind of compromise with a lot of those things, especially in the summertime.  In the wintertime, the stove was lit all the time.  In the summertime, you didn't light the big stove because a lot of times it got too hot from that big wood stove.  We had little kerosene stoves that we used, but you couldn't put the irons on those, and bread baking was still done with the wood stove.  One day a week, you always had to light that big wood stove and bake bread and iron. 
Pre-electricity sadiron was used by heating on top of
a wood burning stove, generally in groups of three.

Just one example of the challenges of pre-electricity life in Sherburne County, ironing presented some unique challenges to daily life.  Other simple tasks with their unique challenges might include reading and writing, cooking, and washing clothes.  Clearly, pre-electricity life in Sherburne County presented a uniquely challenging lifestyle.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Ard Godfrey in Sherburne County


The folklore regarding the settlement of Elk River and Sherburne County carries with it an image of industrious farmers taming the land and creating a home for their families.  Yet, at least one early resident of Sherburne County arrived to invest in community development, sell his investment and leave for more opportunity.  Ard Godfrey was not a farmer, nor a settler in Sherburne County.  He arrived in the area as an investor and quickly left after his investments returned a profit.  An overview of his life might help explain a new interpretation into the settlement or Elk River and Sherburne County.

Early in the 1850’s, probably 1851, Ard Godfrey and James Jameson arrived in Sherburne County, at the convergence of the Elk and Mississippi Rivers.  An experienced millwright from Maine, Godfrey recognized the particular course of the Elk River offered a potential mill site. Godfrey set about obtaining the land and building a mill.  His efforts marked the creation of Elk River as an industrial site and settlement. 

Godfrey, born in 1813,  grew up in Maine and following his father, he worked in the mills and gained some experience in the industry.  Although he married in 1838, he resisted settling in a community and wandered the United States seeking business opportunities.  Ard Godfrey left Maine, landing in Savannah, Georgia and then later, reversed course and traveled to St. Anthony Falls (later known as Minneapolis).  With each excursion, he left his wife to raise children.  He arrived in St. Anthony Falls in 1848, liquidated all of his assets around the country to build a family home in what became Minneapolis.  Three years later, Godfrey left his family to explore the Elk River for opportunity. 

Godfrey and Jameson purchased land from Silas Lane on the mouth of the Elk River.  Lane, in 1851, was reportedly the only farmer in the area, although several trading posts had been established along the Elk and Mississippi rivers.  After the transfer of ownership, Godfrey began construction of a dam on the Elk River with plans for a mill. 

For at least the next four years, Godfrey worked to improve his property in Elk River.  He built a small sawmill, and later added a grist mill to his industrial plant.  He also built a store, and a bridge across the Elk River to provide easy access to his operation.  He also owned a farm, north of his mill operation. 

In spite of his hard work, Godfrey felt the urge to wander and seek his fortune elsewhere.  By 1855, he owned a fully operational mill on the river.  He helped plat the community of Orono, later known as Upper Town when it merged with the community of Elk River.  Yet, he sold it all.  By 1862, Godfrey left the mill town of Orono, apparently seeking investments in the Montana gold fields, exploring the potential for quartz mills to process the gold ore. 

His work to develop mills in Montana proved less than profitable.  After his wandering, Godfrey returned to Minneapolis.  He continued to work in the mills around the community.  He remained in the city, where he died in 1894.  

After seeking his fortune throughout the country, Ard Godfrey finally settled in Minneapolis.  Years of seeking his fortune led him through Sherburne County and elsewhere through the United States.  His investment in Elk River set the stage for a strong industrial base in the community.  Although he does not typify the image of Sherburne County settlers, his few years in the area significantly impacted the economy and the character of the community.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Another Graduating Class Joining a World Crisis


With the lack of a graduation ceremony in 2020, we thought it appropriate to look back at another class of Elk River grads.  Men and women who put their lives on hold as the United states prepared to enter World War Two.  In three years, the world upon the class of 1938 to sacrifice for the war.   And the graduating class from Elk River answered the call.  Look closely on this image you may be able to pick out Jack Bade (second row, fourth from the right) and Charles Nagle (fourth row, second from left), both veterans from Elk River that served during the war (and men we have featured in these blog pages).  Other men and women on this photo collection may also have service records worth noting.




Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Hang The Canoe thief


Over the past few years, some blog entries seemed so much fun to research and write.  I wanted to take a moment and share one of these entertaining posts.  This post was originally published July of 2011.


Out west, tradition held that stealing a man’s horse was the most despicable and life-threatening action imaginable.  A horse thief was usually hanged without the benefit of a jury trial. 

I recently came across the following article in the Sauk Rapids Frontierman on 7 June 1855: 

The meanest and most contemptible action we know of, is for a white man to steal a canoe.  It is a common occurrence, for some people who are going to the Falls or St. Paul, and who are either too stingy or mean to pay for a passage down by land or purchase a canoe, to steal the first one they chance to see.  The people residing upon the river have lost a large number during the past two years, and we have lately been made a victim by one of this class of detestable beings—canoe stealers.  It may seem cunning, and be a cheap way to go down stream, but if we ever find out the thief, he will learn to his satisfaction that “Jordan am a hard road to travel.”

I wonder if the editor considered hanging too good for any of these canoe thieves:

Friday, April 17, 2020

Presenting Moses Sherburne

Moses Sherburne (1808-1868)

A recent search of the index to this blog revealed a significant failure on my part: at no time in the past eight years, since beginning this blog, has an article regarding the county namesake been produced.  So, I will correct that oversight today. Presenting Moses Sherburne: 

Through a combination of politics and legal acumen, Moses Sherburne received a unique honor of having a county named in his honor, while still alive.  To quote a biographer of Sherburne, he “was a conspicuous figure in the early days of Minnesota and was largely instrumental in guiding the Territory into statehood.”  His political livelihood, as well as his law practice, shed an interesting light on one of the early settlers of Minnesota and Sherburne County. 

Born in 1808, Moses Sherburne spent the first 45 years of his life in Maine.  He studied the law and received admission to the Maine bar in 1831.  While practicing law, his first political appointment came in 1837, he became Postmaster to the town of Phillips.  Other appointments came regularly, ranging from Postmaster to County Attorney, to Justice of the Peace and Probate Judge.  He was also elected to the state legislature and held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Maine Militia.  

The premiere appointment of his career came in 1853.  In the Democratic administration of Franklin Pierce, the 45-year-old Moses Sherburne received appointment as Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the Territory of Minnesota.  He relocated to St Paul, prepared to serve.  For four years, beginning in April 1853, he played a significant role in preparing Minnesota for statehood.  In the midst of this, in 1856, Sherburne County was named in his honor. 

Not for some time after he resigned his position on the Supreme Court did Moses Sherburne establish himself in the county bearing his name.  He developed a private practice in St. Paul.  Only shortly before his death in 1868, did Moses Sherburne live in the county.  He had relocated to the county to develop his legal practice.  From January to March 1868 he served as Sherburne County Attorney.  In March, he died, at age 60, just shortly after he settled himself in Orono, what is today part of Elk River.  

Although he lived only 15 years in Minnesota, his political record and legal skills suggest he made a significant impact on the creation of the State of Minnesota.