Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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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.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Old and The New Featured on Postcards

With the coming New Year, I wanted to share a unique item within our collection.  This calendar postcard from the Norddeutscher Lloyd Passenger Lines immediately came to mind.  This postcard highlights a ship traveling from Bremen to Baltimore with the calendar date of 1884.  

By this date the shipping firm had been in business for more than 25 years.  From 1857 until 1970 the Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping company hauled passengers and goods between Germany and the United States.  

The power source  seems a unique feature of the ship on this postcard.  Notice the smokestacks in the middle of the ship, belching black smoke, while the sails billow from the power of the wind.  This ship utilizes both the old and new methods of sailing, steam engines and sails. 

A careful examination makes this postcard truly interesting to contemplate.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Even in Difficult Times Santa Delivers

As we explore the traditions and customs evident in the Christmas season an interesting question arises: how did Santa Claus carry on with the business of giving out toys during a crisis?  In the archives of the Sherburne History Center, we found evidence to suggest that although Santa Claus maintains a high level of diligence, his creativity and thoughtful nature allows him to achieve his tasks, still in one night! 

A letter found in the archives of the Sherburne History Center further explains Santa’s workload.  Addressed to the Nelson sisters in Zimmerman, Minn, the letter, written during World War Two.  Although it is dated: “Not many days before Christmas.”

With his busy schedule, Mrs. Santa Claus takes on the job of replying to Christmas letters.  “Santa works until nearly morning these nights and so he has me do all his writing for him,” she explained.  She went on to note that “he will have to use reindeers this year because of gas-rationing.” 

From this letter we witness Santa’s management skills of hard work, and a willingness to delegate responsibility.  Skills like these make Santa Claus a very successful businessman.  In 2020, like the war years, a crisis will not prevent Santa Claus from making his rounds and wishing everyone A MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Holiday Feasts: Why Turkey?

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of several celebratory feasts.
  The turkey day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day call for some type of feast and celebration. With the end of the Thanksgiving feast, I paused to wonder about the food I had just devoured.  Specifically, why turkey?  After a brief search, I discovered a variety of meats served during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Each of the centerpieces, whether they be turkey, goose, or pork; held a significant meaning to traditional diners. 

In the United States most holiday revelers held Turkey as the primary dish of a festive meal.  Whether at Christmas or Thanksgiving, the bird of choice remained the gobbler.  The wild turkey must be hunted and killed.  And so, early feasts celebrated the holiday and the hunting skills of family members.  As you move into the twentieth century, turkeys became domestic farm animals and more easily attainable.  Goose and pork, on the other hand, remained common farm animals.  Served often during the year, goose and pork failed to present a unique character expected at celebrations.

The goose, a domesticated bird and easy to raise, maintains a royal standing in feast days.  Folklore suggests Queen Elizabeth I while eating a roast goose, received the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  Viewing this as a sign, she declared goose as the meat served at all holidays and celebrations.  Domesticated geese remain low maintenance farm animals.  Late each Autumn, farmers release geese to forage in the fields, fattening themselves for slaughter.  More common than turkeys, the slaughtered goose remains a succulent addition to the celebration.

Pork has its own unique place on the celebration menu.  Prior to the twentieth century, ham required extended time to smoke and cure.  Even today, it remains the meat of choice for Spring celebrations.  Often slaughtered in the late Autumn, particularly in the southern United States, pork ribs found a place in the holiday feast.

Whether from tradition, royal decree, or ease of food preparation, a variety of meats found their way into the traditional holiday feast.  Ham, turkey, and goose all represented some tradition during the holidays.  Now, if only someone could explain lutefisk to me.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Communication With The Church Bell


Union Church Bell currently housed at the 
Sherburne History Center
As we explore communication devices in Sherburne County, attention to the telephone and the telegraph remain important considerations.  Yet, before the telephone and telegraph, the county needed some technology to sound fire alarms and arouse the citizenry in the middle of the night.  Every small community wrestled with the question of how to sound an alarm.  Some communities used steam whistles from factories.  Others used the ever-present church bell.

The leaders of Big Lake chose to utilize local church bells.  An example of the church bell warning system remains in the collections of the Sherburne History Center.  The church bell from the Union Church served for many years as part of the warning system for Big lake.  Some residents remember, “you could hear that bell for miles.”  With every fire, or other catastrophe, the Union Church bell rang out.

Installed at the church in 1891, Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company from Troy, New York manufactured the bell.  The Meneely company crafted bells first in 1826 and remained in business until 1952.  In the 126 years of business, the company produced over 65,000 bells.  Meneely reportedly used melted down, surplus cannons from the Civil War to create the Union Church bell.  The Union Church building originally resided near the southeast corner of Highways 10 and 25, the center of Big Lake. 

Before the days of telephones and mass communications, the ringing bell from a local church, like the Union Church bell, served to warn and bring out community members.  The clear sound of a bell, from a church located in the central part of town served as the early warning system for more communities like Big Lake


Friday, November 13, 2020

Sherburne County Voting Rights


With the end of the 2020 elections, an interesting letter in the archival collections of the Sherburne History Center warrants some discussion.

As background information, the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote in national elections passed in August 1920.  Prior to the approval of the 19th Amendment, in Minnesota, women voted in some local elections.  Of particular interest, women voted in elections concerning local school boards.  This makes sense when we realize a responsibility of all women concerned the education of children.  This belief extends back into the 1800s.

In a letter sent to concerned citizens of Clear Lake, Sherburne County, Assistant Attorney General Montreville J. Brown reaffirmed the right of women to vote in local school board issues.  His only caveat to this voting right being that women must be residents of the district in question and “they are of the age twenty-one years and upward and possess the qualifications requisite of a male voter.” 

The voting history of Minnesota and Sherburne County emphasizes that the question of voting rights lacked simplicity.  Suffrage maintained several nuances, rather than simply suggesting women won the right to vote.  Women maintained some voting rights; the 19th amendment expanded those rights. 

Understanding these rights leads down an interesting historic path.