The Pine Tree Lumber Company

Pine Tree Lumber Company was established in Little Falls in 1890. Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in central Minnesota, the company was run by Charles Weyerhaeuser and Richard “Drew” Musser. Little Falls was chosen as the location for this new mill because of its proximity to the Mississippi River. The dam created a large boom area where the logs could be stored and sorted, and the  Northern Pacific Railroad passed through town which made transporting lumber convenient.

An existing mill was purchased by the partners on the east side of the river, and a larger facility with cutting-edge equipment was built on the west bank. Commercial operations began at Pine Tree Lumber on May 18, 1891.  In this new venture, Weyerhaeuser was put in charge of the logs and the mill while Musser managed sales and bookkeeping. The mill employed several hundred men and doubled the population of Little Falls less than ten years.

An office building for the operation was built in 1891 on the east bank of the Mississippi, just south of the railroad bridge. The rectangular brick building features a hipped roof with eyebrow dormers that allow light into the attic where Musser is said to have held exercise classes for his employees. The first floor contained offices and meeting space. Living quarters for Weyerhaeuser and Musser were located on the second level of the building.

Continue reading...

Cozy Theater in Wadena

The Cozy Theater in Wadena was built in 1914 from a design by Minneapolis architect Kirby Snyder. John Quincer bought the building in 1923, and remodeled it to its present Moderne appearance in 1938. Quincer closed the theater for three months to install the marquee, glass and metal Streamline Moderne front doors, as well as a raised front wall and stepped side walls to the top of the building. Most of the interior fixtures were replaced with Moderne decorations to complete the transformation. The Quincer family continues to own and operate the theater.     

Swenson’s General Store in Norseland

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Nicollet County had eight rural crossroads hamlets. While all of the other small towns have removed many of the structures that marked their existence, Norseland has held onto their identity by recognizing the importance of their general store.

In 1858—the same year that Minnesota became a state—Irish immigrant John Burke moved to Nicollet County from New York City. The 29-year-old planned to buy a farm and operate a general store that would “carry everything a human or animal needed to survive and thrive.” Once a post office was established in Burke’s general store, a town was born. The community chose the name Norseland to pay homage their dominant population of Swedish and Norwegian settlers. Burke’s store became known as the Norseland General Store.

John Burke retired in approximately 1893 and left the store to his sons, Henry and George. George took more interest in farming than running a general store, but Henry enjoyed the grocery and dry goods business. In 1900, Henry virtually rebuilt the store by expanding the main level, adding a second story, and tacking on a single-story addition to the east side. A buggy sales and repair shop were established in the new, single-story addition. The main part of the store handled the grocery business on the first level and dry goods on the second floor. An elevator was also constructed to move merchandise between floors.

Continue reading...

A Queen Anne Masterpiece in Canby

John Grant Lund was a feisty showman and self-made millionaire known locally as “The Real Estate King of Canby”. As one of southwestern Minnesota’s first land speculators, he was known to meet incoming trains filled with prospective settlers at the depot. Accompanied by a full band, Lund would take center stage in a vest decorated with brass buttons, a bandmaster’s cap, and a cornet that he would blow to call attention to his sales pitch. The colorful show worked. In 1889 alone, Lund sold more than 60,000 acres of land in Yellow Medicine County and had another 100,000 acres of wild and improved land for sale through the Lund Land Agency.

Born in 1868 to Norwegian immigrants, John Lund moved to Canby with his family in 1876. His father ran the hardware store in town, where John’s brothers often helped out. John, however, began working as a cashier at the bank in town at age 15. 1888 was a big year for Lund; he married Flora Miller and started a real estate business.

In August of 1890, Lund swept into the offices of the Canby News to announce that he was planning to build a “palatial residence” to the north of the park square. He requested that his announcement be printed in the newspaper the next day. So it wasn’t a surprise to the folks in Canby when several loads of lumber arrived in town and were stacked on a sprawling corner lot in April 1891. The Canby News reported that Lund planned to, “put up a very fine residence from modern plans”. Lund hired as many carpenters as he could find to build his house in the shortest amount of time possible. In fact, John and Flora moved into their new home just 49 days after construction began.

Continue reading...

Laura Baker’s School in Northfield

Laura Belle Baker was born in Chariton, Iowa on April 10, 1859. Her parents were liberal and civic-minded farmers who stressed the importance of education, tolerance, and empathy to their children. Shortly after graduating from grammar school, Baker began teaching. She would spend the next eighty-three years successfully educating boys and girls that society often feared.

After receiving her teaching degree in 1877, Baker began her first job at the newly expanded Glenwood Asylum for Feeble Minded Children in Mills County, Iowa. The facility housed and educated developmentally disabled children in southwestern Iowa. The Glenwood Asylum was only the seventh such institution in the United States at the time; the first located west of the Mississippi. Baker served as one of the two principal teachers there for seven years.

In 1884, Baker traveled by wagon to Minnesota where she had been offered the position of principal at the Faribault State School. She thrived as a teacher and administrator at the school for more than twelve years. During her time at Fairbault, her success was overshadowed by her distress at the custodial approach to housing and educating developmentally disabled boys and girls. She firmly believed these children could achieve richer, fuller lives through education and training in an environment that better suited their unique needs. From this, a greater awareness and community acceptance of developmentally disabled individuals would follow. Although Baker enjoyed her time teaching at Fairbault, she realized that the changes that needed to be made would not happen quickly in a state-run facility.

Continue reading...

Waverly’s Moderne Village Hall

The original village hall in Waverly was built in 1893. The two-story, brick and stone building sat on the corner of Third Street and Elm Avenue. Built in the Romanesque style, the town hall featured a large corner tower that looked out over the small village. It was the home to the city’s government offices, fire department, and jail. The upper floor of the building was used for social activities such as dances and school performances. In the summer of 1938 the interior of the building was destroyed by fire. The Great Depression left the city’s coffers low and the community without much hope of rebuilding the hall. 

City officials in Waverly decided their only hope was to request funds from the federal government. They decided to submit a proposal to the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal Programs. The WPA constructed a wide variety of municipal facilities based on the needs of particular communities. The projects ranged from small buildings such as a rural fire department garage to large-scale projects like auditoriums and libraries. These projects were especially significant because they often provided meaningful improvements in rural or struggling communities. Without the assistance of the New Deal programs, these projects would never have been possible in communities like Waverly.

Continue reading...

Bernard Pietenpol – The Father of the Home Built Airplane

A new dawn of mechanical advancement was brought to the forefront of American consciousness because of the burgeoning automobile industry after World War I. Dreamers and adventurers alike were captivated by the use of airplanes during the war. Many Americans were eager to experiment with building their own airplanes, or improving motorized aviation technology. Tinkering with cheap and practical home built aircraft became common in garages and workshops throughout small-town America. Much like Orville and Wilbur Wright had years before, these trailblazers sought to use the latest technology to forge new pathways in aviation history.

When barnstormers began buzzing dairy barns, cornfields, and cherry orchards in southern Minnesota, it lit a fire within three young men in Cherry Grove. Bernard Pietenpol, Donald Finke, and Orrin Hoopman grew up in a time of meager subsistence and great sacrifice. Their quest to join the golden age of aviation lead them to collect  spare parts, build what they could not buy, and experiment with motorcycle, aircraft, and automobile engines in order to create their own home built airplane.

Continue reading...

Upper Post of Fort Snelling

The Upper Post of Fort Snelling will be featured in a new series of posts dedicated to the buildings located to the southwest of Historic Fort Snelling. The Upper Post is comprised of World War I and II era buildings. Our new series will focus on the buildings that are still standing, as well as those that have been lost.

To get us started, here is a map shows the sobering reality we face today. I put this together to show which buildings at Fort Snelling that have been lost, and which are still standing. You can see how many houses along Officers Row were razed to make way for the airport expansion. Many of the barracks were also lost at that time. Some of the buildings were lost to more natural causes such as fire, tornados, or simply because they were temporary buildings that weren’t meant to stand the test of time. The buildings that are still standing are in various states of revitalization. The former Calvary Drill House has been completely restored and is being used by the Northern Star Council, Boy Scouts of America as a Base Camp. Many buildings have simply been mothballed until an alternate use can be found. Sadly, there are a few, such as the hospital, that are in dire need of repair and are at risk of demolition by neglect. Next time you visit the Upper Post, stand along Taylor Avenue and picture what we’ve lost. I think it’s the best way to appreciate the buildings that are still standing.

Continue reading...