Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, March 27, 2020

The Fairway Market and George Dietz

In examining the history of the Elk River business district, one grocery store continuously receives mention: George’s Fairway Market.  Exploring the brief history of the Fairway Market provides an interesting perspective on the personality of Elk River and the business philosophies of community leaders.

In an oral history at the Sherburne History Center, George Dietz remembered the early years of operating the Fairway Market.  Dietz grew up in the retail business.  “My dad belonged to the Minnesota Food Retailer Association,” he remembered.  While moving to several retail operations early in his career, he gained his greatest experience at National Tea.  “I ended up being the produce manager at Excelsior,” he said.

The Fairway Market featuring its low prices
In August 1953, Dietz bought the Fairway Market in Elk River.  “Ann’s dad was in business in Victoria.  He was on the Board of Directors of Fairway.  There was no way I could even consider any other type of store, except a Fairway.” 

The unique feature of Dietz’s Fairway, the detail that set him apart from other stores in Elk River was his policy of cash and carry.  “Clint Walker had the Red & White [Grocery Store] and then Donald Davis had a store on Main Street next to the post office.  He was the big gun in Elk River.  They were both charge and delivery and I went cash and carry.  So I reduced all the prices in the whole store so that we would be below them.  We opened up with $1500 a week.”

In addition to his low prices, Dietz worked with a very loyal staff.  Less than a year after he opened his store, George Dietz suffered from an attack of polio. “It took me a good three, four months to recover once I got home,” he remembered. “Mrs. Kittridge, Mrs.Stafford, Mabel Johnson, Lorraine Hohlen. Then we had a meat man, and Chuck Bartusch as the carryout.  They kept the store going.” 

Until the early 1960s, George Dietz operated the Fairway Market.  Anticipating the developing suburbs, he built a new store north of Elk River.  Yet, for ten years, with low prices, cash and carry policies, and loyal staff, the Fairway held a unique place in the business history of downtown Elk River. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Clear Lake House Another Memorable Hotel in the County

Discussing Sherburne County History, the Brown Hotel, in Big lake, is often mentioned as an outstanding example of fine food and hospitality.  In Elk River, the Blanchett Hotel and the Riverside Inn maintained reputations as hotels serving delicious food and cordial surroundings.  Yet, an equally auspicious, but overlooked, hostelry entertained and housed visitors in Clear Lake for 47 years.  The Clear Lake House, an inn offering hospitality to travelers and long-term guests, anchored a section of the Clear Lake business district near the railroad depot.  The history of the inn on the west side of the county warrants attention.

Clear Lake House, circa 1900
Built in 1880 by C. W. Potter, the hotel replaced a railway eatery that had burned down a year earlier.  The hotel offered a restaurant for railroad passengers and train crews.  It also provided travelers a brief respite from long rail journeys through Minnesota.  Potter ran the hotel for nine years, passing ownership to Phillip Schwab, who served as the first of a long list of short-term owners and operators.

In 1890, the Clear Lake House earned a reputation as one of the largest and best hotels between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud.  It also offered very reasonable rates. By 1891, the inn advertised fifteen rooms and a fine livery for travelers through the area.  

In 1905, the hotel received less than favorable news coverage when the local papers reported guests being robbed.  A tramp relieved Charles Haaf, the son of the hotel manager, of $15, guest Joseph Feuker of $5, and the nearby night operator at the railroad of a pair of shoes.  Unfortunately, the thief escaped capture.

The hotel continued to receive guests for another 22 years.  In 1927 the hotel closed for renovations and never reopened.  In January 1929, the Sherburne County Star News reported “the old building known as the Clear Lake Hotel opposite the Northern Pacific Depot is being razed this week.”  Charles Haaf purchased the building with the intention of using the lumber to build a barn and poultry house on his farm site.  

In 47 years, the Clear Lake House offered good food and hospitality at reasonable rates.  The hotel contributes an important page to the history of Sherburne County along with the inns at Big Lake and Elk River.

Friday, March 20, 2020

An Epidemic From 100 Years Ago

A goal with this blog is to review the history of Sherburne County and try to create some perspective on the events in the past.  With the current COVID-19 pandemic hitting the world, it seemed a good time to review a pandemic from 100 years ago:

In rural Minnesota, during the late 1800s, death by disease seemed accepted as part of life.  Families experienced high mortality rates on infants and the aged.  Individuals living past five years old promised a better chance of experiencing old age.  This all changed with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 to 1920.  For almost two years, waves of influenza circled the world, infecting an estimated 500 million people and killing anywhere between 17 and 50 million.  On the local level, the disease took hold, yet in actual numbers, the death rate seems quite small.  The county leaders took quick action to prevent the spread of influenza and this way prevented a higher death toll. 

Samples of news coverage by the Star News in 1919
In 1918, the population of Sherburne County amounted to approximately 9,000 individuals.  As the flu epidemic spread, in the autumn season, schools closed.  County officials urged churches and entertainment businesses to lock their doors.  The closures occurred sporadically as the epidemic subsided and later reappeared.  As the flu continued into 1919 and 1920, officially, the county noted twelve deaths.  In one instance tragedy struck three members of the Amos West family.

Mrs. Amos West, the Star News reported, gave birth to twins.  In her weakened condition, the influenza took over.  She died shortly afterwards.  One of the babies also died. Within two days, Mr. Amos West also died.  Four orphans remained of the family.  Extended family from Wisconsin adopted the four surviving children.

Although the official death toll for the county remains at twelve, very often folks stricken by influenza seemed to recover, only to die of other afflictions later in the year.  The newspaper reported a significant rise in pneumonia, and death from pneumonia, following the influenza epidemic. 
A second wave of Influenza predicted in the fall of 1919

Equally disconcerting, the influenza infected and killed as many young and middle-age adults.  Survival of infancy no longer promised life to old age.

Fear of the Influenza Epidemic for those two years significantly impacted the economy and character of small communities like Sherburne County.  Action by county leaders should be applauded.  They set a path to reduce the tragedy of the epidemic for the two-year crisis.