Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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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