Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Saturday, December 4, 2021

School Architecture in Sherburne county


While researching a general topic of education in Sherburne County, a greater understanding of the architecture of schoolhouses emerged.  By this I suggest that searching for details of the large, brick, near-monumental schools in Sherburne County reveals an interesting pattern. 

The best known of the large schools in Sherburne County resides in Elk River.  In 1883, fire destroyed the Elk River school.  A fire resistant, brick building replaced the destroyed structure.  A two-story edifice, a school for all grades opened its doors.  This building is the first of the large, semi-permanent edifices that pre-dates education reform and expands the possibilities for education in Sherburne County. 

First brick schoolhouse in Elk River pre-1900

The first graduating class of this new Elk River school matriculated in 1888.  Eleven years later, in 1899 the state of Minnesota advanced education in Sherburne County.  That year, the School Law passed through the legislature requiring school attendance for all children between the ages of 8 and 16.  The law seemed less than stringent, as the required attendance demanded only 12 weeks per year, and at least six consecutive weeks.  Yet, failure to comply with the law could result in fines up to $20. 

With the passage of the School Law, attendance in Sherburne County schools increased dramatically.  And the demand for larger schools increased.  In 1903, Big Lake opened the doors for its well-known school.  In less than a year, newspapers rated the Big Lake School as one of the best in the area.  In January 1904, the school claimed an enrollment of over one hundred students.

Becker school circa 1916

Becker soon joined the movement towards larger, and better schools.  In January 1906, the two-story, brick school building opened for students.  The school offered classes from grade one to twelve.  Before long student needs out-grew the building.  The teaching staff continued to grow and by 1916, attendance demanded additions made to the building.   

Beginning in the 1890s and continuing into the early 1900s, interest in education grew and enrollment in schools increased dramatically.  Discussions over increasing the number of school districts and the availability of educational resources seemed common topics.  Yet, the enhanced, semi-permanent, brick,  school buildings in the larger communities of Sherburne County suggests the importance of education in the county grew significantly during this time.


Thursday, October 28, 2021

A Bit of Cemetery Symbolism


Halloween arrives in just a few days.  It seems appropriate to explore the symbolism in death.  Cemeteries contain an abundance of symbols in the grave markers, plants, and architecture.  Understanding the meaning of a few of these symbols might give us a greater appreciation of the planning and design of cemeteries and the communities surrounding these resting places.

Entryway of Becker Cemetery, Becker, MN.  
Look closely, hidden by the evergreens, is 
the arched entryway to the cemetery
It seems as though everything in a cemetery contains some symbolic meaning.  The shape of the entryways to many burial grounds represent the gates of heaven.  Many cemeteries have pine trees and other evergreens to remind us of the concept of eternal life.  And the headstones often resemble bed stands to suggest eternal rest. 

We haven’t even looked at the headstones, yet the cemeteries overflow with symbolism and, seeming, prayers for the dead.

On tombstones you might encounter an anchor, a Judeo-Christian symbol for Jesus.  Fishermen use anchors and this symbol reminds of Jesus as a fisher of men.  Often the anchors have a cross bar at the top to symbolize the sacrifice of death on the cross.

Flowers on tombstones also carry an abundance of symbolism.  Sunflowers, in an earlier time, signaled a strong faith in the Catholic church.  Broken roses, or a tree stump, both symbolized a life cut short.

Even a simple message such as R.I.P., or rest in peace, conveys greater meaning.  Rest In Peace does not necessarily suggest a prayer for the dead to rest in the peace of heaven.  Rest In Peace may also convey a prayer that the dead actually rest in peace; that they be protected from the too common crime of the nineteenth century: grave robbing. 

Cemeteries and graveyards carry a great deal of symbolism.  The plants, the flowers, the headstones; even the entryways provide deeper meaning.  Understanding the symbols and the meaning of these markers may provide a greater understanding of the communities that support these final resting places.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Remembering the Halloween Blizzard

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Halloween Blizzard of 1991.
  Memorable to the history of Minnesota and, to a lesser degree, Sherburne County.  We have witnessed Mother Nature and her ability to inflict significant turmoil in our lives, with blizzards, flooding, tornadoes, and other catastrophic events. 

Transportation by any means possible during the 
1991 Halloween Blizzard.  photo courtesy of Elk 
River Star News collection
The Halloween Blizzard is one of these events that inflicted significant challenges into the lives of Minnesotans.  Like the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, the Halloween Blizzard started as an innocent snowstorm.  Suddenly it erupted into something so much greater.  Record snow fell in 1991.  In a 24-hour period, Duluth recorded more than 24 inches of snow.  Sherburne County recorded an estimated 16 inches.  The Elk River Star News also reported snow drifts as high as fifteen feet.  The twin cities recorded 21 inches of snow.  Ice and record cold followed the snowstorm. 

In the end the storm caused $63 million in damages throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  20 individuals died in Minnesota because of the storm.  In Sherburne County, the newspaper and police reported few damages.  According to the Star News, only two traffic accidents occurred because most people chose to stay indoors to wait out the storm.

This week, we need to remember the events of 1991 and appreciate the power of Mother Nature.  She can creep up on us and provide an interesting surprise when we least expect it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

More Letters From Somewhere in France: Describing the Y

The letters from George Bostrom to his sister document the events of World War One in interesting detail. Only after the war is over, he writes about seeing action in the Argonne Forest. More importantly, in the chronolo0gical order of his letters, he describes his seven days of leave in December 1918. He provides an interesting contrast between life on the front lines versus the luxury hotel he stays in Chambray, France. 

I am having just a dandy time at present, he wrote. Have been over here long enough to be granted a seven day pass and here I am at Chambray to enjoy it. And I sure am enjoying it. After being in the lines for nearly a month of real hardships. Laying in shell holes and digin’s, what we call them, lots of times wet thru and thru and cold and then sent to a place like this with every comfort you can think of. 

 He went on to describe the luxuries of the ever-present Y.M.C.A. The Y.M.C.A I must tell you about. There’s a Y. here in a very large building. They have reading rooms, writing rooms, lunchroom, all of which are large and well fixed up. The have the place open from early morning and up until eleven or twelve o’clock evenings. In the morning they put up a dandy breakfast for a very small sum. In the afternoon and evening they serve hot chocolate and cookies or Ice cream, free of charge

 Only in a later letter, he mentions the action he encountered in the Argonne Forest. Our division was doing it’s most important work since they’ve been in France, from October 8th and up until November 1st we were in some real fighting at that time in the Argonne Forest. 

 In his letters, Bostrom only briefly references the actions he fought in. More often he describes daily life and the beauty of the French landscape. Throughout his letters, George Bostrom provides interesting insight into the life of an American soldier in World War One.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Women's Basketball in Elk River


Recently, it occurred to me, this blog heaped a great deal of attention on athletics in Elk River.  Unfortunately, the attention focused on men’s sports, specifically football and basketball.  It is time to shift the focus and give attention to women in sports in Sherburne County.

Elk River Women's team, 1921

As early as 1921, several schools in and around Elk River offered Women’s Basketball to the female students.  Based upon the writing in the Elk River yearbook the women of Elk River presented a relatively new sport to the student body. The description of the Elk River team noted “inexperienced” players for the team.  In addition, the yearbooks writers reported “a lack of a suitable place in which to practice.”  In spite of these shortcomings, the Elk River team posted a 2 and 3 record, facing Anoka, Princeton, Buffalo, and Monticello. 

The women of Elk River continued to build on their experience.  Women’s Basketball became a regular part of the offering at the High School.  By 1926, the team scheduled a 13-game season, adding games against Big Lake, Osseo, and St. Francis, posting a 9 and 4 record. 

Elk River Women, 1926

With the coming economic depression in the 1930s, some schools dropped women’s sports.  Elk River offered a replacement to this with intramural sports.  The school promoted play in soccer, basketball, volleyball, and kittenball.  Organized, league play, returned to Elk River in the 1950s.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Football in Sherburne County


Football season is upon us.  It seemed very appropriate to note the great history of Football in Sherburne County.  Sherburne county athletes played organized games of football for 130 years.  According to “A Century of Pride The History of Elk River Football,” the first game reported in the local news witnessed Elk River defeating a team from Monticello by a score of 29 to zero.  Since then, Sherburne County presented a number of notable games.  Here are two seasons of Elk River High School football players, 1914 and 1927.  Note, 1927 saw a championship season, with the Elk River team recording a record of 5-1-1.   Later, Big Lake and Becker presented outstanding teams.  The Big Lake team from 1967 presented below.

Elk River 1914

Elk River Championship Team 1927
Big Lake 1967

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Remember 9/11


With the coming of the twentieth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers, 9/11, it may be appropriate to take some time and think about the events of that day.  Where were you when the towers were attacked?  Let’s think about the 3,000 people killed that day, and the 6,000 injured.  Remember, the attacks also hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania.

This week, every memorial ought to serve as a 
reminder of what happened on 11 September 2001
This day is perhaps the single most important event of a generation.  Maybe we can take the events of that day, and the days immediately following, to become more sympathetic, more empathetic, more generous individuals.  Let’s emulate the good from the people that suffered that day. Remember them for the kindness and courage they showed us.  Learn from them and become better individuals.

Let’s take some time and think: Where were you when the towers were attacked?

Friday, September 3, 2021

More Letter From Somewhere In France

A few weeks ago, we shared a few lines of letters from Pvt. George Bostrom to his sister.  Bostrom, originally from Elk River, served in the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War One.  Here is a second portion of a letter in 1918 sharing conditions in France in the last days of the war:

Well Sister, I’m in the lines again and have been for some time.  I think we will move soon, possibly little further to the front because we are kind of in reserve here although we aren’t so very far from the front. Suits me alright tho because back here we would be an excellent target for the (Germans) if they had a mind to open up their big guns on us.  There has been some of their medium sized shells come our way at different times.  The other night they sent ove3r a few that made us wonder if they really had come with our names marked on them but I guess they must have misspelled them.  I shouldn’t joke that way.  It hurts me when I hear others talk that way but here I am writing it.

Well I will close for this time.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

World War Two Victory Gardens and Canning: Elk River on the Home Front

With the coming harvest season, I am reminded of the practices for preserving food during World War Two.  In 1943, with the war going full blast, every family tried to raise food in their own “victory gardens.”  The produce of these gardens seemed so abundant questions developed on how to best preserve the extra food.  In Elk River a unique program developed to provide canning services to any family in need of the service. 

In June 1943, the Elk River newspaper announced the high school acquired a canning unit capable of processing 500 quarts per day.  With the aid of supervisors, anyone needing access to the canning unit might preserve any food grown in their victory gardens.  The unit canned in glass or tin cans.  If the family used tin cans, they would be charged two cents per can.

“All are welcome to come in and can,” School Superintendent Robert Handke said.  He anticipated high demand for the unit, he encouraged residents to contact the school to reserve time for the operation. 

The only shortcoming of the program concerned vandalism of victory gardens.  In July, the Village Marshall posted an ad in the Elk River newspapers.  He knew of several vandals destroying victory gardens.  He wanted to give them an opportunity to turn themselves in before he turned these cases over to the state for prosecution.  The Marshall’s tactics apparently succeeded, as the vandalism stopped, and the Elk River canning unit preserved a bumper crop of garden produce.   

The canning units in Elk River serve as another example of the attitude of complete cooperation during World War Two. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Remembering Weather in the 1930s


The current weather conditions, drought, high heat, and lack or water reminds me of recent research into Sherburne County during the 1930s.  A time of worse weather conditions permeated throughout the county.

Farming in Orrock Township after the difficult
weather of the 1930s.  Notice the thick layer of
sand sitting above the darker soil.
In the years 1933 and 1934, the county suffered a major drought.  Farmers remembered the time as a “dust bowl.”  Some residents of Sherburne County remember this time as an end to farming in some areas of the county.  “The light, worn out soils took to the air and drifted like snow over the roads and onto front porches,” is the way historian Herb Murphy described it.  Some folklore of the times described Orrock Township as the “poison ivy capital of the world.”  Other tall tales suggested that “jack rabbits, when passing through Orrock Township, had to pack a lunch because there was nothing to eat.” 

A variety of conservation efforts restored the area of Orrock Township.  Conservation groups planted trees and slowly brought back the land.  The bulk of the township became the Sherburne Wildlife Refuge and the Sand Dunes State Forest.  All of this resulting from the catastrophic drought conditions in the 1930s.  Worse than the weather of 2021, yet events important to remember.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

German Prisoners of War Work the Farms in Minnesota


Section of a letter written by H. C. Byson
to his daughter Dawn with exciting details
about POWs sighted in Elk River.
Prisoners of War in Minnesota during World War Two often worked the lumber mills and the farms in the northern and central parts of the state.  Although not often seen in Sherburne County, POWs worked the potato harvest in Princeton in 1943, and possibly again in 1944.  At times, residents of Elk River and eastern Sherburne County witnessed these POWs being transported or working the potato fields.

The casual sighting of POWs in Elk River, like other small towns in Minnesota, generated a certain amount of excitement witnessed in family letters such as the letter from H. C. Byson to his daughter Dawn Byson (later Moyer), in the summer of 1944.  Byson wrote to his daughter:

Bruce came home this morning from downtown with those expressive eyes of his telling us an exciting story.  He and several other people watched German prisoners eat and then be loaded into trucks and hauled toward the city.  Bruce said that there was a guard at each table and as the prisoners came marching out one told the group in broken English that they were captured in Africa and had worked on farms there for a few months before being brought to this country.  Some of them were still wearing their German uniforms two of which Bruce thought were officers because of the caps and ornaments that were on their clothes, straps, and pockets. 

This letter from the Byson family serves as another bit of evidence documenting the activities of German and Italian prisoners of war in Central Minnesota.  With an estimated 426,000 POWs in the United States during World War Two, only a small number of these men found their way to Minnesota to work in the lumber camps and the farms of Central Minnesota.  In small towns, such as Elk River, their temporary and brief presence created an exciting stir within the community.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Somewhere in France


An interesting collection arrived at the Sherburne History Center in recent weeks.  A wonderful collection of letters from George Bostrom to his family members living here in Sherburne County.  Particularly interesting, the bulk these letters came from France during World War One.  George’s letters document the different training camps and finally his stations “somewhere in France”.  The letters begin in 1918 and continue through 1920.  In letters to his family George documents everything from experiencing bombings at the front, to the price of chocolate.  Also interesting, he provides the exchange rate from American dollars to French francs.  From his letters we know, a 12-ounce chocolate bars cost anywhere from thirty cents to sixty cents.

Letterhead from the Knights of Columbus.  
George Bostrom used this, as well as letterhead 
provided by the YMCA, to write letters home

In a letter written the day before the Armistice, George provides a sense of life in the Army and the excitement about the coming end of the war:

Nov.10, 1918

Dear brother,

I am now in the third camp since landing here.  It is also the best one I’ve been in on this side of the water. One of the things contributing to this is that we have no guard duty, K.P., or detail work.


Today the papers tell us that the Kaiser has abdicated and the long-looked for revolution has begun in Germany.  Naturally this is news that must bring joy to people in all the allied nations, or it cannot but be an indication that the end of the war is not far away. 


This collection may provide fascinating details as we fully examine it for information about the first war “to end all wars.”  As we can examine these letters more, we will provide greater details about George Bostrom and his service to the United States.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Another Year For The Sherburne County Fair


This week is county fair week.  Give or take a few years, we need to note the 132 years of the annual meeting.  Each year, an opportunity presents itself for county farmers and future farmer to gather and share ideas for improved farming.  This gathering also gives them all an opportunity for bragging rights for their own farming prowess.

An early fair exhibit in
Meadowvale, circa 1900

So, we need to look back at the first meeting of county farmers at the fairs held in Meadowvale.  Starting in 1889, framers would meet for one day in November with the harvest complete and time to explore new ideas and techniques.

Then, starting in 1915, the fair moved into Elk River.  First at a location near the corner of today’s Jackson Street and Highway 10.  Later, the fair site moved to land bordering the Mississippi River.  Finally, in 1957, the fair located to the present site on Joplin Street on the western outskirts of Elk River.  The length of the fair also continues to expand.  From the one-day event of 1889 to the four days in 2021, with so much to see, the fair exhibits demand some time to take it all in.

Post 1916 fairgrounds near the Mississippi River
Although the fair location and duration changed from time to time, the basic goal of sharing information and providing an educational opportunity, remains the same.  The exhibits presented by local farmers and 4-H groups provide an abundance of skill to be appreciated. 

Be sure to enjoy the Sherburne County Fair.  Here is an opportunity to celebrate the farming heritage that is so much a part of the character of Sherburne County.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Celebrating the Fourth of July in an Earlier Decade


With the Fourth of July weekend upon us, local historians inevitably ask: how did we celebrate so many years ago?  Has it always been loud fireworks and excessive drink?  The answer to these questions remains a definitive yes and no.  Depending on the year and the location, the fourth of July celebration in Sherburne County has been both loud and raucous, and other times silent and sedate. 

Veteran's Memorial at
Sherburne History Center
Using newspapers as the source, in the decade of the 1890s, often town baseball remained the highlight of a July Fourth celebration.  The newspapers routinely reported of tournaments pitting Elk River nines against Rogers, Monticello, or other local teams.  With the end of nine innings a watermelon feast marked the culmination of the celebration. 

During the decade, livelier celebrations also took place.  In 1893, the newspapers advertised river excursions on the Mississippi River.  The steamer “Louise” offered hour long boat trips on the river at the low price of twenty-five cents per person.  Three years later, the Sherburne County Star News reported the cancellation of annual blueberry parties due to the shortage of blueberries in 1896.  Still, three years later, in 1899, the residents of Elk River’s upper town neighborhoods marked the Fourth of July with the purchase of a cannon.  This ultimate noise maker “ushered in the glorious fourth and disturbed the slumbers of the community.”

Apparently, the fire works never change.  The timing of the blasts varied from time to time. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Recognizing Another Central Minnesota Hero

Occasionally, we recognize veterans and their actions during the wars of the 20th century.  The actions of Jack Bade, Frances Beck, and Charlie Brown have all been documented on these blog pages.  We need to expand the borders of Sherburne County to acknowledge the bravery of another young man from central Minnesota.  

Loading Bombs during WW II

In 1943, Malcom H Trombley, from Rogers, served in the United State Army.  As a private, he worked as part of an armament crew.  The crew loaded bombs into planes in the China-Burma-India theatre of World War Two.   

The newspapers noted his bravery in service when he rescued his entire loading crew from near disaster.  According to the newspaper reports, a crew member noticed a burning fuse on a bomb as the crew loaded it into a plane.  The entire crew ran for cover, fully expecting to die in coming second.  Trombley bravely removed the fuse from the bomb and threw it in the air just as it exploded. 

Although never recognized from the Army, Trombley’s crew mates acknowledged his courage.  A notice posted on a bulletin board in crew barracks read: “Private Trombley—who in the face of grave danger to himself, did on April 6, 1943, remove from a demolition bomb the tail fuse, which had been made live.” 

The notice went on to say, “We the guys who came so close to saying ‘hello’ to St. Peter, offer Private Trombley our thanks and are sorry we don’t have the power to award him a medal appropriate to the bravery displayed.” 

With the end of the war, Private Trombley returned to central Minnesota and a quiet life.  Little mention of any of the brave actions he took during his years in service.  Yet, a tradition of recognizing veterans of the World Wars remains an important feature of many blogs posts and social media that we happily join. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

National Ballpoint Pen Day: Memorable in More Ways Than One


Just a sampling of advertising ballpoint pens
 in the SHC collections
This past week we failed to recognize National Ballpoint Pen Day (June 10).  In an effort to rectify this gross oversight, today we note the significance of this significant invention and the impact on local history.

Patented in 1888 in Argentina, the ballpoint pen slowly spread throughout the world.  On June 10, 1943, the international patent was filed with the United States Patent Office.  Today the ballpoint pen sells more than 57 pens per second throughout the world.  It is also the most widely used writing instrument in the world.  It’s design simply puts a steel ball at the tip of a tube of ink.  The rolling steel ball regulates the flow of ink for an even application to paper.

An ingenious design, the inventors and early marketers overlooked a valuable sidelight of the pen as a marketing tool.  Today, a multitude of pens carry advertising for businesses throughout the world.  With the ballpoint pen, the evolution of business and marketing can be followed.

The Northern States Power Company
pen used as a promotional tool

In the case of Sherburne County, in the collections of the Sherburne History Center a variety of pens document business in the county.  In the collection we have pens from gas stations, such as Charlie Brown’s Shell in Elk River.  We have a pen to help document Northern States Power Company.  Pens from Sherburne State Bank and AgStar Farm Credit Services help record the history of financial institutions in the county. 

National Ballpoint Pen Day recognizes a significant invention in the world.  Equally important, the ballpoint pen provides unique tools to document business and history on the local level.  Happy National Ballpoint Pen Day!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Be Sure to Commemorate National Donut Day

I just now posted on facebook a photo to commemorate National Donut Day.  Although the day sounds like a frivolous marketing tool for the baking industry, in reality it does have a serious, memorable component.  The celebration began in Chicago in 1938 to honor the members of the Salvation Army, particularly, women that handed out donuts to soldiers during World War One. The Salvation Army also hoped to use the day as a fundraiser to help people in need caused by the crisis of the Depression.  The celebration continues on the first Friday in June.  So, with that in mind, we want to honor NATIONAL DONUT DAY!  Here is a photo of one of the more famous of Sherburne County Bakers: Bake Anderson in his shop in Elk River.


Friday, May 21, 2021

National Register Sites in Sherburne County

View of Fox House in its original condition

With May being National Historic Preservation Month, it seems appropriate to talk about one of the five National Register sites in Sherburne County.  The most obscure and underappreciated of the sites must be the Herbert Maximillian Fox House.  So, we need to look at this structure to appreciate the impact and influence the site provides. 

 The original owner and builder of the Fox House remains unknown.  Before Herbert Fox, Ole Martinson purchased an 80-acre parcel along the St Francis River.  He later sold the parcel to Samuel P. Glidden, who in turn sold it to Fox.  With these transactions, the farm site grew to 160 acres.  Sometime before Fox purchased the property, Glidden or Martinson built the house.

The house construction makes the site unique.  All of the original slates on the house were vertical, and load bearing.  There remains very little horizontal construction in the original house.  This type of construction, for a time, signaled a New England influence.  The Fox House maybe the only example of this construction in Minnesota. 

Fox House post move to SHC

Originally located on property of the Sherburne Wildlife Refuge, to save the house, it was moved to the site of the Sherburne History Center.  When SHC moved to its present location, the Fox House was also moved.  In spite of these disruptions, the integrity of the original structure remained intact.  Efforts to preserve this unique construction caused the renovators to envelope the house with horizontal wood slats.  Select locations around the house provide insight to the original construction. 

Today, the house remains on the property of the Sherburne History Center, continuing to document the influence of New England emigration to Minnesota.  Providing yet another example of the importance of Historic Preservation and reasons to commemorate National Historic Preservation Month. 

As a minor footnote, the other four National Register sites in Sherburne County are: The Elkhi Stadium in Elk River, the 1920 water tower in Elk river, the Oliver Kelley Farm in Elk River, and the Minnesota State Reformatory for Men Historic District near St Cloud.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Maybe Minnesota Poet Laureate

To commemorate National Poetry Month, we need to recognize the apparent first Minnesota Poet Laureate, Margarette Ball Dickson.

Born in Iowa, she earned a B.A. Iowa State Teachers College, an MA from the University of South Dakota.  She also studied for a time at the University of Iowa and the University of Chicago.  She then taught at a variety of different schools before she settled in Staples, Minnesota and founded the Dickson-Haining School of Creative Writing.  She served as editor for a variety of different magazines.  She also cofounded the League of Minnesota Poets.  For her work, in 1938, she received the Rockefeller Center Gold Medal award.

In 1934 the Washington, D.C. based Poet Laureate League named her Minnesota Poet Laureate.  She held the title until 1961, just two years before her death.  At times, the title of Minnesota Poet Laureate lacked official state designation.  The Minnesota government refused to pass legislation recognizing the title until 2007.  At that time, Robert Bly received the honor from Governor Tim Pawlenty.  The current title belongs to Joyce Sutphen, who received the title in 2011.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

Sinclair Lewis and His Impact in Sherburne County

More than a bit of folklore suggests Sinclair Lewis spent some time in Sherburne County, visiting family and, more importantly, writing.  So, we have to sit, contemplate this lore, and consider any impact Lewis may have had on the area. 

The first book published by Lewis, under the pseudonym Tom Graham, Hike and the Aeroplane marked the beginning of a significant career.  Part of the folklore maintains that after the publication of his book Main Street he was ostracized.  He never set foot in Sauk Centre again.  However, family members owned property and lived in west Sherburne County.   

In addition to Main Street, he went on to publish Babbitt, Elmer Gantry, and a host of other works.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930.  The first writer in the United States to win the award.  Perhaps most insightful, his 1935 publication of It Can’t Happen Here explores events after a fascist wins the Presidential election.  He died at age 65 in Rome, Italy.  Yet, his writing career seemed prolific and impactful.

Because his life and travels remain difficult to track, the folklore of Sinclair Lewis visiting and staying in Sherburne County remains just that: folklore.  Yet, we must wonder, with Lewis growing up in Sauk Centre, his extended family living in Sherburne County; did Sinclair Lewis influence the character and history of Sherburne County?

Friday, March 26, 2021

Women and High School Basketball 1920's Style

Although, individually unidentified, the 1921
Elk River Women's Basketball Team included:
Rosie Roggatz, Maria Taplin, Esther Cornelius,
Althea Gould, Evelyn Bressler, and Agatha McBride
Fifty years before the federal mandate known as Title IX, sports for high school women seemed the norm in areas around Sherburne County.  With the conclusion of Women’s History Month, it seemed appropriate to acknowledge an earlier generation of female athletes competing in the high schools.

Referencing the earliest yearbooks available in the collections of the Sherburne History Center, the Elk River High School Women’s Basketball Team stands proud in 1921 and 1922.  Unfortunately, their record seemed less than stellar. In 1921 they posted a 1 and 4 record, and in 1922 their record ended at 2 and 4.  The simple fact that they played remains the important detail.  Not only Elk River, but Buffalo, Princeton, Anoka, and Monticello all organized women’s basketball teams. 

Central Minnesota High Schools presented some forward-thinking opportunities in the 1920s.  Years before federal law prohibited gender discrimination in high school sports, Elk River and others provided equal opportunity.

The 1922 team included: back row l to r: 
Agatha McBride, forward; Evelyn Bernard, Guard; 
Dorothy Leffingwell, forward; Leah Scoville,
Guard.  front row l to r: Mable Kaliher, Guard;
Grace Johanning, Jumping Center; Esther Cornelius,
forward and Capt.; and Elizabeth Nickerson; 
running center. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

WCTU in Sherburne County


During Women’s History Month we recognized several women impacting community and culture in Sherburne County.  We also need to note at least one of the many community organizations, led by women, that worked to impact and improve life in Sherburne County.  The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (the WCTU) remains one of the more important of these groups.

1911 Star News headline reporting vote
results on alcohol sales. 
Nationally the WCTU organized in 1874 urging abstinence from alcohol.  Beginning in 1878, under the leadership of Francis Willard, the group also advocated for prison reform, labor laws, and suffrage.  Many regarded the group as one of the largest and most influential of reform societies in the United States during the 1800s.

In Sherburne County, the WCTU organized late.  In 1895, the Elk River Star News reported meetings at the Elk River Methodist Church.  Not until 1910 did the WCTU formally organize in Becker.  The leadership included Mrs. Howard Reed, Miss Dell Clitty, and Mrs. C. A. Johnson.  Two years later, a chapter organized in Big Lake. 

The chapters, apparently, held some influence.  In local elections held in 1911, while Elk River and Zimmerman voted to sell alcohol, Becker (by a slim three vote margin) voted to go dry.  According to the newspaper reports, Elk River had been dry for two years leading up to the 1911 vote.

Until national Prohibition became the law in 1920, groups in Sherburne County maintained an on-going debate about the deleterious effects of alcohol.  Local chapters of the WCTU clearly held some influence in the discussions and decisions.  An impact worth noting during Women’s History Month.


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Ella Kringlund: Conservationist for Sherburne County


Conservationist, 4-H advocate, and educator of children and adults; all terms that describe Ella Kringlund in Elk River.  An early promoter of Sherburne County and their natural resources, Ella Kringlund enthusiastically worked to boost conservation.  In the midst of Women’s History Month, it seems appropriate to make record of her life and her mission in Sherburne County.

Ella Kringlund is long remembered for her work restoring the land that is today Sand Dunes State Forest.  Her memoirs record her efforts to plant a variety of pine trees in the area.  When her project began in the mid-1940s (and continuing until 1965) each season she organized a tree planting as a 4-H project.  In time, Ella Kringlund and her volunteers planted an estimate seven million trees.  Her efforts proved so successful, a Christmas tree thinning project also developed.

By conservation standards in 2000, the trees she planted may not fit the accepted norms.  Yet, her planting provided opportunity for soil regeneration; changing from the sand dunes of the 1930s to a better environment today. 

In addition to her conservation work, she headed up the 4-H in Sherburne County, actively worked with county extension offices, and worked as part of the county fair board.  Rather than simply identifying her as an early conservationist, Ella Kringlund is better known as an educator, providing new ideas for improving the local environment of Sherburne County.  Certainly worthy of note during Women’s History Month.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Grace Craig: Sherburne County Pioneer


March being Women’s History Month it seemed appropriate to start off the month noting a significant settler and educator from Sherburne County: Grace Craig.  

Grace Craig circa 1940
Born in 1865 in the family homestead in Orrock Township, Grace Craig lived with her parents, two sisters and a brother.  According to a brief biography, Grace Craig lived at the homestead for her entire life.  To a certain degree her education developed through her own initiative.  As a teenager, the biography maintains, she obtained the skills for Sunday School teaching through a correspondence course.  While teaching, for fifty-eight years, at two Sunday Schools around Orrock and Snake River, she also upheld the responsibilities as local superintendent.  In addition to her work on the farm and at the local churches, she also served as the Orrock Township correspondent and reporter for the Elk River Star News.

             Throughout most of her life, transportation for Grace Craig consisted of walking.  In the last few years she owned a horse, Tom, to pull her small buggy around the area.  Her care for Tom reveals so much of the compassion she held for all of God’s creatures.  One Christmas event tells of her receiving a wonderful gift basket of fine food and treats.  She took the basket to the local merchants and exchanged the items for grain for Tom.  The day before her death, Grace dictated her final will.  She implored the Township Clerk to find a good home for Tom and dispose of her chickens and belongings to needy families in the area.  

           Born when the settlement of Orrock Township remained in its infancy, Grace Craig lived for eighty-two years.  Through several wars and multiple economic crisis, she witnessed the development of the county and contributed as an early settler of Sherburne county. She also exhibited the independence and self-assurance demanded of early settlers in Sherburne County.  Kicking off Women’s History month with a true pioneer seems appropriate.


Friday, January 15, 2021

The Great Molasses Flood


Very little to do with Sherburne County History, however, today, 15 January 1919 remains a day to be forever remembered.  In Boston, Mass. on this date, 21 people died in the Great Molasses Flood.

Boston fire and police aid in clean-up after the 
Molasses Flood in Boston, 1919.  Photo Courtesy
of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection
Today, in history, a tank holding over two million gallons of molasses broke open, flooding the nearby streets of Boston.  A wall of sugary liquid, 25 feet high moved down the streets, killing humans and animals in its wake.  Witnesses testified as horses struggled against the molasses, they were slowly sucked down into a slow, strangulating death.  After the wake subsided, a river of molasses, three feet deep worked its way down to the harbor. 

After an investigation, faulty construction of the holding tank received the blame for the disaster.  Reports held the tank, when brand new, had so many leaks along the seams the manufacturers painted the tank brown to hide the faults. Witnesses testified the rivets popping from the tank sounded like machine gun fire as the huge steel drum failed.

A slight resemblance to clean-up required several weeks to complete.  For several months, the sticky evidence of molasses remained in the streets.  More than 100 years later, residences in the Boston neighborhood still report the occasional smells of molasses, when the air breeze is just right.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Old and The New Featured on Postcards

With the coming New Year, I wanted to share a unique item within our collection.  This calendar postcard from the Norddeutscher Lloyd Passenger Lines immediately came to mind.  This postcard highlights a ship traveling from Bremen to Baltimore with the calendar date of 1884.  

By this date the shipping firm had been in business for more than 25 years.  From 1857 until 1970 the Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping company hauled passengers and goods between Germany and the United States.  

The power source  seems a unique feature of the ship on this postcard.  Notice the smokestacks in the middle of the ship, belching black smoke, while the sails billow from the power of the wind.  This ship utilizes both the old and new methods of sailing, steam engines and sails. 

A careful examination makes this postcard truly interesting to contemplate.