Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
click on picture to visit our webpage:

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.