Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
click on picture to visit our webpage: www.sherburnehistorycenter.org

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Coming Centennial of Handke Stadium



With the coming of the new decade, centennial celebrations emerge from the pages of history.  Nationally recognized centennial celebrations include prohibition and women’s suffrage.  Local centennial celebrations include the construction of Elkhi Stadium, also known as Handke Stadium.  Important not only for its age, it also serves as a monument to the center of recreation and outdoor sports in the community. 

Handke Stadium circa 1951
Before 1920 it was a mud pit, located next to the public school.  Later, with the stadium construction, the pit serves, to this day, as a landmark to the evolution of the idea of community in Elk River.  Through three phases of construction, from 1921 to 1940, Handke Stadium highlights local initiative and self-reliance that county residents regard as vitally important.  

The stadium is often associated with the Elk River schools.  Built in 1898, education officials located the Elk River School district’s first high school just north of a small pond, a pit filled with seeping water from high water table of the Elk and Mississippi rivers.  The wooden structure remained in place until 1952, while the brick school that became known as Handke School, was built in 1930.

Until 1921, the pond adjacent to the schools remained undeveloped.  Surrounded by wooded area, the water served as a place for ice skating and sliding in the wintertime.  An apocryphal story tells of a young boy breaking through the ice during a winter skate.  Whether in danger or not, the event prompted discussions on making the area safe for children.  Engineers were summoned.  They determined that filling the pond with a few feet of dirt and landfill would stop the water seepage and allow for a good playing field. 

Plans took hold and an estimated 100 to 200 volunteers, students as well as townspeople and local farmers worked on weekends to haul in dirt to fill this natural amphitheater.  For several years, the work continued to fill the pit.  In May 1925, Superintendent Clark declared the project complete.  He commissioned a sign to hand on the highway, “Elkhi School Playground, Minnesota’s Finest Athletic High School Field.”   

Construction of Handke Stadium 1940
In 1929, the school set out to expand the playing surface.  Again, using volunteer work, the stadium received an additional 2,000 yards of soil and the field enlarged to create a regulation football field with a surrounding track.  In quick order the volunteers completed the work in two days.

In 1939, ten years later, phase three of the stadium construction began.  With support from a WPA depression era work program, and the help of the National Youth Agency, workers built retaining walls, stone steps, and a warming house.  The dedication of this final phase of construction drew a large crowd for this project begun as a volunteer endeavor.    

Unfortunately, the stadium never lived up to the claim as Minnesota’s finest natural amphitheater.  It continued to collect water.  Stories abound of football games played in inches of mud.  According to these tales, the 1947 football team played games where the football floated. 

Overtime, the use of Handke Stadium came full circle.  By 1950 the school built a new football field on a more suitable, drier site.  Baseball continued for a few more years, before the teams moved.  To this day, Handke Stadium remains a popular location for ice skating, hockey, and sliding.  A pit that served as skating pond, later filled in with dirt and served as a football field, returned to its natural state as a skating pond.  Throughout the 100 years as Handke Stadium, the landmark serves as a reminder of the capabilities of volunteerism and community involvement.    

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Supporting the War: The Sherburne County Scrap Drive of 1942



It has been a few months, but with the new year, I am resolved to post more information about the history of Sherburne County.  So, here goes: 

With the anniversary of World War Two, we have all heard about the scrap drives and rationing programs.  Yet, exploring the scrap drives in more detail may enlighten us about the true value of this particular program. 

Sherburne county promoted its first scrap drive in the summer of 1942.  Elk River Mayor M. C. Tesch provided some perspective on the value of scrap metal to the war effort.  He noted fifty pounds of scrap metal would help make artillery shells.  Cartridge cases originated from discarded doorknobs. And, 25 tons of steel made a tank.  In this first scrap dive, the city of Elk River urged the citizens to deliver 30,000 pounds of scrap for the war effort.  

Although J. D. Flaherty, the chairman of the scrap drive committee, felt the city would surpass the goal, disappointment greeted him at the end of the day.  Elk River residents gave only 16,000 pounds to the drive.  This is not suggesting a penurious trait among Elk River residents.  Mr. Flaherty overestimated the capabilities of Elk River to give 30,000 pounds of scrap. Based on his goal, every family in Elk River needed to donate at least 100 pounds of scrap.  In some areas of the city, expectations clearly exceeded possibilities.
           
In spite of the slow start to the scrap campaign, Flaherty and others continued to organize and collect scrap to support the war effort in Sherburne county.  The scrap drives and rationing programs allowed everyone in Sherburne County to support the war from 1941 to 1945.  As we delve into the newspaper reports, the residents of Sherburne county passionately supported the war effort.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Crime and Punishment in Sherburne County 1900




Recently reading the newspaper columns from a century ago, I gained a greater appreciation for the hard work of the police and law enforcement in Sherburne County.  In 1900, crime seemed prevalent in the county. Perhaps because the residents held onto a small-town sense of security, while criminals capitalized on Sherburne County’s proximity to the metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  More than once, the newspapers noted the ease in which thieves preyed upon Sherburne County residents.  Even before thefts were discovered, the bandits sold stolen goods in the twin cities.  It must have been frustrating for law enforcement in Sherburne County.  Yet, the County Sherriff and local police noted significant apprehension of thieves and criminals in the county.  At the turn of the twentieth century, criminals often preyed upon Sherburne County residents, and police stepped up to provide protection.  
100 years ago, the newspaper columns provide interesting detail and appreciation for crime and law enforcement in Sherburne County.




Friday, September 6, 2019

Sherburne School Buses: Arriving in Style 1915


Students return to classes this week.  I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone of school days one hundred years ago.  Specifically looking at transportation and school buses around 1915.  We have all used or heard the phrase, “the good old days.”  Well, in looking at these school buses, the old days were not so good. 

The school buses were horse drawn wagons.  When weather became inclement, canvas siding provided protection.  When the cold set in, stove heated rocks, wrapped in blankets, provided heat.  When the snow made it impossible to use the wagons, sleds looking more like ice houses provided transportation to and from school. 

Looking back at the good old days, the days were not so good.  Give me the “magnificent modern days” instead.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Welcome to Elk River

"Welcome to Elk River" greeting opened welcoming arms to many a traveler along Highway 10 going east or west. As many different visitors, there have been a multitude of signs greeting travelers.  These are just a few of the more recent signs welcoming motorists to Elk River.  The oldest dates from 1970, the most recent sign was put in place in 2019.
December 1970
1986




Friday, April 5, 2019

On The Home Front: Victory Gardens



Victory Gardens seemed forever present beginning in 1942 and continuing into 1946 as World War Two impacted the civilian population of the United States. As a federal campaign declaring “food is fighting” the war, residents throughout Sherburne County took up the appeal to grow more food, and preserve more food, to help the war effort.

Pamphlets distributed by private companies and
the Federal govt. promoted the victory garden program 
“Every member of a well-fed farm family consumes $25 to $30 worth of vegetables and fruits every year,” Department of Agriculture agents claimed.  “A half to three-quarter acre garden will supply the needs of a family of six.”  The remaining produce grown on farms and small gardens throughout the county, and throughout the country, could be used in large cities and communities lacking the acreage to garden.

The surplus garden produce allowed the federal government to utilize commercially grown and canned vegetables for the war effort.  The federal government also suggested with enough victory gardens the railroads could stop transporting canned goods for family use. This way enhance transportation and shipping in support of the military machine.

In the community of Elk River, High School Principal Robert Handke developed a victory garden program.  Using school grounds to grow vegetables, he offered classes in the evening for city residents to learn the latest in food preservation practices. 

The Sherburne County Star News also provided advice for developing victory gardens.  “Food poisoning may lurk in the best-looking jar of meat, chicken or vegetables,” the newspaper warned.  “Don’t taste them until they have been brought to a good 15-minute boil.”

Growing and preserving food as part of the victory garden program provided every citizen an opportunity to contribute to the war effort.  The “food is fighting” program served a national role for local residents to participate in a program to win the war. 


Saturday, March 23, 2019

The USS Sherburne A Tribute to the County


As World War Two entered the fifth year of battles and bloodshed, a little-known event of some pride to the citizen of Sherburne County unfolded in the naval yards of California.  Although unreported in Sherburne County newspapers, on July 10, 1944, the Navy officially launched the cargo ship the USS Sherburne, (APA 250) named for Sherburne County, Minnesota. 

The Navy designed the Sherburne as a Haskell class transport ship, built to haul 1500 troops and their combat equipment to areas of the Pacific Theatre.  After its launching and shakedown exercises, the Sherburne sailed from California to Hawaii, and destinations throughout the Pacific. Her crew sailed to Guam and the Philippines before taking part in the Battle of Okinawa in May and June 1945.  The Sherburne ended the war in Yokohama, witnessing the surrender of Japan. 

As a Haskell class ship, the Sherburne was designed to move rapidly through ocean waters, relying on speed to avoid submarine attacks.  Armed with 40 mm and 20 mm guns provided the ship with defense against air attack. 

With the conclusion of the war, the Sherburne briefly served as part of operation Magic Carpet, to rapidly return troops to the United States.  By 1946 her service was transferred to the Maritime Administration until 1969.  That year the Navy recommissioned and refitted the Sherburne as a range instrumentation ship.  Renamed the USS Range Sentinel, she served until 2012 when she was scrapped. 

Although seemingly insignificant in the greater history of the war, the USS Sherburne served with some honor.  From the initial launching in 1944, until her scrapping in 2012 the ship gave the county a unique position of pride in twentieth century history.   The ship was recognized with a battle star for service in the assault on Okinawa.  With maximum speed over 17 knots, the crew of 500 officers and naval personnel hauled cargo of 1500 to the battle fronts of the Pacific Theatre in the final year of World War Two. One of only a few ships to continue service through the remainder of the century the simple cargo ship warrants greater recognition.