|Elk River factories circa 1900
SHC photo collection
Always regarded as an industrial town, Elk River supported a number of factories and shops in its early history. The barrel hoop factory must be regarded as one of these shops that branded the community as an industrial center.
Opening in 1895 and operating for only a brief time, the factory employed ten men and boys around the Lake Orono industrial area. The Sherburne County Star News described the factory as a “veritable bee-hive of industry.” Using the best cuts of elm trees, the factory trimmed and shaved the wood into thin strips. Factory workers then heated the wood, molded, and nailed into the appropriate size hoops for wood barrels. The newspaper went on to explain that “the very best of timber is required in the manufacture of hoops.” The scrap wood became fence pickets and fire wood.
The opening of the factory created an unusually high demand for elm wood. The paper reported in April of 1895 of rising theft and illegal cutting of elm trees on private land. The trees, land owners speculated, were destined for the hoop factory. Early reports speculated the demand for elm wood might exceed 500,000 feet in the year 1895.
Unfortunately, the demand for barrel hoops seemed limited. Although not yet fully documented, the factory operated for only a brief period. Like the starch factory and the Elk River pickle factory, the challenges of shipping and stockpiling inventory led to the demise of the operation. Yet for a brief time the hoop factory encouraged industrial experimentation and promoted the community reputation as an industrial town.