Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Even in Difficult Times Santa Delivers

As we explore the traditions and customs evident in the Christmas season an interesting question arises: how did Santa Claus carry on with the business of giving out toys during a crisis?  In the archives of the Sherburne History Center, we found evidence to suggest that although Santa Claus maintains a high level of diligence, his creativity and thoughtful nature allows him to achieve his tasks, still in one night! 

A letter found in the archives of the Sherburne History Center further explains Santa’s workload.  Addressed to the Nelson sisters in Zimmerman, Minn, the letter, written during World War Two.  Although it is dated: “Not many days before Christmas.”

With his busy schedule, Mrs. Santa Claus takes on the job of replying to Christmas letters.  “Santa works until nearly morning these nights and so he has me do all his writing for him,” she explained.  She went on to note that “he will have to use reindeers this year because of gas-rationing.” 

From this letter we witness Santa’s management skills of hard work, and a willingness to delegate responsibility.  Skills like these make Santa Claus a very successful businessman.  In 2020, like the war years, a crisis will not prevent Santa Claus from making his rounds and wishing everyone A MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Holiday Feasts: Why Turkey?

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of several celebratory feasts.
  The turkey day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day call for some type of feast and celebration. With the end of the Thanksgiving feast, I paused to wonder about the food I had just devoured.  Specifically, why turkey?  After a brief search, I discovered a variety of meats served during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.  Each of the centerpieces, whether they be turkey, goose, or pork; held a significant meaning to traditional diners. 

In the United States most holiday revelers held Turkey as the primary dish of a festive meal.  Whether at Christmas or Thanksgiving, the bird of choice remained the gobbler.  The wild turkey must be hunted and killed.  And so, early feasts celebrated the holiday and the hunting skills of family members.  As you move into the twentieth century, turkeys became domestic farm animals and more easily attainable.  Goose and pork, on the other hand, remained common farm animals.  Served often during the year, goose and pork failed to present a unique character expected at celebrations.

The goose, a domesticated bird and easy to raise, maintains a royal standing in feast days.  Folklore suggests Queen Elizabeth I while eating a roast goose, received the news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  Viewing this as a sign, she declared goose as the meat served at all holidays and celebrations.  Domesticated geese remain low maintenance farm animals.  Late each Autumn, farmers release geese to forage in the fields, fattening themselves for slaughter.  More common than turkeys, the slaughtered goose remains a succulent addition to the celebration.

Pork has its own unique place on the celebration menu.  Prior to the twentieth century, ham required extended time to smoke and cure.  Even today, it remains the meat of choice for Spring celebrations.  Often slaughtered in the late Autumn, particularly in the southern United States, pork ribs found a place in the holiday feast.

Whether from tradition, royal decree, or ease of food preparation, a variety of meats found their way into the traditional holiday feast.  Ham, turkey, and goose all represented some tradition during the holidays.  Now, if only someone could explain lutefisk to me.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Communication With The Church Bell


Union Church Bell currently housed at the 
Sherburne History Center
As we explore communication devices in Sherburne County, attention to the telephone and the telegraph remain important considerations.  Yet, before the telephone and telegraph, the county needed some technology to sound fire alarms and arouse the citizenry in the middle of the night.  Every small community wrestled with the question of how to sound an alarm.  Some communities used steam whistles from factories.  Others used the ever-present church bell.

The leaders of Big Lake chose to utilize local church bells.  An example of the church bell warning system remains in the collections of the Sherburne History Center.  The church bell from the Union Church served for many years as part of the warning system for Big lake.  Some residents remember, “you could hear that bell for miles.”  With every fire, or other catastrophe, the Union Church bell rang out.

Installed at the church in 1891, Clinton H. Meneely Bell Company from Troy, New York manufactured the bell.  The Meneely company crafted bells first in 1826 and remained in business until 1952.  In the 126 years of business, the company produced over 65,000 bells.  Meneely reportedly used melted down, surplus cannons from the Civil War to create the Union Church bell.  The Union Church building originally resided near the southeast corner of Highways 10 and 25, the center of Big Lake. 

Before the days of telephones and mass communications, the ringing bell from a local church, like the Union Church bell, served to warn and bring out community members.  The clear sound of a bell, from a church located in the central part of town served as the early warning system for more communities like Big Lake


Friday, November 13, 2020

Sherburne County Voting Rights


With the end of the 2020 elections, an interesting letter in the archival collections of the Sherburne History Center warrants some discussion.

As background information, the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote in national elections passed in August 1920.  Prior to the approval of the 19th Amendment, in Minnesota, women voted in some local elections.  Of particular interest, women voted in elections concerning local school boards.  This makes sense when we realize a responsibility of all women concerned the education of children.  This belief extends back into the 1800s.

In a letter sent to concerned citizens of Clear Lake, Sherburne County, Assistant Attorney General Montreville J. Brown reaffirmed the right of women to vote in local school board issues.  His only caveat to this voting right being that women must be residents of the district in question and “they are of the age twenty-one years and upward and possess the qualifications requisite of a male voter.” 

The voting history of Minnesota and Sherburne County emphasizes that the question of voting rights lacked simplicity.  Suffrage maintained several nuances, rather than simply suggesting women won the right to vote.  Women maintained some voting rights; the 19th amendment expanded those rights. 

Understanding these rights leads down an interesting historic path.

Friday, November 6, 2020

More Telephone History


As a follow-up to the recent report documenting the development of telephone technology in Sherburne County, a collection of documents highlighting the day-to-day operations of the telephone companies came to light.  The by-laws and expectations of users of the telephone company provide interesting insight.  The rules and bylaws from the Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company, and the Haven Rural Telephone Company provide details of construction as well as telephone etiquette for the 1910s and 1920s.  these documents provide some enlightening insight into early Sherburne County.

The Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company organized in 1905 with a strict set of bylaws and rules of etiquette.  Article 2 of the bylaws set down strict penalties for failure to follow the rules of the company: “Should any members of this company neglect to keep their phone in order or willfully disobey the rules or bylaws or do anything to hinder the harmonious working of such lines, the directors may disconnect their lines from the system.”   The bylaws went on to state, “Phones are not intended for playthings.  Parents are earnestly requested to prohibit hallowing, whistling, or singing in the phone by children and others or in any way obstructing the line to the great inconvenience and annoyance of those who have business to transact.”

Haven Rural Telephone
Company incorporation
Finally, the bylaws emphasized the telephone as a tool for business.  Article 5 of the bylaws stated, “Business must always have preference to mere pleasure or amusement.”  The rules also limited conversation time, “No one shall be entitled to the use of the line for more than five consecutive minutes especially when someone else is waiting to use the line.” 

Equally interesting, the contract between the Haven Rural Telephone Company and Northern States Power Company, signed in 1924, details the construction requirements.  The telephone lines installed by Northern States extend from the St. Cloud city limits to the town of haven.  Along the line the company agreed to use 20-foot cedar poles with five feet of creosote to prevent rot.  The agreement went so far as to specify the sized of galvanized nails and the types of insulators used on the poles.

The contracts, bylaws, agreements, and meeting minutes provide remarkably detailed insight into the operations of the rural telephone companies and the habits and behavior of Sherburne County residents and their early use of the telephone.  Documents such as these serve as a valuable resource to understanding Sherburne County

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Telephone in Early Sherburne County

A new exhibit on the Sherburne History Center web page explores postcards and their popularity as a means of communication.  An equally interesting development in Sherburne County history is the adoption and use of the telephone.  Beginning in the early 1890s and continuing through the 1920s several small telephone companies organized in Sherburne County to offer this unique method of communication.  Delving into the early history of companies such as the Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company and the Haven Telephone Company, and the efforts of anonymous companies in Elk River provide an interesting appreciation of a rising telephone technology in the county. 

Drawing of candlestick style
telephone common in 1900

As early as 1893, the opportunity to reach out to friends in distant communities arrived in Elk River.  The Elk River Star News reported a telephone company installed a “hello line” at the Merchant Hotel.  A telephone at the hotel allowed residents to communicate as far as Winona.  The company promised the service would soon reach Chicago.  An amazing technology that allowed individuals to reach and connect with distant family and friends.

The hello line, although exciting, functioned with some drawbacks.  Often long-distance connections required fifteen minutes, or more, to complete.  Charges for the call seemed relatively expensive, charging five cents per minute.  Privacy also seemed a challenge.  Within a year the telephone moved to the Babcock and Son Store.  A room in the back of the store promised more privacy than the office of the hotel. 

As the 1890s progressed, the value of telephone communications became more apparent.  The newspaper reported in 1899 plans being developed to provide a local exchange for Elk River residents.  In 1902 telephone service within Elk River came available as a local telephone exchange opened.  Within seven years Elk River and larger areas of Sherburne County gained access to the telephone.  In 1906 the Sherburne County Rural Telephone Company connected the communities in the western portion of the county.  Telephone lines connected Big Lake with Becker, Zimmerman, Clear Lake, Orrock, Santiago, and Blue Hill.  That same year, the Meadowvale Rural Telephone Company provided additional connections between Elk River and Zimmerman. 

Beginning in the 1910s and into the 1920s, more technology and development enhanced the business and culture of the telephone in Sherburne County. Creating connections first in Elk River, with other parts of Sherburne County following suit, the telephone developed into an important tool for communication.  Letters and postcards remained important, yet the new technology quickly moved to the forefront of daily life.  Beginning in 1893 and continuing into the 1920s, connecting Sherburne County residents became an important feature of Sherburne County.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Labor Shortages in WW II Sherburne County


Labor shortages, in World War Two the phrase commonly referred to necessary work in the factories and armament industry.  Often associated with Rosie the Riveter, the phrase suggested a shortage of workers to man the factories and build necessary war machines.  Yet, the phrase carried a tragic and not often considered meaning in Sherburne County.  Although the federal government exempted most farm workers from the draft and created programs to provide more farm workers, the area around Sherburne County witnessed a severe shortage of labor during the war years of 1943 to 1945.  These labor shortages in farming caused more than a few farm failures and forced auctions.

            With the opening months of 1943, a new phase of the war developed.  The conclusion of the North Africa campaign signaled success for allied troops.  Plans for invasion of Italy continued.  And the offensive against japan showed measured success.  All of this demanded more war material.  Rationing and increased production placed greater stress on farming communities like Sherburne County.  Some farmers found it impossible to carry on their work.  In particular, farm workers seemed impossible to hire.

            The federal government created programs to train teen age boys to work on the farms during summer months.  Still later, the government enlisted prisoners of war, from Italy and Germany, to work in the food processing plants and in some of the larger farms.  Yet, the programs fell short for Sherburne county farmers.  The Sherburne County Star News, in April 1943, reported on a program to train young men in the Twin Cities to work on farms throughout the state.  Other reports noted Italian POW’s working in the potato warehouse in Princeton.  Yet very few of the programs and workers made their way into Sherburne County.  The government efforts fell significantly short.  

This inadequate effort led to farm failures and forced auction liquidations around Sherburne County.  Several advertisements for auctions appeared in the newspapers, beginning in 1943 and continuing into 1945.  Many of the ads explained the inability to find workers as the cause for the auctions. 

Labor shortages remains an unusual phrase in exploring World War Two and farm production.  Yet, the newspaper columns during those years reveal a series of unfortunate farm failures as a result of labor shortages and the lack of manpower in the rural counties like Sherburne County.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Charles M. Schulz--Another Minnesota Artist


A few weeks ago, I wrote of artists from Minnesota.  I failed to mention perhaps the most significant artist in Minnesota history: Charles Monroe Schulz, (1922-2000).  A master illustrator and creator of the widely read and enjoyed comic strip of all time: Peanuts. 

Schulz, born in Minneapolis, lived in the twin cities for nearly forty years.  The exceptions to this, was during his service in World War Two and a brief time spent in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not published his first original illustration.  A 1937 drawing featuring the family dog, a hunting dog that ate unusual household items such as pins and tacks.  This illustration he signed as “Sparky” a family nickname for the young Schulz.

Seventy years ago, October 2, 1950, seven newspapers published the first Peanuts comic strip.  The syndicated comic grew to the point 2600 newspapers in 75 countries carried the daily antics of the Peanuts gang.  Schulz instated on doing the drawings and lettering himself.  In the end he produced an estimated 17,897 strips.  The comic also outlived the creator.  Schulz died on February 12, 2000.  The last Peanuts strip published the next day.  

Although the comic syndicate owned the strips, they agreed with Schulz that no other artist be allowed to carry on with the Peanuts strip.  Since his death, until today, the Peanuts strip reruns remain a popular segment of local newspapers. 

Although lived outside of Minnesota for the last forty some years of his life, Charles Monroe Schulz remains a significant artist in Minnesota history.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Visual Artists in Minnesota


Minnesota Artist Anton
Gag (1859-1908),
self portrait

This past week, at the Sherburne History Center, the annual Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase exhibited work from several local artists.  With art history playing around in my mind, I wanted to take a moment and give mention to a couple of Minnesota visual artists.  I want to acknowledge there is a force within the state that inspires painters, illustrators, photographers, and other visual artists.  Here are four artists born or lived in Minnesota and played a significant impact on the national art world.

Sarah Louise Judd (1802-1881) born in Farmington, Connecticut.  She came to Stillwater, Minnesota in 1845 as an educator.  She also produced daguerreotypes and later, other portrait images.  She is regarded as the first photographer in the state of Minnesota.

Perhaps the best known of all Minnesota visual artists, Wanda Gag (1893-1946) trained under the tutelage of her father, artist Anton Gag (1859-1908).  Anton immigrated to Minnesota, settling in New Ulm where seven children, including Wanda, were born.  Anton worked as a photographer and painter, best known for his oils depicting events of the Dakota War.  Wanda trained at the Minneapolis School of Art and became a major illustrator and artist.  Perhaps, best known for her published work, Millions of Cats.

Another Minnesota artist, Adolf Dehn (1895-1968), worked closely with Wanda Gag.  As a lithographer, Dehn gained fame in the school of Regionalism and Social Realism.  Although a brief period of artistic expression, Regionalism gave focus to views and images from the Midwest.  As a significant artist in the school, Dehn received two Guggenheim fellowships to pursue and expand the influence of the period. His work appeared in a variety of popular magazines in the 1940s through 1960s, including: Vogue, New Yorker, and Life magazine.

Adolf Dehn, Anton and Wanda Gag, and Sarah Louise Judd serve as significant reminders of the many visual artists to develop in Minnesota.  And, with the Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase, we continue to explore the artists and their imagination from Minnesota.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Women Going to War


WAAC recruitment poster, 1943

During World War Two, young men receive a significant amount of attention in joining the service or being drafted to serve.  Rightly, we need to recognize their service to the country.  Yet, many young women also served in the military.  Their service also warrants recognition.

There were a few opportunities for young women to serve the country during the war.  The government called upon women flyers to ferry aircraft to Britain that had been manufactured in the United States.  Nurses served an equally important role in the military.  And a multitude of administrative duties put the efforts of women enlistees to the task.

The first of the women branches of service, other than nurses, organized as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  Beginning in 1942, the Army recruited 150,000 women to serve in administrative duties and still later as mechanics stationed around the United States.  In February 1943, Carol Jean Briggs, of Elk River, joined the WAAC service.  Ms. Briggs taught school in Elk River for two years before enlisting, explaining her experience might be better utilized in the army.  At the same time, Betty Truman joined the Army nurse’s corps as a second Lieutenant. 

Later on, in 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps reorganized as the Women’s Army Corps.  Their work proved so successful, the Navy created the WAVES; the Coast Guard created the SPARS; and the United States Marine Corps organized their Women’s Reserve.  General Douglas MacArthur described the WAC’s as “his best soldiers” because of they complained less and worked harder than most men.

Perhaps the most secretive of the women in war time service involved the code breakers and translators stationed along the west coast in the war against Japan.  Francis Scroggins Beck, of rural Elk River, served as a cryptologist for serval years during the war.  As a cryptologist she translated secretly intercepted communications from the Japanese. 

Although only three listed, a number of women in Elk River and Sherburne County joined the military effort to fight the war.  Sherburne County recognized the men drafted into service.  Women enlistees quietly went about the business of war with little or no recognition of their service.

Ladies, thank You.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Recognizing Labor Day


With the coming holiday weekend, we need to stretch outside of Sherburne County History to explore the origins of Labor Day.  Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing to the declaration of a national holiday, the day to celebrate workers remains important.  

Quarry workers in west Sherburne County

The commemoration of labor and working often associated with May 1, May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.  In the United States, in the late 1880s, May Day became more closely associated with radical philosophies often associated with socialism, anarchy, and communism.  A variety of more conservative labor unions and activists started promoting the first weekend in September as an alternative; a new Labor Day. 

The Haymarket Massacre, on 4 May 1886, further solidified May Day as a celebration of radicalism.  In 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize the Labor Day holiday in September.  Within 7 years, thirty states commemorated Labor Day.  Although the federal government recognized Labor Day as a holiday for federal employees, it wasn’t until the 1930s the holiday was recognized as an official holiday. 

In Minnesota, a number of significant activities revolve around the September holiday.  Many schools in Minnesota open after Labor Day.  Some suggest this scheduling allows young children to fully participate in the state fair, which closes on Labor Day.  In addition, fall sports activities schedule their opening based on the Labor Day holiday. 

Informally marking the end of summer, Labor Day emerges out of the more radical history of May Day to play a significant role in yearly life cycles in the United States.  It provides an exclamation point to end summertime activities and signals to Americans now is the time to develop plans for the fall and winter activities.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Nuclear Energy in Elk River


Newsletter advocating for
reactor in Elk River, 1955

A truly unique anniversary passed this week, 57 years ago, on August 24, 1963.  On that date, the Elk River atomic reactor generated the first nuclear power in Minnesota.  After eight years of campaigning and planning, the Elk River nuclear plant opened for business.  Unfortunately, the plant operated for only a brief time.  Yet, it served as a highly informative experiment in nuclear plant operations. 

Only ten years after nuclear power proved its strength, the Rural Cooperative Power Association of Elk River developed a campaign to introduce nuclear energy into the upper Midwest.  According to a proposal submitted to the Atomic Energy Commission in June 1955, a nuclear plant in Elk River could reduce electricity production costs by fifty percent in five years. 

The Atomic Energy Commission looked favorably on the Elk River proposal.  In 1958, they granted approval to the project and construction began on this unique project.  After five years of construction, the reactor first generated power and became the first reactor operated by a rural cooperative in the United States.

Unfortunately, the experiment at the Elk River plant failed.  After five years of operation, the plant closed in 1968.  Officials reported the plant lacked cost effectiveness.  By 1975 the entire reactor had been dismantled. 

Planning and construction took more time than the operation of the plant itself.  Although the operation of the plant failed, the experiment provided insight into the construction and operation of a nuclear plant in the United States.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Joseph F. Bean: Sherburne County Pioneer

Recent discussions of early settlement presented an individual to consider as a pioneer serving a significant, yet unheralded, role in the settlement of Sherburne County.  We need to look at the life and times of Joseph F. Bean of Livonia Township. 

Joseph Bean spent his childhood and early days in New Hampshire.  He made his way to Sherburne County, stopping first in Wisconsin before landing in Elk River.  Finally, in 1856, he and his new bride, Betsy, settled in an area of Livonia Township.

The Bean homestead located on the stagecoach road between Elk River and Princeton.  In addition to farming, Bean also provided rest to travelers along the road.  He also served the role of Postmaster, the mail for area farmers being delivered by stage and later by the early morning trains.  In addition, both Bean and his wife Betsy emphasized education.  Both worked as teachers before settling in Livonia Township.  Evidence suggests the Bean household served, for a time, as a school.

A fire, in 1891, destroyed the original farmhouse.  The family quickly rebuilt their home and continued to farm and provide services to the community of Zimmerman, that developed just east and south of the Bean farm. 

Comparing the Bean family history to other early settlers, a pattern becomes evident.  Much like the homestead of Orlando Bailey, Joseph Bean established a farm while providing a rest stop for travelers along the road.  In addition, he provided services as the postmaster and may have opened his home as a schoolhouse. 

With all of this work and community service, Joseph F. Bean and his family clearly contributed to the settlement of Sherburne County.  They were important, early, pioneers in the County.


Friday, August 7, 2020

World War Two Impacting Sherburne County


The anniversary of the atomic bombing of Japan arrived this week. It seems an appropriate time to recognize the impact of the war on Sherburne County. Unfortunately, and tragically, World War Two impacted everyone. Whether through rationing or military service, or a multitude of other means, every individual in Sherburne County, between 1940 and 1945, felt the war.  

 An oral history collected from Edmund Babcock makes an interesting point of this: “When my high school class had its fiftieth reunion, we invited every class member to get up and take the microphone and tell a little bit about what had happened in their life since graduation from high school. We invited a dear lady who was one of those teachers that everybody in the class knew and liked. She was getting to be an elderly person at that point. Her daughter, who happened to be a medical doctor, drove her out from Minneapolis and stayed with her through the whole evening. We had a reception the next day, and at that reception, the lady’s daughter was there again. I got into a conversation with her, and she said, “That program last night was just a memorable thing for me because each of you got up and started saying, ‘I joined the Navy,’ or ‘I joined the Army,’ or ‘I joined the Marine Corps’, or the girls said that they took a job or they joined the service or that they got married and their husb
Charlie Brown, one of many
Sherburne County residents
to serve in the war.  Brown was 
killed in Europe, 1944
and went into the service.” She said that she realized that the war had an effect on everybody and changed their lives, but it had never come true to her so clearly until she heard each one of these high school graduates begin to tell their story, and, because it was a wartime story, she realized that the war had a real effect on everybody, and it changed everybody’s life.” 

For Babcock, wartime service meant joining the Naval ROTC while at the University of Minnesota. Later, he served aboard a troop ship in the Pacific theatre of the war. “I finally was commissioned in December 1943 at the university, and I’d never been on a ship, but I was commissioned as an ensign,” he remembered. “I was assigned to a cargo ship, the Alnitah, the AK127. It was essentially a liberty ship, a ship that had been built in a hurry. There were many of them constructed. This particular one that I was assigned to was designed to carry troops. They weren’t carried in much style. “ 

“I was in Pearl Harbor the night the war ended,” Babcock said. “Coupled with the end of the war was the announcement of the atomic bomb and the damage in Japan and Nagasaki. This was another one of those events that you never forget. You remember where you were and when you heard about it. Somehow, it sticks with you.” 

 With the end of the war, Babcock returned to the University of Minnesota, earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a law degree. And, as his reminisces make clear, World War Two impacted everyone in Sherburne County.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Fishing: Creating the Outfit and Landing the Trophy

Fishing holds a rich and extended history in Sherburne County.  The first resort in the county, Brown’s Hotel, in 1855 advertised Big Lake as a premier fishing spot. In the last 165 years, fishing remains an important sport and pastime in the county.  Stories abound of landing that great catch, that trophy fish.  Yet, a detail of the sport, not often discussed, concerns the creation of that most personal of items, the fishing outfit. 

 Walter Gohman, in his memoirs, writes of the fishing kit he devised with hard work and a little creativity.  “I made a fishing outfit by selecting a very special willow pole,” he wrote.  “I skinned the bark from this pole and treated it with oil.  I found a wooden fish line spool and fastened this the side of the pole.  I made a crank handle with a bolt and used screw eyes to guide the line.” 

Gohman went on to swear by the effectiveness of his outfit.  “We caught many fish of all sizes,” he wrote.  “We caught so many fish that my mother told us not to bring any more home.  We had all that we could eat.” 

Ben and Lillian Keays fishing on the Elk River.
Notice, Ben's outfit consisted of a large tree limb.
Soon, Walter Gohman’s outfit needed some upgrading.  He set out to improve his gear.  “I wanted a regular reel for my outfit.  I saw one in Tilmans Hardware in St. Cloud for $1.25.  This was a very simple reel.  I started saving money to buy this reel.  I would check the store window often to make sure that the reel was still there.  I was a great day when I finally was able to buy the reel.  I polished it all of the way home.”  

Further in his memoirs, Gohman expanded on his fishing adventures. “As a sportsman I had three ambitions that I often fantasized about.  These were to catch a muskie, to spear a buffalo fish and to shoot a goose,” he wrote.  “I never shot a goose.  I had a chance to spear a buffalo fish, but ‘chickened out’ when the fish was bigger than I was.”   

Gohman’s memories of landing a muskie make for an interesting story.  Using salvaged lumber and wire, Gohman and his compatriots crafted a raft to anchor in the middle of the Mississippi River.  “The raft was anchored at a deep spot in the part of the river we called the slough.  A tree and fence had washed into the river and settled on the bottom of the slough,” he wrote.  “We caught rock bass from this raft.  I was landing a rock bass when it seemed that the fish had wrapped the line around one of the tree limbs.  To salvage the line it seemed necessary to pull the limb up and unwrap it.  I proceeded o do this when suddenly there was a tremendous splashing of water and I pulled a large muskie onto the raft.  The muskie too the rock bass as bait and got hooked, he explained.”  After struggling with the fish, Gohman freed the hook and sent the fish on its way, back into the river. 

Every fisherman, including Walter Gohman, remembers landing that one great fish.  In addition, creating the very personal fishing outfit remains an equally enticing and vital story to the history of fishing and Sherburne County.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Sherburne County and Education

With the current discussions of disease and quarantine, the condition of schools and student attendance, I am encouraged to look back in the history of Sherburne County and explore the development of schools in the area.  It quickly becomes obvious; education played an important role in early Sherburne County.  

Elk River school, circa 1900
 As early as 1869, Elk River witnessed construction of a brick school, with multiple classrooms.  This was not simply the one-room schoolhouse similar to those scattered around the county.  This was a true school with several teachers and separate classes for students based on grade level. 

In 1876, the County Commission set aside specific township sections to benefit education in Sherburne County. The idea originates with federal law, mandating sections of land be set aside for education, the actions of the commission, however, reinforce the importance of teaching county children.

In 1883, every child in Elk River realized a dream come true: the school building burned to the ground.  Yet, in spite of this setback, education continued in Elk River and Sherburne County. A new, two story school replaced the burned-out facility, and education moved forward.  

In 1885, county educators reported 1,257 students in the schools.  This at a time when population in the county came in at about 5,000 people.  Elk River estimated a population of 600.  With a quarter of the population being students, the county administrators excitedly reported receiving state education funds of $477.66.   

Within five years, the county educators noted higher quality teachers arriving in the Sherburne County schools.  Some of these county educators suggested the local school boards slowly eliminating debt and finding the funds to pay teachers a higher wage. 

Although an unidentified photograph, children posed in
capes provides a unique image worth viewing.
Events leading up to 1900 show education as a significant priority in the families of Sherburne County.  In particular, the investment in Elk River education is noteworthy.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Life in Meadow Vale

A recent photograph published on the internet, generated a variety of questions regarding the location and history of Meadow Vale.  We will make an effort to provide more details about life in the area known as Meadow Vale, possibly fill in some details about the community 

Meadow Vale was originally a farming community located in the north west corner of Elk River township.  For individuals looking at a map, consider section 6 of township 33, range 26, with some overlap into section 31, township 34, range 26. 

Meadow Vale Schoolhouse
Perhaps the most common photograph associated with the community continues to be the image of District 28 schoolhouse (references vary, some research refers to the school as District 18).  The school, along with the nearby church, served as the community centers for Meadow Vale.  Still later, the local Grange Hall also acted as a community gathering place. 
Memories of the community, written by Mildred Hill Felix, remember the borders of the unincorporated neighborhood.  “Meadow Vale, in those days extended from the George Keasling place to the Antlett place, then west and south to the Taylor and Englebretson places.  No more.  Anyone coming from other communities were considered outsiders.” 

The schoolhouse and church (Meadow Vale Union Church) were both built on the southwest area of the community.  “About a quarter of a mile east of the school, a lovely little church was built on the south side of the road,” Ms. Felix remembered.  “One summer evening during an electrical storm, lightning struck this church and it burned.  Another church was then built on the opposite side of the road.  This church was later sold and moved away.” 

Meadow Vale Union Church
Several of the community events in Meadow Vale included a literary club and missionary society meeting.  The Felix memoirs noted, the literary club “was just what the name implied—discussing of books, poems and other writings.”  She went on to remember, the missionary society “met monthly and there was always a big dinner, and all the men attended this dinner.  I’ve known there to be as many as 15 or 16 cakes, and many tried to taste them all.”  The missionary society raised money during the meetings to support missionary work in Turkey. 

Ms. Felix also remembered the origins of the Sherburne County Fair in Meadow Vale.  “A Meadow Vale fair was started showing needle work, baked goods, garden crops, fruits, etc.  People came from Elk River, Big Lake, Orrock, Zimmerman and around.”  The Sherburne County Fair grew out of this Meadowvale fair and moved to Elk River. 

In the years of its existence, Meadow Vale residents clearly maintained a busy community life.  Between church and school, fairs and philosophical societies remained active.  Even in this isolated area of Sherburne County.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Sherburne County Dairy Industry

Orrock Creamery circa 1900
Notice the multitude of milk cans in each wagon,
 waiting to do business with the Creamery

With the closing of June as National Dairy Month, it seemed appropriate to recognize the importance of the dairy industry and the creameries to Sherburne County.  For decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s, farmers recognized Central Minnesota as a significant producer of dairy.  As late as the 1980s, the region was recognized as the “golden buckle of the dairy belt.”  In the middle of this region, Sherburne County creameries offered quality milk, butter and cheese.  The multitude of milk producers and their distributors in Sherburne County need to be recognized for their impact on the local economy and history.  From the Elk River Creamery, and its related Twin Cities Milk Producers Association, to the Orrock Creamery and Becker Creamery, they all served a significant role in the agriculture history of the county.

Advertisement for Becker Creamery
Local historian Betty Belanger remembered the dairy industry as significant to the local farm economy.  The milk checks, the money paid out to farmers for their daily milk deliveries, served as the only cash money farmers received on a regular basis.  An early photograph of the Orrock Creamery shows several farmers, with wagons loaded with dairy products, waiting to deliver.  Unfortunately, the Orrock Creamery burned down in 1907 and never rebuilt. 

The Becker Creamery, Santiago Creamery and, more importantly, the Elk River Creamery filled the void to purchase from local dairy farmers.  The Becker Creamery dates to 1906, while the Orrock Creamery opened for business by at least 1890.  The Elk River Creamery also dates to the late 1800s. 
Elk River Creamery circa 1900
The Elk River Creamery served the local farming community until 1921.  That year the business sold to the Twin cities Milk Production Association.  They built a new building, serving the community until 1957. 

Although the primary product for all the operations was milk, cheese and, later, butter products came out of the creameries.  In the early years, farmers in the county regarded buttermilk as waste.  After production of butter, the farmers recovered the buttermilk to feed to their pigs. 

The large number of creameries in the county suggests they played an important role in the local economy.  As Betty Belanger noted, dairy as a cash crop impacted a significant number of farmers in Sherburne County.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Early Conservation in Sherburne County

Meeting in the basement of the Big Lake Municipal Liquor Store, September 3, 1941, a group of men and women living in Sherburne County came together and organized the Sherburne County Conservation Club.  For the next forty-one years they met to develop and discuss plans for very necessary projects, to aid conservation in Sherburne County. 

Because of drought, over-farming and several natural disasters, land in Sherburne County in the 1930s rapidly deteriorated.  Zimmerman was known as the poison ivy capitol of the world.  Sandstorms were so common, “there were days when Highway 10 was closed,” club member Art Nelson remembered.  

An early project for the club called for tree plantings to develop wind breaks and stop the soil erosion.  Over the years, the club estimates millions of trees were planted in Sherburne County as part of the Conservation Club program. 

Construction of a cement dam on Mud Lake, circa 1955, by
the Sherburne County Conservation Club volunteers
Other projects in the early years included developing fish rearing ponds to raise and transplant pike into county lakes.  The club also built a dam on Mud Lake, also known as Orrock Lake, to promote wild rice development.  The club also experimented with Pheasant propagation and wild turkey introduction.  Both of these projects appeared less than successful because of the lack of understanding on how to raise pheasants and turkeys.  The wild turkeys originated from Texas.  The birds apparently could not adapt to the changing weather extremes. 

 In the 1960s and 70s, the state and federal governments superseded the plans of the Sherburne County conservation Club.  By 1974, the club ended their annual improvement projects.  In 1982, the club quietly disbanded.  At times their activities generated some controversy, yet, the goals of the group enhanced life in Sherburne County until a time when the government took an interest.  Starting with a meeting in the basement of a liquor store, county residents identified a need and moved to improve their community.  Not always successful in their efforts, their early attempts mark an important chapter in Sherburne County development and conservation.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Typical Tasks for Homesteading Sherburne County

Recent research at the Sherburne History Center disclosed a copy of memoirs, describing the work of early settlement on farmland in the county. Written by Vernon Bailey, it provides interesting insight in the multitude of tasks needed to ready a farmstead for occupation. 

Between other work during the winter, Father and Charles cut and hewed the logs and timber for the new house, hauled them together in the snow.  When spring came, the foundations of the house were laid, the walls were rapidly built up of great logs, fitted tight together and hewed smooth on the inner surface.  The roof was framed of dry tamarack rafters, wide roof boards, and good pine shingles.  A cellar for vegetables was dug under the house after the roof was on but later an outside bank cellar was constructed in the side hill at one corner of the house where milk and meat and vegetables and fruit could be kept cool in the summer and from freezing in winter. 
When the house neared completion,
a clearing was made on the warm slope nearby and garden vegetables, potatoes, turnips, corn, peas, and beans were planted in the rich mellow wood soil and before summer was over an abundant supply of fresh vegetables yielded luxurious fare for the rest of the season and a substantial store to carry the family through the winter.  Our two cows supplied milk and butter and a small flock of hens not only supplied our eggs but increased so that henceforth we had eggs to use and some to sell. 
In all likelihood, the memories of Vernon Bailey described the typical task of settlement in Sherburne County.  The process of building the cabin, building the barn, and establishing a vegetable garden remained the priorities for most settlement farmers.  Only after ensuring the survival of the family, the cash crops and building of the successful farmstead became a major concern. 

Vernon Bailey in his early years of
 his career as a naturalist for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service.
The construction skills of Hiram Bailey, Vernon’s Father, appeared as a unique feature of the Bailey settlement memoir.  In his youth Hiram Bailey developed master skills as a bricklayer, stonemason, and carpenter.  These skills allowed him to command triple wages for construction work around Sherburne County. Hiram Bailey’s skills allowed him to earn cash money, a guarantee the family never lacked for necessities.  

Although there remained unique features to the Bailey family settlement in Sherburne County, the actual construction of the farmstead illustrates typical behavior of early settlers of the county.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Memories of Strawberries

Strawberries and west Sherburne County seemed synonymous for a number of years.  At the highpoint, the Becker Strawberry Days Festival solidified the connection.  The lesser known memoirs of Sherburne County residents remain equally important to connecting the local strawberry crop and the county.  A brief paragraph in the published memories of Walter Gohman bear out this important connection:
I remember vividly a strawberry feed.  There was a strawberry patch that went the full length of the garden.  The Gohman farm had some of the most fertile soil in Minnesota and the strawberry patch produced a large crop of luscious berries.  A big strawberry feed was in order.  In the morning when they separated the milk, a large pitcher of cream was saved.  The pitcher or cream was placed on ice in the ice house.  A long table was set up by placing planks on saw horses in from of the long porch.  We were each given a bowl and told to pick our own berries.  When we were all seated beside our big bowl of berried, Bert’s Anne went to the ice house to get the pitcher of cream.  As she returned across the lawn, a large garter snake crawled across her foot.  She screamed and tossed the pitcher into the air.  What was intended to be strawberries with sugar and cream turned out to be strawberries with just sugar. 

Although created as a means to sell more fruit, the Becker Strawberry
Festival highlights the important connection between the county and
the local strawberry farms
Walter Gohman didn’t enjoy his berries and cream on that day, yet his memories reinforce the importance and enduring impact of strawberries in Sherburne County. The berries continue to impact the community and the economy to this day.