Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Saturday, December 4, 2021

School Architecture in Sherburne county


While researching a general topic of education in Sherburne County, a greater understanding of the architecture of schoolhouses emerged.  By this I suggest that searching for details of the large, brick, near-monumental schools in Sherburne County reveals an interesting pattern. 

The best known of the large schools in Sherburne County resides in Elk River.  In 1883, fire destroyed the Elk River school.  A fire resistant, brick building replaced the destroyed structure.  A two-story edifice, a school for all grades opened its doors.  This building is the first of the large, semi-permanent edifices that pre-dates education reform and expands the possibilities for education in Sherburne County. 

First brick schoolhouse in Elk River pre-1900

The first graduating class of this new Elk River school matriculated in 1888.  Eleven years later, in 1899 the state of Minnesota advanced education in Sherburne County.  That year, the School Law passed through the legislature requiring school attendance for all children between the ages of 8 and 16.  The law seemed less than stringent, as the required attendance demanded only 12 weeks per year, and at least six consecutive weeks.  Yet, failure to comply with the law could result in fines up to $20. 

With the passage of the School Law, attendance in Sherburne County schools increased dramatically.  And the demand for larger schools increased.  In 1903, Big Lake opened the doors for its well-known school.  In less than a year, newspapers rated the Big Lake School as one of the best in the area.  In January 1904, the school claimed an enrollment of over one hundred students.

Becker school circa 1916

Becker soon joined the movement towards larger, and better schools.  In January 1906, the two-story, brick school building opened for students.  The school offered classes from grade one to twelve.  Before long student needs out-grew the building.  The teaching staff continued to grow and by 1916, attendance demanded additions made to the building.   

Beginning in the 1890s and continuing into the early 1900s, interest in education grew and enrollment in schools increased dramatically.  Discussions over increasing the number of school districts and the availability of educational resources seemed common topics.  Yet, the enhanced, semi-permanent, brick,  school buildings in the larger communities of Sherburne County suggests the importance of education in the county grew significantly during this time.


Thursday, October 28, 2021

A Bit of Cemetery Symbolism


Halloween arrives in just a few days.  It seems appropriate to explore the symbolism in death.  Cemeteries contain an abundance of symbols in the grave markers, plants, and architecture.  Understanding the meaning of a few of these symbols might give us a greater appreciation of the planning and design of cemeteries and the communities surrounding these resting places.

Entryway of Becker Cemetery, Becker, MN.  
Look closely, hidden by the evergreens, is 
the arched entryway to the cemetery
It seems as though everything in a cemetery contains some symbolic meaning.  The shape of the entryways to many burial grounds represent the gates of heaven.  Many cemeteries have pine trees and other evergreens to remind us of the concept of eternal life.  And the headstones often resemble bed stands to suggest eternal rest. 

We haven’t even looked at the headstones, yet the cemeteries overflow with symbolism and, seeming, prayers for the dead.

On tombstones you might encounter an anchor, a Judeo-Christian symbol for Jesus.  Fishermen use anchors and this symbol reminds of Jesus as a fisher of men.  Often the anchors have a cross bar at the top to symbolize the sacrifice of death on the cross.

Flowers on tombstones also carry an abundance of symbolism.  Sunflowers, in an earlier time, signaled a strong faith in the Catholic church.  Broken roses, or a tree stump, both symbolized a life cut short.

Even a simple message such as R.I.P., or rest in peace, conveys greater meaning.  Rest In Peace does not necessarily suggest a prayer for the dead to rest in the peace of heaven.  Rest In Peace may also convey a prayer that the dead actually rest in peace; that they be protected from the too common crime of the nineteenth century: grave robbing. 

Cemeteries and graveyards carry a great deal of symbolism.  The plants, the flowers, the headstones; even the entryways provide deeper meaning.  Understanding the symbols and the meaning of these markers may provide a greater understanding of the communities that support these final resting places.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Remembering the Halloween Blizzard

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Halloween Blizzard of 1991.
  Memorable to the history of Minnesota and, to a lesser degree, Sherburne County.  We have witnessed Mother Nature and her ability to inflict significant turmoil in our lives, with blizzards, flooding, tornadoes, and other catastrophic events. 

Transportation by any means possible during the 
1991 Halloween Blizzard.  photo courtesy of Elk 
River Star News collection
The Halloween Blizzard is one of these events that inflicted significant challenges into the lives of Minnesotans.  Like the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, the Halloween Blizzard started as an innocent snowstorm.  Suddenly it erupted into something so much greater.  Record snow fell in 1991.  In a 24-hour period, Duluth recorded more than 24 inches of snow.  Sherburne County recorded an estimated 16 inches.  The Elk River Star News also reported snow drifts as high as fifteen feet.  The twin cities recorded 21 inches of snow.  Ice and record cold followed the snowstorm. 

In the end the storm caused $63 million in damages throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  20 individuals died in Minnesota because of the storm.  In Sherburne County, the newspaper and police reported few damages.  According to the Star News, only two traffic accidents occurred because most people chose to stay indoors to wait out the storm.

This week, we need to remember the events of 1991 and appreciate the power of Mother Nature.  She can creep up on us and provide an interesting surprise when we least expect it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

More Letters From Somewhere in France: Describing the Y

The letters from George Bostrom to his sister document the events of World War One in interesting detail. Only after the war is over, he writes about seeing action in the Argonne Forest. More importantly, in the chronolo0gical order of his letters, he describes his seven days of leave in December 1918. He provides an interesting contrast between life on the front lines versus the luxury hotel he stays in Chambray, France. 

I am having just a dandy time at present, he wrote. Have been over here long enough to be granted a seven day pass and here I am at Chambray to enjoy it. And I sure am enjoying it. After being in the lines for nearly a month of real hardships. Laying in shell holes and digin’s, what we call them, lots of times wet thru and thru and cold and then sent to a place like this with every comfort you can think of. 

 He went on to describe the luxuries of the ever-present Y.M.C.A. The Y.M.C.A I must tell you about. There’s a Y. here in a very large building. They have reading rooms, writing rooms, lunchroom, all of which are large and well fixed up. The have the place open from early morning and up until eleven or twelve o’clock evenings. In the morning they put up a dandy breakfast for a very small sum. In the afternoon and evening they serve hot chocolate and cookies or Ice cream, free of charge

 Only in a later letter, he mentions the action he encountered in the Argonne Forest. Our division was doing it’s most important work since they’ve been in France, from October 8th and up until November 1st we were in some real fighting at that time in the Argonne Forest. 

 In his letters, Bostrom only briefly references the actions he fought in. More often he describes daily life and the beauty of the French landscape. Throughout his letters, George Bostrom provides interesting insight into the life of an American soldier in World War One.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Women's Basketball in Elk River


Recently, it occurred to me, this blog heaped a great deal of attention on athletics in Elk River.  Unfortunately, the attention focused on men’s sports, specifically football and basketball.  It is time to shift the focus and give attention to women in sports in Sherburne County.

Elk River Women's team, 1921

As early as 1921, several schools in and around Elk River offered Women’s Basketball to the female students.  Based upon the writing in the Elk River yearbook the women of Elk River presented a relatively new sport to the student body. The description of the Elk River team noted “inexperienced” players for the team.  In addition, the yearbooks writers reported “a lack of a suitable place in which to practice.”  In spite of these shortcomings, the Elk River team posted a 2 and 3 record, facing Anoka, Princeton, Buffalo, and Monticello. 

The women of Elk River continued to build on their experience.  Women’s Basketball became a regular part of the offering at the High School.  By 1926, the team scheduled a 13-game season, adding games against Big Lake, Osseo, and St. Francis, posting a 9 and 4 record. 

Elk River Women, 1926

With the coming economic depression in the 1930s, some schools dropped women’s sports.  Elk River offered a replacement to this with intramural sports.  The school promoted play in soccer, basketball, volleyball, and kittenball.  Organized, league play, returned to Elk River in the 1950s.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Football in Sherburne County


Football season is upon us.  It seemed very appropriate to note the great history of Football in Sherburne County.  Sherburne county athletes played organized games of football for 130 years.  According to “A Century of Pride The History of Elk River Football,” the first game reported in the local news witnessed Elk River defeating a team from Monticello by a score of 29 to zero.  Since then, Sherburne County presented a number of notable games.  Here are two seasons of Elk River High School football players, 1914 and 1927.  Note, 1927 saw a championship season, with the Elk River team recording a record of 5-1-1.   Later, Big Lake and Becker presented outstanding teams.  The Big Lake team from 1967 presented below.

Elk River 1914

Elk River Championship Team 1927
Big Lake 1967

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Remember 9/11


With the coming of the twentieth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, 9/11, it may be appropriate to take some time and think about the events of that day.  Where were you when the towers were attacked?  Let’s think about the 3,000 people killed that day, and the 6,000 injured.  Remember, the attacks also hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

This week, every memorial ought to serve as a 
reminder of what happened on 11 September 2001
This day is perhaps the single most important event of a generation.  Maybe we can take the events of that day, and the days immediately following, to become more sympathetic, more empathetic, more generous individuals.  Let’s emulate the good from the people that suffered that day. Remember them for the kindness and courage they showed us.  Learn from them and become better individuals.

Let’s take some time and think: Where were you when the towers were attacked?