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.

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The End of the Line in Currie

In 1899, the Des Moines Valley Railway Company began work on a plan to extend their rail line in western Minnesota an additional 38.63 miles northwest from Bingham Lake to Currie. That year, nearly 14 miles of track was laid and put into operation. The remaining 24.73 miles of rail between Jeffers and Currie was finished the following year. Upon the completion of the spur, the Des Moines Valley Railway Company and all of its property was purchased by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railway. It was decided that the line would not extend beyond Currie, making the small town the new terminus of the railway’s western spur.

As a terminus, the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railway needed a way to turn locomotives around so trains could return to Bingham Lake along the same track. In 1901, they contracted with the American Bridge Company of Chicago to build a massive, manually operated turntable constructed of stone, wood, and steel. Its massive undercarriage measured 70 feet long and just over six feet wide. The platform on top of the undercarriage was constructed of 16-foot oak timbers over which rail was laid. The pit that held the turntable varied in depth from four feet at the outer edge, to seven feet at the center. Mankato limestone lined the entire pit and the stones were carefully fitted together to eliminate the need for mortar.

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Oxford Mill Ruin

The Oxford Mill was located on the bank of the Little Cannon River near Cannon Falls. When the mill was built by C.N. Wilcox and John and Edward Archibald in 1878, it was part of the wheat boom sweeping through the state. Annual record yields of wheat generated the need to process the harvests, causing flour mills to spring up along every river and stream. Wilcox eventually purchased the Archibald’s interest in the mill. By 1900, there were twenty-seven flour mills in Goodhue County alone. In the mill’s heyday, it handled more than 400 bushels of wheat per day and employed thirty to forty men.

Grain was cleaned at a small building to the north of the main building and then taken by a shaker conveyor to the first level of the mill. It was then moved to the second floor by cup-like attachments on a moving belt. The grain was then dropped from the second or third levels through a shaft to the grinding unit. Depending on how much wheat needed to be ground, the large, undershot water wheel could turn between one to four grinding stones at a time. The bran was then discharged into the river and the flour was sacked. An opening to the side of the west door was used to convey the sacked flour to wagons waiting outside of the mill. Farmers would bring their wheat harvest to the mill and exchange it for flour. Flour from the Oxford Mill would also be taken to Hastings and loaded on boats going to Minneapolis. The mill was gutted by an arson fire in 1905, but the outer walls remained standing. The owners of the mill decided against rebuilding  due to the decline in the flour milling industry in the Cannon River Valley.

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Presidential Candidate Herbert Hoover

Presidential candidate Herbert Hoover makes a campaign stop in St. James in 1928. Herbert Hoover won the election that year bolstered by pledges to continue the economic boom of the Coolidge years. It was one of the greatest victories in presidential history. Hoover won fifty-eight percent of the votes. Democrat Al Smith got just forty percent. Hoover captured 444 electoral votes to Smith’s 87. When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression with moderate government public works projects such as the Hoover Dam. Hoover only served one term as President, he was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

Photo courtesy of the Watonwan County Historical Center.

Quevli Family Farm

Big, family-owned farms were big business at the turn of the 20th century in southern Minnesota. This postcard shows the Nels Quevli family farm in 1909. The farm was located in West Heron Lake Township near Lakefield in Jackson County. It consisted of 2,243 acres of land in sections 25, 26, 27, 33, 34, 35, and 36, The caption on the postcard states that the farm had ten sets of buildings. Nels, however, never worked on the Quevli family farm; he was in real estate and later worked as a lawyer.

Photo courtesy of the Jackson County Historical Society.

A Womanless Wedding in Worthington

Here is the cast of a Womanless Wedding in Worthington. The Womanless Wedding took place on February 2, 1927.

Womanless Weddings, often staged by men’s civic and fraternal groups, were popular entertainment prior to the advent of television. They consisted of a mock wedding in which males dressed the roles of the entire wedding party, including the bride, mother of the bride, bridesmaids, and flower girl. These events were often fundraisers, since many in the community were more than willing to pay admission to see their male neighbors dressed in female attire. The men in this photo were raising money for the Woman’s Relief Corps, Auxiliary of the Grand Arm of the Republic.

Photo courtesy of the Nobles County Historical Society.

Dancing School

Circa 1890 photo of dancing school at the at the Free Press Hall in Mankato. As you can imagine, dancing school was an integral part of a child’s education–but it wasn’t just about learning how to waltz. Children also learned etiquette and how to interact socially with their peers and members of the opposite sex (all while under strict supervision of the adults who can be seen sitting in the background, of course!).

Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth County Historical Society.

Baberich Fabric Shop in St. Peter

This photo shows the interior of the Baberich Fabric Shop on Minnesota Avenue in St. Peter. Casper Baberich and his wife also operated a millinery shop on Minnesota Avenue, between Grace and Nassau Streets, and a small flower shop out of the front porch of their home on the northwest corner Third and Nassau Streets.

When this photo was taken in 1905, women either made clothing for themselves and their families, or had a seamstress make it for them. Most small-town dry goods stores carried fabric, but the selection was limited and many other women in the same town used the same fabric for their clothing. However, larger towns often had a dedicated fabric store where women could find a wider variety of type, color, and print.

Photo courtesy of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

The Mysterious Death of Clara Ober in Blue Earth

After one hundred and twenty years, the mystery of what happened to Clara Ober between the evening of July 29th, and 2:00 p.m. the following day remains unknown. The entire community around Blue Earth, Minnesota was divided about what happened to Clara and who was responsible for her death. In fact, it is still debated today.

Clara Ober was the second oldest child of German immigrants, George and Amanda Ober. The couple settled in Blue Earth around 1870; George got a job as a carpenter, and they started their family. The couple had eight children before George’s sudden death on Christmas day in 1890 at the age of fifty. Amanda was several months pregnant at the time of George’s death and suffering from depression. Clara was only sixteen. She moved in with saloon and restaurant owner Jacob Freund and his family, who lived just a few blocks away.  Although the reason for her move into the Freund home was never reported, she may have worked as a nanny for their two children.

Jacob Freund operated a successful saloon and restaurant in Blue Earth. In 1890, he built a Queen Anne style cottage on the 200 block of Galbraith Street for his wife, Sadie, and their two children, Pearl and Otto. Clara lived in the house with the family until 1895 when she begged her uncle, Henry Eberlein, to allow her to move into his home on Fourth Street. He agreed and helped find Clara a job as a dressmaker.

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Memorial Day 1919 in New Prague

New Prague’s Memorial Day celebration in 1919. The World War I veterans, band, Red Cross nurses, city residents, and a military band (along with a young man dancing on the storage building in the center of the photo!) gathered to honor servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Just a reminder that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

Photo courtesy of the New Prague Area Historical Society.

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.

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State Hospital Diet Kitchens

Diet kitchens at the St. Peter State Hospital were used to distribute food from the main kitchen into the wards at meal time, prepare items for patients with special dietary needs in the ward, and provide hot water for coffee and tea throughout the day. Because diet kitchens were located in each ward, cooks often knew the dietary needs and preferences of patients they prepared meals for better than the workers in the central kitchen. This photo shows a diet kitchen on the fourth floor of the center building in 1918.

Photo courtesy of the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center archives.

EACO Flour Mill Fire in Waseca

This photo from 1900 shows Loon Lake and the town of Waseca in the distance. On the left are the newly reconstructed buildings of the Everett, Aughenbaugh and Company (EACO) flour mill. The original EACO mill burned to the ground in 1896. Here is a historical account of the events of August 25, 1896:

At about twenty minutes after 3 o’clock Tuesday morning, Aug. 25, 1896, the fire alarm and mill whistle aroused our citizens and it was soon discovered that the old and long-vacant coffin factory, on the west side of the M. & St. L. railroad track, nearly opposite the flour mill of Everett, Aughenbaugh & Co., was on fire. It made a terribly hot fire, but soon burned to the ground, and the people were just congratulating one another that the fire was no worse, when the cry went forth that the flour and bran house on the south of the mill was on fire.

Undoubtedly the heat upon the sheet iron covering had set the woodwork inside on fire. Every effort was made by the fire department to keep down the flames, but the high wind and the bursting of a water main in the south part of the city at that time, reducing the pressure, combined to aid the flames which were carried directly into the windows of the mill. It was short work for the consuming element to destroy one of the. best mills in the state, the accumulation of years of industry, economy, and safe business management. Two cars loaded with flour were also consumed. The total loss of the EACO Milling Company was estimated at $70,000, and the property of the mill was insured for $45,000. The old coffin factory was of little value and had been, for a long time, the tramps’ paradise. There is no doubt that the fire was either the work of incendiarism or the carelessness of tramps. The mills were at once rebuilt on a more elaborate plan than before.

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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.

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The White Eagle Service Station

The White Eagle Service Station in Worthington. The english cottage style station stood on the corner of Ninth Street and Second Avenue. English cottage style service stations were popular in the 1920s and 1930s because they blended with the residential areas they were often on the edge of.

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.

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The Ole Shows

George Engesser’s Circus was based in St. Peter, Minnesota. It was one of the largest motorized circuses in the US from the 1920s until the start of WWII. This poster advertises What Happened to Ole – one of the many Ole Shows put on by the circus. George’s father, Matthew, founded the Engesser Brewing Company in 1916.

Photo courtesy of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

Joe Budde’s Restaurant

Staff and customers inside Joe Budde’s Restaurant and Bakery in the 1940s. The restaurant and bakery was a staple in Slayton for many years. It was sandwiched between a shoe store and a popular barber shop on Main Street. After doing business for several years, Joe Budde’s added on to their building and recreated the space as a restaurant and pool hall.

Photo courtesy of Murray County Historical Society.

Bill Krisatis’ Popcorn Wagon

Bill Krisatis’ popcorn wagon was a popular staple in St. Peter during the 1930s and 1940s. His wagon offered many popular treats for adults and children alike. Buttered popcorn, caramel corn, roasted peanuts, candy, and cigarettes could be purchased at the wagon six days a week. In this photo, Bill Krisatis is taking delivery of his first $1,000.00 order of corn for popping.

Photo courtesy of the Nicollet County Historical Society.

Merchants’ Carnivals

Merchants’ Carnivals, like this one in Rochester in 1893, were a popular way to showcase a merchant’s wares. They were much like modern-day trade shows. Each merchant would rent a booth in an exposition hall and employees would dress up in costumes decorated only with items from their business. This carnival appears to have had a medieval theme.

Layne’s Pharmacy in New Prague

Rose Holec graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy with the degree of Pharmaceutical Chemist in 1919. She returned to her hometown, New Prague and married fellow pharmacist George Layne. Together, they opened Layne’s Pharmacy in New Prague. George and Rose can be seen here in their pharmacy in 1923.

Photo courtesy of the New Prague Area Historical Society

Architecture of the State – The Rochester State Hospital

In 1873, the State of Minnesota was looking for a way to house an increasingly problematic group of residents —“habitual drunkards.” In order to pay for a facility to care for these individuals, the state legislature passed a bill that year that would implement a $10 tax on all liquor dealers in the state. As you can imagine, the liquor dealers were strongly opposed to the tax and appealed the fee all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In the meantime, the fund to build the Inebriate Asylum grew. When enough money was raised through the tax, the state purchased a 160-acre parcel of land just outside of Rochester. Just after construction on the hospital began in 1877, a more urgent need was brought to the attention of the government. The St. Peter Hospital of the Insane was becoming overcrowded and unmanageable. In order to ease the congestion, the state legislature repealed the tax and stipulated that the Rochester Inebriate Asylum was to become the Second State Hospital for the Insane. A portion of the new State Hospital was to be used to house and treat chronic inebriates, but most of the facility would house the insane.

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Colonel Colvill of the First Minnesota


William Colvill — does that name ring a bell? Unless you’re a Civil War history buff, this name probably doesn’t mean anything to you yet. Perhaps he’s been forgotten because he was a good, simple man — hardworking and generous. He held fast to what he believed was right and stood up against wrongdoing. Perhaps it’s only natural for his name to fade into obscurity after so many years, he probably would have preferred that anyway, but let’s not let that happen just yet. William Colvill deserves to be remembered. 

An often overlooked bronze statue of William Colvill currently stands in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol. Thousands of people pass but it each year, yet most probably never stop to wonder who Colvill was or why he has a place of such prominence in the Capitol. However, this statue is an exact reproduction of another that is more difficult to overlook. The original statue stands proudly in the Cannon Falls Community Cemetery where Colvill is buried. It towers over all of the other graves from a shady hill near the eastern edge of the cemetery.

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Lost Highway 61

History buffs and curiosity seekers revel in finding a piece of the past. Stumbling across something long-forgotten is a great way to travel back in time, even if it’s only for a few moments. Thanks to the internet, the stumbling has become easier. Over the summer, Google maps helped me to stumble across an abandoned section of Highway 61. I set off on my adventure during one of the hottest days of the year with my gps, a satellite map print-out, and my camera. A couple of hours later, I pulled off the highway with my map in hand and started off toward the farm fields. I quickly found what I was looking for; an abandoned and neglected section of overgrown concrete that was once one of the most traveled roads in Minnesota.

Highway 61 may be one of the most famous highways in Minnesota. Songs and books have been written about it, and just about every Minnesotan can find it on a map. The highway has been around almost as long as the automobile. By 1934, Highway 61 ran the eastern length of Minnesota from the Canadian border to La Crosse. Through the years, the original dirt path was replaced several times over. Each time improvements were made, straighter and safer routes were found and sections of the original road were abandoned in the name of progress.

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Demolished Homes of the Mayo Brothers

William J Mayo was the older of the two Mayo brothers who, along with five partners, founded the not-for-profit Mayo Clinic in Rochester. William was the more serious of the two brothers and was often described by one word — brilliant. William married Hattie Damon in 1884. Together they set out to build themselves a new home. They found a large lot with a number of mature trees that they both loved at 427 West College Street. There was already a modest home on the property, so before they could build they had to demolish it. Their new, Queen Anne style home was completed in 1888. A broad porch graced the front with a gazebo at the corner. The exterior was painted conservatively — pale yellow with white trim. The home featured modern conveniences such as gaslights and running water. 

William and Charles spent most of their lives together, so after William married and moved from their parent’s house, he offered Charles a room at his new home. Charles continued to live with William and his family until he married and built his own house next door to William. When Charles and his wife moved away from College Street, William and Hattie moved as well. They built a newer home further up College Hill. They sold this property to Kahler Corporation who demolished it in 1918 to make way for a building of luxury rentals, The College Apartments.

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It Could Have Been A Ghost Town

This time of year, many city-dwellers travel south looking to take in the beauty of the season by roadtripping down through Red Wing and Wabasha to take in the fall colors of bluff country. Many pass right by a virtually undisturbed Civil War era community that is surrounded by a State Park and the Mississippi River.

The old town of Frontenac is now located in Florence Township, about halfway between Red Wing and Lake City. If you travel Highway 61, you may have noticed the section of Frontenac known as Frontenac Station. Keep in mind that the highway replaced railroad tracks and a station of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. If you turn off the highway and head northeast on County Road 2 past the entrance to the State Park, you will run into Old Frontenac along the banks of the Mississippi River.

Brigadier General Israel Garrard traveled to the area in 1854 on a hunting trip. He was overtaken with his surroundings. Garrard began construction of a comfortable hunting lodge, which he named St. Hubert’s, in 1855. German and Swiss craftsmen working on the lodge settled in the area, storage buildings and a general store were built around this time as well to support river commerce and provide provisions to residents. Evert V. Westervelt was named Postmaster and a small village called Westervelt was on its way to becoming a resort destination.

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A Grand Estate for the Owners of Watkins

As preservationists approached Rockledge, just south of Winona, the home’s owner, Ernest L. King Jr., shuffled to the front door and yelled, “I’m tearing it down and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Mr. King had no use for the home, but didn’t want anyone else to use it either. Holding true to his word, Rockledge was razed just before his death in 1987.

In 1911 architect George Maher designed a grand, 10,000 square foot Prairie School style home nestled against a rocky cliff along the Mississippi River just south of Winona. His clients, Grace Watkins King and E.L. King Sr., were the owners of the Watkins Medical Products Company.

The entire home was a complete work of art; Maher designed all of the interior objects for the estate including chairs, rugs, urns, clocks, lamps, and even the silver service. Maher, who had worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright for many years, borrowed from the home’s surroundings to create an earthy interior with brown, green, and orange colors throughout. Lilies also appeared throughout the home on lamps, drapes, and on the silver coffee service.

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