Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I want to take a moment and wish everyone a happy holiday season and at the same time look forward to an exciting New Year.  Here at the Sherburne History Center, we have had a good year in 2010 and we are looking forward to many interesting new events in 2011.  We have already scheduled a series of genealogy programs to continue through June.  In addition we have a book signing scheduled in January and a Poetry reading in February.

In order to continue with the exciting programs we have scheduled, we need your help.  As the New Year begins, please consider donating to the Sherburne History Center.  Your donations will be used to create more interesting and exciting programs and build collections and resources for both the museum and library.

In addition, if you have any ideas, suggestions or comments you want to share with us, please feel free to contact us.  We are always happy to hear from you.

May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tobacco Is a Minnesota Cash Crop

            This past week I had the pleasure of presenting several farms in Sherburne County with their Century Farm designations.  As part of the program, I conduct a bit of preliminary research in order to introduce the farms.  An interesting detail came to light: in the late 1920s, tobacco was a significant crop in Sherburne County.  Think about this, a crop that is so closely associated with Southern farming, and a crop that is very labor intensive, and depletes the land so quickly, was introduced into Minnesota in the 1920s.

            I find the fact that tobacco was even grown in Minnesota to be remarkable.  Even more interesting is the total production of the crop.  In 1928, for the state more than 1.2 million pounds of tobacco was grown.  In two short years, that number had doubled to 2.9 million pounds.  I haven’t yet found the crop production for Sherburne County, but this does highlight the diversity of farming in the area.  For those of you that prefer footnotes, these number come from 1931 Yearbook of Agriculture published by the department of Agriculture, Washington, D. C., Government Printing Office, page 702. 

            In Minnesota, 1930 appears to have been the high point of production.  By 1933, only 270,000 pounds of tobacco was grown in Minnesota, and the leaf was selling for only 3.2 cents per pound.  To further enhance the challenges of farmers, in 1936, the Department of Agriculture announced there was a 200 million pound above normal demand supply of tobacco leaf in the United States.

            In a very short time, tobacco farming in Minnesota ended.  Yet, the willingness of farmers to experiment with new crops is an interesting idea.  The very fact that this particular crop was grown in the state generates some fascinating questions.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holidays Are A Time For Joy, Thanks, And Opportunity!

            The holidays often translate into family, friends, and a great deal of activity.  Yes, we are all busy visiting, catching-up with relatives and sharing the joy of the day.  In spite of the hectic holiday, the coming festivities offer a unique opportunity for every genealogist and family historian.  NOW IS THE TIME TO COLLECT THOSE ORAL HISTORIES! 
            For the uninitiated, all upper case letters means I am shouting at you.  I want to get your attention so that you will think about this idea.
            With the electronic capabilities of inexpensive digital recorders, anyone can capture an oral history.  Anyone can sit down with old Aunt Sally, or Grandma, or even Dad, and ask about growing up on the old homestead.  Or, what was Thanksgiving like back when you were a child?  By this time each year, as a child, were you looking forward to Christmas?
            Recording the conversations are really quite easy.  Small recorders are now so discrete that few people are bothered by, or even notice, their presence.  Simply sit down and ask a few questions.  After a thanksgiving dinner, or some other holiday celebration, it really is interesting that so many people want to reminisce and share their life stories.
            There are so many opportunities that it is a pity that more oral histories are not collected during the holidays.  The holidays seem to evoke a sense of nostalgia with at least some family members.  So pull out the digital recorders.  If you don’t have one, go to the mall and treat your self to a valuable, yet inexpensive, early Christmas gift.  BUY ONE!  (Again I’m shouting).  And plan on recording Aunt Sally, Grandma, Dad, or any other relatives.  Persuade them to share and save their family histories.
The holidays were made for collecting Oral Histories.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More About the Armistice Day Blizzard

The Star Tribune  newspaper ran an interesting article about the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.  Read more about the great snow at:

This is interesting in light of the recent weather we are having.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Armistice Day Blizzard

            The weather always seems to be an important topic of discussion in Minnesota.  I have been living here less than two months, people continue to tell me about the fierce winters of the upper Midwest.  Yet, one example of the fierce weather is all I need to appreciate the severity of the climate and the hardiness of the people that live here.

Undated photo.  Snow drift north of Elk River
SCHC collection 1990.201.068

            The Armistice Day Blizzard, seventy years ago, on 11 November 1940 more than two feet of snow fell in some parts of Minnesota.  The storm hit so quickly and covered such a large geographic area, that 154 people were killed, many of them were hunters taking advantage of what seemed to be unseasonable warm weather for a day of duck hunting on the lakes and on the Mississippi River.  The storms killed people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  Of the 49 people killed in Minnesota by the storm, more than half were hunters.

            The day started with very warm weather.  The high was recorded at 60 degrees.  Many hunters saw this as the last opportunity of the season to go out on the Mississippi River and get some hunting done.  But the storms blew in quickly.  At times the wind was recorded at 80 miles per hour.  The snow came, and caught many people on the open roads and open water.  By the time it was done, 27 inches had fallen and snow drifts as high as twenty feet were recorded.

            In Sherburne County, when the storms came, schools were dismissed.  At the Big Lake School, country buses loaded with children headed out to deliver them safely home.  When one bus did not return, search parties were organized and the worst was expected.  Men of the search parties were forced to use skis to search the roads.  After six hours of searching four miles of road, the children were found, safely sheltered at the Waterfield farm.

            In Elk River search parties using horses and sleds, barely survived the search.  Stories published in All Hell Broke Loose, William Henry Hull describe rescue parties as returning safely to their homes, barely able to walk.  “They were holding on to the horse reins and harnesses to keep from falling.  Had the horses been unable to find their way back, they would surely have perished,” the author wrote.

            Clearly, weather is a topic worthy of serious discussion in Minnesota.  Even today, in the twenty-first century the snow of the upper Midwest is an important consideration in daily life.  I hope I am prepared for the coming winter.  But, I also hope that another storm like the Armistice Day Blizzard never strikes again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Prairie Burn At The History Center

This past Friday, portions of the prairie around the Sherburne History Center were part of a controlled burn to enhance the growth of native plants in the coming year.  There were some incredibly dramatic images of the fires as they consumed areas around the building.

This is an interesting project to be a part of.  I have attached a couple of photographs of the burn.

Before the Burn

Then During the Burn

And After the Burn


Really very interesting.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To The Volunteers: Thanks Guys!

Earlier this week the Sherburne History Center honored and celebrated the many volunteers that make this fine institution work.  As a way to say thank you, the Board of Directors sponsored Mexican theme dinner to host the volunteers that have given more than 2700 hours of their time to SHC in the past year.

The many volunteers at SHC have done everything from processing collections in the Archives and the museum; to organizing and staging programs and special events.  Their work is valued at over $29,000 in labor for the past twelve months.

After the dinner, and a brief annual meeting, Mike Roberts spoke to the audience.  Roberts is the author of the book The Last Keeper at Split Rock, an interesting memoir of his years of service in the Coast Guard.  During his service, Roberts spent 27 months as the last light keeper at the Split Rock lighthouse on the Great Lakes.

Although we can’t say it enough, we will try to continue to say thank you to everyone that works so hard for the benefit of the Sherburne History Center.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Groups Fought For Control of County Land

A few days ago, I was listening to a program, a history of Sherburne County, when several of the battles between Native American groups were mentioned.  It occurred to me that more places in Sherburne County ought to be named after the many Native American battles that took place in the county. According to the lecture, and with a bit of research, I learned that because there are several rivers joining the Mississippi River in Sherburne County, the area became a valuable territory for trade among Native American groups.  And the Dakota and Ojibway groups continuously fought over control of this land.

According to Herb Murphy’s book Historical Sketches from Baldwin Township and the Surrounding Area, as early as 1750 at the Battle of Kathio, Dakota and Ojibway men fought over control of the territory around the confluence of the Rum River and the Mississippi.  Before the battle, the Ojibway had managed to bargain with white traders and acquired more rifles than their Dakota counterparts.  The Dakota, using only bow and arrow were easily defeated.  Eight years later, at the Battle of Mille Lacs Lake the Ojibway were able to convincingly defeat the Dakota.  After this battle the Ojibway controlled the Rum River Valley in the northeast section of Sherburne County.

In 1772 and again in 1773, just fourteen years after the Battle a Mille Lacs Lake, the two groups fought once again.  This time, the fight was over control of the confluence of the Elk River and the Mississippi.  Before the battles, some historians described the Mississippi River as being covered with canoes filled with Dakota warriors. 

Finally, in 1839, near Anoka and Round Lake, Dakota warriors staged an early morning attack against an Ojibway village.  Many of the Ojibway men had left the camp on a hunting expedition before the attack.  In a brief skirmish, over 70 Ojibway, mostly women and children, were killed.  There were also 17 Dakota killed in the attack.

As a highway for trade and travel, there is no doubt the Mississippi River is important.  It is no surprise that control of the area where so many rivers join the Mississippi is viciously contested.  It is no surprise the dominant Native American groups in the area would continuously battle over control.  With both the Rum River and the Elk River joining the Mississippi, it seems appropriate that Sherburne County is the site of so many battles for control of the upper Mississippi River.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Baseball Memories in Sherburne County

from Clear Water Times 1920
October means World Series Baseball, and this year with the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs, the game take a special importance throughout the state.  However, baseball has a long tradition beyond the professional level that has flourished in the late 1900s.  In Sherburne County, the game hearkens back more than 100 years as the sport of choice for so many young men.  The memories about baseball abound throughout the small communities of Minnesota.  Sherburne County is no exception.

Archie Larson, from Orrock, remembers, in the book Boondocks Baseball, back to the time of semipro teams throughout the area.  “Back in the summer of 1917 a couple of us players from Orrock were asked to come and play for Glendorado.  If we won, we’d get $5, if we lost we’d get nothing,” he said.  “We got in trouble and were losing as we went into the ninth inning.  Then our luck changed and we managed to go ahead and we won the game at the last minute.  After all the hoorays and shouting we went over to the manager to pick up our money.  ‘Oh heck!’ he exclaimed, real embarrassed like.  ‘I thought sure we were going to lose, and I plumb forgot to take up the collection.’”  Archie never does mention whether he ever got his five dollars.

But the baseball tradition goes back, beyond the century mark, beyond the semi-pro games in Sherburne County.  Men and boys have been playing the game, for fun and profit, for many years.  And, many of the communities organized fine teams during those times.  In his book Boondocks Baseball, Cliff Sakry remembers many skillful teams in the communities in and around Elk River.  Monticello, Rogers, Orrock, Santiago, Zimmerman, Clear Lake, and Forest Lake are just a few of the teams that gave Elk River stiff competition on the baseball field.

Beyond the professional level, baseball has clearly been an important tradition in Sherburne County for many decades.  In a time before professional ball, the team of nines has entertained many generations of county residents.