Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
click on picture to visit our webpage:

Friday, April 23, 2021

Maybe Minnesota Poet Laureate

To commemorate National Poetry Month, we need to recognize the apparent first Minnesota Poet Laureate, Margarette Ball Dickson.

Born in Iowa, she earned a B.A. Iowa State Teachers College, an MA from the University of South Dakota.  She also studied for a time at the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago.  She then taught at a variety of different schools before she settled in Staples, Minnesota and founded the Dickson-Haining School of Creative Writing.  She served as editor for a variety of different magazines.  She also cofounded the League of Minnesota Poets.  For her work, in 1938, she received the Rockefeller Center Gold Medal award.

In 1934 the Washington, D.C. based Poet Laureate League named her Minnesota Poet Laureate.  She held the title until 1961, just two years before her death.  At times, the title of Minnesota Poet Laureate lacked official state designation.  The Minnesota government refused to pass legislation recognizing the title until 2007.  At that time, Robert Bly received the honor from Governor Tim Pawlenty.  The current title belongs to Joyce Sutphen, who received the title in 2011.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Sinclair Lewis and His Impact in Sherburne County

More than a bit of folklore suggests Sinclair Lewis spent some time in Sherburne County, visiting family and, more importantly, writing.  So, we have to sit, contemplate this lore, and consider any impact Lewis may have had on the area. 

The first book published by Lewis, under the pseudonym Tom Graham, Hike and the Aeroplane marked the beginning of a significant career.  Part of the folklore maintains that after the publication of his book Main Street he was ostracized.  He never set foot in Sauk Centre again.  However, family members owned property and lived in west Sherburne County.   

In addition to Main Street, he went on to publish Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, and a host of other works.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.  The first writer in the United States to win the award.  Perhaps most insightful, his 1935 publication of It Can’t Happen Here explores events after a fascist wins the Presidential election.  He died at age 65 in Rome, Italy.  Yet, his writing career seemed prolific and impactful.

Because his life and travels remain difficult to track, the folklore of Sinclair Lewis visiting and staying in Sherburne County remains just that: folklore.  Yet, we must wonder, with Lewis growing up in Sauk Centre, his extended family living in Sherburne County; did Sinclair Lewis influence the character and history of Sherburne County?

Friday, March 26, 2021

Women and High School Basketball 1920's Style

Although, individually unidentified, the 1921
Elk River Women's Basketball Team included:
Rosie Roggatz, Maria Taplin, Esther Cornelius,
Althea Gould, Evelyn Bressler, and Agatha McBride
Fifty years before the federal mandate known as Title IX, sports for high school women seemed the norm in areas around Sherburne County.  With the conclusion of Women’s History Month, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge an earlier generation of female athletes competing in the high schools.

Referencing the earliest yearbooks available in the collections of the Sherburne History Center, the Elk River High School Women’s Basketball Team stands proud in 1921 and 1922.  Unfortunately, their record seemed less than stellar. In 1921 they posted a 1 and 4 record, and in 1922 their record ended at 2 and 4.  The simple fact that they played remains the important detail.  Not only Elk River, but Buffalo, Princeton, Anoka, and Monticello all organized women’s basketball teams. 

Central Minnesota High Schools presented some forward-thinking opportunities in the 1920s.  Years before federal law prohibited gender discrimination in high school sports, Elk River and others provided equal opportunity.

The 1922 team included: back row l to r: 
Agatha McBride, forward; Evelyn Bernard, Guard; 
Dorothy Leffingwell, forward; Leah Scoville,
Guard.  front row l to r: Mable Kaliher, Guard;
Grace Johanning, Jumping Center; Esther Cornelius,
forward and Capt.; and Elizabeth Nickerson; 
running center. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

WCTU in Sherburne County


During Women’s History Month we recognized several women impacting community and culture in Sherburne County.  We also need to note at least one of the many community organizations, led by women, that worked to impact and improve life in Sherburne County.  The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (the WCTU) remains one of the more important of these groups.

1911 Star News headline reporting vote
results on alcohol sales. 
Nationally the WCTU organized in 1874 urging abstinence from alcohol.  Beginning in 1878, under the leadership of Francis Willard, the group also advocated for prison reform, labor laws, and suffrage.  Many regarded the group as one of the largest and most influential of reform societies in the United States during the 1800s.

In Sherburne County, the WCTU organized late.  In 1895, the Elk River Star News reported meetings at the Elk River Methodist Church.  Not until 1910 did the WCTU formally organize in Becker.  The leadership included Mrs. Howard Reed, Miss Dell Clitty, and Mrs. C. A. Johnson.  Two years later, a chapter organized in Big Lake. 

The chapters, apparently, held some influence.  In local elections held in 1911, while Elk River and Zimmerman voted to sell alcohol, Becker (by a slim three vote margin) voted to go dry.  According to the newspaper reports, Elk River had been dry for two years leading up to the 1911 vote.

Until national Prohibition became the law in 1920, groups in Sherburne County maintained an on-going debate about the deleterious effects of alcohol.  Local chapters of the WCTU clearly held some influence in the discussions and decisions.  An impact worth noting during Women’s History Month.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Ella Kringlund: Conservationist for Sherburne County


Conservationist, 4-H advocate, and educator of children and adults; all terms that describe Ella Kringlund in Elk River.  An early promoter of Sherburne County and their natural resources, Ella Kringlund enthusiastically worked to boost conservation.  In the midst of Women’s History Month, it seems appropriate to make record of her life and her mission in Sherburne County.

Ella Kringlund is long remembered for her work restoring the land that is today Sand Dunes State Forest.  Her memoirs record her efforts to plant a variety of pine trees in the area.  When her project began in the mid-1940s (and continuing until 1965) each season she organized a tree planting as a 4-H project.  In time, Ella Kringlund and her volunteers planted an estimate seven million trees.  Her efforts proved so successful, a Christmas tree thinning project also developed.

By conservation standards in 2000, the trees she planted may not fit the accepted norms.  Yet, her planting provided opportunity for soil regeneration; changing from the sand dunes of the 1930s to a better environment today. 

In addition to her conservation work, she headed up the 4-H in Sherburne County, actively worked with county extension offices, and worked as part of the county fair board.  Rather than simply identifying her as an early conservationist, Ella Kringlund is better known as an educator, providing new ideas for improving the local environment of Sherburne County.  Certainly worthy of note during Women’s History Month.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Grace Craig: Sherburne County Pioneer


March being Women’s History Month it seemed appropriate to start off the month noting a significant settler and educator from Sherburne County: Grace Craig.  

Grace Craig circa 1940
Born in 1865 in the family homestead in Orrock Township, Grace Craig lived with her parents, two sisters and a brother.  According to a brief biography, Grace Craig lived at the homestead for her entire life.  To a certain degree her education developed through her own initiative.  As a teenager, the biography maintains, she obtained the skills for Sunday School teaching through a correspondence course.  While teaching, for fifty-eight years, at two Sunday Schools around Orrock and Snake River, she also upheld the responsibilities as local superintendent.  In addition to her work on the farm and at the local churches, she also served as the Orrock Township correspondent and reporter for the Elk River Star News.

             Throughout most of her life, transportation for Grace Craig consisted of walking.  In the last few years she owned a horse, Tom, to pull her small buggy around the area.  Her care for Tom reveals so much of the compassion she held for all of God’s creatures.  One Christmas event tells of her receiving a wonderful gift basket of fine food and treats.  She took the basket to the local merchants and exchanged the items for grain for Tom.  The day before her death, Grace dictated her final will.  She implored the Township Clerk to find a good home for Tom and dispose of her chickens and belongings to needy families in the area.  

           Born when the settlement of Orrock Township remained in its infancy, Grace Craig lived for eighty-two years.  Through several wars and multiple economic crisis, she witnessed the development of the county and contributed as an early settler of Sherburne county. She also exhibited the independence and self-assurance demanded of early settlers in Sherburne County.  Kicking off Women’s History month with a true pioneer seems appropriate.


Friday, January 15, 2021

The Great Molasses Flood


Very little to do with Sherburne County History, however, today, 15 January 1919 remains a day to be forever remembered.  In Boston, Mass. on this date, 21 people died in the Great Molasses Flood.

Boston fire and police aid in clean-up after the 
Molasses Flood in Boston, 1919.  Photo Courtesy
of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection
Today, in history, a tank holding over two million gallons of molasses broke open, flooding the nearby streets of Boston.  A wall of sugary liquid, 25 feet high moved down the streets, killing humans and animals in its wake.  Witnesses testified as horses struggled against the molasses, they were slowly sucked down into a slow, strangulating death.  After the wake subsided, a river of molasses, three feet deep worked its way down to the harbor. 

After an investigation, faulty construction of the holding tank received the blame for the disaster.  Reports held the tank, when brand new, had so many leaks along the seams the manufacturers painted the tank brown to hide the faults. Witnesses testified the rivets popping from the tank sounded like machine gun fire as the huge steel drum failed.

A slight resemblance to clean-up required several weeks to complete.  For several months, the sticky evidence of molasses remained in the streets.  More than 100 years later, residences in the Boston neighborhood still report the occasional smells of molasses, when the air breeze is just right.