Jefferson Highway Through St. Cloud

Lincoln Avenue, located on the east side of St. Cloud, became part of the Jefferson Highway system in 1916. Edwin T. Meredith of Iowa believed an international highway from New Orleans to Winnipeg would be economically beneficial to farmers and promoted his idea in states along the proposed route. A committee determined that the Minnesota route would enter the state at Albert Lea and proceed through Owatonna, Faribault, Northfield, and Farmington before arriving in the Twin Cities. From there it would pass through Osseo, Anoka, Elk River, St. Cloud, and Little Falls before turning northwest. The entire route was completed in 1922 and was touted as the longest paved road in the United States.

This sign persuaded travelers to make a stop in downtown St. Cloud via St. Germain Street. The sign was erected by the St. Cloud Automobile Club for $1,000 in the early 1920s. The sign stood 20 feet tall and 30 feet wide and was illuminated by 300 lights after dark.

Portions of the Jefferson Highway still retain its name in several states—including sections near Osseo and Wadena—but in many places it was replaced with a numbered highway system in the mid-1920s. Lincoln Avenue became part of U.S. Highway 10 in November 1926. In 1953, a new four-lane highway was constructed just east of Lincoln Avenue, and the route was discontinued in St. Cloud by late-1958.

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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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Expeditionary Crew for the Northern Pacific Railway

This 1869 photo shows the main expeditionary crew for the Northern Pacific Railway. The crew consisted of one Native American woman, two Native American men, and twenty-five railroad scouts. Together, they charted a westward route across the state while financial backers were being courted. Crews like this often maneuvered through tough terrain such as swamps, bogs, and tamarack forests to find the best route. Leading this crew were Pierre Bottineau and G. A. Bracket.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

The Olympis Quartet

Meet the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway’s singing porters. This group of gentlemen were known as the Olympis Quartet in 1922. Many railway lines throughout the country trained their porters in quartet singing to entertain train guests.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society.

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.

Travel in style!

Here is an interior view of the North Coast Limited All-Pullman train. The train went into service on May 16, 1930. The modern Pullman car was exhibited for a week before going into service at Saint Paul’s Union Station.

Photo courtesy of the New Brighton Area Historical Society

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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A Thief River Falls Railroad Crew

A railroad crew poses on the tracks with shovels. This crew laid track near Thief River Falls around 1905. Behind the crew, a pump trolley is visible on the tracks. A pump car is a railroad car powered by its passengers. It was often used to get from the nearest town to where the crew would work at the end of the track.

Photo courtesy of the Pennington County Historical Society.

The Mesaba Railway

The Mesaba Railway ran streetcar service between Hibbing and North Hibbing. This car is stopped near the Oliver Hotel on Third Avenue in North Hibbing in 1921. This stop was at the north end of the line.

Photo courtesy Iron Range Research Center.

The Gales of November: George Herbert Shipwreck

It was a typical Monday morning for the crew of the flat-bottomed scow, George Herbert. Captain Charlie Johnson and lumber clerk William Hicks were discussing their trip one-hundred miles up the north shore of Lake Superior with provisions for the M.H. Coolidge Lumber Company. Three other crew members, Ole Nelson, George Olson, and Ole Miller were loading shovels, axes, smoked meats, coffee, whiskey, and lard into the scow’s hold. The lake was calm, and the weather was fair for November, but a steady northeast breeze made the temperature feel like it was below zero. The unpowered scow was loaded quickly. Captain Johnson rang the F.W. Gillett, their tug for the trip, to let them know the scow was ready.

As the George Herbert and F.W. Gillett made their way east along the shore, the wind began to blow harder, and the temperature began to fall. Hoping they could get past the edge of the storm, Captain Johnson stayed on course. By about 1:00 in the afternoon, the wind and the waves had increased to an alarming level. Johnson continued to press eastward hoping to find relative safety from the wind behind a group of islands near present-day Taconite Harbor. After two hours, the scow and its tug dropped anchor on the lee side of Two Islands. The George Herbert and F.W. Gillett  were the first boats to encounter the storm that would become known as the Big Blow of 1905.

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Lilac Way: Showcase of the Belt Line

Although it’s difficult to tell now, Highway 100 in the west metro was once one of the most beautiful and serene roads in the nation. The roadway was conceived just after the start of the Great Depression as a joint venture between the National Recovery Work Relief Program (which would later become the Works Progress Administration) and the Minnesota Highway Department. Highway 100 would be the first piece of a larger road system that would bypass the Twin Cities, called the Belt Line. This western portion of the project would be the showcase section because of its innovative design and thoughtful landscaping.

Concord Coach Line

Colonel Alvaren Allen began stagecoach service from St. Paul to Crow Wing with his four-horse Concord coach line in 1854. As the need to travel west and south of St. Paul grew, so did the coach line. Within a few years Allen had eight coaches departing from St. Paul each day; three to Minneapolis, one each to Crow Wing, Stillwater, Mankato, and  Hudson, WI. The last coach would follow a route through New Ulm, Faribault, and Owatonna. The coaches carried freight as well as passengers — which mean the latter were forced to hold on as best they could as the stagecoach bumped over well rutted, but poorly maintained, wagon trails. In this photo from 1898, several gentlemen from Mankato are about to board the Concord coach for St. Paul. Photo courtesy of the Blue Earth Historical Society.

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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The Gales of November: Lafayette Shipwreck

One of the earliest victims of the big blow on Lake Superior on November of 1905 was the steamer Lafayette and her barge, the Manila. After passing through Soo, the Lafayette was caught west of Devil’s Island when the great storm started churning the lake into an uproar. After fighting the storm for several hours and traveling at half-speed, Captain Dell Wright was hoping to see the lighthouse on Devils’ Island to regain his bearings. Captain Wright’s years of experience gave him only a rough idea of his ship’s location, and he had an important decision to make.

The Gales of November: Mataafa Shipwreck

A gale swept Lake Superior after extraordinary high pressure began to fall on November 27, 1905. Snow, ice pellets, freezing temperatures and mountainous seas caused havoc all over the big lake. The most spectacular accident claimed the Mataafa.

The ore-laden freighter departed Duluth, towing the consort barge James Nasmyth, in the late afternoon of November 27, only to be attacked on the open lake. After a futile battle with the elements, the Captain of Mataafa decided to turn back and seek shelter. He managed to turn his freighter and the trailing barge, but trying to bring both through the port entry in these conditions was unwise. As a result, the James Nasmyth was left at anchor on the lake to ride out the storm.

On the run for the harbor entry, Mataafa got caught by the current and was pushed off course. The hull hit bottom, smashed the pier and soon lost power. The ship and all on board were at the mercy of the wind, waves, and current; it was driven aground and broken into three pieces.

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