Washington County Historical Society

Gateway to Minnesota History

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A ‘Goodbye’ from the Editor

 

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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Give to the Max! November 17th
  • What Was That Thing?!
  • Old News: Warning from the Editors
  • Featured Article: A ‘Goodbye’ TO an Editor
Editor’s Note

Well folks, this is my goodbye.

After nearly five years as the Warden’s House Site Manager and Editor of the e-newsletter, I sadly have to report that I no longer will be working at the Washington County Historical Society. It’s been an amazing few years and I’m going to miss so much about this job…Including pestering you lovely peoples’ inboxes once-every-other-week.

So, before I wrap up one-final time, I want to express the deepest and most heartfelt appreciation to each and every one of you’ve made writing this newsletter fun. Thank you for playing along with the “What Is This Thing?!”, thank you for writing emails when enjoyed the featured Article or the Old News, thank you everyone who visited the museums this year, and most importantly, thank you for putting up with my horribly lame attempts at being funny.

Thank you all so much.

I hope you’ll continue to diligently support WCHS and it’s on-going mission to preserve our local history. The best way to support WCHS is to become a member if you aren’t already one. You can also head down to our News Story to learn all the details of Give to the Max! Day which falls on November 17th this year.

Be sure to check out today’s “What Was That Thing?!” so you can at least find out the identity of last issue’s mystery artifact.

If you’re sick of all this lovey-dovey appreciativeness and well-wishes, and would rather read a fairly aggressive editorial piece, look no further than today’s Old News section.

And finally – on the topic of newspapermen getting out of the game – my final Featured Article will share the story of Victor Seward, who ‘retired’ from his position at the Stillwater Messenger only after being murdered by a former employee. Thankfully my departure will be significantly less dramatic.

Remember, you can always check out the Historical Messenger’s online archives to see all the past e-newsletters in case you find yourself missing my always charming wit.

Whew – well, I think it’s time to close up this note before I start to ramble.

For one last time,

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

Give to the Max! November 17th

On Thursday, November 17th, your gift goes farther on Give to the Max Day! Organizations that raise the most money in their size brackets are granted additional cash bonuses and an extra $1,000 is added to one random donation per hour. Another boost of $10,000 will be awarded to a single donation on the 17th.

Even a simple $10 puts our name in the hat!

Here’s what you can do to help:

Schedule Your Donation Early! Beginning November 1st, you can actually log-on to our donation page and schedule your donation to be processed on Give to the Max Day. One random early donation from November 1st – 16th will be given a $10,000 boost!

Spread the Word! Share our Donation Page on your social media pages and email it to your friends!

Donate! The easiest way to make a difference for WCHS is simply by making a gift! GiveMN keeps it easy by accepting all major cards through their secure online payment system. You don’t even have to register any kind of account! Their website is designed with both PC/Mac and mobile platforms in mind.

Thank you all for your continued support of the Washington County Historical Society!

What is This Thing?!

What Was That Thing?! (Round 47)

Well, there won’t be any new challenge today (since I won’t be around in two weeks to tell you all the answer).

But, just to clear up the mystery of last issue…it’s actually an old hand-operated vacuum cleaner! And, I’ve gotta tell you, one of my favorite pieces in the whole collection.

Specifically, this is a Model-C Feeny Vacuum from about 1910. As you can see in this photo, you’d literally grab the handle and pump it up-and-down to create the (fairly limited) suction…all in all, probably just easier to drag the rugs outside and beat them.

I’ve absolutely loved the sometimes off-the-wall guesses a few of you brave folks dared to offer. And other times I was absolutely blown away by how quickly you’d manage to perfectly identitfy artifacts that I thought would be a challenge! Either way, it was a great opportunity to interact with this humble e-newsletter’s readership.

Thank you for playing for the last 94 weeks!

Old News

Warning from the Editors

Let me just say, I’m very glad that I’ve never had to threaten any of the readers of this e-newsletter.

Stillwater Messenger – November 1, 1884

There are a number of our delinquent subscribers from whom we have received nothing but promises for too many years, who will soon be served with a summons and complaints in a civil action unless they prevent a resort to harsh measures by promptly coming forward and settling with cash or note. We dislike exceedingly to employ the courts to collect any of our accounts, as they are expensive collectors. But we can’t carry them on our books any longer, and give this fair warning to all concerned that we don’t intend to. In most cases the court expenses will be larger than our claims, and we would recommend all to save costs by settling at once.

Featured Article

A ‘Goodbye” TO an Editor

by Brent Peterson

Stillwater is a quiet community. Not much noise except when the bridge is open and the big trucks travel through downtown. There is not much crime and the citizens are kept safe by the ever watchful eye of the Stillwater Police Force. In the days of the lumber era, Stillwater had more than its share of gunfire and bad behavior. Even then, a murder on Main Street was headline news.

Victor Seward was the editor and owner of one of Stillwater’s most successful weekly newspapers. He was a tough editor and he spoke his mind. His colorful and sometimes controversial career came to an abrupt end by an assassin’s bullet.

Seward was born in Laketon, Indiana on July 10, 1845. When he was ten years old, he moved with his family to Mankato, Minnesota. He graduated from the Western Reserve College in Hudson. He returned to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1868 and worked with the St. Paul Dispatch newspaper. At the age of 19, he entered the Union Army in company D, 198th Ohio Regiment, and was mustered out on May 8, 1865. In 1869, Seward started the Redwood Falls Mail newspaper, which he abandoned in 1873. After that, he joined with his brother-in-law, S.S. Taylor, and purchased the Stillwater Messenger. Victor Seward became the sole owner of the paper upon Taylors death in the 1880’s.

He married Elizabeth Putnam in 1871 and together had one child, Mable. The Seward home was on Fifth Street of Stillwater, across from St. Mary’s Church.

On Tuesday, October 11, 1892, Victor Seward was assassinated by a former employee of the Messenger, George Peters. Peters was hired to be a reporter, but the young Peters could not perform the job. Seward was patient with the young reporter, but then suggested to him that he find another vocation. With that, Peters swore vengeance on Seward for firing him.

Nobody took the threat for real, and at about five in the afternoon that October day, Peters returned to Seward’s office, however, he found that Seward was not in. Peters then went into town, and it wasn’t long until he found Seward walking along Main Street. Peters calmly came up to Seward, shooting the editor three times. Seward staggered into the doorway of Drechsler’s Music store. Peters then calmly walked away.

Dr. W.H. Caine, whose office was nearby, heard the shooting and rushed to the street, pushing his way into the music store. He was later joined by Dr. T.C. Clark and Dr. E. O’B. Freligh. At first the wounded Seward was to be taken to the city hospital, but Mrs. Seward arrived and had her husband transferred to their home. Local doctors remained at the Seward residence through the night, but nothing could be done to save his life. Victor Seward died the following morning.

George Peters was arrested and charged with first degree murder. He was found not guilty because of insanity and was sent to the hospital for the insane in Rochester, Minnesota.

After Victor Seward’s funeral, the ownership of the Stillwater Messenger was transferred to his wife Elizabeth. She operated the newspaper as editor for nearly a decade until her health started to fail. She was one of only a handful of women in Minnesota to edit a major newspaper in the 19th Century.

The Sewards are still remembered in this area. At the Warden’s Home Museum in Stillwater, there are two beautiful pastel drawings (photographed above) of the couple that are on display. Even though other editors and other newspapers have come and gone in Stillwater, the Messenger and the Seward family will always have their own historical nitch in St. Croix Valley History.

Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

The Grand Charge of Col. William Colvill

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”
  • WCHS News: Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Vengeance Against the Dakota
  • Featured Article: The Grand Charge of Col. William Colvill

Editor’s Note

Whew! What a beautiful couple of weeks we’ve been having! The weather has been holding up wonderfully and I honestly can’t remember ever having this vibrant of fall colors to enjoy. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with all the foliage-admirers over the past few weeks at the museum.

Speaking of which, you only have two more weekends to visit the Warden’s House and Hay Lake School before we close up for 2016 – so plan your trip now!

At the very least, you absolutely won’t want to miss our fun Halloween-themed events at the Warden’s House this year. Check out our News Stories for all the details on the free movie screening this Thursday and a ‘ghost-hunting’ team’s visit to the Museum on Oct. 29th.

After you read about our events, the always popular “What Is This Thing?!” challenge awaits your best guesses.

When studying American History, the Civil War is rightfully seen as a defining moment of our nation’s story. In fact, the episode is so important that it completely overshadows another war the American military was waging at the same time. In today’s Old News, we’ll look westward instead of east and follow the 3rd Minnesotan Battery in their punitive campaign against the Dakota people.

But don’t worry “Civil War-buffs”, we’ll swing back to the East Coast in our Featured Article and discuss the wartime experiences of Minnesota’s Colonel William Colvill.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News 

Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”

THIS Thurs. October 20th @ 6:30 – 8:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

Join the Washington County Historical Society for a night of (relatively quiet) terror beneath the stars as we screen the 1925 silent-film classic “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Warden’s House Museum!

Bring out the family and help re-capture some of the lost magic of watching a movie outdoors!

The screening will begin at 6:30 PM and the museum will be open to the public from 5:30 until when the film begins. The movie will be shown outside so we recommend dressing warm and please feel free to bring lawn chairs & blankets to sit on.

The selection of “The Phantom of the Opera” is not only appropriate for the Halloween season – but also because the film features the performance of Olive Ann Alcorn – a Stillwater native!

This is a free event made possible by WCHS’ generous supporters and donors.

Concessions will be available for purchase.

 

WCHS News 

Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories

Sat. October 29th @ 11:00 AM, 3:00, & 7:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group will host their fourth annual, “Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories” program at the Warden’s House Museum. The free event will be held at the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater.

Encore presentations will be held at 11:00AM, 3:00PM, and 7:00PM. Each time slot will feature the same program and will last about 80 minutes.

For the past 7 years, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group has been performing investigations at such famously haunted locales such as the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, WI, Waverly Hills Sanitarium, KY, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and of course, the Warden’s House itself!

During this free and open to the public presentation, founder Justin Miner and his co-investigators will delve into the truly amazing audio and video evidence they have collected while explaining the state-of-the-art equipment, theories, & techniques used during a “ghost hunt”.

More Events

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 47)

A few of you managed to poke your heads out of your foxhole to take a shot at identifying last issue’s What Is This Thing?!

That’s right! Last week’s item is the inside of a World War I-era American ‘doughboy’ helmet. In the States, the design was known as the M1917, but was essentially a copy of the British ‘Brodie’ helmet of 1915.

On the onset of the war, no nation equipped its soldiers with steel helmets. However, the cloth and leather caps soon proved completely ineffective and dangerous for the type of trench-heavy and shrapnel-filled fighting along the Western Front.

This introduction of metallic protective headwear was one of the many technological innovations that can be traced back to the battlefields of the First World War.

Onto today’s challenge!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at sean.pallas@wchsmn.org, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News 

Vengeance Against the Dakota

For obvious reasons, when a person studies the years from 1861-1865; they’re going to be almost completely focused on the battlefields of the Civil War. Few people will give the US-Dakota War of 1862 much consideration.

Lincoln and the Federal Government were not about to a relatively small Native American uprising along the Minnesota River become a distraction from their campaign against the Confederacy. This secondary rebellion would be crushed and dealt with severely. By the end of the conflict, 38 Dakota captives had been hanged in Mankato and the surviving Dakota were utterly and completely exiled from their ancestral homes in Minnesota.

But that is not where the story ends.

In 1864, General Alfred Sully (pictured right) was given command of cavalry units and an artillery battery on a march through North Dakota to wreak havoc on the Dakota men, women and children who had taken refuge in the Badlands.

There could be no further outbursts from the conquered Dakota people – and this crusade of vengeance would make that a certainty.

“Some Items from the Indian Expedition” – Stillwater Messenger – October 18, 1864

From a private letter from a member of the 3rd Minnesota Battery, we make some interesting extracts. Our readers are familiar with the general details of Sully’s last battle with the Indians, but incidents which fell under the conversation of the writer may prove of interest to our readers. Our correspondent, in his description of the battle says:

“Our line of battle was over three miles long, and the fight was like all Indian fights – very scattering fire and very uncertain where the next charge would be made. Bracket’s Minn. Battalion discovered an opportunity and made a splendid charge on the right, cutting the enemy down with their sabers, and driving them into a ravine, from which they were soon driven by a few shots from a 12 pounder in charge of Sergeant Bromley, killing 27 in three shots. A strong attempt was made to charge the rear of our train but a six pounded in charge of Lieut. Whipple soon checked their advance, our shot killing five and their ponies literally making pemmican of their carcasses.

The Indians contented every inch of the ground for two miles, when they fled to the hills where no man or common horse could follow them, leaving 112 of their dead on the field and all their camp equipage. Our forces moved 3 miles and bivouacked for the night.

At 3 o’clock next morning we started in pursuits, but found it impossible to follow them into the hills and mountains.

Reluctantly abandoning further pursuit, the General turned his attention to the destruction of the large amount of property lefty by the enemy, on the bloody field of Tah-kah-o-kn-ty, and a detail of fifteen hundred men was made for the purpose, and soon the red flames and black clouds of smoke strongly impregnated with the savory odor of baked buffalo and venison told that the hard earned stores of the red men were fast being destroyed; and at sunset the destruction was made complete by firing the woods where large quantities of stores had been concealed, and the fatigued army of the North West moved back ten miles to Camp.

The animals were soon grazing, and the weary soldiers just ready for supper and sleep, when the cry of “Injuns, Innings” caused a general rush for the horses to secure them at the picket ropes, and ‘fall in, fall in” was often repeated, and soon the dark lines of armed men, with hearts filled with stern resolved, and “ready for any fate” showed the impossibility of a surprise in that camp.

The enemy succeeded however in killing two men, privates in Co. D. 2nd Calvary, capturing their arms and horses. One was shot with seven arrows, one which penetrated six inches into his head. Our loss, killed 4 wounded 15. Men who have been long in the army say – and I think with trust that the battle of Tah-kah-o-kn-ty was the most decisive battle ever fought, and great credit is due to the officers and men of Col. Thomas Brigade for their efficiency and good discipline, their coolness while under fire and their readiness to obey orders, and the cheerfulness with which they encountered fatigue, exposure and danger. Company C. 8th Regiment Captain Folsom were detailed as Pioneers and in action for support of the 3rd Minnesota Battery, and I can say that braver or better set of men never shouldered a musket, and Stillwater may well feel proud of them.

All the dead of the enemy were buried with their dogs and goods.

We again reached Heart River, July 31st, having traveled 173 miles, fought a battle, destroyed a large camp in six days. We started form the point west with the trains and struck the Fat-anah-mack-anata, a wild hilly region where it seemed impossible for even a cat to travel, but trusting all to a Black Foot Indian, we reached the Little Missouri, without accident. Here we were fired upon from the bluffs, but our assailants were soon driven back by a few shells from the Battery, and on the morning of Aug. 9th, as we were leaving the river by following up the bed of a stream so narrow that but one wagon could pass at a time, we were fired upon from the hills, and for six hours the battle raged fearfully. Every thing was hid in smoke and dust in the vicinity of the train and every exertion was necessary to prevent straggling.

The wild nature of the country, the hills and mountains hundreds of feet high gaping chasms where a miss-step or the stumbling of a horse would precipitated the unfortunate one into eternity – helped to make the situation more terrible. But stoutly we drove the enemy before us which was done almost entirely by shells.

At dark the main force fell back, but skirmishing was kept up all night.

No rest could be had by either men or animals, was everything that moved outside camp was sure to get a shot, and the loud roar of the 12 pounders, the screaming of the shells, as they described their fiery circles through the air, left but a small margin for sleep.

Early next morning the fight was renewed and lasted for three hours, the Indians charging and retreating each time falling back with their numbers reduced, and returning again to be punished and retreat again.

Their loss was heavy – 250 being a low estimate of the number killed.

Our loss killed none.

Wounded 10, our scout being one of the number.

We reached the Yellow Stone, Idaho Territory 160 miles from Heart River on the 12th, and found two steamers loaded with rations and forage for which we were suffering severely. The horses having been 48 hours without food and the men for some time on half rations.

In crossing the Yellow Stone we lost 19 men, 17 mules, and 6 wagons – mostly of the Idaho emigrants. 240 men have deserted and gone to the mines with their horses and arms. One steamer the Island City – has been sunk with fourteen hundred sacks of corn, a number of mules and wagons.”

Featured Article

The Grand Charge of Col. William Colvill

by Betty Roney

Although the event took place in a little Pennsylvanian town, more than a century and a half ago, Minnesotans still revere the memory of that gallant band of volunteers and the man who led the First Minnesota at the Battle of Gettysburg, Col. William Colvill.

Of course, Washington County isn’t the only to put a claim on Col. Colvill’s story. He was born at Forestville, Chautauqua County, New York on April 5th, 1830. And here in Minnesota, he arrived in Cannon Falls, Goodhue County in 1854. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Colvill was the very first volunteer of Goodhue County. He was also one of the few survivors of a grim charge by an undaunted Minnesota line against a much lager Confederate Force on July 2nd and 3rd, 1863. What happened on that Gettysburg battlefield has inspired writers, historians, filmmakers and scholars ever since.

Of the 262 men of the Minnesota First Volunteer Infantry under Col. Colvill’s command, only 47 walked away unscathed.

Included amongst that number were the Stillwater men of Company B. Lieutenant Thomas Sinclair was the only Stillwater officer to be wounded. First Sergeant. David Lord; Sergeants John D. Densmore, Frederick Crome, George A. Oliver, Corporals John B. Stevens, and Edwin Wells; Privates George Arnold, William H. Aucker, Rufus G. Blanchard, Bartholomew Carriegiet, Albert Caplazi, Morritz W. Erhardt, Peter Everson, Charles H. Gove, Charles Hamann, Martin J. Henry, David Johnson, Adam Marty, Fridolin Marty, Erick Nystedt, Andrew P. Quist, John P. Schoembeck, Albert Severs, Ole Thompson, and Joseph A. Tanner were Stillwater’s enlisted men who were wounded. Sergeant Samuel B. Bickerson; Privates William F. Bates and August Koenig were all killed during the ‘grand charge”.

“At the time we made the grand charge,” Colvill later recalled, “I think Gen. (Winfield) Hancock rode a bay horse. His order was ‘Minnesota forward!’, delivered with all his force and action. From the left, after he had ceased to rally the Third Corps, he rushed to the rear near the battery, expecting the other troops had followed or were following him.

Finding none, as was afterward reported to me, he said, ‘My God, are these all the men we have here?’

Then he rushed to he right and gave the order. The men of the regiment all heard the order as he gave it and turned their heads to me, expecting and ready for my order, which was immediately given. “I noticed, as the regiment started, the shining of the muskets as the right shoulder shift was made in one time, the motions corresponding to the steps of the advance and seemed to emphasize the unity of the start. The gleam of the muskets you can imagine. It was grand. The regiment went as one man, taking its swinging gait down the slope.

Going down, the men fell fast. Each man, as he fell, seemed to turn to me as if to say, ‘I can go no further.’”

Two minutes before relief came from the New York 82nd, the colonel was wounded. He rolled into a gully where, he said, he “listened to the bullets zinging along the ground… and it grew dark and became quiet, the stars shining overhead.” He heard the sounds from the rebel line nearby.

“Their ground had been a horrible sight all night. Directly one of them [the Confederate soldiers] in a clear, sweet voice struck up a camp meeting hymn. Instantly the groans and cries ceased, and all joined in. It was a grand refrain, from thousands of wounded men…”

Colvill’s wartime service ended May 6, 1865, when he was mustered out as brevet brigadier general. He returned home to Goodhue County, making his home in Red Wing, where he practiced law and edited the Sentinel newspaper.

He died suddenly June 12, 1905 while attending a Grand Army of the Republic meeting at the Soldiers’ Home near Minnehaha Falls.

He was buried in the family plot in the Cannon Falls cemetery, where a replica of his state capitol statue was erected in 1909.

Two decades later, the 135th Minnesota Infantry, a National Guard regiment tracing descent from the Minnesota First, provided a landscaped setting – with cannon, ornamental stairway, and memorial tablet. In July 1928, President Calvin Coolidge gave an address at the site, and Mrs. Coolidge unveiled the memorial tablet.

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

Some Whys and Wherefores of Stillwater Prison

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”
  • WCHS News: Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: The Circus Comes to Stillwater!
  • Featured Article: Some Whys and Wherefores of Stillwater Prison

Editor’s Note

Happy October everybody!

October definitely brings some mixed feelings. On one hand, I do love popping on a sweatshirt and taking a stroll around the neighborhood. But on the other, our museums are only open for a few more weeks!

So don’t let 2016 pass without visiting the Warden’s House and Hay Lake School! Until the end of this month, the Warden’s House is open Thursdays-Sundays and Saturdays & Sundays for Hay Lake.

Hopefully we’ll see you there!

In today’s News section, we’ll learn a bit more about the two spooky Halloween-inspired events coming up at the Warden’s House Museums

Of course, we’ll see if you clever folks can tackle a new “What Is This Thing?!” challenge.

Every now and then, I’ll have folks ask me, “What did people do for fun in the 1800s?” Well, head on down to our Old News section to read about the event of the season from way back in 1870.

Finally, we’ll close up today’s e-newsletter with a sneak peek at WCHS latest publication, Thru the Mill, the tale of one man’s experiences as an inmate of the Old Stillwater Prison.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”

Thurs. October 20th @ 6:30 – 8:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

Join the Washington County Historical Society for a night of (relatively quiet) terror beneath the stars as we screen the 1925 silent-film classic “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Warden’s House Museum!

Bring out the family and help re-capture some of the lost magic of watching a movie outdoors!

The screening will begin at 6:30 PM and the museum will be open to the public from 5:30 until when the film begins. The movie will be shown outside so we recommend dressing warm and please feel free to bring lawn chairs & blankets to sit on.

The selection of “The Phantom of the Opera” is not only appropriate for the Halloween season – but also because the film features the performance of Olive Ann Alcorn – a Stillwater native!

This is a free event made possible by WCHS’ generous supporters and donors.

Concessions will be available for purchase.

 

WCHS News

Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories

Sat. October 29th @ 11:00 AM, 3:00, & 7:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group will host their fourth annual, “Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories” program at the Warden’s House Museum. The free event will be held at the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater.

Encore presentations will be held at 11:00AM, 3:00PM, and 7:00PM. Each time slot will feature the same program and will last about 80 minutes.

For the past 7 years, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group has been performing investigations at such famously haunted locales such as the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, WI, Waverly Hills Sanitarium, KY, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and of course, the Warden’s House itself!

During this free and open to the public presentation, founder Justin Miner and his co-investigators will delve into the truly amazing audio and video evidence they have collected while explaining the state-of-the-art equipment, theories, & techniques used during a “ghost hunt”.

More Events

 

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 46)

A handful of you took a t-churn at guessing the true identity of last week’s zoomed in What Is This Thing?! And a few even managed to guess that yes – indeed this is a butter churn!

So, get it…”t-churn” instead of “turn”! Yeesh, that’s…that’s just even a joke. I’m really sorry everybody.

You know, I put all this time and effort into making puns and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Better. I grew up here in Minnesota, the Land o’ Lakes itself so I should know better. We pride ourselves on being ‘crème de lacrème‘. Next issue, I’ll reevaluate my writing and try my hardest to be less cheesy. You can all cow-nt on it.

…I think I’ve milked this enough.

Eh, hem. Anyways, this is a rather large commercial-grade machine known as a “Union #1 Butter Churn“. On the opposite side of the hand crank, the company went out of their way to even specifically list all the State Fairs at which their design had won awards. Among those was the prestigious 1893 Chicago World’s Fair!

Thanks for playing everyone!

Time to zoom in to our next artifact!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at sean.pallas@wchsmn.org, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

The Circus Comes to Stillwater!

I think there’s a misconception that county historical societies are 100% and entirely focused on their small narrow pieces of local histories. And while, yes, we will chronicle the lives of our communities’ farmers, politicians, wives, and doctors…these men and women didn’t live in a vacuum.

There are plenty of opportunities to tie historic Stillwater to the big picture of American history. Dan Castello’s Great Circus and Egyptian Caravan’s visit to Stillwater in October 1870 is perhaps one of the most fun.

Now, you may have not heard of Dan Castello (pictured to the right), but he had made a name for himself the previous year by being the first circus to perform on both coasts of the United States in the same season. The endeavor was enormously successful and earned him a reported $60,000 (about $1 million in 2016).

Stillwater was actually one of his final stops on his Egyptian Caravan tour. The whole operation spent the year traveling aboard the 152 foot long Benton, loading and unloading the entire operation at water adjacent venues along the Great Lakes and Midwest. Naturally, this included the highlight of the “Egyptian Caravan”, the 8 camels purchased from the Army after they proved to be unsuccessful replacement mules in Arizona and Nevada.

A staunch Unionist, Castello’s performance also concluded with a satirical depiction of a Ku Klux Klan initiation ceremony. It’s not hard to imagine Stillwater’s Civil War veterans enjoying this jab at the inheritors of Confederate-ideals.

1870 would be the only year Castello would tour with this group, for he was destined for bigger and better things.

In 1871, Castello and his co-investor William C. Coup entered a partnership with the legendary P.T. Barnum. The three revolutionized the circus-industry and would eventually develop the “Greatest Show on Earth”.

Stillwater Republican – October 4, 1870

Dan Castello’s Circus and Egyptian Caravan, are advertised for this city next Saturday afternoon and evening. This is the first circus that has visited us this season, and from all reports, we believe it to be the best show traveling. At all events, they understand the value of printer’s ink, as attested by the flaming advertisement on this page, and their mammoth posters around town.The last are a good show themselves, and triumphs of the art of printing.

There is connected with this show a first class ballet troupe, which is a new featured, and attractive, in the business. Those desirous of seeing a show of this kind had better tend out on this one, as it will, in probability, be the last.

The above information about Dan Castello’s life is from “Grand Entree: The Birth of the Greatest Show on Earth, 1870-1875”. Available online.

Featured Article

Some Whys and Wherefores of Stillwater Prison

from “Thru the Mill” by ‘4342’ – George Bartlett

No changes have been made in these rules for a number of years, to my personal knowledge, as I have seen copies of them dated as far back as 1905, the same as these given here which are quotes from the 18th Biennial Report of the prison for 1913-1914 recently published.

Changes in conditions have not in any manner affected the rules themselves. A good example of this is found by noting paragraph 12, under Shop Rules, just quoted.

Any inmate found with a pencil in his possession, unless he had special permission from the Warden or Deputy, was reported for breach of discipline. But, any prisoner who had the money could purchase a fountain pen from the Steward’s Department, which he might carry and use as he liked. As far as I could learn regarding this ruling, the carrying of pencils was prohibited some time ago in order to keep prisoners from writing notes to each other. When the fountain pens were permitted, the rule regarding pencils was still kept in force, and officers were reporting men for breaking the pencil rule when I left the institution. This is one of the many such rules that make it harder for the poor devil obliged to obey them, with no real advantage of benefit either to him or the institution but a source of worry to both.

An officer said to me one day, “You better not change that,” when I spoke of a short cut I might make in the keeping of my records, “We have been doing it the old way now for 20 years, so we had better not change it.”

It is also stated in the rules governing Guards and Officers, that no prisoners shall at an time be allowed in the yard at night unless in the custody of an officer. During the summer of 1913 a convict affected with tuberculosis received permission to sleep in a tent in the prison yard. When his work was done for the day, he reported to the Cell House with his regular crew, got his supper and went to his tent, in the upper part of the yard, escorted by an armed guard, where he was left the rest of the night unguarded. In the morning he reported to the Hospital Building, near which his tent was pitched, and the officer accompanied him to the Cell House.

Though this prisoner was left all night in an open tent with no guards on the walls and no one to watch him, it was deemed necessary to have an officer go with him and from the tent to see that he did not run away. This was according to the rules, and though the officer who used to walk with him through the yard often told me how foolish he himself used to feel when taking this prison to and form the Cell House, he realized that any deviation from this method of procedure might be cause of his dismissal.

To impress upon the prisoner the necessity of saluting an officer at all times, and in all places, the rules is referred to twice in the Shop Rules, paragraph 4 and 9, and also in paragraph 8 of the General Rules. This was important and punishable by a severe reprimand and mark, or the loss of tobacco privileges for thirty days. When a convict walked through the shops, to be on the safe side, he had to keep his arms waving in all directions like a windmill, or he was liable to a report for “not saluting an officer.”

The tobacco was passed to the cells by the Cell House Captain, Sunday morning just before chapel. No outside tobacco of any kind was permitted. Third grade prisoners at the old prison ate all their meals in their cells, which were dark and gloomy, located in the Dark Block, behind the Library, and shut off from all light from the front windows. At the new prison they eat in a separate portion of the regular dining room, but are given only stipulated amounts of food at each meal, the same in quality as the upper grades. No tobacco, papers, mail or privileges of any kind were allowed third grade prisoners, except bathing and chapel. Letters and papers received fro them were kept until they were advanced to the second grade. Their hair was kept clipped short, and wearing the striped clothing they were marked as bad men and their every move watched.

A list of 43 offenses is given in the rule book, the same list appearing in the 18th Biennial Report, as follows:

Altering clothing, bed not properly made, clothing not in proper order, communicating by signs, defacing property, dilatory, dirty cell or furnishing, disobedience, disturbance in cellhouse, fighting, hands in pockets, hand or face not clean, hair not combed, insolence to officers, insolence to foremen, insolence to fellow prisoners, inattentive in line, inattentive at work, inattentive in school, laughing and fooling, loud talk in cell, loud reading in cell, malicious mischief, not out of bed promptly not at door for count, not wearing outside shirt, not promptly out of cell when brake is drawn, out of place in shop or line, profanity, quarreling, shirking, spitting on the floor, staring at visitors, stealing, trading, talking in chapel, talking in line, talking in school, talking at work, talking from cell to cell, talking in corridor, throwing away food.

After a prisoner has spent his first 30 days in the Silent City, he discovers half a hundred more offenses not mentioned above. These he becomes familiar with, generally by either receiving a severe reprimand, or being reported and sent to court for breaking them. Ignorance of the law, especially in Stillwater prison, is no excuse for the offender.

Note the 22nd offense on the above list, “Loud talk in cell.” I never heard an explanation for this ruling, as it was an offense punishable by solitary confinement to even read aloud or talk to one’s self in the cell. This rule was probably in force years ago when two men were permitted to occupy one cell, and has never been changed on the records.

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

Lakeland in the Land of Lakes

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Fall Membership Meeting – This Thursday!
  • WCHS News: October Frights at the Warden’s House
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: 1890 Looks Back at Their History
  • Featured Article: Lakeland in the Land of Lakes
Editor’s Note

We’re now well into September and Fall is officially here. But we don’t need to mourn Summer! The St. Croix Valley is simply stunning once it begins sporting its Autumn colors. In fact, Travel & Leisure Magazine awarded Stillwater the third best town in the country for seeing fall colors.

So finish up the rest of the e-newsletter and plan your day trip out to Stillwater! (Just make sure to include a tour of the Warden’s House Museum on your itinerary!)

Speaking of trips to Stillwater, I hope to see you this Thursday at our 2016 Annual Fall Membership Meeting! Check out our first News Story to see how to reserve your spot now!

Let WCHS help you get into the Halloween mood with our ‘spooky’ line-up of events in October! Scroll down to our second News Story for more information our movie screening and always popular Paranormal event!

Get your thinkin’ caps on for today’s “What Is This Thing?!” challenge!

If you’re reading this e-newsletter, you obviously are at least a bit interested in history and, again obviously, that isn’t a new personality trait. In today’s Old News we’ll learn a little bit about how people in the past looked at their own history.

Finally, we’ll close up today’s e-newsletter with a trip down the river from Stillwater to the small, but surprisingly historic, city of Lakeland.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

Fall Membership Meeting – This Thursday!

Fall Membership Meeting with Author Frank White

Thurs. September 22nd @ 5:30 – 9:00 PM – Water Street Inn, Stillwater

The evening will begin with a social hour at 5:30 PM followed by dinner at 6:30 PM. A brief meeting will begin at 7:30 followed by a presentation by our Featured Speaker author and local historian Frank White’s discussion on his new book, “They Played for the Love of the Game“.

Reservations are $20 for WCHS Members and $25 for Non-Members.Reservations include dinner and admission to the program.

A century before Kirby Puckett led the Minnesota Twins to World Series championships, Minnesota was home to countless talented African American baseball players, yet few of them are known to fans today. During the many decades that Major League Baseball and its affiliates imposed a strict policy of segregation, black ballplayers in Minnesota were relegated to a haphazard array of semipro leagues, barnstorming clubs, and loose organizations of all-black teams—many of which are lost to history.

“They Played for the Love of the Game” recovers that history by sharing stories of African American ballplayers in Minnesota, from the 1870s to the 1960s, through photos, artifacts, and spoken histories passed through the generations. Author Frank White’s own father was one of the top catchers in the Twin Cities in his day, a fact that White did not learn until late in life. While the stories tell of denial, hardship, and segregation, they are highlighted by athletes who persevered and were united by their love of the sport.

More Events

WCHS News 

October Frights at the Warden’s House

Outdoor Museum Movie Night presents: “The Phantom of the Opera”

Thurs. October 20th @ 6:30 – 8:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

Join the Washington County Historical Society for a night of (relatively quiet) terror beneath the stars as we screen the 1925 silent-film classic “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Warden’s House Museum!

The screening will begin at 6:30 PM and the museum will be open to the public from 5:30 until when the film begins. The movie will be shown outside so we recommend dressing warm and please feel free to bring lawn chairs & blankets to sit on.

The selection of “Phantom of the Opera” is not only appropriate for the Halloween season – but also because the film features the performance of Olive Ann Alcorn – a Stillwater native!

Bring out the family and help re-capture some of the lost magic of watching a movie outdoors!

This is a free event made possible by WCHS’ generous supporters and donors.

Concessions will be available for purchase.

Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories with the Johnsdale Paranormal Group

Sat. October 29th @ 11:00 AM, 3:00, & 7:00 PM – Warden’s House, Stillwater

On Saturday, October 29th, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group will host their fourth annual, “Paranormal Investigations: Techniques & Theories” program at the Warden’s House Museum. The free event will be held at the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater. They will host encore presentations at 11:00AM, 3:00PM, and 7:00PM. Each time slot will feature the same program and will last about 80 minutes.

Get yourself into the Halloween mood and learn about all the exciting investigations performed by the Johnsdale Paranormal Group at such famously haunted locales such as the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the S.S. William A. Irvin in Duluth, the Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and of course, the Warden’s House itself!

During this open to the public presentation, founder Justin Miner and his co-investigators will delve into the audio and video recorded evidence they have collected while explaining the state-of-the-art equipment, theories, and techniques used during a “ghost hunt”.

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 45)

Due to some technical difficulties (aka user error on my part), last issue’s What Is This Thing?! was made especially difficult as the picture appeared distorted and on its side when opening the e-newsletter in most email clients…that problem should now be taken care of and the unintentional added challenge has been removed!

If you couldn’t tell from the peculiar photo – the last challenge featured the top of a kerosene lamp! Specifically this Meriden Bronze Company lamp ca. 1890.

The Meriden Bronze Company operated on the east coast and specialized in ornate and detailed brass light fixtures such as our lamp. From 1887 to 1896, when the company went out of business, the Meriden Bronze Company obtained 38 separate patents for innovative light-fixture designs.

When the Warden’s House was originally built, candles and lanterns such as these would have been the only source of light in the otherwise dark and depressing stone structure. It wasn’t until the 1870s that gas lighting was brought to the home, which itself would be replaced with electric lighting in 1888.

Thank you to everyone who overlooked the strange angle and stretched photo to take a guess at last week’s challenge!

Time to zoom in to our next artifact!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at sean.pallas@wchsmn.org, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Second Clue

Old News

1890 Looks Back At Their History

As the ‘frontier’ became a little less wild near the end of the 19th century, aging former-pioneers began forming organizations to preserve and share the stories of the communities they had founded. Many Historical Society’s around the country owe their start to these groups.

By the 1890s, Stillwater’s frontier days were long behind her. Prosperity had hit the St. Croix Valley in full force and the town boasted factories, railroads, telephones, and even electric lights. The following brief article makes note of the men present at that year’s “Old Settlers’ Association’ meeting. Their numbers include a former Governor of the State, the first mayor of Stillwater, a former Warden of the Prison (and another Warden is mentioned to have recently passed), and Civil War veterans.

Stillwater Messenger – Sept 20, 1890

The seventeenth annual reunion of the old settlers’ association of the St. Croix valley was held Thursday afternoon at the Sawyer house. The following is a list of members present: Gov. Alexander Ramsey, Nathan Myrick, John D. Ludden, D.A.J. Baker, St. Paul; Robert Hasty, Minneapolis; W.H.C. Folsom and H.N. Setzer, Taylor’s Falls; John McKusick, E.W. Durant, T.P. Ramsden, Adam Marty, William Willim, Josiah Staples, Joseph Perro, Robert Sampson, and Sylvanus Trask.

Mr. Folsom, chairman of the obituary committee, read the following names who have died during the past year: Henry Jackman, Wm. M. McCluer, Stillwater; Chas. E. Leonard, St. Paul; Oliver S. Powell, River Falls; Martin Mower, Arcola, and Antoine La Pointe, Baytown.

After the business meeting the afternoon was pleasantly spent talking over old days way back in the forties and fifties when the name of Minnesota had not been invented, this being the territory of Wisconsin. Although several members of the association have die during the past few years new ones have taken their places and the membership has not materially decreases. The meeting ended with a sumptuous banquet at the Sawyer house, which was elegantly served under the supervision of Elmore Lowell, the popular landlord.

Featured Article

Lakeland in the Land of Lakes

As early as 1840 a small settlement of French Canadians and their part-Indian families existed on the site of Lakeland Village along Lake St. Croix. Apparently these earliest settlers moved on, because by 1849 there were no buildings at the present village site.
Henry W. Crosby, who came in 1842, staked out a farm that included the present site of Lakeland, a site well situated for trade with Hudson across the river. A ferry service was established in 1848 by Moses Perin. The ferry was operated between 1850 and 1869 by John Oliver, a former British Naval Officer and Boston harbor pilot. Oliver built a Greek Revival house, still standing, on the bluff overlooking the ferry in 1849. That same year, 1849, Moses Perin secured land near the ferry site, erected several buildings, and laid out the Lakeland town plat. Perin’s plat was first of several. It featured about 47 blocks and a public square along Main Street, a wide avenue on axis with the river.

Commercial development was attracted to the area. In 1850 a there was a wagon-making shop. A post office was established in 1854 and a mercantile store was opened in 1855 by A. D. Kingsley and Joseph Wilson, followed by a blacksmith shop, doctor, lawyer, and saloon. The first school in Lakeland was taught by Harriet Newell in a private home, but in 1855 a school building was built. By 1858 there were 14 stores, hotels, shops, and dwellings. This development was arranged around Shanghai cooley, a ravine at the northern end of the village named for some Asian fowl brought there by Freeman C. Tyler—in fact, the settlement was often referred to as Shanghai Cooley.

In 1855 the editor of the St. Paul Pioneer suggested building a “newstyle house” of “grout,” which was a cement of lime, mud, sand, and gravel. John T. Cyphers was taken with this notion and by 1858 had built a remarkable “grout house” that still stands in Lakeland. He poured the cement-like material between wooden forms to build up walls nearly two feet thick.

A number of investors attempted to establish mills in Lakeland before the Civil War. The Shanghai Sawmill near the cooley was begun by Moses Perin in 1852 and completed by Freeman C. Tyler. Several sawmills, including the Hale, Fay & Company steam sawmill, were started in 1857, but many fell victim to hard times. Some mills prospered. The C. N. Nelson Lumber Company Mill at its peak employed some 75 men and was still in operation in the 1880s; the R. H. McCoy sawmill, built in 1886 near the present swimming beach, was still running night and day in 1900.

Nelson, a Stillwater lumberman, also built a grist mill in 1859 and a warehouse for handing wheat was erected in 1861 by Clement and Huntoon. The Munch Brothers began building boats in 1871. They constructed the steamer Osceola and several barges that year, but the enterprise seems to have folded shortly thereafter.

Another plat of Lakeland City was made in anticipation of the St. Paul & Milwaukee railroad, which was constructed in 1880. It featured a two-block public square and several mill sites and riverside depot grounds within the nearly 90-block plat. A number of investors entered additional plats at the edges of Lakeland and Lakeland City. However, only a scattering of development occurred on the hundreds of available lots.

In 1951, the Village of Lakeland was incorporated. That year Lakeland’s Main Street, Quinnell Avenue North, was the only paved and lighted street in the community. The construction of Interstate 94 obliterated a portion of the northern end of the original plat of Lakeland, passing over the former Mill Street.

The village, now city, of Lakeland, has opted for carefully controlled development to maintain the ambiance of a small village. Today there is little industry in the city, but there is a commercial strip centered around the Lakeland Plaza shopping center on the west side of County Road 18 (St. Croix Trail), which includes a branch library.

Lakeland is becoming increasingly more suburban. It is home to a highly mobile group of commuters working in Bayport, Stillwater, and St. Paul. The population, which stood at fewer than 600 in 1980, was by the 2010 census about 1,790, with little growth since.

More Washington County Community Histories

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

The Rise and Fall of the Thresher King

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: September Events: Hawks, Pioneer Stories, and Minnesota’s Black Baseball Leagues
  • WCHS News: Two New Books from WCHS
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Minnesota Founding Father Dies in Stillwater
  • Featured Article: The Rise and Fall of the Thresher King

Editor’s Note

Welcome to September everyone – I hope you’re looking forward to watching leaves and temperatures drop over the next few months. (But hey, at least the kiddos are back in school!)

But more importantly, I hope you had a fantastic Labor Day weekend and found some time to head over to the Great Minnesota Get-Together sometime these past few weeks.

Anyways, we’ve got a lot to cover this issue so let’s hop right into this week’s Historical Messenger!

We have THREE events coming up this month, including our 2016 Annual Fall Membership Meeting. Be sure to reserve your tickets now – seating is limited! Head down to our First News story for all the details.

More than once, I’ve got a passionate WCHS-supporter in the museum taking a look at our gift shop and exclaim, “Well I already have all these books!” Well, here’s excellent news to all lovers of Washington County History – we are excited to announce the release of two publications to the WCHS library! Head down to the second News Story to learn how you can get your hands on these!

Scroll on down to this week’s “What Is This Thing?!” for the latest in vaguely-obscure-artifact-identification!

In today’s Old News section you’ll read about the final day of one of Minnesota’s most respected and earliest leaders.

And speaking of Labor Day, in today’s Featured Article we’ll take a look at the labors and business successes/failures of Dwight Sabin in “The Rise and Fall of the Thresher King”.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News 

September Events: Hawks, Pioneer Stories, and Minnesota’s Black Baseball Leagues

Minnesota’s Flying Migrators

Sun. September 11th @ 2:00 PM – Hay Lake School, Scandia

Swoop in to meet a live raptor as Paul Smithson of the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center explores the lives of different species of animals who call Minnesota a temporary home.

Grandfather’s Grandfather: A Swedish Immigrant in Minnesota

Sun. September 18th @ 2:00 PM – Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater

Join author Lisa Doerr as she discusses the life of Swedish pioneer, farmer, & entrepreneur “Wood John’” Johnson.

Doerr will also be signing and selling copies of her novel, “Eureka Valley: Grandfathers’ Grandfather“, a historical fictional account of life along the St. Croix River Valley.

Fall Membership Meeting with Author Frank White

Thurs. September 22nd @ 5:30 – 9:00 PM – Water Street Inn, Stillwater

The evening will begin with a social hour at 5:30 PM followed by dinner at 6:30 PM. A brief meeting will begin at 7:30 followed by a presentation by our Featured Speaker author and local historian Frank White’s discussion on his new book, “They Played for the Love of the Game“.

Reservations are $20 for WCHS Members and $25 for Non-Members.Reservations include dinner and admission to the program.

A century before Kirby Puckett led the Minnesota Twins to World Series championships, Minnesota was home to countless talented African American baseball players, yet few of them are known to fans today. During the many decades that Major League Baseball and its affiliates imposed a strict policy of segregation, black ballplayers in Minnesota were relegated to a haphazard array of semipro leagues, barnstorming clubs, and loose organizations of all-black teams—many of which are lost to history.

“They Played for the Love of the Game” recovers that history by sharing stories of African American ballplayers in Minnesota, from the 1870s to the 1960s, through photos, artifacts, and spoken histories passed through the generations. Author Frank White’s own father was one of the top catchers in the Twin Cities in his day, a fact that White did not learn until late in life. While the stories tell of denial, hardship, and segregation, they are highlighted by athletes who persevered and were united by their love of the sport.

More Events

WCHS News

Two New Books from WCHS

 

Company K in the Border War: The Stillwater National Guard in Texas 1916 – $10.00

In 1916, Company K of the Stillwater National Guard was dispatched to the Mexican Border to defend against attacks from the famous Mexican rebel, Poncho Villa. Through letters and photographs from the WCHS collection, “Company K in the Border War” details the in-glamorous reality these Stillwater men faced while stationed in Texas.

 

Thru the Mill – $13.00

Originally published in 1915, “Thru the Mill” was written by inmate number “4342”, George Bartlett, who served ten months in the old Stillwater Prison under a sentence of forgery. This book is his account of life behind the stone walls of Minnesota’s most infamous prison.

 

Both are now available at the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and in our Online Store!

 

 

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 44)

Just about all of you actually have a particular appliance that is extremely similar to last issue’s What Is This Thing?! in your kitchen.

That’s right, our last mystery item is an early electric toaster! Specifically this toaster!

Now, the trouble with this design is that it only toasts one side of the bread at a time. You had to be pretty vigilant half-way through the process in order to flip your bread. There’s also no timer and everyone who I’ve ever talked to who has used these toasters described scraping burnt portions onto their plate before eating the more-or-less toasted bread underneath.

Of course, all that changed in 1919 when Stillwater’s own Charles Strite invented the modern pop-up toaster!

(And as a bonus, here’s me more than five years ago as an intern eating a slice of toast made by our nearly 100 year old Strite Automatic Toaster.)

Next time you make yourself some breakfast, make sure you thank Stillwater and Charles Strite before biting into your golden brown piece of toast!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Nickle for Scale

Old News

Minnesota Founding Father Dies in Stillwater

In 2016, we don’t have a lot of comradery across the aisle in the political world. But if you’re a regular reader of this e-newsletter, you’ll know that Democrats bickering with Republicans and vice versa is nothing new. In fact, the Stillwater Republican rarely had anything positive to say about their political rivals.

So, you should take a moment to appreciate the rare moment of bipartisan agreement to honor and mourn the passing of life-long Democrat William Holcombe, the first Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota.

It’s just a shame that someone had to drop dead for the parties to put aside their differences.

Sudden Death of Gov. Holcombe – Stillwater Republican – Sept 6, 1870

Last evening our entire community was startled by the announcement of the sudden and unexpected death, in a fit of apoplexy, of Gov. Holcombe, the present Mayor of our city. The sad event occurred at about 9 o’clock last (Monday) evening. He was with his family were setting in his room, when he thought he heard some one driving around his house, whom he supposed to be his nephew Willie Holcombe, and he went to the door to let him in, when he observed a cow that had by some means found her way into his yard. Going out he drove the cow out of the yard and was returning to the house when he was taken and it is supposed remained some ten or fifteen minutes before he was found. His family were attracted to this pot, which was in front of the house, by hearing him groan, and when they came to him asked him the matter he replied that it was one of his old attacks, “God have mercy on my soul,” and expired immediately.

The deceased was in his 67th year, and up to the moment of his death was in the enjoyment of apparently perfect health, and on the day of his death up to seven o’clock in the evening, he was busily engaged in visiting the schools and superintending their opening.

His death will prove a serious and irreparable loss to this city especially. He was an active and energetic man, taking special pride in our city schools, of which he has been for several years the Superintendent. With him it was a labor of love, and he was never more satisfied than when at work for our schools. To him more than to anyone else, are the citizens of this city indebted for their present prosperous condition.

Gov. Holcombe is one of the oldest citizens of this city, and of this State, coming here we believe in 1846, from St. Croix Falls, where he had resided for several years as agent for the old St. Croix Lumber Company. Taking an active part in politics on the admission of our State into the Union in 1858, he was elected its first Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic ticket along with Gov. H. H. Sibley. Since that time, however, he has confined himself to local affairs, and has ever been one of our most earnest and efficient citizens, and at various times connected with our city government. Two years ago he was elected Mayor of the city, and again last spring he was unanimously re-nominated for the same position by both parties. During his administration he took great pride and interest in shoving forward the public improvements of the city, devoting a great deal of his time gratuitously to the work.

He was also an earnest worker in the Christian cause, and gave liberally and magnanimously of his ample means toward the sustaining of the gospel, and various public charities; almost entirely rebuilding the Second Presbyterian Church himself, after its destruction by fire, some years ago.

At a meeting of the City Council this evening, the following resolutions were unanimously passed.

Resolved by the City Council of the City of Stillwater:

That as the Supreme Ruler of the Universe has in his infinite wisdom removed from his place the head of our Council – our worthy Mayor Hon. Wm. Holcombe, we humbly bow to the dispensation, firmly believing that he has been called by the Divine Master to leave the place he has filled with so much honor here, and come up higher.

Resolved, That we extend to his family our heartfelt sympathy in their bereavement, hoping that they and ourselves may be enabled to discern; though biter is the affliction, and dark is the way, that the Lord doeth all things well.

Resolved, That as a body we will attend his funeral, and that the City Council room be draped in mourning and all the officers of the city wear as a badge of mourning, a drape on their left arm for thirty days

Resolved, that the Recorder be instructed to record these resolutions upon the City Records and present a copy to the family of the deceased and publish the same in the City papers.

Resolved, That we earnestly request that our business men and merchants of the city close their respective places of business to-morrow, (Wednesday) afternoon, between the hours of two and five o’clock.

The public schools were closed to-day, and will remain closed tomorrow, to attend his funeral in a body, which will take place form his house to-morrow (Wednesday) afternoon, at half-past two o’clock, under the auspices of the Masons, of which body he was an honored and enthusiastic member.

Featured Article

The Rise and Fall of the Thresher King

by Jerry Brosious

With the typical journalistic hyperbole of the period, Dwight M. Sabin’s 1902 obituary stated that, “Twenty years ago Mr. Sabin was the most prominent figure in the business world of the west. His stupendous operations covered almost every known field of endeavor and in his ploy, directly or indirectly, were thousands of men.” Nevertheless, Sabin had owned businesses of wide diversity and great magnitude. And, not so incidentally, he was also a United States senator, the only one over to come from Stillwater.

Dwight Sabin was born at Marseilles, Illinois on April 25, 1843. His father, Horace Carver Sabin, had large farm operations and a lumber business. He was an abolitionist, said to have been acquainted with Abram Lincoln, and even operated a station on the Underground Railroad. In 1856, the family returned to Connecticut, where his father was born and where the Sabin family had settled in 1740, from Scotland.

Dwight Sabin attended the district school and at the age of seventeen entered the prestigious Phillips Academy, a boarding school at Andover, Mass. For one year he studied math and civil engineering. In 1862, he enlisted in the Union army. However, he was turned down for active military service due to poor pulmonary health. At Gettysburg he served in the commissioner department. In 1864, his father died and he left the service to return home.

In the fall of 1867 with his mother and younger brother Jay, he came to St. Paul on a trip prescribed for health reasons. They returned to the East, but in the spring of next year, he returned to Minnesota where he had an opportunity to enter the thriving lumber industry; settling in Stillwater. Sabin joined the C.N. Nelson Lumber Co., which had a large operation at Cloquet. He also joined in business with George M. Seymour, who was a contractor and also had a cooperage (barrel making) in Stillwater.

George Seymour also served as County Sheriff, Mayor and Councilman of Stillwater. The two men formed the firm, Seymour, Sabin, & Co.

George Seymour had established a business relationship with the Minnesota State Prison even before Sabin came to Stillwater. In 1861, he had been awarded contracts for constructing additional buildings and grounds at the prison. In 1870, they built the hospital, deputy warden’s house, chapel, guards’ room, mess room, kitchen, prison offices, and additional cells. Seymour, Sabin & Co. rented the shops at the prison and made a contract with the state to use inmate labor and pay their wages. Buildings were expanded to allow for more employment, but the percentage of prison labor was eventually small, with citizens of Stillwater and the surrounding areas forming the bulk of the employees.

In The St. Croix, James Taylor Dunn wrote of the cozy relationship Seymour & Sabin had with the state:

“ ‘It was never expected when the contract for prison labor was made,’ apologized the inspectors in 1884, ‘that the Manufacturing Company of Seymour, Sabin & Co. would develop into the mammoth N.W. Manufacturing and Car Co…Had that result been foreseen, the shop room would most certainly have been restricted, and also the number of citizen employees allowed within the prison grounds’…But the company, through agreements and contracts signed with the state, had established too firm a foothold to allow any fundamnetla change in the existing arrangements. During their 22 years of authority at the Stillwater institituion, the contractors managed to assume virtually complete control over prison affairs… (they) even assumed the right to choose the prison guards and officers it wanted employed by the state. The evils of the contract system, first recognized by Warden Taylor, had multiplied.”

The industry magazine “Wood and Iron” profiled Sabin and his operation in 1884, and reported that, “A city has grown up within and without the prison walls at Stillwater, and 1600 men, of whom less than 300 are convicts, find daily employment there, while $60,000 per month is paid in wages. Sixteen freight cars, seven completed threshers, four portable farm and traction engines are turned out daily, and six passenger coaches per month…A recent purchase of 20,000 acres of hardwood timber lands in Wisconsin, the lumber therefrom to be used in the manufacture of cars, is one index to the magnitude of the business at present existing and in contemplation.”

The firm’s stellar product was the Minnesota Chief, a threshing machine it began manufacturing in 1876, along with related agricultural machinery. The success of The Chief was phenomenal, with distributors all over the country. They became the largest maker of threshing machines in the world. In 1882 a separate company was organized as The Northwestern Car & Manufacturing Company. Seymour, Sabin & Co. remained in name only as a separate business, Sabin and company were on top of the business world, but the end was very near.

Sabin’s obituary related that, “(In 1884) the crash came and the network of industrial schemes of which Mr. Sabin was the head, toppled and fell to ruin. It was a blow that staggered this city and in fact the entire west, and one from which Mr. Sabin never recovered. His concerns went into the hands of assignees and receivers, some were recognized and were again placed in receivers’ hands and after 17 years of bitter litigation, the last vestige of his enormous and varied interests was sold under the hammer.” (He was also involved in lumber, milling and elevator businesses.)

The creditors met on Nov. 25, 1884 and reported nearly two million dollars of indebtedness. The company was reorganized under the name Minnesota Thresher Manufacturing Company. The new organizes were mainly from the East but included Roscoe F. Hersey of Stillwater and Alpheus B. Stickney of St. Paul. It is easy to speculate that the stress of these enormous financial reversals may have contributed to his death at the age of fifty-nine.

Upcoming Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

Racing in the St. Croix Valley

 

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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: September Events: Immigrant Stories of Hawks and People!
  • WCHS News: WCHS Fall Membership Meeting
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Vegging Out at the Fair
  • Featured Article: Racing in the St. Croix Valley
Editor’s Note

The days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder…Fall is getting close! But, that doesn’t mean we’re slowing down at all here at WCHS!

In case you missed it, two Sundays ago, we had Dr. Maria Nillson and John R. Ward visit the Warden’s House to talk a little about Gibel el-Silsila. “What the heck is Gibel el-Silsila?” you ask. Well, luckily for you there’s a quick video recap (1:41) on our Facebook page to fill you in.

We’ve got two great events coming up in September at Hay Lake and the Warden’s House repsectively. Check out our first News Story to get all the details on “Minnesota’s Flying Migrators” and “Grandfather’s Grandfather”!

And another herald that Fall is on its way is the annual Fall Membership Meeting! Step up to the plate and head down to our Second News story for more information.

Whew – I was surprised that people correctly identified last issue’s “What Is This Thing?!” This week I’ll up the ante with an up-close photo of a mysterious artifact.

The Washington County Fair is over, but the State Fair is just two days away! Scroll down to our Old News portion to read about the new feature of the 1872 State Fair that had all of Stillwater excited!

If you’ve been keeping an eye on local news, you’ll know that Stillwater’s own Ben Blankenship has spent the last few weeks competing in Rio as an Olympic long-distance runner.

Well, watching Ben isn’t the first time the St. Croix Valley has been obsessed with races. Although – in the late 1800s, horse racing was real draw. Check out today’s Featured Article to learn a little bit about the history of “running really fast in a big circle” in Washington County!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

September Events: Immigrant Stories of Hawks and People!


Minnesota’s Flying Migrators

Sun. September 11th @ 2:00 PM – Hay Lake School, Scandia

Swoop in to meet a live raptor as Paul Smithson of the Lee & Rose Warner Nature Center explores the lives of different species of animals who call Minnesota a temporary home.


Grandfather’s Grandfather: A Swedish Immigrant in Minnesota

Sun. September 18th @ 2:00 PM – Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater

Join author Lisa Doerr as she discusses the life of Swedish pioneer, farmer, & entrepreneur “Wood John’” Johnson.

Doerr will also be signing and selling copies of her novel, “Eureka Valley: Grandfathers’ Grandfather“, a historical fictional account of life along the St. Croix River Valley.

Don’t miss these FREE and open to the public events

More Events

WCHS News

WCHS Fall Membership Meeting

The Washington County Historical Society fall meeting will be held at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater on Thursday, September 22nd.

The evening will begin with a social hour at 5:30 PM followed by dinner at 6:30 PM. A brief meeting will begin at 7:30 followed by a presentation by our Featured Speaker author and local historian Frank White’s discussion on his new book, “They Played for the Love of the Game“.

Reservations are $20 for WCHS Members and $25 for Non-Members. Reservations include dinner and admission to the program.

A century before Kirby Puckett led the Minnesota Twins to World Series championships, Minnesota was home to countless talented African American baseball players, yet few of them are known to fans today. During the many decades that Major League Baseball and its affiliates imposed a strict policy of segregation, black ballplayers in Minnesota were relegated to a haphazard array of semipro leagues, barnstorming clubs, and loose organizations of all-black teams—many of which are lost to history.

“They Played for the Love of the Game” recovers that history by sharing stories of African American ballplayers in Minnesota, from the 1870s to the 1960s, through photos, artifacts, and spoken histories passed through the generations. Author Frank White’s own father was one of the top catchers in the Twin Cities in his day, a fact that White did not learn until late in life. While the stories tell of denial, hardship, and segregation, they are highlighted by athletes who persevered and were united by their love of the sport.

More Events

 

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 43)

There must be some musicians out there amongst the newsletter’s readership because I am honestly surprised that a handful of you were able to correctly name last issue’s What Is This Thing?!

This perculiar instrument is known as a German Zither. Now, it can easily be confused for an autoharp or a Marx Pianophone as all these instruments are rather similar. The later designs includes a keyboard which allows the player to mute any chords not being played. Essentially, both the pianophone and the autoharps are modifications to the Zither to make the instrument easier to play.

Of course, by the 23rd century, Vulcan musicians had added a number of strings and dials to make the instrument more complex.

As always, thanks for participating in last issue’s challenge!

On today’s challenge! And as you can see, I’ve once again push the camera in real close to up the difficulty! (Quarter included for scale)

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at sean.pallas@wchsmn.org, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Slightly Different Angle

Old News

Vegging Out at the Fair

Well, if there’s one good thing about the summer coming to a close – it means that the State Fair is about to start!

Now, if you ask modern Fair goers to name just what excites them about the Great Minnesota Get-Together you’ll get the same answer 9 times out of 10.

Proirity #1 Eat too much. If there is an “-on-a-stick” version, even better.

Priority #2 People watching.

(Although you do have to wonder, if everyone at the Fair is “people watching”, are there folks who like to watch people watch other people?)

So, it might surprise you that Stillwater’s population was excited for the State Fair for bit more capitalist reasons! The Fair was an amazing opportunity for advertising all the benefits of your region to the world at large.

“Come on! Look how great our crops are! Don’t you want to live in Washington County?!”

A Good Move for Exhibiting Minnesota Wheat, Grain and Vegetables
Stillwater Messenger – August 23, 1872

Mr. Phillip S. Harris, manager of the Land Department of the Lake Superior and Mississippi railroad, has been visiting this city and various sections of this county this week. Of the good work that Mr. Harris is engaged in our readers have learned to some extent from the circular published in the MESSENGER of Aug. 9th. A few words more in regard to this important work, and the choice specimens of fruit he showed us.

The Northern Pacific, Lake Superior & Mississippi, and the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad companies are jointly erecting on the State Fair grounds, at Saint Paul, a building 40 by one hundred feet, to be exclusively devoted to the exhibition of fruit, grain and vegetables grown along the lines of those roads – as well as everything that the farmer raises. After the close of the State fair, a collection of the choicest of these productions will be sent to the fiar of the American Institute, in New York City, and afterwards, specimens of wheat, rye, oats and corn, to some of the fairs in Europe. Our readers will many of them recollect the interest created in Minnesota at the Fair of the American Institute last fall, by the exhibition of products grown along the line of the SUperior road, and which were sent there by Mr. Harris.

Mr. Harris speaks very highly of the splendid specimens of grain, fruit and vegetables he has already seen in the county. He had with him quite a lot of apples, which for flavor, size, looks and juiciness, or any other desirable quality, cannot be beaten anywhere. He informed us that he saw in the orchard of Mr. Ramsden eighteen different varieties of excellent apples.

Mr. Harris is promised productions from fifteen miles northwest of Duluth, all across the State to the Red River region.

Mr. James W. Taylor, consul at Manitoba, will also send down from the region of Fort Garry, Lake Winnipeg and the Assiniboine River, some splendid specimens of what that great wheat region can produce.

This feature of the State Fair will be a marked and important one, both in interest and in benefit to our State. We trust that the people of Washington county will see to it that this rich agricultural region is well represented. These products will of course greatly promote immigration to Minnesota and to the localities from which they are sent.

It is a great point already gained that it is demonstrated that Minnesota will before long raise all the apples she needs for home consumption to say the least. Her superiority in grain and vegetables was admitted long ago.

There is nothing like sight to convince people. Let our county furnish her share of the argument.

Featured Article

Racing in the St. Croix Valley

By Paul Caplazi

One of the first race tracks in Washington County was the Rutherford track on the William Rutherford farm, three miles west of Stillwater built about 1871. Horse races and foot races were held there for several years. Buckskin, Spotted Mike, and Fanny Flea raced there. Jim O’Brien and others ran foot races there.

James “Jim” O’Brien was a successful Stillwater lumberman and Minnesota Senator in addition to his running career. He was nationally known as the owner of fine racing horses, one of which, “St. Croix”, won third place at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, in the American Derby, then the premiere event of its kind in this country. Among his other horses were Longshot, Golrisely, May Thompson, Wild Pirate, and Empress Josephine. Most of them were well known in racing circles throughout the country. One of his early jockeys, Tod Sloan, later became world famous as jockey for King George of Great Britain. In his twenties, O’Brien was one of the best “foot racers” in the area. He and Jimmy Sutton, a fellow New Brunswick Irishman, competed in a series of races that drew large crowds and wagers.

About 1868, Isaac Staples and several others built a half mile race track within the boundaries of Hancock St., First St., Orleans St., and Fifth Avenue, and tried to organize a Washington County Agricultural Society and hold fairs there, but the citizens of Stillwater took little interest in the matter, so the idea was given up for the time. They later organized the Driving Park Association.

In the Winter of 1870-1871, the Washington County Agricultural Society was organized in Cottage Grove with W. Furber, president; J. S. Norris, vice president; T. Elwell, secretary, and Woodbury’s James Middleton, treasurer. The first Washington County fair was held in 1871 and proved a financial success.

The Driving Park Association took an interest in the fair and at the fair of 1872 it was voted to hold the next fair in Stillwater. From 1873-74, the fairs were held in Webster’s field, which is now the southwest corner of Orleans St. and Sixth Ave. The exhibits were in buildings in Webster’s field and the races were on the half mile track nearby. Buckskin, Spotted Mike, Fanny Flea, Minnesota Tiger, Bay Brig, and other horses races at those fairs. There was a greasy pig race at the fair of 1874, which was won by Jim Mahaney.

In the spring of 1875, there was a disagreement between the Agricultural Society and the Driving Park Association in regard to percentage of gate receipts. The Driving Park Association was a member of the National Driving Park Association and according to rules of the parent association, could not rent their track and grounds to others, so the Ag Society had to look for a new location to hold its races.

Luckily, the St. Paul, Stillwater, and Taylor’s Falls Railroad Co. offered the now homeless organization free use of their land between the railroad track and the north end of Lake Elmo, with free transportation of all building materia. The offer was accepted and a half mile race track, buildings, and fencing were all build and the next two Washington County Fairs would be held in Lake Elmo.

Horses from as far away as Maiden Rock, Wis. and Hastings races at this site in conjunction with other fair events such as boating and base ball.

The fairs were pulling in money, but the cost of building all the track and buildings were so great that after all the expenses were paid, the Agricultural Society was still $1,400 in debt. Projections of next year’s profits would have paid off the remainder of the debt if it had not been for a devastating tornado which ripped through the fairgrounds on June 15th, 1877. The destruction was so utter and complete that the Society was only able to receive $80 for what was once a fully-furnished racing facility.

William Fowler, J. St. Crain, E. M. Cox, Newtown McKusick, J. W. Wheeler, James Middleton, and W. H. Getchell donated $200 each and paid the debt against the Society. Later they united with the Driving Park Association, who by this time had abandoned the old half-mile race track and had built the Lily Lake Driving Park. From 1878-79, the fairs would be held at this site.

The county fair became rather irregular over the next couple decades. But whenever the Washington County Fair went – horse racing was sure to follow.

In 1898, and for several years after, Stillwater had a series of Street Fairs. Star Pointer was a crowd favorite and champion pacer. The first “two-minute horse”. Joe Patchen, had his fair share of fans as well. He was a handsome black horse with white markings and an impressive gait. After a heat, when turned to go to the barn, he would stop in front of the grandstand, look into the stand, cock one ear to the stand, and wait for applause. Only after the crowd would erupt, he would bow, then jog along to the barn. Joe Patchen would later gain world fame after the successes of his legendary son, Dan Patch.

Even today, more than a hundred years later, horse-riding events are one of the main attractions of the always crowded and successful county fairs of Washington County.

Edward Duffield Neill: Pioneer, Historian, Reverend, Ambassador

 

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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: An Outdoor Movie and Egyptologists – Later This Week!
  • WCHS News: Washington County History Network Meeting
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: A Glimpse Over the Wall
  • Featured Article: Edward Duffield Neill: Pioneer, Historian, Reverend, Ambassador

Editor’s Note

Hello, hello, hello! Hope you are all having a fantastic week so far! Thank you for letting our humble e-newsletter be part of it!

Last Sunday, the Warden’s House was packed with folks eager to learn a bit about the James-Younger Gang’s raid on the Northfield Bank from Northfield Historical Society director Hayes Scriven. Here’s a quick video recap (1:22) of what Hayes had to say, in case you missed it.

And of course this past week was the Washington County Fair! Hopefully you got a chance to swing by our booth! Whew! It’s been a busy few weeks and it’s just going to continue being busy!

Check out today’s first News Story to learn about the TWO FREE programs coming up later this week!

In our second News story, we’ll check in with the other historical organizations of Washington County to see what’s going on in their neck of the woods.

Last week’s “What Is This Thing?!” was a tricky one! Find out what exactly it was and see a new challenge just down the page.

It’s no secret that, I’ve always found the Stillwater Prison absolutely fascinating. Well, it’s just my luck that on this date in 1872, a reporter decided to publish an in-depth analysis of Stillwater’s most famous institution. Head down to the Old News section to hear a slice of 19th century prison life.

Finally, we’ll wrap up today’s Historical Messenger with a look at an extremely ambitious and multi-talented character of Minnesota’s past: Edward Duffield Neill.

Seriously, you need to read about everything this guy got up to in his life. From creating one of Minnesota’s most well respected universities to rubbing elbows with three Presidents…Dr. Neill accomplished quite a bit!

We are also now accepting advanced reservations to our Fall Membership Meeting.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

An Outdoor Movie and Egyptologists – Later This Week!

Outdoor Museum Movie Night Presents: Gulliver’s Travels – Thurs. August 11th @ 7:30 PM – Hay Lake School, Scandia

Note: This event will be rescheduled if thunderstorms are in the area.

How many remember going to the drive-in movie theater as a kid? In 2016, drive-in movies are on the decline and the younger generation may never get the chance to feel what it’s like to watch a movie under the stars. This is a chance for all to enjoy that feeling again. The Hay Lake School grounds allow us to project 1939’s “Gulliver’s Travels” on the side of the museum, so all attendees can enjoy the feeling of watching a movie outside.

Free tours of the museum begin at 7:30pm, show time of the film will begin at dusk. Attendees are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on for the duration of the event. There is even room on the grounds to park a few cars to truly give it that “drive-in movie feeling.” Concessions will be available (popcorn, candy, soda, water, etc.) with all funds going to the Washington County Historical Society.

Gulliver’s Travels is based on seaman Lamuel Gulliver who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck in a distant land whose people are no bigger than peanuts, adventure then ensues. With a run time of 76 minutes, Gulliver’s Travels is a great time for both children and adults. Children will enjoy the music and animated nature of the film while adults will enjoy the “it’s so bad its good” feel to this 1939 classic.

Ancient Egypt Was Built From Here – Sun. August 14th @ 2:00 PM – Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater

Join Dr. Maria Nilsson and John R. Ward archaeologists, founders of the “Friends of Silsila“, & hosts of “Egypt’s Treasure Guardians” on National Geographic, for a discussion of the extraordinarily important ancient Egyptian site, the sandstone pits at Gabel el-Silsila.

Gebel el-Silsila is situated along the Nile River in Egypt and was used as a major quarry from ca. 1500 BCE all the way to around 200 CE. Many of the most famous and powerful pharaohs ordered the construction of ancient Egypt’s most well known temples, such as Luxor and Karnak, from the sandstone harvested at Silsila.

Dr. Nillson and Ward have spent years heading the first ever-comprehensive archaeological survey of the site. Their team’s latest discovery is pinpointing the location of a previously lost 3,400-year-old, 18th dynasty necropolis.

 

 

More Events

WCHS News

Washington County History Network

Yesterday, representatives of more than a half-dozen historical organizations from around the county met at the Historic Courthouse in Stillwater. I would like to take a moment to share a bit of what was discussed:

Afton Historical Society: An archaeological survey was performed of the rattlesnake mound site near Afton. Since no Native American artifacts were discovered, the planned storm sewer work will continue. The current exhibit at the museum is highlighting Early Farming Life in Afton and will be up until Mid-October (and includes a life-sized horse!) The Afton Historical Society will now be managing and maintaining Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Cottage Grove Historic Preservation Committee: There will soon be a new Fire Department station in Cottage Grove and the hope is that a display will be designed highlighting the history of that community’s fire department. A book was also recently uncovered that was apparently a gift given by Cottage Grove’s first resident: James Sullivan Norris.

Denmark Township Historical Society: On August 16th, Ken Martens will be hosting a program about the Burial Mounds of the area. The Historical Society is also pursuing $10,000 grants to support the restoration of the Valley Schoolhouse.

South Washington County Heritage Society: In June, the Heritage Society visited both the Minnesota’s Landscape Arboretum and the “Purple Palace” – the late Prince’s home. On the second Saturday of September, Wallace Webber, a retired Northwest Airlines pilot will be giving a talk on the history of that company. And on the second Saturday of November, Jim Sullivan, a veteran and member of the honor procession for funerals at Ft. Snelling will help commemorate Veteran’s Month at the Heritage Society.

Stillwater Library: Many historical documents are being digitized including Stillwater Bridge paperwork dating from 1890 to 1899.

Washington County Historic Courthouse: The Courthouse will be hosting another “Stillwater History Hike” on August 27th. Also, the always popular Nooks & Crannies Tours will be held October 2nd. New to the tour this year is the 1870s jail that housed women and juveniles in the prison! Speaking of prison, the staff has decided to extend the run of their popular Prohibition exhibit until early 2017. So go check it out if you haven’t had a chance to yet! Finally, next year will be the Courthouse’s 150th birthday – so keep an eye out for big events to celebrate this milestone!

Woodbury Heritage Society: Next year is Woodbury’s 50th anniversary as a city! The Heritage Society is creating a map of all the historic markers in the city for locals and visitors alike. The Heritage Society is also raising funds to hire a structural engineer to inspect the Miller Barn to determine what steps would be necessary to preserve this historic site. They are also hoping to have the barn placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

More Events

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 42)

So just about everyone who took a guess at last week’s What Is This Thing?! figured it was some kind of fancy candy dish. And I suppose you could use it as such…

But it’s intended purpose was as a calling card tray! “Calling cards” are one of those curious Victorian traditions that have vanished over the years. Like much of their culture, social interactions were very formal and ritualized from the mid-1800s to the turn of the 20th century…especially for rich folks.

As socialites made the rounds in their local circles, both men and women would carry extremely ornate calling cards to leave at the homes they visited. Any respectable household would collect these cards and leave them in a silver tray near the front of their home so other guests could see how popular they were! Sort of like the Victorian Facebook I suppose!

Here’s a pretty good website showing lots of examples of calling cards and explaining some of the nuances of the practice.

As always, thanks for participating in last issue’s challenge!

Now…for today’s item…first off, you should ignore the little piece of white paper. This curious instrument just happens to have its name written on the front of it. And that wouldn’t make it very fun! Secondly, you’ll see a few more angles below.

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Side Image

Old News

A Glimpse Over the Wall

It’s one thing to read a history of the Old Stillwater Prison. I’ve ready plenty of that.

I’ve even had the opportunity to read reports from the convicts on the details of prison life. Similarly, there are plenty of records from guards and staff detailing their experiences with the penitentiary.

However, all of the above are written for an audience that is expected to arrive with a certain amount of knowledge of the facility. This lengthy article is a truly interesting take on the subject from a complete outsider written for other outsiders.

It might be a surprise to a modern reader the completely positive and complimentary tone of the article. One interesting note is that not too long after this, Minnesota changed it’s laws regarding inmate labor. Due to pressure from free laborers, 1872 would have been one of the last years where inmates were permitted to be “farmed out” to enterprises outside the prison walls.

The State Prison: Who Are In It & How It Is Conducted – Stillwater Messenger – August 9, 1872

The writer remembers how, when he was a very little boy, he could hardly be induced to enter the yard of a certain prison, because he feared some of the blood-thirsty murderers confined therein would pounce upon and kill him out of pure fiendishness. He did not know that criminals, even very wicked ones indeed, could be tamed down by prison discipline into persons of quiet and inoffensive manners. Nor was he aware that a prison yard was one of the quietest and best regulated enclosures in the world.

All prisons, however, are not as well regulated, as is the one at Stillwater – a circumstance not to be wondered at, since all prisons have not a Mr. Jackman for warden.

Probably but a small portion of the readers of the MESSENGER have ever taken the trouble thoroughly to inspect the important establishment which our city has the honor to possess. It is presumable, therefore, that some account of the same may furnish interesting and profitable reading.

The Cells

The prison will accommodate conveniently about one hundred and fifty-eight convicts. It has eighty-eight inmates at the present time. There are five tiers of cells, one above another, each cell designed for one occupant. It is furnished with a bed, single width, a wash stand, basin and water jug, bath tub, &c. In the winter each cell has a lamp, which, however, must be extinguished by eight o’clock. The cells are ventilated in the following manner: Near the floor is a small closet, large enough to hold a commode and furnished with a tight door. These closest are connected with large air chimneys by means of iron tubes. Near the top of the cell is a round aperture, which also communicates with the large air chimneys by means of iron tubes. When the windows in the halls are opened – and they are kept open as much as the weather will permit – the current of air up the ventilator is strong enough to carry up a piece of tissue paper.

The halls and cells are frequently whitewashed, and the floors are swept daily. The cleanliness and good ventilation of the prison are in striking contrast to the filth and noxious atmosphere, which too often pervade similar institutions.

Female Department

The cells for female convicts are larger than the others, and fewer. At present none of them are occupied. This circumstance led to a passage of wit recently, between the warden and a young lady visitor to the prison.

“The fact hat none of the female cells are occupied,” remarked the lady, “shows conclusively that women are better than men.”

“Nay,” quoth the warden, “it only shows that men are so gallant that ‘tis next to impossible to get twelve of them to agree in convicting a woman of a serious misdemeanor. When the day of woman suffrage comes, and women sit on juries, we shall find these vacant cells very necessary.”

The Daily Routine

At this season of the year, the prisoners are required to rise at half after five, to breakfast at six, and to commence work at half after six. Their hours of labor average ten and one-half hours through the year. Their meals are served to them in tin trenchers, which are rectangular in shape, and are divided into three compartments, in order that the different articles of food may be kept separate.

The food is abundant and of good quality. It is not doled out by either weight or measure, but each man has all he wants. A great deal of fresh beef is used, also corned beef, pork, beans, bread and soup. On Friday fish is substituted for meal, partly for the sake of variety, and party in deference to the wishes of the Catholic members of the family. Half an hour is allowed for each meal. Coffee is furnished in the morning and ta at night; water for dinner, except in special cases. It is safe to say that many a lad fares better in the prison than he ever did out of it.

The convict labor is “farmed out” by the State to the highest bidder. Messrs. Seymour, Sabin, & Co. are the gentlemen who have contracted for this labor, their lease having been renewed recently as to extend nine years form the present time. They pay the State forty-five cents per day for each man. This rate is not as high as is paid in some states, nor as low is paid in others. The average rates are about fifty-one cents, which is low enough certainly; for although a few earn no more than that, the majority earn a much larger sum.

When a convict is brought in he is furnished with a zebra suit, and after a short time set at work in some one of the various departments of mechanical labor.

If he is insubordinate either then or subsequently, he is disciplined by confinement in the dungeon, on reduced fare. This method of discipline is, in Mr. Jackman’s opinion, the best that has yet been devices. Corporal punishment enrages a man. It wounds his vanity, fires his brain, and excites his animosity. It fact, it stimulates for the time. All the evil that is in him. On the other hand, confinement, accompanied by a diet of bread and water, induces reflection, draws the blood from the head, and cools the blood. A man seldom holds out beyond the third day, and leaves the dungeon without any revengeful feeling toward the officers. All the prisoners are obliged to shave once a week.

Featured Article

Edward Duffield Neill: Pioneer, Historian, Reverend, Ambassador

by Betty Roney

Beginning in Denmark Township at the southern tip of Washington County, a road hopscotches north until it halts in Stillwater Township a few miles beyond Minnesota Hwy 96. Its original name some say, was “Prairie”. Its present name was chosen in the late 1960s, when the alphabetical Capitol grid plan became effective. That’s when some non-historian labeled it “Neal Avenue”. It means nothing except that it follows Manning and precedes Oakgreen. And yet, it could mean a great deal, spelled differently, but pronounced the same.

It should be “Neill”, a continuing memorial to Edward Duffield Neill, the many faceted man who wrote the first history of Washington county in 1858; who founded St. Paul’s First Presbyterian church and was present at the organization of Stillwater’s; who was a charter member of the Minnesota Historical Society; who was first territorial superintendent of public instruction; who founded and was first president of Macalester College. And who was still going strong as educator, churchman, and public servant when he died just after 6 p.m., September 26, 1893 at age 70.

A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of Amherst College and Andover Seminary, Edward Neill was 26 when he asked synodical approval to leave his missionary work among the lead miners near Galena, Ill., to go farther west. “My wife (Nancy Hall of Snow Hill, Md.) and I are contented enough here,” he wrote but it is almost too civilized.” Permission granted, the Neills arrived in St. Paul April 23, 1849, after a cold stormy passage aboard the steamboat Senator.

Neill’s first writing in the new country was an account of a drowning near Prairie Du Chein, Wis., as the Senator was on its way upstream. The item was turned over to James M. Goodhue, another Amherst man then in the process of getting out the first edition of the Minnesota Pioneer in a small shack near the Mississippi waterfront.

Neill preached his first sermon in the local school, moving later to the Central hotel, and, after a trip east which brought financial backing from family and friends, officially organized St. Paul’s First Presbyterian church on Nov. 26, 1850. The Pioneer gave it’s opening a lyrical account: “Sunday morning – what delightful, balmy sunshine! The Yankee (steamboat) left at about church time for below, but the Nominee lies devotionally at the Upper Landing, while the new church bell sends out its glorious peals…All of St. Paul was at Mr. Neill’s new church!”

Within five years of his arrival, Neill had not only founded a church and rebuilt it: he had erected the first brick house in the community, near what is now Rice park; he had started a Presbyterian congregation at St. Anthony; he had preached at Fort Snelling and became a great favorite of officers and men; he had served on the first citizens’ school committee; he had helped organize the Minnesota Historical Society and had given its first lecture, and on Christmas Eve, 1855 he had presided at the opening of another Presbyterian church, which was to outlast the First and become the city’s wealthiest and most influential. He called it The House of Hope and built his second home at the top of a hill overlooking it and the growing city below. The little chapel was on Walnut near what is now United Hospital. The house was on the site later cleared for the famous James J. Hill Mansion on lower Summit.

Neill’s first visit to Stillwater may have come in December, 1849, when he joined the Rev. J. C. Whitney and a congressional missionary to the territory, the Rev. William T. Boutwell, at the organization of Stillwater’s First Prebyterian Church. For Boutwell and Neill, a lifelong friendship began when both attended the first session of the Minnesota Territorial legislature in September 1849, at St. Paul’s Central House. Neill gave the opening prayer, and when the Senate was organized, Boutwell was elected chaplain.

Some four years later, Edward Neil conducted the funeral service for Boutwell’s first wife, Hester Crooks Boutwell, and two decades after that, for Boutwell himself at the little family burial plot across from his home that the Washington County Historical Society is currently restoring.

Although church work brought him to Minnesota, Neill had an equally strong commitment to education. By 1869 he had been named Chancellor of the University of Minnesota as well as superintendent of public instruction. A year later, however, he resigned bother offices to become chaplain of the newly-formed First Minnesota infantry. He was with the regiment at three of the major early battles of the Civil War before becoming chaplain to Philadelphia army hospitals in 1862.

Two years later, he began serving as one of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential secretaries, and he was with the President on the afternoon he was assassinated. He continued as secretary during the Johnson administration and served briefly as chief clerk in the newly-created national Department of Education. When Ulysses S. Grant became president, he appointed Neill U.S. consul in Dublin, Ireland. Neill’s biographer, Huntley Dupre, reports that although, “Neill did not enjoy his work, he devoted a great deal of time to historical research and writing”, drawing on London visits to English libraries.

Neill had been away from St. Paul for a decade when he returned to his favorite city to begin his major life work: Formation of a college modelled on New England schools lie his own alma mater, Amherst. Twenty years earlier, he had established the Baldwin school, a preparatory seminary which originally stood near where the Landmark center is today. According to later historians, the school was upwardly mobile (literally and figuratively), changing location from St. Paul to Minneapolis and back again to St. Paul, and from seminary to college preparatory and back to high school eventually. It was named for one of Neill’s major supporters, Mathias William Baldwin of Philadelphia. A generous giver Baldwin also was a shrewd businessman, who suggested to Neill that St. Paul people should help support the new school. Neill’s response was that “there are no active wealthy Christians here….the majority of the community are professional and land speculators who care little for the future prosperity of Minnesota…The children at the school are children of poor parents…Speculative money lenders in the West seem to have no children.”

Baldwin school, revived in the former Winslow House – a handsome hotel near St. Anthony falls, owned by another well-to-do Philadelphian, Charles Macalester – was renamed Jesus college, a Christian but nonsectarian supplement to the state university. It was a financial failure and lasted only two years, with Neil and a sister paying rent and other expenses. Eventually Neill was forced to appeal to Mr. Macalester, a millionaire investor in real estate and western municipal developments. Macalester favored converting Winslow House to a hospital – “the country is swimming with educational institutions,” he wrote in June 1873. Six months later he was dead, but a codicil in his will transferred Winslow House to “Macalester College’ or its trustees, with the provision that $25,000 be raised within three years for endowment. Macalester College was chartered by the Minnesota legislature March 5th, 1874.

Ironically, as Neill’s lifelong dream became reality, his personal fortunes began to decline.

Much of his modest wealth had gone to the support of the Baldwin-Jesus venture, and for the rest of his life he would depend on his salary as a Macalester professor. Although he was Macalester’s first president, the school’s shaky finances had forced him to give up his “unsectarian” preference and yield to offers of Presbyterian patronage. Unfortunately for him, Neill had left the Presbyterian fold in the early 1870s to join the Reformed Episcopal Church, and although Dupre says he returned to Presbyterianism in 1890, Edward Neill’s will specifically that his funeral service follow the Episcopal liturgy, which it did.

By the early 1880s, Winslow House was surrounded by industrial growth, and in 1881 the college which it housed was moved to a quarter-section of land at Summit and Snelling in St. Paul. No longer president, Dr. Neill served as professor of history, English literature and political economy. (He had received an honorary doctor of divinity in 1886 from Lafayette college in Pennsylvania.) His one moment of glory came when his college had its formal opening September 16, 1885 and he gave the dedicatory address. A college, he said, was not a clubhouse for rich men’s sons nor a reform school for incorrigibles: it should be a place “to develop harmoniously the body, the intellect and the affections.”

Neill had wanted a college for men only, limited in enrollment. “Whenever an institution of learning,” he said, “becomes anxious for a long catalogue of students, there is danger of its catering to the popular taste, and lowering the standard of scholarship.” He was not happy when young women were admitted to the preparatory school in 1885 and refused to teach any class that included them.

The evils of coeducation may have been discussed on the last afternoon of his life, when he was visited by Macalester President A.W. Ringland. After seeing Dr. Ringland to the door, Neill returned to the parlor of his home at 515 Portland Ave., where Mrs. Neill, according to a news account, “saw her husband place his left hand to his forehead as though he had experienced a momentary spasm of pain.” A doctor was called, but it was too late. “Dr. Neill was told last January that he was instructed to be careful of his health.”

Newspaper obituaries gave the 70-year-old pioneer chairman-educator their most flowery prose.

Generous columns detailed his story from New England college days through the early yes in Minnesota, on to government service at home and abroad, and up to the final tributes at his funeral. The ceremony was held at little House of Hope following a private family service at the Neill home.

Officiating clergymen from Presbyterian and Episcopal churches led a procession of honorary pall bearers that included Alexander Ramsey, Gen. J. W. Bishop, Dr. J.H. Murphy, Judge W.B. Leech (formerly captain of the First Minnesota), and Major J.O. White. “It was an impressive sight as one looked about the large audience,” says one account, “to see how young and old alike, all sorts and conditions, had come together to do honor to the dead… To the many pioneers who had known Dr. Neill in the early days the thought was brought home to them that they might be the next to ‘pass to the land of shadows’. Burial was in Oakland cemetery.

More than a century after his death, Edward Duffield Neill has few lasting memorials. A St. Paul public school with his name was razed to make way for a high rise that also has his name, and the college he founded has a collection of papers that belonged to its first president and library.

And in Washington County, there is a 24-mile stretch of blacktop that crosses land its first historian knew. Appropriately, that road passes a church, organized by Missouri synod Lutherans when Edward Neil was in his prime, and a few miles north, a former country school of the kind he might once have visited. Before it ends in Stillwater, the interrupted avenue reemerges at Boutwell road, near the cemetery where another famous pioneer is buried.

It’s just too bad county maps call it “Neal”.

Material from this article was contributed by Jerry Brosious, David Stepan, and Diane Thompson.

Upcoming Events

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Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

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Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

Memories of Hay Lake School

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This issue: Contents
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: The Story of the Northfield Raid
  • WCHS News: August Events
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Real Life ‘Pokemon’ Hunting
  • Featured Article: Memories of Hay Lake School

Editor’s Note

Folks, I don’t want to alarm you – but summer is on its way out.

Lumberjack Days is fading into the rear view mirror, August is about to start, and the Washington County Fair is next week. (Be sure to swing by our booth to say hi!)

…I’ll give everyone a moment to collect themselves.

But just because we’re at the tail end of summer, that doesn’t mean our calendar at the Historical Society is any less full! Head down to our News Section to read about the next FREE five events and programs over the next month!

And in case you missed it, one of our favorite St. Croix Valley historians, Ken Martens was up at Hay Lake on Sunday discussing the hardships of our pioneer ancestors. Here’s a quick video recap (2:15) of Ken’s program.

Who’s that knocking on the door? Why, it’s another “What Is This Thing?!” challenge!

Over the last few weeks, you may have noticed packs of Millennials roaming around Stillwater – their eyes glued intently to their phones. No, they aren’t zombies (despite any similarities) they’re just enjoying the the “Pokemon Go” craze! As you’ll see in our Old News section, Stillwaterites took their “Pokemon” hunting a bit more seriously back in 1868.

A few issues ago, we took a good look at the history of the Warden’s House, so in this week’s Featured Article, we’ll dive into the history of WCHS’ other flagship museum – the Hay Lake Schoolhouse!

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

sean.pallas@wchsmn.org

WCHS News

The Story of the Northfield Raid

This Sunday, July 31st, at 2:00 PM Hayes Scriven, Executive Director of the Northfield Historical Society visits the Warden’s House to discuss the infamous attempted bank robbery perpetrated by the James-Younger Gang.

On September 7th, 1876, the typically quiet town of Northfield, Minnesota erupted into violence as Frank & Jesse James along with Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger and a number of other desperados attempted a bold broad daylight robbery of the town’s bank. Four were left dead in the ensuing gunfight and Northfield had secured its place in history.

During the free and open to the public program Scriven will detail every bullet fired and every dollar swiped during his city’s most well known historic episode.

More Events

WCHS News

August Events

Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame – Sun. August 7th @ 2:00 PM – Hay Lake School, Scandia

Carol Castle of the Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame discusses the on-going efforts to save & share Minnesota’s rich Pro Wrestling history.

Verne Gagne, a name synonymous with the history of Minnesota, created the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in the 1950s. For decades names such as Mad Dog Vachon, Nick Bockwinkel, Larry “The Ax” Hennig, The Crusher, Baron Von Rascke, and more graced the squared circle throughout Minnesota and the Midwest. In the 1970s the AWA was sweeping the nation, being the largest wrestling promotion in the United States. It was not until the early 1990s when the AWA was officially purchased by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

Castle, who is a die-hard professional wrestling fan has begun to collect and preserve its history and interpret its importance on the state. Housed in Robbinsdale (known as the birth place of wrestling in Minnesota), Castle will speak on the beginnings of creating the Hall of Fame and what it takes to begin such a large venture. This year’s inductees will include Greco-Roman wrestler; Alan Rice, Professional wrestling legend; Stan Kowalski, and hall of fame wrestling coach; John Gregelko. In 2015 the first two inductees were placed in the Hall of Fame, Larry “The Ax” Henning and Verne Gagne.

Outdoor Museum Movie Night Presents: Gulliver’s Travels – Thurs. August 11th @ 7:30 PM – Hay Lake School, Scandia

How many remember going to the drive-in movie theater as a kid? In 2016, drive-in movies are on the decline and the younger generation may never get the chance to feel what it’s like to watch a movie under the stars. This is a chance for all to enjoy that feeling again. The Hay Lake School grounds allow us to project 1939’s “Gulliver’s Travels” on the side of the museum, so all attendees can enjoy the feeling of watching a movie outside.

Free tours of the museum begin at 7:30pm, show time of the film will begin at dusk. Attendees are encouraged to bring a chair or blanket to sit on for the duration of the event. There is even room on the grounds to park a few cars to truly give it that “drive-in movie feeling.” Concessions will be available (popcorn, candy, soda, water, etc.) with all funds going to the Washington County Historical Society.

Gulliver’s Travels is based on seaman Lamuel Gulliver who is the sole survivor of a shipwreck in a distant land whose people are no bigger than peanuts, adventure then ensues. With a run time of 76 minutes, Gulliver’s Travels is a great time for both children and adults. Children will enjoy the music and animated nature of the film while adults will enjoy the “it’s so bad its good” feel to this 1939 classic.

Ancient Egypt Was Built From Here – Sun. August 14th @ 2:00 PM – Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater

Join Dr. Maria Nilsson and John R. Ward archaeologists, founders of the “Friends of Silsila“, & hosts of “Egypt’s Treasure Guardians” on National Geographic, for a discussion of the extraordinarily important ancient Egyptian site, the sandstone pits at Gabel el-Silsila.

Gebel el-Silsila is situated along the Nile River in Egypt and was used as a major quarry from ca. 1500 BCE all the way to around 200 CE. Many of the most famous and powerful pharaohs ordered the construction of ancient Egypt’s most well known temples, such as Luxor and Karnak, from the sandstone harvested at Silsila.

Dr. Nillson and Ward have spent years heading the first ever-comprehensive archaeological survey of the site. Their team’s latest discovery is pinpointing the location of a previously lost 3,400-year-old, 18th dynasty necropolis.

One Room Schoolhouses – Sat. August 20th @ 2:00 PM – Eder School, Oakdale

Before laptops and smartphones, we sent all our kids to one room to learn the 3 R’s.

Learn about Washington County’s one-room school house legacy from Hay Lake School Manager, Dustyn Dubuque.

More Events

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 41)

Last issue’s What Is This Thing?! went pretty well! Got a lot of responses, and even better, a lot of correct responses!

In case you missed it, the last item was a gas light spigot. Specifically, this gas light was inside the Warden’s House itself.

Although the house itself was built on the cheap, they did get technological advancements fairly early. Gas lighting was brought into the home by the 1870s (along with steam heat). But even more impressive is the fact that electricity was installed in 1888!

Now, electric lights were definitely an improvement over the technically unsafe gas systems, but both types of lighting were kept in the house for the next decade as neither were particularly reliable in their infancies.

Congratulations to everyone who was able to correctly shed some light on our previous challenge! And thank you for playing!

Onto this week’s challenge!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Side Image

Old News

Real Life ‘Pokemon’ Hunting

The only way you haven’t heard of the new “Pokemon Go” mobile game is if you’ve been managing to completely avoid any sort of media for the last handful of weeks (and I guess I wouldn’t blame you, the news has been pretty grim lately).

In case you don’t know, this latest fad has countless masses wandering their towns and neighborhoods using their smart phones to desperately search for rare digital monsters. (Seriously, people are spending more time playing Pokemon Go than on Twitter and Facebook).

Even weeks after it’s launch – you can still find plenty of aspiring Poke-Masters hunting around Stillwater.

…well, back in 1868, folks were a bit less excited to see critters in unexpected places.

Local News – Stillwater Republican – July 26, 1868

On Wednesday last Mrs. A. M. Dodd, while going down the cellar stairs of her residence on Third street, near Pine, discovered an unwelcome guest in the shape of a rattlesnake taking his afternoon nap in the cellar window. Not relishing the idea of admitting into her family a member to whom she could not give a cordial welcome she called her husband who was working in his garden nearby and related to him the situation. He at once repaired to the aforesaid window and disturbed the quiet slumber of his-snakeship by dealing him a well directed blow with a hoe, which caused an immediate death. He measures 44 inches in length and has seven rattles. His corpse is preserved and is on exhibition in the window of Mesars. Carli & Kauffman’s drug store.

Editors Note: After some diligent research, I may have uncovered a photograph of said rattlesnake.

Featured Article

Memories of Hay Lake School

by Mildred Swing Zillgitt

Shouts and laughter of eager children have long been silenced. The once dry and trampled playgrounds have succumbed to hay and stubble. Wind and rain against the windowpanes fall on deaf ears, for no one is there to listen. Thus it has been with country schools all over the land. School architecture was generally the same: a door at one end, windows on opposing sides, two cloakrooms, and a belfry…not to forget those all important country johns. Prosaic? Perhaps. But to anyone who attended such an institution, there’s a world of feeling akin to reverence.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Mildred Swing Zillgitt watched many schoolhouses fall to wrecking crews and felt little or no ill will towards the aggressor. However, upon learning that Hay Lake School had been abandoned for a better place of learning, she held her breath…anticipating the worst. As if to compensate, she said to herself, “Abandon if you must! Rip down those venerable walls! Decry them if you wish! But you can never silence those echoes of yesteryear nor destroy the dreams of childhood, for memory lives on forever.”

But as you know, the Hay Lake school would not be destined for a landfill. In 1978, the Washington County Historical Society purchased the site. When Mildred heard this news, she was “thrilled beyond words.” As her alma mater, Hay Lake held a special place in her heart.

“Though some things have grown misty with forgetting, things I didn’t understand in the past have become meaningful to me now. It is good to unleash childhood memories of those formative years. What I hope to do, if you’ll bear with me, is to recall some of those early sensations…joys, fears, and sharing.

For sentimental reasons, it is customary to preface a recounting of the past with ‘The Good Old Days”. However, those days weren’t all good, believe me. The world I once knew was not altogether carefree nor filled with magic and imagination. Often, fears and apprehensions stalked my pathway. But whoever said that growing up was easy? The recollections of my last years at Hay Lake are blended with mixed emotions. Although school was never better, I would be remiss in saying that jaunty days and happiness abounded, since right about then a transition was taking place in the land. A most significant and unforgettable period in history was in the making – we were hovering in the shadows of a World War. Young and old alike felt the impact of its vicious sting. But memory has a strange and beautiful arithmetic; it can subtract the bad and add only the good things.

The classroom I once knew had streaks of sunshine streaming through the east windows upon rows and rows desks and seats. There was a huge heating stove with a galvanized jacket at the rear of the room. Separate cloakrooms were provided for boys and girls where wraps were hung on hooks along the wall. Beneath the array of clothing was a semicircle of lunch pails. The clothing cubicles were dark and cold. I remember that in winter we’d bring our lunch pails inside and line them up beneath the windows to keep our sandwiches and fruit from freezing solid.

I have recollections of an extravagant display of blackboards on the walls and a modest library in one corner. One space was of particular interests, for it boasted a set of encyclopedia. Plus a huge unabridged dictionary. Close by stood a revolving world globe. A case containing a map of every country in the world was suspended on the wall back of the teacher’s desk. This paraphernalia was the extent of the equipment a teacher had in those days with which to operate a school.

A captain’s chair and desk of yellow oak signified the center of authority, for in that era it was the teacher who governed the classroom. She had an unwritten set of rules we all respected and at least tried to observe. To wit: Not to leave our seat without permission; no talking out loud and no whispering and no scuffling of feet. Two fingers in the air meant, ‘I want to leave the room, please!’ These rigid rules were necessary for eight grades in one room to function properly.

The seating arrangement was always the same in that the seventh and eighth graders occupied the back seats while the small fry sat close to the front. There were grades one through eight, and some years, as many as 36 children were in attendance. I shudder now when I think of the workload projected on one teacher. The assignments alone must have been astronomical.

Each grade recited either seated on long benches or standing in a semicircle, beginning with the first grade, until each had performed in one way or another. You can imagine the activity going on up front at all times. While some kids hovered over their own lessons, completely oblivious to what was going on elsewhere in the room, most of us got our learning from ‘up front’. This very often added to our woes when we came to class unprepared with our own assignments.

Contrary to rules, I was more interested in everyone else’s lessons than my own. History was the most tortuous subject inflicted upon me. I recall one day when my wide-open book lay unattended on my desk. I just couldn’t concentrate on such mundane things as the Lewis and Clark expedition with all those goodies going on up front. Fractions and square root flashing like magic and that fine velvety sound of the long white chalk gliding over the blackboard fascinated me.

Suddenly, it was time for my class to recite. Then came the turning point in my life! While I was standing there in that semicircle, questions bounced back and forth until I was called upon…the whole world stood still, for I knew not a word. Unfortunately, for me at least, the teacher had eyes in the back of her head and had, no doubt, been observing my preoccupation earlier. She was prepared for this and was not about to let me off the hook.

‘Open your book,’ she blazed. ‘Now read that paragraph.’ I did just that. ‘Now close your book and tell me what you read.’ I was so flustered that I froze to the floor. That wasn’t all, for this ordeal was repeated three times over. I glanced around at my classmates whose eyes were hard upon me. Irving glared at me with that look: ‘Gosh, you’re dumb.’ He always knew the answers, both large and small. For some possible escape, I looked down at the floor, where all I could see was an assortment of scuffed shoes.

All that I didn’t forget, but the paragraph I read three times over still hadn’t caught up with me. That was a most terrifying experience when my little world stood still.

A muffled snicker issued from the group as class was dismissed. My ears and faced tinged with embarrassment. What might have seemed, at the time, to be wasted energy proved productive in the long run. After that, I learned to chart routes and journeys of early explorers with the aid of maps. And, in due time, history became my favorite subject, which bears out the fact that the teacher proved her point after all.

My recollections of weather conditions during my school days are blended in a combination of snow, rain, gusty winds and blistering heat, with a smattering of blue skies and gentle breezes. Martha and Dora, who lived but a hop-skip-and-jump from school, never felt the really harsh blasts of winter. But the rest of us all had a mile or more to walk, which was a hardship in itself, especially when roads drifted in for weeks on end. I vividly recall one blizzardy March day, the events of could well have proved catastrophic had it not been for our concerned parents. The telling of this tale could fill a book itself.

Aside from our regular curriculum, we crammed in a course in penmanship, which was known as the Palmer Method. Though a bit ridiculous, it was a blessed relief from our usual humdrum studies. The exercise demanded that we sit up straight with both feet flat on the floor. ‘Hold your pen firmly, but not too rigid,’ the teacher intoned, as she paced up and down the aisles, placing her hand on our backs to be sure our spines were absolutely perpendicular. However ludicrous, it was not a complete loss, I for it was good, sound discipline.

To this day, I cringe when I see clerks and waitresses clutching their pens in a cramped, squeezing position. But then, they never heard of the Method.

Numerous other activities, such as spelldowns, took place in the evenings. I recall and can say with pride that whenever Hay Lake was pitted against other schools, we proved to have some pretty good champions in the art. Then there were those basket and pie socials, which would set the entire community in a flurry. This fostered togetherness and was a means of relaxation during those long winter months before the advent of radio and television.

Seasons came and passed in rapid succession; the grandeur and unspeakable beauty of autumn, the stern glory of winter, then March winds that knew no bounds, and ultimately, summer vacation. Finally, came the day when it was my turn to occupy one of those coveted back seats earmarked for eighth graders only. Yes, I’d earned the distinction now of ‘Upper Classman’. That last year at Hay Lake was, indeed, a memorable one.

While new horizons beckoned to me, I experienced isolated moments of forebodings. Did I really want to be liberated from country school and parental care to face the world with all its perplexities? Where should I go? What would I do? Human nature is a complex thing at best, but to a fifteen year old with growing pains it can be downright devastating. Especially for someone who didn’t know which way she was going. Somehow, though, I managed to make my exodus to new and less carefree frontiers.

For those of us who are growing old, there’s a certain magic in remembering our youth – like fresh winds of Galilee blowing in to recharge and energize our souls. In my reminiscing, I have renewed many fond memories which have lain dormant for many years. And I find that I can still draw from the endless resources of those Golden Years at Hay Lake, where discipline and learning went hand in hand.

Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

From Stillwater to New York, New York

 

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Flashlight Tour
  • WCHS News: July Events
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: A Pretty Paranoid Prisoner
  • Featured Article: From Stillwater to New York, New York

Editor’s Note

Olá! Welcome to today’s fresh e-newsletter!

Thank you to everyone who made our inaugural Flashlight Tour of the Warden’s House a huge success! Keep your eyes on our website, Facebook, and this humble e-newsletter of course as we will absolutely be holding more in the future! And speaking of Facebook, I’d like to announce a brand new feature to our guest speaker programs…

Obviously, we hope that you can make it to the events in person, but if you can’t – from now on we’ll be using Facebook Live to stream and record quick summaries of our guest speaker’s topics. In case you missed George Schire out at the Eder School this past Sunday, here’s a brief 5 minute video of George explaining why he loves the history of Minnesota Pro Wrestling.

And one more quick note, WCHS will be participating in the Lumberjack Days kick off event at the Historic Courthouse! Swing by and say hi to our Executive Director Brent Peterson while checking out Memories of Stillwater’s Lumberjack Days. This comprehensive history of everyone’s favorite lumber-themed summer festival will have a special 1 day price of $5 rather than $20 to celebrate the official return of Lumberjack Days to the Valley! Of course, we’ll also be hosting the annual Lumberjack Days Vintage Base Ball Exhibition at the Old Athletic Field on Saturday.

On to today’s issue!

In our News sections today, we’ll take a look at the next two programs on the ol’ WCHS calendar.

I’ve wandered through the collection to find yet another item for this week’s What Is This Thing?! challenge.

We’ll read a rather disturbing account of one of Stillwater prison’s many involuntary residents down in the Old News section.

Finally, we’ll wrap up today’s issue by relaying the tale of Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel – a Stillwater native who went on to help create one of New York City’s most iconic cultural pieces.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

spallas.wchs@gmail.com

WCHS News

“Girl from Birch Creek” Screening

Join us for a free screening of the award-winning documentary “Girl from Birch Creek” on Thursday, July 21st from 5 – 7:00 PM.

Lake Elmo’s Justice Rosalie Wahl, the first woman appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, fights for equal justice regardless of race, gender, or economic status in “Girl from Birch Creek“. The film also tells the story of the 1970’s women’s movement that helped make Justice Wahl’s appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court possible.

The evening will begin with an open house of the Eder School from 5 – 6 PM. The screening of the documentary will begin at 6:00 PM across the street from the Eder School at the Oakdale Discovery Center.

More Events

WCHS News

“The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier”

Local historian Ken Martens visits the Hay Lake School Museum on Sunday, July 24th at 2 PM to discuss the exciting and harrowing tales found in his book “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier“.

Many settlers on the frontier were met with untimely deaths in tragic ways. The St. Croix earned its nickname “The River of Graves” when watercrafts were dashed against hazards like Death Rock. Harsh weather, disease, and poor living arrangements left settlers at the mercy of their new territory they call home.

Martens is an avid historian and both a researcher and Civil War reenactor. He currently is involved with the Afton Historical Society and Museum and Denmark Township Historical Society. Martens is a graduate of Stillwater High School and has spent most of his life in the St. Croix River Valley. Marten’s book covers fifty stories of frontier life. He will be giving a presentation on his research and have books for sale and to sign.

More Events

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 40)

When I saw last issue’s What Is This Thing?! – well, that was my exact response. I had absolutely no clue what the heck this wooden contraption was supposed to be. In fact, even after I had gone to our cataloguing software and looked it up by it’s identification number I still found it hard to believe!

So, long story short – thank you to everyone who took a guess, because it was really hard!

Here’s what this device would have looked like when all the pieces were put together. Yup – as unlikely as it is, last week’s mystery artifact is a clothes drying rack!

This week’s selection is a bit less obscure, but still hopefully a challenge!

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Old News

A Pretty Paranoid Prisoner

The Old Stillwater Prison was surprisingly progressive for a 19th century prison. However, when it came to dealing with the mental illnesses of it’s inmate population – they were simply hamstrung by the era’s limited understanding of those sorts of diseases and disorders. As you’ll read, the then recently released James Ambrose had some very, very strange theories of who was running the Prison.

Amrbose was clearly an unhealthy individual and should have been transitioning to some sort of therapy rather than being released into the streets.

Naturally, in the typically blunt and tactless style of the time, the editors of the Stillwater Messenger couldn’t help themselves from commenting on both his mental and physical characteristics.

Stillwater Messenger – July 12, 1890

James Ambrose, a convict sent from St. Paul in May, 1887, to serve a four year term in the prison was recently discharged form that institution. He caused a great deal of trouble to the officers during the entire period of his incarceration. He was on the infirm list most of the time. He was actually too fat to be able to do anything. His weight when discharged was 307 pounds. If not actually insane he was certainly the victim of many strange delusions.

He labored under the impression that ex-deputy Westby was a mind reader, and at one time made a desperate assault upon him with a large butcher knife that he had mysteriously gained possession of. He had another idea too, to the effect that the Masons and Odd Fellows exercised a baleful power over the souls and bodies of the inmates of the prison.

He sent the following communication to the St. Paul Globe and it was published Tuesday morning:

To the editor of the Globe: – Please publish the following wail of the Minnesota state prisoners: We, the convicts of Minnesota, do solemnly aver that we have been and are being killed by being deprived of our minds or souls by the Free Masons and Odd Fellows, in which order every officer and guard of the prison belong. And they are all thought readers.

The convicts, as citizens of the United States, claim protection under the constitution, which guarantees liberty of conscience, or free thought. They demand of the United States an investigation of their case. The above will be attested to by an ex-convict.

James Ambrose.

Editor’s Note: Hmm..psychic, soul-stealing prison guards…why does that sound familiar?

Featured Article

From Stillwater to New York, New York

by Brent Peterson, WCHS Executive Director

There are many people who affect our lives. They could be our parents, siblings or neighborhood friends. Most of the time as we recall our lives we are touched by at least one, maybe more, of our teachers in school.

These teachers see success in all their pupils and wonder after they pass on to the next grade or venture out into the world what, if anything, did they teach the young boy or girl. Sometimes these pupils leave and become even more that the teachers ever expected of the student and for Mrs. F.E. Lammers, a poorly dressed, skinny boy became one of the Nations most well known people.

In the Stillwater Gazette of May 21, 1927, a headline read: “Stillwater Woman Recalls Teaching “Roxy” Rothafel.” Samuel “Roxy” Rothafel became one of the best known theater managers in the Country and he got his start in Stillwater.

The Farmington Tribune quotes Mrs. F.E. Lammers, formerly of Stillwater in reference to “Roxy” Rathafel. The article reads, “Years ago a poorly clad, half starved little fellow went to a German Lutheran school in Stillwater and said he wanted to learn to read and write. He was sent there by his Jewish father, the village cobbler.”

His teacher who was substituting for a short time was Mrs. F.E. Lammers. At the time of the article she was living in Lakeville, Minnesota.

“I felt so sorry for that little fellow,” Lammers said, “he was poorly dressed; it looked as though the legs of his father’s trousers had been cut off and the little fellow was shoved into them. Being a Jewish boy, he did not mix well with the other children.”

“But today,” the article states, “the lad who was once a half starved street urchin and the object of much ridicule of the gang, is now head of the largest and finest theater in the world, and is known throughout the radio world as “Roxy and His Gang.”

“It just goes to show that there are many opportunities for success in America even though one has but a humble start in life,” Mrs. Lammers said.

After reading an article in the American Magazine, Mrs. Lammers remembered Roxy as the one she taught in Stillwater. She wrote him a letter and received a reply. The letter reads in part: “I of course receive thousands of letters, but I don’t know of any one that gave me a bigger thrill than your own, first because you mentioned an incident that goes back further than anyone has ever gone, and I still can remember that little schoolroom under the German Lutheran church, my first school in fact. I remember the schoolmaster and how he used to lick me, but I am eternally grateful to him because I have not forgotten my German instruction. I want you to know that I appreciate more than words can tell your charming letter and the fact that you brought back this memory to me.”

Roxy was the first manager of Radio City Music Hall in New York City and one of his lasting efforts was to take a dance line from Russell Markert of Missouri called the “Missouri Rockets,” and renamed the line the “Roxyettes,” now world famously known as the “Rockettes.”

Roxy’s health was poor at best, but as the gallant entertainer he was he continued to promote shows. He returned to Stillwater in May 1934 to one of the largest celebrations ever given to any one individual in Stillwater.

There was a grand luncheon given in his honor at the Lowell Inn. Roxy was given a “Hello Roxy” book by the Stillwaterans in which there were over 2,000 signatures of local people. He toured the town in which he spent his youth and then over 500 people in 125 automobiles escorted Roxy and his Gang back to the Minnesota Theater where Roxy was having his show. Roxy was “mighty happy” about his hometown visit and told the crowd at the theater about his days on the St. Croix River.

Roxy’s health became more of a problem. He had to retire from the Radio City Music Hall because of poor health. He was feeling a bit better in early January 1936, but sometime during the night of January 12, 1936, Roxy died. He was buried on Long Island, New York three days later.

This pupil of Mrs. Lammers left Stillwater in trousers that did not fit and became the Nation’s leading theater promoter. Not bad for a cobbler’s kid from Stillwater.

 

Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

The Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

The Mysterious Mary Traveler

 

Receive the Historical Messenger in your inbox once every two weeks by signing up for our mailing list!

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Warden’s House Flashlight Tour
  • WCHS News: July Events
  • What Is This Thing?!
  • Old News: Afton Outbreak
  • Featured Article: The Mysterious Mary Traveler

Editor’s Note

Hello e-newsletter readers! I hope you’ve found a nice cool place to enjoy a bit of Washington County history today!

First off, thank you so much to everyone who made it out to our annual Beer Tasting. This is absolutely one of the best events we have here at the historical society and obviously, it’s only a success if people actually come out! Here’s a few photos of the festivities in case you missed it!

Another huge (but rarely discussed) avenue of support the public provides for WCHS is the donation of physical artifacts to our collection. Our museum would look pretty empty if folks didn’t want to share their own pieces of history with the historical society! Check out these photos recently donated by Tim Janilla. You’ll see a few shots of log jams and “lumbering life”, one of the “Devil’s Chair” that formerly sat along the St. Croix River, and even a pretty unique angle of the Old Stillwater Prison. Thanks Tim!

We’ll start off today’s News section by flicking off the museum lights and inviting you to a eerie flashlight tour of the Warden’s House!

And as busy and exciting as June was this year- we’ve got even more events coming straight down the pipe at you in July! Get the scoop on all five free programs we have scheduled between our three sites next month.

Last week’s “What Is This Thing?!” started off as a total mystery – and not a whole lot changed! We’ll check in on last week’s item before heading over to another challenge.

You’re in store for a little St. Croix Valley medical history in today’s “Old News” section.

Finally, we’ll wrap up this week’s e-newsletter with the story of the most famous mysteries of Stillwater’s past.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager

spallas.wchs@gmail.com

WCHS News

Warden’s House Flashlight Tour

Fan of History? Lover of all things spooky? Well we’ve got a little opportunity for you we need to talk about…

For all you night owls, we are offering an inaugural Flashlight Tour of the Warden’s House Museum on Saturday, July 9th. For the first time ever, see the Warden’s House in a different light (or lack thereof). Perfect for a unique date night or simply an eerie night for you and your friends, you’ll learn about the history of the Warden’s House, the old Stillwater Prison, and a bit about how our museum has earned a reputation as one of the “Most Haunted Places in Minnesota“.

Tickets are $15.00 per person and must be bought in advance. Tours will last about an hour. Space is limited. You can find more information and reserve your tickets online.

9:00 PM Tour

9:15 PM Tour

Will there be ghosts? You decide. Will it be fun? Definitely!

WCHS News

July Events

As I said up in the Editor’s Note – between the Warden’s House, Hay Lake School, and the Eder School, our July is completely jam-packed with events and programs.

Sunday, July 10th, 2 PM: History of Wrestling in Minnesota @ Eder School, Oakdale – Join George Schire, author of “Minnesota’s Golden Age of Wrestling” to learn about the long relationship between Minnesota and pro-wrestling.

Minnesota’s professional wrestling history can be traced back to the 1950s with the founding of the AWA. Mad Dog Vachon, Verne Gagne, The Crusher, and of course, Jesse Ventura, are just a few of the Minnesotan names to impact the pro-wrestling world.

Whether you are a current wrestling fan or have cherished childhood memories of screaming at your television, this program will be filled with rich history and stories from the “Golden Age” of Minnesota Wrestling.

Saturday, July 16th, 11 AM – 5 PM: Lumberjack Days Vintage Base Ball Exhibition Games @ Old Athletic Field, Stillwater – See how the game was meant to be played – with wool uniforms and no gloves!

Teams from across the Midwest will be making their way to Stillwater to cross bats with one another.

Be sure to come on out to cheer for your St. Croix Base Ball Club!

11:00 am – Afton Red Socks vs. Rum River Rovers / 12:00 pm – La Crescent Applejacks vs. Northfield Silver Stars / 1:00 pm – St. Croixs vs. Quicksteps / 2:00 pm – Rum River Rovers vs. Northfield Silver Stars / 3:00 pm – St. Croixs vs. La Crescent Applejacks / 4:00 pm – Quicksteps vs. Afton Red Socks

Thursday, July 21st, 5 – 7 PM: “Girl from Birch Creek” Screening @ Eder School/Oakdale Discovery Center, Oakdale – Lake Elmo’s Justice Rosalie Wahl, the first woman appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, fights for equal justice regardless of race, gender, or economic status in “Girl from Birch Creek“. The documentary also tells the story of the 1970’s women’s movement that helped make Justice Wahl’s appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court possible.

The afternoon will begin with an open house of the Eder School from 5 – 6 PM. The screening of the documentary will begin at 6:00 PM across the street from the Eder School at the Oakdale Discovery Center.

Sunday, July 24th, 2 PM: “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier” with Ken Martens @ Hay Lake School, Scandia Local historian Ken Martens visits the Hay Lake School Museum to discuss the exciting and harrowing tales found in his book “The Perilous St. Croix River Valley Frontier“.

Sunday, July 31st, 2 PM: The Story of the Northfield Raid with Hayes Scriven @ Warden’s House Museum, Stillwater – Hayes Scriven, Executive Director of the Northfield Historical Society visits the Warden’s House to discuss the infamous attempted bank robbery perpetrated by the James-Younger Gang.

On September 7th, 1876, the typically quiet town of Northfield, Minnesota erupted into violence as Frank & Jesse James along with Cole, Jim, & Bob Younger and a number of other desperados attempted a bold broad daylight robbery of the town’s bank. Four were left dead in the ensuing gunfight and Northfield had secured its place in history.

During the free and open to the public program Scriven will detail every bullet fired and every dollar swiped during his city’s most well known historic episode.

 

Whew! And don’t forget to check out our Events page for our August and beyond programs!

What is This Thing?!

What Is This Thing?! (Round 39)

If you remember last week’s What Is This Thing?! item – even we at the historical society were asking that question! I turned it over to you and I definitely got a few interesting suggestions. A few folks wondered it if may have been a cannon ball. And it certainly is heavy enough to be one, but it would be pretty weird to find a cannon ball where this particular piece hailed from. Another reader suggested it may have been a scale weight – which seems like a pretty believable explanation. Either way, we still aren’t sure exactly what it is!

Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

But onto this week’s challenge! (And this time, we know exactly what this is!) I’ll give a hint that our example is missing some pretty important pieces it would have needed to function properly.

Can you identify the WCHS artifact photographed above? If you’d care to venture an answer, you can send an email to me at spallas.wchs@gmail.com, tweet @WCHSMN, or post your guess on our Facebook page.

Good luck!

Full Image

Parts of it move!

Close Up

Old News

Afton Outbreak

The following bit of news was probably pretty terrifying to read for those living in Stillwater at the time. Small pox may only exist in laboratories today – but in the 19th century, it was a very, very serious and quick spreading disease.

It was actually fairly common practice for local media to hide hints at pandemics in their own cities, but highlight the outbreaks of their neighbors. Potential migrants or business opportunities may be scared off by news of the arrival of a deadly disease in the town. Once it was leaked in one paper, it often spread (much like a disease), to other regional and national publications.

I do think it’s a bit interesting that the “Dr. Millard” mentioned in the following article was apparently uninterested in any sort of doctor/patient confidentiality…just as the Stillwater Messenger was seemingly more than happy to sacrifice the confidentiality of their source.

Stillwater Messenger – Small Pox at Afton – June 28, 1872

They are having the small pox at Afton – on the quiet. We hear of five cases at Gilbert’s mills, two of them “confluent,” if you know what that means – something pretty bad you may rest assured. There are also three cases near the German church “convalescent” – which sounds more cheerful. Dr. Millard, of this city, was sent for by the town authorities of Afton, and it is to him that we are indebted for our information on the subject.

Featured Article

The Mysterious Mary Traveler

by Anita Buck

The gravestone is plain, a small rectangle of granite, set alone near the tool shed in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Bayport. The inscription is a simple one: “Mary Traveler 1852-1888”. The story it tells is brief – that of a young woman who lived a mere 36 years. (Photo by Ken Martens)

The story that is not told is much more complex and in many ways, something of a mystery.

A young woman was on a train passing through Stillwater in the year 1888. She had her son with her, a toddler too young to talk. Because she was ill, the woman and child were taken off the train. In spite of treatment, the unknown traveler died.

The townspeople had no clue as to who she was, where she had come from, nor her destination. If her son knew, he was too young to say. The people of the city gave her a proper burial. Rather than inscribing the headstone with an anonymous “Mary Doe”, they had carved upon it the more fanciful moniker – “Mary Traveler”, for that was all anyone really knew of her.

The little boy was now alone in a strange place. He was taken by the Crotty family of Stillwater and given the name Eddie.

When interviewed in 1977, Dick Kearney, a former resident of Stillwater, said he could remember hearing about Mary Traveler and her son. In fact, A. W. Kearney, Dick’s father, was a playmate of Eddie Traveler. A Stillwater city directory from the mid 1800s shows an A. W. Kearney living at 1004 Fourth Ave. A few doors away, at 934, lived John Crotty, a riverman.

Little is known of what happened to Eddie Traveler. Sue Kearney LeMire of Minneapolis said that she remembered Eddie moving to Canada. A picture of him taken when he was about 30 was done by a photographer in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

When Eddie was about 36, he wrote to Dick and Sue’s mother, then came to Stillwater for a visit. He tried to find out who he was, where he came from, by the simple gravestone offered no trace of his past. He returned to Canada and apparently never returned to his adopted home city.

Dick Kearny said that he had heard Eddie had become a successful agent for a New York Life Insurance Company.

But that is the end of the story – if there can be an end to a story with no real beginning. The origin and history of Eddie Traveler is the secret of the young mother buried in a remote corner of St. Michael’s Cemetery.

 

Events

More information: WCHS Events >>>

Membership

Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

Become a member of the Washington County Historical Society!

Membership is one way that you can help support the Washington County Historical Society. Your membership helps us collect, preserve, and disseminate the history of Washington County for county residents and visitors in the belief that a historical perspective enhances our understanding of community and sense of place.

Benefits of membership:

  • FREE admission to the Warden’s House Museum in Stillwater and Hay Lake Museum Complex in Scandia
  • Discounts on purchases in the museum gift shop (10% Individual & Family members, 15% Patron & Sustaining members)
  • FREE use of WCHS library and research center
  • Subscription to Historical Whisperings, the society’s quarterly newsletter
  • Discounts on tickets to membership meetings
  • Knowing that your membership dollars support the preservation of our treasured past for generations to come

The Washington County Historical Society has depended on membership ever since it was formed in 1934. Please show your support for the organization by becoming a member today.

More: WCHS Membership >>>

Mission Statement

Washington County Historical Society collects, preserves, and disseminates the history of the county and state of Minnesota.

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