Local history articles, news, and events from the Washington County Historical Society

This issue: Contents
Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: “The Unearthing” Screening
  • WCHS News: Annual Fall Membership Meeting
  • Photo of the Week: Johnsdale Paranormal Group at the Warden’s House
  • Old News: A Joke I Actually Laughed At!
  • Featured Article: A Frontier Letter

Editor’s Note

This past week, WCHS Executive Director Brent Peterson, Hay Lake Site Manager Dustyn Dubuque, and myself all had the good fortune of attending the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH.org) conference held in St. Paul this year. This was an amazing experience that brought over a thousand members of the history industry from across the country together in one place to “talk shop”. I look forward to begin implementing a few ideas I picked up from the convention over the next few months!

One last note before we get going with the issue today: I do need to send a big “thank you” to everyone who attended Stone House Museum manager Mary Smith’s presentation on the importance of Primary Source research at Hay Lake on Sunday and John Christgau’s discussion and book signing at the Warden’s House on Monday night.

As Minnesota slides further and further into autumn, WCHS still has plenty more events for you to check out! Both our news stories will detail presentations you won’t want to miss – including our Annual Fall Membership Meeting which is this Thursday!

And yes, that’s right, the insanely popular “Paranormal Investigations: Techniques and Theories” presentation will return to the Warden’s House this year. For a sneak peek from the Johnsdale Paranormal Group’s investigation of the Warden’s House – check out the Photo of the Week!

Today’s Old News isn’t actually news at all. In the early 1900s, it was popular to include short stories and humorous anecdotes in newspapers. Usually the later leave me scratching my head and hunting for some kind of punchline. But when I actually chuckled after reading this joke – I knew I had to include it in the Historical Messenger this week!

Finally, we’ll wrap up this issue with a letter sent from an early settler of Washington County back home to his family on the east coast. This beautiful glimpse into the life of one our early pioneers highlights not only the industries and opportunites the new territory had to offer, but the sacrifice he made in moving away from a wife and family he loved dearly.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? Become a fan of WCHS on Facebook or follow us on Twitter! See a new photo every week, read special articles, and stay up-to-date with the latest WCHS happenings.

Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager



“The Unearthing” Screening

In Tristan James Jensen’s new film, “The Unearthing”, Stillwater’s rich history conceals a healthy dose of mystery and intrigue. Jensen, a local Stillwater Area High School student filmmaker filmed the entire 60-minute feature at local haunts around town – including the Warden’s House Museum.

Tristan Jensen and the Washington County Historical Society invite you to a free and open to the public screening of “The Unearthing” on Sunday, October 5th at 2:00 PM at the Warden’s House. The museum is located at 602 Main Street N. in Stillwater, MN.

Please contact Sean Pallas at 651-439-5956 or spallas.wchs@gmail.com for more information on this screening or to arrange a museum tour.


Fall Membership Dinner Meeting

The Washington County Historical Society is excited to announce that Frederick L. Johnson will be the featured speaker for the Washington County Historical Society membership dinner meeting held on this Thursday September 25th at the Water Street Inn in Stillwater.

Johnson has taught in St. Paul Public Schools for 34 years, earning the Minnesota Chamber Foundation’s Education Excellence Award in 1987 and receiving a 1990 national Thanks to Teachers award at the Kennedy Center Education Leadership Institute in Washington D.C. He also received the Minnesota Historical Society’s Excellence in Teaching History award in 1990 and 1992.

He was the associate editor and reporter for the South Washington County Bulletin from 1970 to 1983 in Cottage Grove. During this time he won the Minnesota Newspaper Association First Places for reporting in 1975 and again in 1977.

Johnson has written nine books about Minnesota history along with numerous magazine articles. His new book, “The Sea Wing Disaster: Tragedy on Lake Pepin” is an expanded and updated version of his original, The Sea Wing Disaster, published by the Goodhue County Historical Society in 1986. The new edition includes 185 photographs and maps along with new research found in letters, documents and public records.

The Sea Wing, a river steamboat, capsized during a storm on Lake Pepin on July 13, 1890. There were 215 passengers on the excursion out of Red Wing. Nearly 100 of the passengers died making it still one of the most deadly accidents on the nation’s inland waters.

The event is open to the public and the cost is $20 for WCHS members and $25 for nonmembers.

The evening will begin at 5:30 with a social hour, dinner at 6:30 and the business meeting will be at 7:30. Mr. Johnson’s presentation will be after the short business meeting. Books will be available to purchase at the event.

Reservations are required. To make reservations or for more information about the event please call 651-439-5956 or visit www.wchsmn.org.

Photo of the Week

Johnsdale Paranormal Group – Warden’s House, Stillwater – September 20, 2014

This past Saturday, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group visited the Warden’s House for their third investigation of the museum to prepare for their upcoming presentation which will be held on October 25th, 2014. Due to the high level of interest, they will first showcase their evidence at 11:00am and have encore showings at 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon. Keep on the look out for more information as we move into October.

In the meantime, feel free to check out this album for some behind the scenes pictures from their visit! And then visit their website to see what their previous investigations have turned up: Warden’s House Evidence.

old news

A Joke I Actually Laughed At!

As I mentioned in the Editor’s Note, it’s not surprising in the least to come across a joke or two in these old newspapers. Turns out that when you put more than a hundred years of pop-culture inbetween a gag’s delivery and it’s reception some of the humor is lost to time. What is surprising is that when I read this one, I actually chuckled! Hopefully a few of you out there will enjoy this as much as I did.

“He Was On the White List” – Stillwater Messenger – September 23, 1911

A Frenchman bought a house in the country, and had hardly settled there when the local band called and asked for his subscription to its funds. He put his name down for contribution, which as he undestood, entitled him to be serenaded on Sundays. Sundays came and went. The band played at various houses, but never at his. Finally, the London Telegraph says, the band called, not to play, but to collect the donor’s subscription. He said: “But you have never played to me.” The bandmaster looked surprised. “What does monsieur think of us? Does he suppose that if we had played we should ask him for money? Monsieur evidently does not know our band. Monsieur, having promised a generous contribution, is on our white list, that of the supporters whom we spare.”


A Frontier Letter

from Washington: A History of the Minnesota County, Anna Enquist, Louise Johnson, Sue Collins, Gail Seifert, Betty Roney

Afton, Washington Co., May 16, 1857

Dear Wife,

After I wrote you at Prescott, I went home with one Mr. Getchell 12 miles over the prairie, arrived at his house just at sundown Sunday eve. Getchell and Brothers own one mile square prairie and timber, 80 acres under cultivation.

Last Monday, I went to work on the farm plowing and harrowing. Got a very good idea of prairie farming, he has sowed 50 acres and is going to sow and plant 30 acres more. He has 15 acres spring wheat sowed. He has about 100 bushels of wheat on hand. Looks about as plump as York State winter wheat, has 200 bushels potatoes. I ate of them, the best I’ve ate this year. Had corn, and other grain in abundance, I fared better there than I have at any other place since I left Steuben and that’s saying a great deal.

Tuesday I came over here and engaged in the lumber business with James Getchell who lives in this town. Do not know how long I shall remain her. Labor of every kind seems to be in good demand. This a new town has one hotel (where I am now boarding) one steam saw mill and more going up immediately. This is a great town can’t say as it will compare with the country around the stream of which Burns sung however they have got some splendid trout streams in this place.

As I have an opportunity to send this by a gentleman that is going directly to Hudson I must necessarily hurry. I shall have the same gent enquire if there is any letters there from you. I think I shall go up there myself next week. Have seen or heard of Ace but conclude he is still Hudson which is only 3 miles on the opposite side of the lake. My lumbering business is all in the St. Croix Lake. They say letters are often several weeks coming or going to and from Eastern states so I concluded that I would not get one from you before next week some time if I did as soon. I will wrote you again tomorrow (Sunday) and give more particulars.

You must collect enough of Theodore to keep along till I can send you some money. I think he will sent you it when ever you let him know that you want it. It is now due.

Game is very plenty here but I have not taken time to fish or hunt since I came here, have seen three deer at time two or three times within rifle shot and plenty of Prairie Hens Plover Ducks. W. Getchell caught a fine string of brook trout in brook that runs across his farm that day that I was there Monday. We had them for breakfast Tuesday morn before I came over here. I sent Mary a Minnesota newspaper the other day. I will send you more immediately. The mail leaves here only once a week (Tuesday). I have been so tired and busy I have not written to any body but you for several days. Should be glad to hear from you tonight but must bide the mail.

The weather has been tolerable cold since I’ve been here and I suppose it has nearly every where else. We have had however two or three comfortably warm days. The oak trees have not yet leaved out but they are budding nicely. Cattle begin to get a mess of grass. Wild plums and cranberries are abundant in this country and good substitute for apples which they do not have.

St. Paul is about 18 miles from Afton by wagon road about 30 by lake and river. From what I can learn of this territory and I have taken a good deal of pains to do so. Minneapolis and St. Anthony are the finest towns in this Territory with a splendid country of land surrounding them. I mean to go up there in a few weeks perhaps within a week however I may work about here all the season. I do not think it practicable for me to encourage you to come yet. I want to learn more about the country.

They break up prairie here in the summer months generally and if I can succeed in getting a piece of land which I think I can if I have my health. I can get it ready perhaps by next fall. I think this is a fine land as I ever saw. They saw garden vegetables grow very large and very quick after they once started the gardens. I’ve seen them black as those of NY State that have been manured for years. Any of the good prairie or oak openings are rich enough for gardens as soon as they are subdued.

The river and lake is the highest it has been for 15 years except last spring but is gradually falling. Millions of saw logs are floating loose on the lake. They cut them on the rivers that flow into the lake and float down. Every log is marked by the man that owns it before he lets it drift. One man or general agent sees to picking them up and rafting them getting them into booms and to saw mills. Experienced hands get from 3 to 5 dollars per day for that kind of work, that is what I have been engaged in this week. Whether I shall work at much more can not be known at present but will let you in due time.

Tell Jennie and Lib that the wild plum trees are so low that they could stand on the ground and pick them off. They grow from three to eight feet high with busy tops their plumbs are said to very excellent.

Your most devoted husband,

Joe Shaw

I will write you again in a day or two. Write often perhaps some of them will come if not all. You know not how anxious I am to hear from You.




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Benefits of membership:

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

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