Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, April 17, 2020

Presenting Moses Sherburne

Moses Sherburne (1808-1868)

A recent search of the index to this blog revealed a significant failure on my part: at no time in the past eight years, since beginning this blog, has an article regarding the county namesake been produced.  So, I will correct that oversight today. Presenting Moses Sherburne: 

Through a combination of politics and legal acumen, Moses Sherburne received a unique honor of having a county named in his honor, while still alive.  To quote a biographer of Sherburne, he “was a conspicuous figure in the early days of Minnesota and was largely instrumental in guiding the Territory into statehood.”  His political livelihood, as well as his law practice, shed an interesting light on one of the early settlers of Minnesota and Sherburne County. 

Born in 1808, Moses Sherburne spent the first 45 years of his life in Maine.  He studied the law and received admission to the Maine bar in 1831.  While practicing law, his first political appointment came in 1837, he became Postmaster to the town of Phillips.  Other appointments came regularly, ranging from Postmaster to County Attorney, to Justice of the Peace and Probate Judge.  He was also elected to the state legislature and held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Maine Militia.  

The premiere appointment of his career came in 1853.  In the Democratic administration of Franklin Pierce, the 45-year-old Moses Sherburne received appointment as Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the Territory of Minnesota.  He relocated to St Paul, prepared to serve.  For four years, beginning in April 1853, he played a significant role in preparing Minnesota for statehood.  In the midst of this, in 1856, Sherburne County was named in his honor. 

Not for some time after he resigned his position on the Supreme Court did Moses Sherburne establish himself in the county bearing his name.  He developed a private practice in St. Paul.  Only shortly before his death in 1868, did Moses Sherburne live in the county.  He had relocated to the county to develop his legal practice.  From January to March 1868 he served as Sherburne County Attorney.  In March, he died, at age 60, just shortly after he settled himself in Orono, what is today part of Elk River.  

Although he lived only 15 years in Minnesota, his political record and legal skills suggest he made a significant impact on the creation of the State of Minnesota.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Thinking About Baseball

With the postponement of the baseball opening day, it seemed a good idea to look back, to think about the history baseball.  In Sherburne County, in the spring-time baseball became ubiquitous.  It was everywhere. 
   So, I invite you to take a look at a few photos from the Sherburne History Center collection and think about baseball in the past.  Take a close look at the uniforms and equipment from earlier generations.  Realize, baseball gloves, 150 years ago, were non- existent.  The glove evolved from a small padded hand covering to the large, webbed baskets of today.  In earlier generations, sharpened spikes gave base runners an advantage in breaking up a double play. 
   Look at the gloves, look at the shoes, and look at the bats from earlier times.  Think about the evolution of this wonderful sport.  Just wait, opening day will come soon. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

More on Epidemics in Sherburne County

With all of the commentary about pandemics and COVID-19, research revealed the serious amnesia Americans develop regarding the multitude of diseases and infections ravaging the world.  It seemed a good idea to explore these epidemics and the impact upon Sherburne County.  Unfortunately, very little evidence exists about the pandemics and epidemics in Sherburne County. 

In the twentieth century, at least six epidemics can be documented in Sherburne County.  Influenza raced through the county in 1918, 1957, and 1968. Lest we all forget, the most recent Influenza Epidemic lasted from April of 2009 until April of 2010.  In the twelve months, there were 60 million cases reported in the United States.  Over 12,000 people died, 67 of them in Minnesota.  

Polio, another epidemic, seemed to attack the young children of the United States each year.  Until the late 1950s polio epidemics seriously threatened the population of Minnesota at least three times after World War Two: in 1946, 1952, and 1953.  A memory of the 1950s and testing for the polio epidemic came to SHC recently: “I was tested with a spinal tap at Sister Kenny. I was 6 and got lucky. Mine turned out to be rheumatic fever. I can still remember going down a hallway to testing and seeing rooms filled with iron lungs. All you could see of the patients was their head. It was terrifying for a child of 6 who didn’t understand.” The Salk Polio vaccine all but eliminated the disease after inoculation began in 1955. 

Memories of any of the epidemics are scarce and unique.  This is why, in the coming weeks the Sherburne History Center is working to collect memories of the COVID-19 epidemic and any other epidemic or health scares you might remember.  As the COVID-19 quarantine extends, and you are looking for something to do, consider writing your memories of this event and sending them to the Sherburne History Center.  We will collect these memories in our archives to make them available to future historians. 

Please consider helping us collect information about this tragic, yet historic event.  Send your memories and thoughts to me, Mike Brubaker, at

Friday, April 3, 2020

Following Up On Dietz’s Fairway Market

After last week’s blog about George Dietz and the Fairway Market in Elk River, new information came to our attention.  We felt we needed to share, to add a bit more information and appreciation for George Dietz and his contributions to the community.  

First, a bit of background information.  The oral history mentioned his work in markets in the Chaska area.  It also hinted about service in World War Two.  The unmentioned details include Dietz’s service record.  He spent 30 months in the army, fighting in Europe.  He was wounded twice, once during the Anzio beach landing, and the second time during the invasion of Southern France.  

After the war, and after some time working in markets near the Twin Cities, on August 26, 1953 he opened his store in Elk river.  “Completely remodeled with a self-service cold meat department, new frozen food and new center gondolas,” the Star News reported about the store opening.  “The market will feature bigger, better, easier shopping at new low prices.”  

George Dietz hands out one of sixty bags of groceries given out
 during the market's grand opening.  Elmer Olson, right, of
 Elk River received this particular bag
During the four days of grand opening celebrations, Dietz gave away sixty bags of groceries to customers in his store.  This marked the beginning of a multitude of promotions and creative advertising for his market.  One such advertisement, even Dietz acknowledged, may have been too creative.  “They would never let you run an ad like this today,” he reminisced.  The advertisement featured photos of market employees dressed in prison garb, with the headline: “Local Merchant is charged With Murdering Prices.”   

The earlier blog entry noted George Dietz provided a unique addition to the Elk River business community.  These follow-up detail reinforce this earlier suggestion. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Clear Lake and Becker's Developing Fire Protection

Fire became a greater concern for Sherburne county, as the residents entered the 1900s.  As more and more fires destroyed more and more property, the communities responded to this growing challenge.  In the west part of the county, Clear Lake and Becker both acquired equipment and trained volunteers to move beyond the basic bucket brigade of earlier times.  Clear lake seemed to lead the way in organizing a fire department and acquiring equipment.  Becker learned from the example set in Clear Lake and used the lessons to improve its own system of firefighting.

The flaming destruction of the depot of the Great Northern Railway inspired Clear Lake to move into action and acquire firefighting equipment.  In March 1898, one year before the village of Clear Lake was incorporated, a call for volunteers resulted in the creation of a significant firefighting force.  Shortly afterwards, the community purchased a two-man fire cart.  Using soda and acid to create carbon dioxide, the chemical reaction forced water out of a tank, through a hose onto the fire.  The contraption sprayed water up to 50 feet.  The cart combined with the local bucket brigade to effectively fight fires in Clear Lake for many years.  In the 1930s, a Diamond T truck replaced the two-man cart.  The water and chemical tanks remained in use, mounted on the back of the truck.
Becker Fire, 1911.  Remanats of the
Brazee Bldg in foreground

Becker followed the footsteps of Clear Lake in creating a municipal fire protection plan.  Just three weeks after the Village of Becker incorporated in December 1904, the Village Council ordered the creation of a Fire Department.  Less than six months later, the Council purchased ladders, hooks, and other firefighting equipment.  In 1910, the Becker Council purchased a sixty-gallon chemical fire cart, very similar to the Clear Lake equipment. 

Both Clear Lake and Becker fire departments worked diligently to maintain excellence in performing their duties.  As early as 1907, Becker set a professional standard of paying fire wardens to inspect every chimney and stove pipe in the village.  That is not to suggest tragedy did not occur.  In 1911, near disaster hit Becker when fire worked through the village business district.  The fire destroyed several businesses in Becker, including the village town hall.  Yet, like the railway depot in Clear Lake, Becker rebuilt the town hall, and the fire departments continued to grow and provide protection to their communities.