Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Orphan Trains and Adoptions in Sherburne County

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline was a recent topic of the Sherburne History Center Book Club.  As the conversation evolved several questions came up: Were there many orphan train children in Sherburne County?  Were there other sources in Minnesota for families wanting to adopt or bring children into their families?  (Yes, I know, if you read the book, I am phrasing this very delicately).

Well, I can’t answer the first question.  But an announcement in the Sherburne County Star News from March 1, 1900 helps answer the second question.  The announcement read:

Mr Lewis of the state school, Owatonna, came into town last week, bringing with him a school girl for Mrs. Colbeck. 

As we peruse the columns of the county newspapers, we are finding similar announcements.  It appears the state school in Owatonna served as a source for children.  The official name for the orphanage was: The Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children.  The webpage for the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum counts 10,635 children in the school for the date of opening in 1886 to its closing in 1945.  And, as we see from the newspaper announcements, some of these children found their way into the homes of Sherburne County citizens.

Now, we all understand that the fictional writing and stories of the Orphan Trains and the adoption process in the early 1900s are filled with drama.  If the drama didn’t exist, there would be no story.  Yet, not every child in the orphan train experienced some trauma after being taken in by families in the Midwest.  A great deal of happiness and joy, now doubt, resulted from the orphan train program.  So, we are not filled with sadness or sorrow when we explore these stories of the orphan train and adoptions in middle Minnesota

The adoption process and the impact on people and communities are parts of a greater history that remain uncertain yet need to be explored.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

John Earl Putnam—Pioneer and Public Servant

John Putnam deserves sainthood.  

Okay, that may be an overstatement, yet, here is a man that devoted his entire life to the development and improvement of Sherburne County.  His contributions to Sherburne County need to be recognized.  Born 10 November 1826, he moved to Big Lake, Sherburne County in 1855 where he lived until his death on 3 October 1899.  

Putnam was one of the first settlers around Humboldt, the community known today as Big Lake.  

In the forty four years he lived in Big Lake he held just about every possible elected office and public servant station in the county.  He was county clerk, Register of Deeds, County Auditor, first Clerk of the Court, Probate Judge, and County Commissioner.  He also served in a variety of offices in the City of Big Lake and for the local School District.  As a staunch supporter of the Republican Party, he was appointed Postmaster in 1861 and held the job almost continuously until 1898.  The one gap in his service of Postmaster was during a small portion of the Grover Cleveland presidency.  

Education was an important consideration for Putnam.  He provided the land and housing for the first school in Big Lake Township.  

Putnam retired from public service because of his failing health in 1898, one year before his death.  

His death brought out a huge group of mourners.  And recognizing the beauty of Sherburne County, he requested his funeral be held in the front yard of his home.  Nestled under a canopy of trees, Reverend Williams from the Union church conducted service in what Putnam described as “God’s first Temple.”   After the services, John Earl Putnam was buried in the community that he loved, in Big Lake City Cemetery. 
Although sainthood may be a bit of a stretch, John Earl Putnam was significant to the growth and development of Sherburne County.  His contributions need to be recognized.