Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Depression Era Relief: A Tricky Challenge

Depression era relief programs required unique enforcement skills in 1935.  This became apparent from newspaper reports in the Sherburne County Star News in the spring of that year.

In May 1935 the local newspaper urged local farmers and other county residents to report any relief recipients turning down opportunities to work.  “All clients who refuse work when it is offered are to be taken off relief rolls,” the paper reported.  According to the news reports, county residents remaine3d on the relief rolls while supplementing their income with egg and dairy sales.  “relief is being given only as emergency relief,” the paper reminded.  “As soon as a family’s income is larger than their budget, they will be taken off relief.”
WPA construction crew in Handke Stadium circa 1935
In farming communities throughout Minnesota federal investigators found families willing to receive federal relief and farm income at the same time.  “A concerted drive is being put on throughout the state to shut this down.”  The paper went on to remind readers receiving relief while receiving regular income constituted a fraud against the federal government.  “In many cases these people are being brought into court.” 

Yet, in spite of the challenges with relief programs in all Minnesota, a desperate need for aid remained in Sherburne County.  In the same year, 1935, over 4800 men and women worked on relief jobs in the Sherburne County-St. Cloud district.  Jobs included work like the WPA project at Handke Pit, and Civilian Conservation Corps jobs throughout the state.  In the month of December 1934, 116 people worked on relief project in Sherburne County. 

Providing relief while enforcing federal limitations on that relief presented a unique challenge in Minnesota.  At a time when residents desperately needed aid the federal government came through with assistance while minimizing the duplicity.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Advertising in Elk River

Some interesting advertisements in the Sherburne County Star News in 1934 and 1935 give us a sense of life and times in the county: 

With the rising standard of living, it would appear the telephone is becoming more of a necessity and less of a luxury in the daily lives of the people of Sherburne County.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cater Family Memories

Charcoal Print of Joshua Cater, in the
collections of the Sherburne History Center

The Cater Family served a prominent role in the settlement and development of Sherburne County.  Settling in the area of Haven Township in 1860, Joshua Otis Cater and his descendants contributed significantly to the early history of the county.  Lottie Cater Davis, the granddaughter of Joshua Cater, the daughter of Levi Woodbury Cater, provided an oral history to the Sherburne History Center, remembering some of the early settlement:

My dad farmed in a big way—he had over 1,000 acres of land.  We had an older house in Becker, south of here on Highway 10.  I was born in the old house in 1896.  When I was four, my dad wasn’t working and he built that great big house.  We had that house built in 1900 and moved in there.  I can remember when there we ten buildings on that farm, right in the yard.

They could buy land for five dollars and acre, but to get that $5, I don’t know how the young people today would do it.  They raised hogs—they had to raise the corn by hand.  Cut it by hand and raise the hogs, butcher them and haul them to what was then Pig’s Eye, (St. Paul) and sell them for five cents a pound.  It took a 100 pound hog to buy one acre of land.

My grandmother made butter at first.  Her job was taking care of the milk and cream.  They set flat pans—great big flat pans—in the basement.  She would skim off the cream, churn it and pack it in her crocks with a layer of salt on top.  Then they would haul a whole load to St. Paul.

Up north here, my dad had 160 acres.  They made tons and tons of hay out there and Grandpa sold it—a lot of it went to the place where the stagecoach stopped in St. Cloud—they sold lots of it there.  

Grandpa was quite a poet.  Any little thing that kind of amused him.  He lived with us over here the last part of the time and every once in a while he would come out with a little smile on his face.  My mother and I would know that he had made a poem.  Just any unusual incident and he would make up a poem.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Following Up On Herman Greupner

After publishing William Greupner’s oral history, a news article the Sherburne County Star News published came to light, providing more details about the business history of Herman Greupner and Greupner Shoes.  The article, published April 5, 1934, provides new insight into the business history of Greupner Shoes, it also gives information regarding the layout of Elk River’s business district.

1894 map of Elk River business district.  Looking
closely Greupner's Shoe Store most likely in the bottom
edge of the map, along State Street.
When Herman Greupner arrived in Elk River, in 1884, he opened his first shop next door to “the Henry Wheaton general store on the north side of the railroad tracks.”  The newspaper reported, in 1885, “W. H. Houlton built a new shop for Mr. Greupner on Princeton Street,” (today Jackson Street) still north of the railroad tracks.

“When my business increased,” the paper quoted Mr. Greupner, “making dress shoes for the best people of Elk River, I moved to a larger place near the post office, where Joe Libby was postmaster.” 

The fire of 1898 destroyed the entire business section of Elk River.  Greupner Shoes opened temporary quarters until Houlton built new space south of the railroad tracks.  Greupner moved into these new quarters in 1901, only to suffer another destructive fire in 1910.  “I had accumulated a very nice stock of goods and tools,” he remembered.  “But after the fire I didn’t have as much as a pegging awl.” 

Again, he rebuilt.  The shop remained in place until his death.  Mr. Greupner died four months later, August 15, 1934.  A series of newspaper reports paid tribute to the business man and his fifty-year history in Elk River. His personal history provides greater understanding of the development of business in Elk River.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

Remembering Greupner Shoe Shop

Recently we have been exploring county landmarks with the use of oral histories in the collections of the Sherburne History Center.  Greupner Shoes developed into a business institution in Elk River.  Established in the 1880s, and remaining in the city for more than eighty years, the small shop that served Elk River and Sherburne County became a significant icon in the county history.  William Greupner remembers the store and his father:

Greupner's Shoe Shop before the 1895 fire
From the collections of SHC
My dad, Herman Greupner, came to Elk River from Germany in 1883.  He had two sisters and a brother in Germany.  He was in the army over there.  He was in the army for three years.  And then he was in the reserve.  He really shouldn’t have left, I guess, because in the reserve you aren’t supposed to leave the country.  He did anyhow because he thought, he told us so many times, he thought silver dollars were hanging from the trees.  But he found out different when he got here. 

He spent one year in St. Paul, [then] in Eau Claire and then from there he came up to Elk River because it was mostly on account of he made boots for the fellows that worked on the river.  They [the boots] were called parks or cults.  He had all the patterns for these men and he make ready-made shoes for them.  They sold, as I recollect, or as my dad told me, he made these boots for around $6.50 or $7 a pair, which compares today with would cost probably $150.  The men worked seven days a week.  They worked every day and Sunday.  [They received] kind of top pay then.

Well, my father was in Elk River.  He was single for eight years before he met my mother.  And, my father was sixteen years older than my mother, but they still reared nine children.  One child died in infancy.  But there were eight of us that lived.  We all we of age before our parents passed away. 

When [my father] was fourteen years old he started training in shoe repairing and making new shoes.  So then when my brother Fred, who was six years older than I was, when we got old enough, we helped.  I started helping in the store when I was about eleven or twelve years old.

My father had several fires [at the store].  The first one in the town, which was 1898, the whole town burned out.  He had insurance all those years, but this particular time he shorted some lamps and so he didn’t collect a cent.  But he inherited $300 from his folks in Germany.  That’s what really saved him, so he could start up again in business.  Then, again, we had a big fire in 1910, which we lost everything.  Then we started over again. 

In 1910 we had about $5000 inventory, and his insurance was $2,500.  So, he paid his debts and started over again from scratch.  There is where I spent fifty years of my time, from 1910 on. My brother and I, our father taught us shoe repairing.  We [were doing] shoe repairing, and we also had, of course, shoes and men’s sport clothing.  And so, we kept on until my brother passed away in ’66.  My wife and I, we kept on for a couple more years. Then, I became 65 and that’s when we sold out.