This issue: Contents
Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
  • Editor’s Note
  • WCHS News: Give to the Max Day!
  • WCHS News: Washington County History Network
  • Photo of the Week: Warden’s House 2014
  • Old News: It Could be Colder
  • Featured Article: Republicans and Democrats Wouldn’t Play Nice in 1857 Either!
Editor’s Note

Well there you have it folks! Both the Warden’s House and the Hay Lake School are officially closed for the 2014 season. Everyone who made it out to either of our museums for a tour, attended any of our events, and even those of you who read this e-newsletter every-other-week – please accept a huge “THANK YOU!”

Thank you all so much, your support is the only reason we are able to continue preserving and sharing the history of Washington County!

And with that not-so-subtle segue, I’d like to direct your attention down to our first bit of WCHS News…

Thursday, November 13th is Give to the Max Day! (I swear you’ll only have to hear me talk about it a few more times.) This is an amazing opportunity to directly support the Washington County Historical Society – and grants us opportunities to stretch your donations! To learn how this all works, scroll down a bit to our News section or visit our Donation Page.

Yesterday was the quarterly meeting of the Washington County History Network and if you head down to our second News story you can hear the latest reports from the other historical organizations of the area.

Of course, we stayed busy at the Warden’s House this year too! And Our Photo of the Week today is more like a Collage of the Year…Continue down pass our News section to see a quick sampling of just a few of the activities you might have missed in the 2014 season!

Being able to read between the lines is one of the most important to abilities to possess when performing historical research. Even though there wasn’t a “Weather Forecast” section in the Stillwater Messenger in 1905…I think you’ll probably be able to tell what type of winter they were having by reading the articles in today’s Old News.

Millions of Americans will make their way to their local polling places to cast their ballots today. In my opinion, there are two main reasons to celebrate every Election Day. First, it is a perfect showcasing of the American democracy that is the heart and soul of this great nation. Secondly, it marks the end of those horrible campaign ads!

And whew! I have definitely heard some nasty ones this year! At least these days the two parties will allow themselves to be seen in the same room, which is more than can be said about Minnesota’s two competing Constitutional Conventions in 1857. As Minnesota transitioned from a Territory to a State, the last thing on either parties’ mind was compromising with the other. Read today’s Featured Article to learn about some political bickering from over 150 years ago.

Want to learn more about the history of Washington County? “Like” WCHS on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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Sean Pallas

Historical Messenger editor and Warden’s House Site Manager


Give to the Max Day!

Thursday, November 13th, 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! Even a simple $10 donation puts our name in the hat!

Here’s what you can do to help:

Schedule Your Donation Early! From now until November 12th you can actually schedule your donation to be processed on Give to the Max Day.

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

Wear Green! GiveMN is going to be meeting with folks on their morning commute along the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. If you’re wearing green near the light-rail station at Fifth at Nicollet, GiveMN may pick you out and make a donation in your name to the organization of your choice!

– 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 create any sort of account! Their website is designed with both PC/laptops and mobile platforms in mind.

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


Washington County History Network

Before we jump into all the activities and events planned by the various members of the History Network – I would like to relay a bit of news from yesterday’s meeting: Harriet Johnson will be retiring from Gammelgården at the end of this year. Harriet was at the first meeting of the Washington County History Network in the late 1980s and has been a dedicated member ever since. At Gammelgården, Harriet was instrumental in creating their beautifully festive and extremely successful Butik (Gift Shop).

Although we’re all sad to see her go, myself and the rest of us here at WCHS wish her the best and hope she enjoys her retirement! May all the books you pick be gems and hopefully you’ll still find a few minutes every-other-week to read this humble e-newsletter.

Thank you, Harriet!

Afton Historical Society – The 2014 display of bridal gowns was very popular. After their holiday festivities, they are planning on putting together a display on Prohibition in January – centered around a recently donated working moonshine still.

Cottage Grove Historical Preservation Commission – They are working on putting together a display for Cottage Grove City Hall on the history of local barns. They’ve got some great photographs, but are still looking for a few more “barn stories”!

Gammelgården – Ever wanted to try some authentic Swedish Lutfisk? November 20th is your chance! Gammelgården is selling tickets ($18.00/person) until the 20th for their annual Lutfisk and Meatball Dinner. The dinner will be served at Elim Lutheran Church in Scandia at 11:30, 1:00, 2:30, 4:00, and 5:30. And Harriet told me that with your ticket purchase – everything in the Gammelgården Gift Shop is 15% off!

Historic Courthouse – The Historic Courthouse also had a retirement to announce: long-time director Carolyn Phelps is now officially retired and enjoying a vacation in Utah. Laura Erickson, who has worked for the Washington County Parks Department for the last 3 years will now be taking over programming and event coordination responsibilities at the Courthouse. There are still tickets available for their Christmas at the Courthouse event! And on December 6th, they’re inviting parents to bring the kiddos up to the Courthouse to meet Santa and sing some holiday related tunes.

South Washington Heritage Society – The 100th anniversary celebrations of Park High School were a huge success! Their annual membership meeting will be held on December 13th.

Stillwater Library – They are currently in the process of updating their website (WCHS extends our deepest sympathies). Next year, they hope to put together some sort of display and event schedule relating to the history of parks in Washington County.

Woodbury Heritage Society – The city has acquired the Old Miller Barn on Old Settlers Ridge and is seeking the community’s assistance on digging up some of its history. Once they know more about the old barn, they will be able to apply for grants to perform needed repairs of the site.

Photo of the Week

Warden’s House 2014

The touring season always flies by so quick! Although time may be just zipping by because of all fun events we were able to host this year!

In no particular order, we were fortune enough to welcome Rep. Dean Urdahl, Afton Historical Society Vice President Ken Martens, current Minnesota State Prison Warden Michelle Smith, author John Christgau, the Johnsdale Paranormal Group, author Bruce Kohn, and filmmaker Tristan Jensen, for various presentations and lectures. This summer has had some of the best attended events in recent memory and we can’t wait to show you what we have planned for next year!

And a special thank you needs to be extended to all of WCHS’ wonderful volunteers (pictured in the lower center). I can’t imagine running these events or bringing 90 high school students through the museum without all your help!

Full Image


It Could Be Colder, Folks

Although this week has been pretty mild, I was starting to become a little worried as the temperature dipped at the tail end of last week. When I came across these chilling reports from the Stillwater Messenger in 1905, I suddenly realized I really didn’t have anything to complain about…

News Briefs – Stillwater Messenger – November 4, 1905

Anton M. Peterson, a traveling salesman, fell from the roof of his dwelling on Laurel street while shoveling snow Thursday afternoon, and sustained a sprained back and dislocation of his left wrist. He may be injured internally, as he fell on a stone sidewalk.

The Atwood B mill was forced to shut down on Friday of this week on account of the ice in the river. The South Stillwater mills are still running but will likely stop operations within a few days. The Hudson mill closed last week.


Republicans and Democrats Wouldn’t Play Nice in 1857 Either!

by Bob and Nancy Goodman

By 1856, Minnesota had more than enough inhabitants to qualify for statehood, and had had them for several years. There were advantages to remaining a Territory, such as federal financing of the territorial government, which may have accounted for the delay. But in 1856 there appeared the possibility of getting a juicy land grant for railroad construction, which would only be available to a state. In December Delegate Henry M. Rice started the statehood ball rolling.

President Franklin Pierce signed the Minnesota Enabling Act on February 26, 1857. The Act authorized the people of the Territory to hold an election on the first Monday in June, 1857, to select delegates to a Constitutional Convention. If the voters and Congress approved the Constitution there written, Minnesota would become a state.

There was an election battle between the Democrats and the new Republican Party. The prize would be the first apportionment of legislative districts in the new state. Most expected the districts would be drawn to favor the party that controlled the convention. If that party then won a majority of both houses of the legislature it could elect two new United States Senators, and so many persons in and out of the territory became much interested in the June election. The Republicans sent in money and high-caliber outside speakers. The Democrats relied on the federal patronage machine of hundreds of office-holders from the local postmaster up to the governor. In Washington County the Democrats carried the day, sending eight members to the convention.

The eight were William Holcombe, James S. Norris, Henry N. Setzer, Gold T. Curtis, Newington Gilbert, Charles J. Butler, Reuben Sanderson, and Charles G. Leonard. Holcombe, Setzer, and Curtis often spoke in the convention; the others were mostly silent.

Holcombe had been a delegate to a previous constitutional convention, representing the St. Croix Valley in the Wisconsin Constitutional Convention in 1846. He had been prominent in the Democratic Party in Washington County since 1840. Setzer had been in the last Territorial Legislature; he was a Missouri native and the most pro-Southern of the county delegates. Curtis was a relative newcomer, a Stillwater lawyer with some good clients; he was chair of the county Democratic organization. Norris, “The Sage of Crescent Hill,” had served in the Legislature and had been speaker of the House.

Of the others, Newington Gilbert was an early settler in the Valley Creek area; Charles Butler was a lumberman in Marine and Stillwater; Reuben Sanderson was a builder and town official in Lakeland; Charles Leonard had been Territorial treasurer. A former Washington County resident, Joseph R. Brown, was also a delegate, but now from Sibley County.

The election returns elsewhere could give a majority to either party, depending on disputed elections. On the day set for the first meeting of the convention, the two parties collided, held a shouting match and split into two, each loudly claiming their right to be the only true convention.

Both conventions set to work. There were many models of the basic laws of other states to work with, and little controversy on most clauses in either body. One issue was the state boundary. Some delegates in both factions proposed an east-west line running a few miles south of St. Cloud. Both parties rejected the idea. Another issue among the Republicans was voting rights for African-Americans, also rejected.

Gold Curtis introduced two amendments including: “…..a provision for securing to married or single women, in their own name, and independent of all control by any male person whatsoever, their real and personal property whenever acquired,” which was adopted. Setzer proposed an addition: “And the right of suffrage and holding office shall be secured to married women.” The change was rejected.

Curtis’ other amendment provided that: “The Territorial Prison, located under existing laws, shall, after the adoption of this Constitution, be, and remain one of the State Prisons of the State of Minnesota.” The provision remained long after the old prison at Stillwater was closed, and was finally removed in a cleanup of obsolete clauses in the constitution.

As the days went on it appeared that there would be very little difference between the two constitutions. Joseph R. Brown had the idea of two constitutions identical in content, so that neither side would appear to have surrendered to the other, and set to work getting both sides to agree. A resolution incorporating a compromise plan was introduced in both conventions, and adopted without debate by the Republicans. On the Democratic side the resolution was postponed indefinitely. Setzer was among those strongly opposed. Setzer said, “If we must go and beg other men to acknowledge us, I want no further connection with the constitutional convention.” Calls of, “Nor I, Nor I.” Brown replied: “I would merely provide that a Committee shall be appointed to take into consideration in what manner one Constitution shall be placed before the people, instead of two.”

The issue soon arose again, and a committee including Brown, Holcombe, and Setzer was named to consider agreeing on a single constitution with the Republicans. The majority report favored seeking an agreement, and the convention adopted the report. Seven members, including Setzer, voted against it. Setzer walked out, saying “Mr. President, as this body has, by a majority of its members, decided that it is no longer the Constitutional Convention, I should resign my seat if there was an authority to whom I could tender that resignation. As it is I shall simply leave the hall.” Moses Sherburne replaced Setzer on the compromise committee. A few days later the sergeant-at-arms, sent to arrest the absentees, produced Setzer at the door of the convention. He took his seat.

The compromise committee produced a constitution identical to the Republican version. Setzer exploded: “Since the Black Republicans have sacrificed their principles, we can afford to sacrifice the offices…. they have agreed upon an apportionment which is unfair and one-sided in every respect…(which) will give a majority of both houses of the Legislature into the hands of the opposition. The gentleman asks if we cannot sacrifice our individual opinions for the good of the whole. Sir, I am a Democrat for the good of the whole. Gentlemen take a good deal of credit to themselves for having sunk all partisan feeling in this matter. For one, I will not sink my partisan feeling….”

The convention adjourned for private discussions. Doubtless some heads were knocked and some arms twisted.

When the convention resumed, no amendments were accepted to the report. Several delegates said that the report was the best that could be had, and it was time for one constitution to be approved and statehood achieved. Joe Brown observed that the split conventions were all for the best, for if they had met together they would still be battling over the first clauses the next January. The final vote on adoption showed thirteen opposed, only Setzer among them from Washington County. However, he did sign the constitution.

The compromise Constitution was presented to the people of Minnesota Territory on October 13, 1857 and was easily approved by the voters. At the same election the first state officers and legislators were selected. Delegate Setzer’s fears about the apportionment proved groundless, for the Democrats carried the election. Interestingly, these gentlemen ran for offices in a state that didn’t exist under a constitution that had not been ratified. But these minor irregularities did not prevent Minnesota becoming a state on May 11, 1858. William Holcombe became the first lieutenant governor, and Setzer was named warden of the Stillwater prison.

Not one to ever truly bury the hatchet, Setzer held the position until 1860 – when he resigned in protest of Republican Abraham Lincoln’s election as President.



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Preserve the Past, Share in the Future!

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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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Washington County Historical Society

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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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