Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Thinking About Baseball

With the postponement of the baseball opening day, it seemed a good idea to look back, to think about the history baseball.  In Sherburne County, in the spring-time baseball became ubiquitous.  It was everywhere. 
   So, I invite you to take a look at a few photos from the Sherburne History Center collection and think about baseball in the past.  Take a close look at the uniforms and equipment from earlier generations.  Realize, baseball gloves, 150 years ago, were non- existent.  The glove evolved from a small padded hand covering to the large, webbed baskets of today.  In earlier generations, sharpened spikes gave base runners an advantage in breaking up a double play. 
   Look at the gloves, look at the shoes, and look at the bats from earlier times.  Think about the evolution of this wonderful sport.  Just wait, opening day will come soon. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

More on Epidemics in Sherburne County

With all of the commentary about pandemics and COVID-19, research revealed the serious amnesia Americans develop regarding the multitude of diseases and infections ravaging the world.  It seemed a good idea to explore these epidemics and the impact upon Sherburne County.  Unfortunately, very little evidence exists about the pandemics and epidemics in Sherburne County. 

In the twentieth century, at least six epidemics can be documented in Sherburne County.  Influenza raced through the county in 1918, 1957, and 1968. Lest we all forget, the most recent Influenza Epidemic lasted from April of 2009 until April of 2010.  In the twelve months, there were 60 million cases reported in the United States.  Over 12,000 people died, 67 of them in Minnesota.  

Polio, another epidemic, seemed to attack the young children of the United States each year.  Until the late 1950s polio epidemics seriously threatened the population of Minnesota at least three times after World War Two: in 1946, 1952, and 1953.  A memory of the 1950s and testing for the polio epidemic came to SHC recently: “I was tested with a spinal tap at Sister Kenny. I was 6 and got lucky. Mine turned out to be rheumatic fever. I can still remember going down a hallway to testing and seeing rooms filled with iron lungs. All you could see of the patients was their head. It was terrifying for a child of 6 who didn’t understand.” The Salk Polio vaccine all but eliminated the disease after inoculation began in 1955. 

Memories of any of the epidemics are scarce and unique.  This is why, in the coming weeks the Sherburne History Center is working to collect memories of the COVID-19 epidemic and any other epidemic or health scares you might remember.  As the COVID-19 quarantine extends, and you are looking for something to do, consider writing your memories of this event and sending them to the Sherburne History Center.  We will collect these memories in our archives to make them available to future historians. 

Please consider helping us collect information about this tragic, yet historic event.  Send your memories and thoughts to me, Mike Brubaker, at

Friday, April 3, 2020

Following Up On Dietz’s Fairway Market

After last week’s blog about George Dietz and the Fairway Market in Elk River, new information came to our attention.  We felt we needed to share, to add a bit more information and appreciation for George Dietz and his contributions to the community.  

First, a bit of background information.  The oral history mentioned his work in markets in the Chaska area.  It also hinted about service in World War Two.  The unmentioned details include Dietz’s service record.  He spent 30 months in the army, fighting in Europe.  He was wounded twice, once during the Anzio beach landing, and the second time during the invasion of Southern France.  

After the war, and after some time working in markets near the Twin Cities, on August 26, 1953 he opened his store in Elk river.  “Completely remodeled with a self-service cold meat department, new frozen food and new center gondolas,” the Star News reported about the store opening.  “The market will feature bigger, better, easier shopping at new low prices.”  

George Dietz hands out one of sixty bags of groceries given out
 during the market's grand opening.  Elmer Olson, right, of
 Elk River received this particular bag
During the four days of grand opening celebrations, Dietz gave away sixty bags of groceries to customers in his store.  This marked the beginning of a multitude of promotions and creative advertising for his market.  One such advertisement, even Dietz acknowledged, may have been too creative.  “They would never let you run an ad like this today,” he reminisced.  The advertisement featured photos of market employees dressed in prison garb, with the headline: “Local Merchant is charged With Murdering Prices.”   

The earlier blog entry noted George Dietz provided a unique addition to the Elk River business community.  These follow-up detail reinforce this earlier suggestion. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Clear Lake and Becker's Developing Fire Protection

Fire became a greater concern for Sherburne county, as the residents entered the 1900s.  As more and more fires destroyed more and more property, the communities responded to this growing challenge.  In the west part of the county, Clear Lake and Becker both acquired equipment and trained volunteers to move beyond the basic bucket brigade of earlier times.  Clear lake seemed to lead the way in organizing a fire department and acquiring equipment.  Becker learned from the example set in Clear Lake and used the lessons to improve its own system of firefighting.

The flaming destruction of the depot of the Great Northern Railway inspired Clear Lake to move into action and acquire firefighting equipment.  In March 1898, one year before the village of Clear Lake was incorporated, a call for volunteers resulted in the creation of a significant firefighting force.  Shortly afterwards, the community purchased a two-man fire cart.  Using soda and acid to create carbon dioxide, the chemical reaction forced water out of a tank, through a hose onto the fire.  The contraption sprayed water up to 50 feet.  The cart combined with the local bucket brigade to effectively fight fires in Clear Lake for many years.  In the 1930s, a Diamond T truck replaced the two-man cart.  The water and chemical tanks remained in use, mounted on the back of the truck.
Becker Fire, 1911.  Remanats of the
Brazee Bldg in foreground

Becker followed the footsteps of Clear Lake in creating a municipal fire protection plan.  Just three weeks after the Village of Becker incorporated in December 1904, the Village Council ordered the creation of a Fire Department.  Less than six months later, the Council purchased ladders, hooks, and other firefighting equipment.  In 1910, the Becker Council purchased a sixty-gallon chemical fire cart, very similar to the Clear Lake equipment. 

Both Clear Lake and Becker fire departments worked diligently to maintain excellence in performing their duties.  As early as 1907, Becker set a professional standard of paying fire wardens to inspect every chimney and stove pipe in the village.  That is not to suggest tragedy did not occur.  In 1911, near disaster hit Becker when fire worked through the village business district.  The fire destroyed several businesses in Becker, including the village town hall.  Yet, like the railway depot in Clear Lake, Becker rebuilt the town hall, and the fire departments continued to grow and provide protection to their communities.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Fairway Market and George Dietz

In examining the history of the Elk River business district, one grocery store continuously receives mention: George’s Fairway Market.  Exploring the brief history of the Fairway Market provides an interesting perspective on the personality of Elk River and the business philosophies of community leaders.

In an oral history at the Sherburne History Center, George Dietz remembered the early years of operating the Fairway Market.  Dietz grew up in the retail business.  “My dad belonged to the Minnesota Food Retailer Association,” he remembered.  While moving to several retail operations early in his career, he gained his greatest experience at National Tea.  “I ended up being the produce manager at Excelsior,” he said.

The Fairway Market featuring its low prices
In August 1953, Dietz bought the Fairway Market in Elk River.  “Ann’s dad was in business in Victoria.  He was on the Board of Directors of Fairway.  There was no way I could even consider any other type of store, except a Fairway.” 

The unique feature of Dietz’s Fairway, the detail that set him apart from other stores in Elk River was his policy of cash and carry.  “Clint Walker had the Red & White [Grocery Store] and then Donald Davis had a store on Main Street next to the post office.  He was the big gun in Elk River.  They were both charge and delivery and I went cash and carry.  So I reduced all the prices in the whole store so that we would be below them.  We opened up with $1500 a week.”

In addition to his low prices, Dietz worked with a very loyal staff.  Less than a year after he opened his store, George Dietz suffered from an attack of polio. “It took me a good three, four months to recover once I got home,” he remembered. “Mrs. Kittridge, Mrs.Stafford, Mabel Johnson, Lorraine Hohlen. Then we had a meat man, and Chuck Bartusch as the carryout.  They kept the store going.” 

Until the early 1960s, George Dietz operated the Fairway Market.  Anticipating the developing suburbs, he built a new store north of Elk River.  Yet, for ten years, with low prices, cash and carry policies, and loyal staff, the Fairway held a unique place in the business history of downtown Elk River. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Clear Lake House Another Memorable Hotel in the County

Discussing Sherburne County History, the Brown Hotel, in Big lake, is often mentioned as an outstanding example of fine food and hospitality.  In Elk River, the Blanchett Hotel and the Riverside Inn maintained reputations as hotels serving delicious food and cordial surroundings.  Yet, an equally auspicious, but overlooked, hostelry entertained and housed visitors in Clear Lake for 47 years.  The Clear Lake House, an inn offering hospitality to travelers and long-term guests, anchored a section of the Clear Lake business district near the railroad depot.  The history of the inn on the west side of the county warrants attention.

Clear Lake House, circa 1900
Built in 1880 by C. W. Potter, the hotel replaced a railway eatery that had burned down a year earlier.  The hotel offered a restaurant for railroad passengers and train crews.  It also provided travelers a brief respite from long rail journeys through Minnesota.  Potter ran the hotel for nine years, passing ownership to Phillip Schwab, who served as the first of a long list of short-term owners and operators.

In 1890, the Clear Lake House earned a reputation as one of the largest and best hotels between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud.  It also offered very reasonable rates. By 1891, the inn advertised fifteen rooms and a fine livery for travelers through the area.  

In 1905, the hotel received less than favorable news coverage when the local papers reported guests being robbed.  A tramp relieved Charles Haaf, the son of the hotel manager, of $15, guest Joseph Feuker of $5, and the nearby night operator at the railroad of a pair of shoes.  Unfortunately, the thief escaped capture.

The hotel continued to receive guests for another 22 years.  In 1927 the hotel closed for renovations and never reopened.  In January 1929, the Sherburne County Star News reported “the old building known as the Clear Lake Hotel opposite the Northern Pacific Depot is being razed this week.”  Charles Haaf purchased the building with the intention of using the lumber to build a barn and poultry house on his farm site.  

In 47 years, the Clear Lake House offered good food and hospitality at reasonable rates.  The hotel contributes an important page to the history of Sherburne County along with the inns at Big Lake and Elk River.

Friday, March 20, 2020

An Epidemic From 100 Years Ago

A goal with this blog is to review the history of Sherburne County and try to create some perspective on the events in the past.  With the current COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world, it seemed a good time to review a pandemic from 100 years ago:

In rural Minnesota, during the late 1800s, death by disease seemed accepted as part of life.  Families experienced high mortality rates on infants and the aged.  Individuals living past five years old promised a better chance of experiencing old age.  This all changed with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 to 1920.  For almost two years, waves of influenza circled the world, infecting an estimated 500 million people and killing anywhere between 17 and 50 million.  On the local level, the disease took hold, yet in actual numbers, the death rate seems quite small.  The county leaders took quick action to prevent the spread of influenza and this way prevented a higher death toll. 

Samples of news coverage by the Star News in 1919
In 1918, the population of Sherburne County amounted to approximately 9,000 individuals.  As the flu epidemic spread, in the autumn season, schools closed.  County officials urged churches and entertainment businesses to lock their doors.  The closures occurred sporadically as the epidemic subsided and later reappeared.  As the flu continued into 1919 and 1920, officially, the county noted twelve deaths.  In one instance tragedy struck three members of the Amos West family.

Mrs. Amos West, the Star News reported, gave birth to twins.  In her weakened condition, the influenza took over.  She died shortly afterwards.  One of the babies also died. Within two days, Mr. Amos West also died.  Four orphans remained of the family.  Extended family from Wisconsin adopted the four surviving children.

Although the official death toll for the county remains at twelve, very often folks stricken by influenza seemed to recover, only to die of other afflictions later in the year.  The newspaper reported a significant rise in pneumonia, and death from pneumonia, following the influenza epidemic. 
A second wave of Influenza predicted in the fall of 1919

Equally disconcerting, the influenza infected and killed as many young and middle-age adults.  Survival of infancy no longer promised life to old age.

Fear of the Influenza Epidemic for those two years significantly impacted the economy and character of small communities like Sherburne County.  Action by county leaders should be applauded.  They set a path to reduce the tragedy of the epidemic for the two-year crisis.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Robert Darrow: The Ultimate Sacrifice

Every so often I strive to recognize Sherburne County men and women in military service.  Individuals who sacrificed for their country.  I want to acknowledge the life of Robert Darrow, a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, who died in combat in Italy in September 1943. 

Robert Darrow, born in Elk River; for a short time, lived in Big Lake before returning to the city.  He graduated from Elk River High School in 1939.  He trained as a pilot at the North Dakota State School of Science.  He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941 and received his commission as Lieutenant in July 1942. 

Bob Darrow received some recognition as an excellent pilot.  The Sherburne County Star News published a report of Darrow, during a training session in Louisiana, landing a crippled plane at high speed.  He kept the plane, with damaged wings, in the air for an hour to allow his crew to bail out.  To a man, the crew stayed with Darrow.  He managed to land the plane with no casualties to anyone on the ground or to his crew. 

With his training complete, the Army Air Corps ordered Darrow to the European theater.  There during the Salerno Campaign, the beginning of the Allied invasion of Italy, the Allies put every pilot in the region in the air.  Towards the end of the campaign, in September 1943, Darrow flew a Mitchell B-25 bomber.  On September 19, he was shot down and killed.  

In reviewing the service of men and women from Sherburne County there exists the cliché of the ultimate sacrifice.  It may be used too often.  Yet, in the case of Lieutenant Robert Darrow, of Elk River, his family gave everything: the life of their son, to the cause of freedom in World War Two. A man, and his family, sacrificed everything.  That warrants acknowledgement for his service.