Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Under the Heading: Unusual News

… the Sherburne County Star News reported on 7 March 1912: “Mrs. John E. Putnam, age 83 years, is now cutting her third set of teeth, having been without teeth for 16 years and having been baldheaded for nearly 40 years, is now the proud possessor of a fine head of hair.”  

 The gossip columns from 100 years ago makes reading the newspaper an adventure.

Friday, August 26, 2016

More About Hotels in Elk River

In recent weeks the history of hotels and hospitality in Elk River has been area of study.  The primary focus centered around the Blanchett Hotel, also known as the Merchants Hotel, and the Riverside Hotel, also known as the Elk River Hotel.  Now we are giving attention to a lesser known boardinghouse/hotel in Elk River.  
As late as the 1950s, the hotel above Kemper Drugs was the Hamlet Hotel.  Originally known as the Princeton Hotel, the space served more as a boardinghouse for long term residences, in contrast to the short stay hospitality of the Blanchett and the Riverside.  

To locate each of the different hotels, this 1894 map has been brought out from the collections to help us visualize the area.  The Riverside Hotel is located on the corner of King and Main.  The Blanchett is located on the east side of Jackson (Princeton) and on the north west corner of Jackson (Princeton) is the Hamlet Hotel.  The Great Northern Railway station was located across the street, directly north of the Merchants (aka Blanchett) Hotel. 

An important detail to note: this map documented Elk River before the many devastating fires that encouraged business owners to relocate south of the railroad tracks.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Elk River's Claim to Fame

Becker’s claim to fame includes strawberries.  Big Lake gained fame for the purity of the ice.  Another truth handed down through time: Elk River’s claim to fame is the potato. 

The Sherburne County Star News reported on March 28, 1912 “that Elk River has been famous as a great potato market.”  As proof a front page news article reported two men in an unnamed, yet famous, Minneapolis restaurant heard the demand for Elk River potatoes.  “The Elk River potato is known and called for as an especial relish of big Minneapolis restaurants,” the paper reported.  The paper went on to suggest that although some believed the men “had taken a wee bit too much of some sparkling fluid from bottles,” it was common knowledge around the Sherburne county town, “Elk River potatoes are famous and will be more so in a few years."  
The Star News felt this claim to fame warranted some action by the county to adopt a specific type of spud to market it as the true Elk River potato.  “In this way Elk River and its product would be advertised broadside and it would add much to the town as a potato market.”  In spite of the good ideas to market the potato and Elk River, no action was taken to create an Elk River potato.  

In spite of inaction, more than 100 years passed since the tuber so abundant in Sherburne County brought fame to Elk River.  Just as Big Lake has its ice; Becker gained fame through strawberries; so, Elk River remains famous for the potato.  

Elk River potato market, circa 1900
SHC collections 1995.017.012

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Diary of Eben H. Davis

A small diary in the collections of the Sherburne History Center provides fascinating detail about the early settlement of Elk River.  Eben H. Davis, at one time the Sheriff of early Sherburne County kept a travel diary in 1882.  In the autumn of 1882 he was part of a group surveying and “cruising” timber from Grand Portage to Hunter’s Island, Canada.  The final pages of this diary he provides background information about Elk River at the time of his settling in the area.  He gives two different dates for his arrival in Elk River: 1850 and 1851.   The date of his arrival matters very little.  The details of the settlement make this a valuable document. 

            In Sept. 1850 the writer hereof first came to Elk River.  Peter Bouttino was then building the Riverside Hotel.  His brother Chas. was living in and keeping Saloon in a log building about 4 or 5 rods west of the Hotel. 
            Silas Lane then lived in a house on the hill near where Harry Mills house now stands.  Chas. Donnely Donley lived about 80 rods N.E. of Robert Browns place and a man named Carver lived near Edd Kegans place.
            E. H Davis born in Town of Lowell, Maine August 29th 1835.  Emigrated to Illinois in fall of 1849 and to St. Anthony Minnesota in Spring of 1850 and to Elk River in Spring of 1851.  Was Married to Louisa M Ingersoll July 4th 1857 who died Sept. 19th 1888.  

Riverside Hotel and Bottineau cabin.  Photo from the collections of the Sherburne History Center. 1990.200.563


Friday, August 5, 2016

The Dream of An Industrialized Sherburne County

Sherburne County’s early settlers dreamed of creating a county based on industrial strength.  The economic crisis and 1857 Depression killed the dream.  Instead, Sherburne County became a farming center.  Several industrial towns and plat sites planned for Sherburne County hints at a potentially different character of the county.  If only dreams had come true.

Elk River originated as an industrial settlement by first building a saw mill and grist mill.  The Elk and Mississippi Rivers’ steady water supply guaranteed success to the mills.  The Great Northern Railroad railhead stopped in Elk River until 1866.  The community was destined to grow into an industrial giant. 

At least four communities in Sherburne County failed to develop like Elk River.  Developers platted and planned sites around the county.  All failed to develop.  The failures included: Liberty, a site planned for industrial growth in Big Lake Township; Marseilles existed on paper near Becker; Groton was platted along the St. Francis River in Blue Hill Township; and plans for the community of Wheeler developed in Haven Township.  All the sites planned construction of sawmills and grist mills.  Dreams collapsed with the economic downturn in 1857.  
Before financial ruin Sherburne County seemed destined to industrial greatness.  With the increasing crisis of the economy and Civil War, the dream of industry faded and agriculture expanded the county. 

Imagine the potential character of Sherburne County if only dreams had come true.

Elk River flour mill, circa 1887.  from the SHC collections 1990.200.551