Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Thursday, November 3, 2011

More Snow in the Future?

            Today the local weather reports seem rather boring.  Each day the morning announcers lament the lack of snow in Minnesota.  Around town, however, friends are telling me to just sit back and wait.  When the snow comes, it is going to arrive with a great deal of fanfare.
            History has shown that the month of November is a time of unpredictable and often frightening weather.
Snow at SHC, November 2010
            Only twenty years ago, the Halloween blizzard of 1991 witnessed a snowstorm that delivered more 28 inches in a two day period.  The snow started to fall at noon on October 31 and continue for two days.  It was a heavy, wet snow that stayed.  Trick-or-treaters were forced to climb over snow drifts to reach houses for candy.  In the Twin Cities, children were advised not to travel through the neighborhoods.  “Visit the malls,” they were told.
            Other spectacular snow storms included the Armistice Day storm of 1940 when 27 inches of snow fell.  It surprised so many people in the upper Midwest that thousands were caught in the storm that hit the upper states.  Weather watchers reported snowdrifts as high as twenty feet.  In the end, more than 150 deaths were credited to the storm. 
            November of 1911, exactly 100 years ago, Sherburne County was hit with yet another blizzard.  The Sherburne County Times newspaper reported on November 16, that a blizzard hit the area and although no measurements of snowfall were taken, temperatures dropped to three degrees below zero. Some reports claimed the snow continued to fall for ten days.  Nearly two weeks after the storm, early in December,  the newspaper was still reporting of the efforts to dig out from the snow.
            The cold weather, dramatic changes, and the fierce snowstorms make the climate a major topic of discussion.  The diversity and quick changes in weather certainly make this the most interesting topic to approach.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

This Week In Sherburne County History: 1891--Train Accident Kills Five

October 27, 1891—An accident occurred on the Minneapolis and Pacific Railroad when a train ran into the caboose of a leading train, killing five men.  Four of the fatalities were from a Monticello threshing crew.  The lead train was apparently stopped when the second locomotive came upon them.  The collision was so violent one man was thrown through the roof of the caboose and landed on top of an adjoining freight car.
            On November 1, the conductor of the moving train was arrested and charged with criminal negligence for the deaths of the men 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Elk River Preservation Needs Help

Okay, before we begin, let me acknowledge that my standing in the Elk River Preservation discussion is limited.  I do not live in Elk River.  However, as Executive Director of the Sherburne County Hsitorical Society, I do have some interest in this discussion.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Elk River is committing an injustice against the people of Elk River.

Recent news reports in the Star News state the HRA has voted to evict the Elk River Arts Alliance from its building at 720 Main Street. This will begin the process to tear down 716 and 720 Main.  Their justification for this action is the fear the roof may collapse under a heavy snow in the coming winter.  I have been assured this chance is minor.

Well, the suggestion has been made that the HRA is not serving the people of Elk River in a completely unbiased manner.

What the HRA is not saying is that repairs to the building would cost a minimum $75,000.  Tearing down the building would cost a minimum of $95,000.  These numbers, by the way, come from a building consulting firm contracted to the HRA

The HRA is also ignoring the pleas of the Historic Preservation Commission.  The HPC for several months has been urging Housing and Redevelopment to save the buildings.  The HPC position is that the two buildings contribute to the historic character of downtown Elk River.

Furthermore, the HRA refuses to recognize the economic potential of restoring the building.  Leaders of the Historic Preservation movement in the United States estimate that for every dollar invested in preservation and restoration of a building, there is a potential return of more than $20.  In other words, the $75,000 used to save the building could possibly see a return for the city of  $1,650,000.

In defense of the HRA, a plan has been developed to tear down the two buildings to expand the existing parking lot on Main Street.  A number of individuals maintain the lot is full ten days out of the year.  In other words, the HRA wants to tear down two buildings, at a cost of $95,000 for a parking lot that will sit empty 355 days a year.

Suddenly I am thinking of the lyrics: "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Unfortunately, a majority of the members of the HRA are appointed positions.  They answer to no one except the City Council.  Maybe the City Council needs to be made aware of the disservice being committed by their appointed members of the HRA.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Weather Obsession

If you are following the Sherburne History Center facebook page over the last few weeks you will have noticed we are a bit obsessed about the weather.  In studying local historic newspapers, it appears the concern for weather is part of the character of Sherburne County residents.  And, it simply isn’t the record highs and lows, the impressively strong winds, or tornadoes that roll through the county.  Each day the weather is unique and becomes an interesting facet of coming events.  Even the smallest details are noted.

In August of 1894, the Sherburne County Star News reported not only was it hot (the daytime temperature hovered around 100 all week with a night time low of the high 80s), but also technology had taken a step forward for weather forecasters.  The newspaper reported, “Elk River is now furnished with weather reports by telephone.  The character of the weather is no better than it was before.”

Extremes in the weather were always noted in the newspapers.  On August 5, 1897, the Sherburne County Times noted the incredibly wet summer.  “According to official measurements over 11 inches of rain fell in this section of the state in the month of July.”    According to weather websites, the average July rainfall for Sherburne County is about 4.1 inches.  1897 must have been a very wet year.

Just three years earlier, drought had hit the county.  The newspapers were noting the lack of rain for crops and the low level of the Mississippi River.  “W. E. Corey says he never saw the Mississippi River so low,” the papers reported.  “”He says there is hardly water enough to float logs in the middle of the channel.”

Blizzards, extremes in snowfall, rainfall and tornadoes are all noted in the news.  The Veterans Days Blizzard that hit the entire state in 1940 will be forever remembered.  And the tornado of 1967 that tore through the county will also be noted in memory.  And that is what makes it interesting.  There is always something new in the weather reports of Sherburne County.  It inspires a slight obsession.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hang the Canoe Thief!

Out west, tradition held that stealing a man’s horse was the most despicable and life threatening action imaginable.  A horse thief was usually hanged without the benefit of a jury trial. 

I recently came across the following article in the Sauk Rapids Frontierman on 7 June 1855: 

The meanest and most contemptible action we know of, is for a white man to steal a canoe.  It is a common occurrence, for some people who are going to the Falls or St. Paul, and who are either too stingy or mean to pay for a passage down by land or purchase a canoe, to steal the first one they chance to see.  The people residing upon the river have lost a large number during the past two years, and we have lately been made a victim by one of this class of detestable beings—canoe stealers.  It may seem cunning, and be a cheap way to go down stream, but if we ever find out the thief, he will learn to his satisfaction that “Jordan am a hard road to travel.”

I wonder if the editor considered hanging too good for any of these canoe thieves:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Some Good News For Minnesota History

The Mpls./St. Paul Star Tribune published an interesting article on-line that suggests Minnesota students are generally well informed about American History.  Coming from a teaching background in Georgia, this is great news.

According to the article, teachers and student evaluators in Minnesota give students high marks for knowing the basics of U. S. History.  Unfortunately they lack depth in their understanding.  Students know who Thomas Jefferson was, that Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency in disgrace, and the basics of World War II.  Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily understand Watergate or appreciate the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. 

This is a big deal.  I once taught U. S. History at a university in Georgia where students didn’t know who won World War II!!  It sounds like Minnesota is doing well to teach their children their history.  Nationwide the news is not so good.  A report quoted in the article notes that only 12 percent of 12th grade students, nationwide, are “proficient or better” in history.  Anecdotal evidence puts Minnesota higher than that.

So, Minnesota students receive high marks.  Yet, we can’t let the emphasis on Math and Science take away from teaching history.  The phrase “well rounded education” exists for a reason.  We need to make everyone who is involved in the education system realize that allowing history to take a back seat to other subjects is not an acceptable alternative.

We are doing okay, but we must do better.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just Another Photograph of That Same Santiago Tree

A close up of the trunk for more perspective on the idea of BIG!

This Is One Big Tree

A few weeks ago I was reading in the Pioneer Press about the program to determine the biggest trees in Minnesota.  The article featured a burr oak in Newport.  That inspired some conversation and we have tried to determine the largest trees in Sherburne County.  We found this one in Santiago that comes close to being big.  I thought I would throw this out to anyone that is reading:  Do you know of any big trees in Sherburne County?  Keep in mind that big, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  So let me know, where are the big trees around the county?  How do they compare to this one.

As a frame of reference for size, the fence in the background is about six feet tall.  The building with the peaked roof is about nine feet, and the wire spool next to the tree is about three feet high.  So this is a tall tree.

What do you think?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sherburne County Can Grow Anything!

In the past I have commented on the multitude of crops that have been grown in Sherburne County.  Farmers of the county have raised strawberries, corn, potatoes, and soybeans.  Even tobacco and ginseng have been raised in the county.

But, I think I have finally found the truly unusual, maybe unique, plant.  The Sherburne County Star News on June 17, 1897 reported that Mrs. Chester Nickerson had been tenderly cultivating an orange tree in her home.  “The tree is about three feet high” and was brought indoors during cold weather.  “We have never been accustomed to brag about Minnesota,” the newspaper said.  “There are half a dozen oranges,” on the tree!

The crops, plants and produce to come out of the county never cease to amaze me.  The cultivating skills of the people of Sherburne County are uniquely noteworthy.

Monday, June 6, 2011

National Pollinator Week Is Coming Up

With National Pollinator Week coming up in the last week of June, and the scheduled program at the Sherburne History Center on 25 June, I thought this would be a good time to add a few photographs of the prairie flowers in bloom at the history center.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It Is Always About The Weather

While reading microfilm an announcement came to my attention that reinforces my preoccupation with the weather.  The Sherburne County Star News newspaper on June 3, 1897 reported: "The necessity for fires for heating purposes in the latter part of May as was in the case this year is unusual even in this climate."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Ethnicity and Its Influence

I have been reading a couple of publications that hint at some interesting ideas.  Minnesota 13 Stearns County’s ‘Wet’ Wild Prohibition Days by Elaine Davis and “An Analysis of the Ethnic Distribution of Settlers to Sherburne County In 1880,” a master’s thesis by Banette R. Kritzky both provide some interesting information about Stearns and Sherburne Counties.  These two works suggest that ethnicity and the immigrant population of the counties has a significant impact on the developing character of the county.

Although this is not a particularly new idea, the application to Sherburne County is interesting to me.

A large portion of the early settlers of Sherburne County were migrants from New England and New York.  Their Puritan work ethic had a noteworthy influence on the county.  I am still working to document the full extent of their influence, but it appears that these early settlers from New England became the political and business leaders of the county.  Understanding these leaders and their belief system is important to understanding the character of Sherburne County as it developed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More Snow

Okay, I stand corrected!  Last week I wrote that snow in April seemed odd.  Well, it turns out that snow in April in Minnesota is not so odd.  In just recent history, we have had some substantial snow fall in the fourth month of the year:

According to the Star Tribune newspaper, on April 15, 1983 the Twin Cities experienced 13.6 inches of new snow.  So that you can appreciate the great differences in the weather around the area, the Elk River Star News reported the snow fall was only 2 inches in Sherburne County from that storm.

Slightly more than one year later, the frozen precipitation was even more dramatic in its differences.  On April 30, 1984 the Star Tribune reported "almost 10 inches" of fresh snow.  The Elk River newspaper noted the limited precipitation, nothing frozen, in Sherburne County.

Well, the forecasters are predicting wet, heavy snow for tonight.  They are predicting maybe two or three inches.  The date is April 19, 2011.  I am anxiously waiting to see what happens in Minnesota in April in 2011.

Regardless of what happens,though, the weather continues to amaze me!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's April---Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

As you all probably have surmised, I am absolutely fascinated by the impact of weather on the community.  The blizzards, the tornadoes, the floods, and rain all generate interest and curiosity.  I have to wonder: how do all of these natural occurrences influence the character and history of Sherburne County?

Well, the date is 14 April 2011 and the weathermen are predicting snow for this coming weekend.  Nothing that will really stay around, but the snow storm will still be an inconvenience.

Looking back, I already know that snow is not unusual in Minnesota in April.  Going back more than a century, it seems snow is routine.  The Sherburne County Times in 1898 reported snow in the first week of April.  The fact that it snowed was not really news.  However, “two colts belonging to Jo and Will Clitty strayed in the snowstorm … and wandered into the yard of a Clear Lake farmer.”  When the farmer returned the colts he also presented the Clitty’s with a $6 boarding bill.  The newspaper concluded the small report with “This is neighborly kindness for you.”

The context of the newspaper suggests that snow in the Spring is common.  More than 100 years ago, the newspapers suggest that how neighbors deal with the snow is notable.  And, that is what makes the weather interesting. 

Okay, this is not snow from April, this is actually October 2010, but snow on the prairie is an interesting sight.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

What's Happening in Sherburne County History

1898--War was the dominant topic of discussion in the newspaper pages of Sherburne County in the first week of April 1898.  Nearly three weeks after the sinking of the U. S. S. Maine in the harbor in Havana, Cuba, men are rushing to volunteer to fight the Spanish and free Cuba from the imperialists of Spain.

In Sherburne County the sentiment is no different.  The Sherburne County Star News reported that men were anxious to enlist in the United States Army.  The Star News reported that twenty-nine veterans of the Civil War, members of the local G. A. R., offered their services to Governor David Clough as a unit ready to fight Spain. 

It is not known if the Governor took these men up on their offer.  However, more than 220,000 volunteered for immediate service in April and May of 1898.  In the ten months of the war, more than 300,000 men served in the United States Army against Spain.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interesting Details About Beer

With the planning of the upcoming Wine and Beer Tasting sponsored by the Sherburne County Historical Society and the Carousell Works, I have taken on the task of re-educating myself about beer.

We all understand that all beers do not taste the same, at least not until the sixth one.  But there are a number of interesting facts and details that have come to my attention in the past few weeks.

  • Did you realize that beer often symbolizes masculinity?  According to a little known newsletter, the Woodhouse Symbolism Newsletter, beer has long been viewed as the drink of the common man.  And, only in recent centuries has wine been the drink of the gods.  Before wine, the gods preferred a fine draft ale.

  • Did you also realize that aluminum cans are actually better for beer than bottles?  According to a Del Vance, a beer expert in Salt Lake City, Utah, the myth of metal cans ruining the taste of beer is just that, a myth.  With the end of steel beer cans and the rise of lined aluminum cans, the taste of canned beer has been enhanced.

  • Most “beer historians” agree the first batch of lager beer brewed in the United States was by John Wagner of Philadelphia in 1840.  The lager being a lighter beer than the ales brewed in Europe dating back to the middle ages.

  • Within the main categories of beer, the 2004 Beer Judge Certification Program list twenty-three different styles of beer.  These range from a “light lager” to “smoke flavored and wood-aged beer.”

With the upcoming wine and beer tasting at the Carousell Works, I obviously need to study more of the intricacies of this fine drink.  So much to know and oh so little time!

If you would like to join me at the Carousell Works on 25 March for the first annual Sherburne County Historical Society Wine and Beer Tasting, be sure to purchase your tickets at the Sherburne History Center.  Admission is restricted to individuals over the age of 21.  Ticket sales are limited to the first 50.  Admission price is $25 per person.  Call us for more information at: 763-261-4433.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It’s The Land, Katie Scarlett

“… land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”---Gerald O’Hara in Gone With the Wind

Having lived and worked in Atlanta, Georgia for more than 15 years, it is expected that I would know the story Gone With the Wind very well.  Recently the quote from Gerald O’Hara came into my mind as I was thinking about the Sherburne County century Farm Program

The land, and ownership of the land, is so important.  I have written in the past about the variety of crops grown on the farms of Sherburne County.  Living on the land and growing the corn, the soybeans, the potatoes and all of the other crops that are raised in this area is truly a mind boggling concept.

To even further confound the mind, think about the farm families that have lived on the same piece of land, and worked the land for more than one hundred years.  That is even more astounding!

We don’t do enough to acknowledge the farmers of the United States, all of the hard work they do and their sacrifices to the land.  It is not just their hard work that makes the farming industry so important here.  Their lives and farms have helped mold the personality and character of the county.  The history of the county is reflected in every farm and farm worker in Sherburne County.  We need to acknowledge that.

How different the county would be if the strawberry crops had not been raised around the area.  What would replace the Christmas Tree farms?  Remove the potato farms and how does this effect the county?  How would any of these change effect the character of  the county?

As Gerald O’Hara said, “land …it’s the only thing that lasts.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

In Praise of Legacy Grants

These are tough economic times.  The legislature struggles to close a 6 billion dollar deficit, job market continues to look dreary, gas prices continue to rise; and to make matters worse it is cold outside!  Yet, in spite of all of this, we can take a look at some of the details of the past few years and count some victories.

In the local history field, perhaps a significant success over the past two years has been the implementation of the Legacy Grants, which are officially known as the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.  In 2010 legacy grants were issue to 343 organizations throughout Minnesota.  In a report issued to the legislature by the Minnesota Historical Society, the estimates suggest that for every dollar spent through the Minnesota ACF, the return on investment was $1.95.  That means Minnesotans almost doubled their money on every dollar spent on cultural heritage in the state!

The Sherburne History Center has been a beneficiary of this grant money.  In this past year, we received over $25,000 to improve the storage facilities for the museum and archives.  Static shelving was added to the museum storage to improve access and preservation of the artifacts.  In addition supplies were purchased for the archives so that the photo collections and archival collections are better cared for.

There is no doubt that spending money on cultural heritage on the local and county level provides a major benefit to the area residents.  Here in Sherburne County we have received major support from county and local leaders.  As we dwell on the dismal view of the national economy, we need to take a moment and thank everyone for their efforts to continue to support Cultural Heritage in Sherburne County. 

Some of the new storage upgrades courtesy of MN ACF grant money

Friday, January 28, 2011

It’s Always The Economy

I was recently reminded back in 1992, when Bill Clinton was first running for the Presidency; the news reported a large sign in his campaign offices read: “It’s The Economy.”  Now, nearly twenty years later, the economy is still a big issue.  And, after reading 1936 copies of the Elk River Star News it becomes apparent that the economy is always in the news and always an important issue to consider in our local history.

Back in January of 1936, a major headline in the newspaper reported that the federal government was preparing to pay World War I veterans a bonus for their service.  It was estimated in the paper, although probably too high, that some 300 veterans in Sherburne County would receive $180,000, about $600 each. 

All of this came available as a result of the World War Adjustment Compensation Act of 1924.  Under that legislation, the federal government issued bonds to veterans that could be redeemed in 1945.  With the crisis of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt passed legislation to redeem the certificates 9 years early.  The Elk River newspaper predicted a boom in the local economy as business would undoubtedly benefit from this new influx of money.

In spite of the promise of more money in the local economy, many people still held a sense of desperation.  A number of unique organizations developed plans to better help the unemployed.  In Big Lake the unemployed organized as an association.  Each member pledged to be prepared to work when a job came available.  Charles R. Beach and P. G. Kilmartin were elected officers of the new association.  The association developed to urge local employers to find work for members of the group.  This was yet another way to try to alleviate unemployment.

The efforts to lower unemployment did not solve every issue.  The front page of the Star News also reported a break in at the creamery of Twin Cities Milk Producers Association.  Someone had broken into the warehouse and stolen 600 pounds of butter.  Desperation seemed to be everywhere.

Whether it is today, twenty years ago, or seventy five year ago, I suppose the economy is always an important issue and an important consideration.  Exploring the economic history of the county may be yet another way to understand the character and history of Sherburne County.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Programs Are The Name Of The Game

Programs are, as many people realize, important to the operations of museums and historical societies.  With the coming New Year, here at the Sherburne History Center, we have rededicated ourselves to creating new programs and providing more opportunities for the sharing of information about the county and the local history.

In other words: program presentation is the name of the game for the coming year.

And, we have started off pretty well.  In January, two programs of importance are the book signing of They Called Her Maria, described as a “wonderful example of life in the 1870s on the Minnesota frontier.”  Editors Herb and Corinne Murphy have spent the past two years transcribing and editing the diaries and letters of Hannah Maria Nutting Benham Knapp.  We are happy to present the published work here at the Sherburne History Center.  The book signing is scheduled for 12 January between 11 am and 1 pm.

Later in the month, an introductory course on genealogy and family history will be presented.  The goal with this program is to create a jumping off point for future genealogy and family history programs.  We will be emphasizing Sherburne County and Minnesota resources, but expanding outward to discuss other areas for research is always a possibility.  This program is scheduled from 10:30 am  to 12:30 on Saturday, 22 January at the Sherburne History Center. 

In February we have a poetry reading by Ken and Janet Panger.  And later in the month a program on collecting oral histories and using them in family history will be presented.

In addition, in 2011 programs such as the “Vintage Base Ball Game,” “autumn Lights,” “Polinator Week,” “The Tribute to Agriculture,” and the “Annual Christmas Tree Festival,” are all part of the schedule. 

Keep your eye out for more details.  And, I hope to see you all at some of the programs and other events we have planned this year.

And, as always, if you have any questions, comments, or ideas please let me know.  I can be reached at: 763.261.4433 or at