The First World War

Post by SCHS Intern: Aaron Sather

The First World War, also often called the Great War or the War to End All Wars, was a massive conflict that has shaped the world in numerous ways. It marked the end of many Empires such as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, German Empire, Russian Empire, and Ottoman Empire. It was also a beginning for many new Nation-States that were formed out of remains of these Empires. While some Empires and Nations were involved in the conflict directly for all four years, the involvement of the United States is radically different than those on the continent of Europe. Many isolationists were antagonistic towards going to war, but eventually war was declared and the United States directly involved. Everyone in the United States, the State of Minnesota, as well as Scott County was involved in the conflict to a varying degree.

The first and most obvious avenue of involvement for American men in the war was direct military service. When the United States declared war in the Spring of 1917 the US Navy, though expanded due to the relationship between naval power and empire building, had limited utility due to the prevalence of U-Boat tactics. Dreadnoughts could blockade ports but engagements between naval squadrons remained limited. Meanwhile the US Army was grossly undermanned and ill equipped to fight the war expected of them on the Western Front, and later in the east against the rising Bolshevik threat in Russia. The United States needed to recruit, train, equip, and feed its Army before deploying the American Expeditionary Force to Europe. This process took months, and it was not until the summer of 1918 that the AEF began arriving in France en masse, often still lacking adequate arms and training. Many would receive weapons and training from the French. All states and counties in the United States were expected to provide men for the war effort. Scott County has changed drastically since the First World War as it was much more agricultural then. Being a food resource rather than a military manpower resource less enlistment was expected of Scott County to preserve its workforce and keep food flowing out of its fields. Even so 453 people were enlisted for military service from the county, 14 of whom would perish in service to their country. While enlistment rates for the county were at half the national average, the casualty rates remained the same as the rest of the nation. The brutality of the Great War is what drove these casualty statistics.

The type of combat varied incredibly across all fronts. From the brutal maneuver warfare of the massive Eastern front, to the chaotic asymmetrical warfare of the Middle East and Africa fighting was brutal. The Great War often remembered through the lens of the Western Front. Static lines were literally dug in the ground and the fighting descended into trench based warfare. Machines were developed to gain an advantage over the enemy, often with an incredible capacity to end human life. Tanks were developed to smash through heavily fortified lines, airplanes were used to reconnoiter and harass enemy positions (including civilians) and chemical weapons were developed to spread terror and death across vast swaths of territory. All off this technological development came due to the need of ascendancy on the battlefield and contributed to the wars brutality.

The American Expeditionary Force, under General John “Black Jack” Pershing, arrived in France and was engaged in horrendous trench warfare. There are many battles that display the severity and danger of the war, but the Battle at Verdun shows the horror that was the Great War the men from Scott county would find themselves in. General Falkenhayn, the German mastermind behind the battle, planned to “bleed France white” by taking the French village of Verdun and the surrounding forts. This plan was not to gain Verdun for any strategic importance but rather than to kill as many French soldiers as possible. Verdun was a place of great importance to French pride and so they defended it with vigor. The French motto “Ies ne passeront pas” or “They shall not pass” appeared in French propaganda. Thousands of French soldiers came to the defense of Verdun, some claim around 60% of the entire French army was rotated through the Verdun lines over the course of the 9 month 3 week and 6 day battle, and thousands died in the brutal battle of attrition. Artillery was used so extensively during the battle that trees still struggle to grow in some places around the site of the battle. In the end the French held, but their victory was a pyrrhic one. This was the type of war the American men were entering.

American involvement would allow French and British Units to finally receive much needed support, stepping in to bolster the Anglo-French lines after nearly three years of attrition and loses. American units were not broken up and assigned to allied units as Pershing wanted the AEF to stay American, though African American Units (the military was still segregated) were loaned to the French who had no issue using colored troops. A notable example of African American men in the war are the Harlem Hellfighters or the 369th Infantry Regiment, getting their nickname from the enemy and not themselves. After helping their allies hold the line the allies went on the offensive. Once enough Americans had arrived in France for the AEF to mount their own massive Meuse-Argonne Offensive, part of the greater 100 Days Offensive that finally pushed German forces back beyond the Hindenburg Line. Their lines shattered and now facing a combined Anglo-French-American Offensive free to maneuver unrestricted by prepared defenses and their people starving the German Empire signed the Armistice on November 11th, 1918. Though men were the ones who fought the war they were not the only ones involved in the it.

Men were the ones who were almost always on the frontlines of the war doing the fighting, asides from Women’s Battalions of Provincial Russian Government, but women also contributed greatly to the war effort. Women contributed to the war effort in whatever ways that they could. Some would become nurses and actually join the military such as the US Navy, caring for the sick and the wounded and being with the dying. Others would join the Red Cross, working to collect supplies to support the war effort and helping in any ways that they could. Even by writing simple letters to their husbands, sons, or brothers ensuring that all was fine on the homefront was crucial to the war effort. Commanders needed their soldier’s minds focused on what they needed to do, not the what-ifs of home. These women were not only writing letters saying things were OK with the family, they were the ones who actually mad things OK. As the heads of the household women took on a new double burden if a male left their household. Not only would they have to still cook meals for their families to eat, no easy feat due to rationing, but in some cases, they needed to step into the male’s place in the economy by also working. Some British Women would work night shifts at a munitions plant, leave work early in the morning to get in line at the grocer, get home and take care of the house and family, and then go back to work in the late evening, somehow trying, or not, to fit in sleep. Though Scott County women did not experience the direct danger of being near a warzone they still made great sacrifices and contributed to the war effort.

Americans contributed to the war effort in any way that they possibly could. Men, many in Scott County, would stay at home and continue farming to provide food for the war effort. Others would go off to fight and die thousands of miles away from all that they knew. Women would continue running their households to keep moral on the homefront as high as possible while trying to keep their loved ones abroad in high spirits as well. Some would even take on positions in the workforce, albeit temporarily. African-American men, though struggling with the injustices of a legal racial divide still devoted themselves to the cause, with their wives and sisters standing behind them and the nation. The people of Scott County, and the men, women, and children of the United State of America banded together behind the cause for war regardless of race, religion, color or necessity because they were all Americans and thought it was morally what needed to be done. This unity is what helped the United States help win the First World War.

USS Texas
USS Texas, a New York Class Battleship, and the only surviving Capital Ship in the world to have served in both World Wars and is still seaworthy today. According the Mahan’s “Influence of Sea Power Upon History” whomever controls the seas controls the world. Many Empires built intimidating Dreadnought and Battleships, though they rarely met in direct confrontation during the First World War with the Battle of Jutland being the exception. They were often used to impose blockades instead. Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsaint/8039763196 labeled for non commercial reuse
Verdun-shell-holes
Verdun shell holes still visible today. The destruction destroyed thousands of human lives but also ravaging the landscape. Even today “red zones” remain in France where plant life is still unable to grow due to heavy metal concentration in the soil and people cannot go due to unexploded munitions. Image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Verdun_5.jpg labeled for noncommercial reuse
Aerial reconnaissance
An aerial reconnaissance photograph of the opposing trenches and no-man’s land between Loos and Hulluch in Artois, France, taken at 7.15 pm, 22 July 1917. German trenches are at the right and bottom, British trenches are at the top left. The vertical line to the left of centre indicates the course of a pre-war road or track. Image and Caption Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aerial_view_Loos-Hulluch_trench_system_July_1917.jpg labeled for noncommercial reuse.
Pershing propaganda poster
Propaganda poster of Pershing’s Crusaders. Image credit: https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3048/3049886600_3af715fdf0_b.jpg labeled for noncommercial reuse

Tale of Two Cities – Merger

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the merger of Elko and New Market into one unified city.  Today the long-term residents of the two towns live side by side with new inhabitants, people who came to the area in search of small-town life, but who enjoy the convenience of the nearby suburbs.  The population of New Market quadrupled between 2000 and 2004 due to the influx of young professionals settling into the area.

In 2004, the city councils of both towns began to consider the possibility of a merger.  Together, the two towns drafted a Cooperation and Combination Plan which laid out the steps they would have to take for the approval and implementation of a merger.  This plan was completed and approved by both city councils in January 2006.

The merger plan was detailed, laying out the exact changes in city structure and services that would follow a successful merger.  The Cooperation and Combination Plan was especially thorough when it came to development and land use, facilities, services, finances, and governing structure, as these would be the most important elements to consider in a merger.

Even before the merger, Elko and New Market shared several services.  Elko contracted with New Market’s fire department and New Market borrowed Elko’s police department.  The two towns even shared a sewer system.  A successful merger would only compound the symbiotic relationship that existed between the two settlements.

A merger vote was held on March 21, 2006.  This was a public vote, open to all citizens of Elko and New Market.  The merger was passed with resounding success.  In Elko, 213 people voted for the merger, while only 38 voted against, and in New Market the score stood at 224 to 47.  The referendum to merge passed.

Once the merger passed, the towns’ administrators had just over nine months to implement the Cooperation and Combination Plan before the towns officially merged on January 1, 2007.  The city councils and administrators from both towns came together to form a single interim government in charge of implementing the merger plan.

Today, the unified town of Elko New Market is home to over 4,500 people, long-time natives and new arrivals alike.

To learn more about the histories of Elko and New Market and the merger that brought them together, visit the new exhibit on Elko New Market, opening soon at the Elko New Market Library.

Blog by SCHS Intern: Amanda Roberts

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Platting It All Out

Here at the SCHS we often have donations of maps.  What we have received covers a wide span of time.  These maps provides us with information regarding the changes occurring in our county over time.  Things like street maps, political maps and topographic maps are all names we have probably heard before. That’s because they’re important and not only for historians.  Street maps show us the evolution of our roadways and the changing shapes of our cities.  Political maps show us the location of our cities and the shapes of our counties.  Topographic maps show us how the very land has been shaped and reshaped over time with the influence of human populations. These all provide important information for daily use and historical information.  Of course there are more types of maps then just these three and one in particular that is worth discussing for historical interest.  That is the plat map.19980140108Plat maps have a much narrower focus than any of the other maps already discussed. These maps cover only a small section of a city.  Plat maps like this were made when a land owner or land owners had their land surveyed and divided into plots. Generally this land is sold to others plot by plot.  For people interested in buying any of these plots, the plat map is useful for providing necessary information about what is available on those plots of land.19980140101Looking at this closeup we can analyze the plots of a plat map more closely.  Significant for every plat map is the compass as seen prominently displayed in the lower left of this image.  This helps show how this map is orienting its depiction of the land and helps to more accurately determine how a plot of land is shaped when inspecting it.  A plat map tells us the size of a plot.  Looking at the plot in the upper left hand corner labeled with a 7, we see other little numbers running along the insides of the polygon.  These numbers inform us that the southern side of the property is 166.90 ft., the eastern side is 135 ft., the northern side is 120 ft., and the western side is 142.92 ft.  Prospective land owners are also given information such as how their property faces roadways and how lakes and rivers interact with plots.  We can see here that plots 4 and 5 of the second section are lakeside properties, having borders along Lake Hanrahan.  Plats also indicate if part of your land is designated as an easement.  Depending on what type of easement your property has, the indicated section can be used for purposes other than the owner’s, such as building a new public roadway.  So, for a potential land owner, a plat map can help you learn what you’re getting from a piece of land.

For historians, old plat maps provide a lot of information about ownership.  For the two plat maps seen above, we are seeing the land as it was surveyed and originally divided into plots.  Plat maps also provide us with the dates of when surveys of land took place as well as giving us the names of others involved in this whole process.  The names of these original land owners can often be seen on street names in the neighborhoods that they once owned.  If you’re ever wondering where a strange street name came from, it could very well be this exact situation.                                                                                                                                                            19980140099

As plots are sold the names of the buyers are included in future updates of plat maps. This way, by looking at plat maps you can learn the land ownership history  of an area. This is useful for city or county history but could also come in handy for researching family history.  If you’re looking for a plot of land that an old relative owned, find the right plat map and you’re on your way.  So whether you’re a historian or a perspective land owner a plat map is a useful piece of information.

 

If you would like to learn more about map making or if you’re curious about the history of the city of Prior Lake has then visit the Prior Lake City Hall starting 8/11/2017 to see the exhibit Finding the Way: Map Making in Prior Lake.

 

 

 

Let’s All Go To The Movies!

Today we can watch movies at home on or televisions or even on our phones.  But it wasn’t so long ago that the neighborhood theater was the only place to see a movie.

Movies were distributed throughout the county and most towns had their own movie theater.  These theaters usually had one projector, however, early movies were made up of many reels.  Audiences had to wait patiently while the projectionist changed reels, sometimes several times during one film.

An article in the January 20, 1926 Jordan Independent reported on the installation of a second electric motion picture machine at the local Grand Theater.  They noted “the advantage of the double installation is that patrons now have no wait between reels as formerly, for one machine is ready for continuing projecting the next reel of the photoplay on the screen at the moment the other machine comes to the end of its reel, thus giving the audience a continuous play.  Not many towns of the size of Jordan can boast a double-machine motion picture theater.”

Like other businesses, disasters happened.  New Prague’s theater was completely gutted by fire in April 1934.  The New Prague Times reported that “The New Prague fireman battled with a fire hard to reach, as by the time the alarm was turned in, the theater interior was an inferno of flames.”   When it reopened in September, it was transformed from a blackened and charred interior to a luxurious beautiful space.  The exterior was altered to include a ticket booth facing the street entrance.  New projectors, sound system, lighting were installed as well.  The Times also  reported that “The theater has been inspected by the state fire marshal and pronounced thoroughly safe in every respect.” The rebuilt theater was renamed The Granada, replacing the former New Prague Theater.

The Jordan Theater also closed due to a fire in November 1956.  Seems that the owner, Leo Brazier had turned on the gas heating system in preparation for a movie showing that evening.  He went out for coffee and spent some time visiting with Mr. & Mrs. Julius Schultz (who lived next door to the theater), when they saw smoke pouring from the building.  The fire was concentrated near the theater stage, but didn’t cause much damage to the exterior, however the interior suffered quite a bit of water and smoke damage.  When it was rebuilt it received a new façade.

Scott County not only had a number of movie theaters, but was also home to a film distribution business, North Star Film Exchange.  Reno Wilk of Minneapolis and Julius Coller of Shakopee started the company to distribute re-issued films.  Julius Coller got into the film business through a toy projector he acquired when he was about 12 years old.  In later years he would show films to Shakopee kids in his attic.  He acquired quite a valuable private film library, including films such as “The Great Train Robbery” and several Fatty Arbuckle features.

North Star had a list of 62 current attractions in 1946.  Among them are such things as “Adventures of Tom Sawyer;” a couple of “Tarzans” “the 39 Steps”, “Half Way House” and others.  Upcoming oar others including a couple “Toppers”, “Turnabout,” “Of Mice and Men,” and others.  Six Hop-a-long Cassidy and 16 Range Busters westerns are also on the list.   In 1949, North Star Pictures was granted the exclusive Northwest distribution rights for the new screen hit, “I Shot Jesse James”.

Let’s not forget Drive-In theaters!  Prairie Drive-In was located on Co. Rd. 9 in Jordan, opening in 1965 with capacity for 450 cars.  Prior Lake Drive-In also opened in 1965.  Champions Drive-In is currently in operation in Elko with capacity for 600 cars!

Patronize your local movie theater, enjoy viewing a film on the large screen, nosh on some popcorn, and chill out this summer!

A Successful Partnership: 81 Years of Rahr Making Malts in Shakopee

Continuing our inventorying of the photographic work of LeRoy Lebens here at SCHS, one of the more prevalent themes of his catalog is local businesses and their development. His photographs capture the construction and activity of many businesses throughout Scott County. However, one business seems to stand out among all the others, both in terms of numbers of photos and physical size, the Rahr malting plant in Shakopee. We thought it would be interesting to share a few of these images with you, along with a little background on this longtime member of the Scott County business community.

The Rahr family began a brewing business under the direction of German immigrant William Rahr in 1847 along the shores of Lake Michigan in Manitowoc, WI. Malted barley grain, necessary to the brewing process, was also produced by the family. It was this second factor that would ultimately prove to be their greatest success. Within a short time, Rahr began selling their excess malt to other breweries throughout the Midwest and eventually this became their primary focus until prohibition swept through the country in 1920. To survive prohibition, Rahr produced malt for use “near beers”, coffee, and dairy products. Fortunately for Rahr, as well as everyone else, prohibition came to an end in 1933 and they could again produce malt for a thirsty population.

Eager to reclaim its former dominance in malting for brewers throughout the Midwest, Rahr looked to expand beyond its Manitowoc location and built a state-of-the-art facility in Shakopee in 1936. They had many reasons for choosing Shakopee for their new facility. First, the malting process requires an abundance of good water, which the aquifer here provides at a constant temperate of 52 degrees, perfect for their needs. Second was proximity to barely, at the time the farmlands around Shakopee were producing some of the best barely in the world. Third was access to shipping facilities, ports along the Minnesota River and railroad service from Union Pacific and Canadian Pacific afford the factory the ability to quickly ship orders anywhere. Fourth was proximity to the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, which was the leading barley market in the nation. Rahr also found an eager workforce and a welcoming city in Shakopee, according to a February 6, 1936 article in the Shakopee Argus-Tribune.

This facility is now the largest single-site malt production facility in the world.  Since 1936 the Rahr plant in Shakopee has undergone five more expansions, adding buildings in 1954, 1977, 1981, 1994, and 2016. The facility’s footprint is seven blocks long, two blocks wide, and dominates the skyline with its tall towers which can be seen for miles around. The added capacity has enabled an annual output of 460,000 metric tons of malt, while its 300 storage bins can hold upwards of 8 million bushels of barley. This kind of output makes Rahr an undeniable world leader in their field, providing malt and other supplies to roughly 90 percent of the breweries in the United States, from big names like Anheuser-Busch to the smallest local brewer. Despite having additional facilities in Taft, North Dakota and Alix, Alberta, the Shakopee plant serves as the company’s headquarters where they employ 240 people.

The images we have selected to show here were taken by LeRoy Lebens mostly from the 1960’s through the early 1980’s and show various stages of construction for new buildings, advertising, parts of production, and artistic shots.

Scott County Fair Origins

The Fourth of July has come and gone once again, and now it’s nearly August. Before August can roll in, however, the Scott County Fair must begin!  The Scott County Fair is coming up within a few weeks, running from July 26th to the 30th,  a long-awaited source of joy in mid-summer. Adults and children alike have waited patiently (and perhaps not so patiently) for the fair, mouths watering at the thought of deliciously fried food, a spike of excitement through the heart at the thought of rides, and pride at the thought of showing off their crafts.

The Scott County Fair has been a source of community camaraderie for a very long time, but for how long exactly? Strap on your boots and belts – we’re about to take a step back in time.

Long before the Scott County Fair was known with its modern name, it was first known fairas the Scott County Agricultural Fair. The very first Scott County Agricultural Fair took place in Shakopee in 1857. As the name suggests, the fair featured items concerning agriculture and livestock, hosting the displays in various buildings. The Scott County Agricultural Fair, having no permanent location, used Jordan, Belle Plaine, and Shakopee for fair locations, up until 1883. In 1872 the Scott County Agricultural Society was formed, and the society took it upon themselves to answer the demands of the people – find a permanent location for the county fair.

In 1883 a decision was made to have the permanent location in Shakopee. Twenty acres of ground were chosen, and within a year, buildings were erected to house agricultural, horticultural and livestock displays, as well as other various events, such as horse races.

Information on the Scott County Agricultural Fair is scarce between 1885 and the early 1890s. In years that had troubled times for crops, displays were small and nearly nonexistent. Mentions of fairs in Scott County do not appear until around 1893 – and this is where things get confusing. Instead of a county fair, there are articles of a street fair, located annually in Shakopee. The street fair was very similar to a county fair in that it ran for three days, and had displays on local agriculture and horticulture, but also featured music, dancing, parades, and performers of all kinds. It is not entirely known whether the street fair and county fair occurred in the same years, or that the street fair simply took place of the county fair when times were difficult.

fair1Street fairs were held in late August or early September – to make things even more confusing, newspaper articles described Shakopee’s street fairs as Scott County Fairs – perhaps in a way to let individuals of Scott County know that the fair was all inclusive, and not just for those living in Shakopee. An article in the Shakopee Tribune in 1925 noted that the “Scott County Agricultural Fair…in Shakopee” had a “larger crowd than usual”. It is unknown whether this is another street fair or an actual county fair.

The Scott County Fair eventually moved to a location in Jordan. Similar to the fairs mentioned above, displays were available for viewing, and plenty of entertainment was provided, such as trained animals, parades, band concerts, and free movies. In 1973, the fairgrounds moved to 80 acres in St. Lawrence township, which is where the fair has taken place ever since. The fair and fairgrounds are always improving, with new buildings being erected for more viewing entertainment, and new attractions entering the scope of joy. Despite all of the years that Untitled-2it has been since the very first Scott County Agricultural Fair and the many changes the fair has taken over the years, the coming together of Scott County individuals and the pride that they feel for their local farmers, businesses, friends, and family members, has not changed.

So, make sure to take the time to visit the Scott County Fair this July 26-30, and embrace the community and shared sense of joy that the fair gives to visitors.

 

Fighting Fires

PhilaFiremen.jpgOne of the earliest volunteer fire companies, and the first fire insurance company, were both set up in the 1750s by Ben Franklin and his friend Dr. Thomas Graeme.  Fire companies served a social significance  as well as the practical significance.  You can see the social aspect of firefighting playing out in the illustration in the center of the image.  Three hoses are trained on the burning building, and you can trace those hoses to three different fire departments.  They each wear different colored capes: red, black and pale blue, to tell each other apart.  Here, the three bands are acting in cooperation, but that wasn’t always the case.

Mose.jpgThe second illustration will seem familiar if you’ve seen the movie Gangs of New York.  The man with the red shirt, stovepipe hat and Paul Bunyan stature sitting on the barrel is Mose.  Mose was more of a myth than a man, but he comes out of the Bowery gangs of New York’s east side that are depicted in the popular film.  He was also a character in one of the most popular plays of the New York stage.  Most of the tough Bowery b’hoys were volunteer firemen, and their companies were their gangs.  They would brawl each other for the honor of putting out a fire, often letting a house burn in the process.  The barrel in the illustration is interesting.  The first person to each fire was assigned the task of guarding the fireplugs.  These are plugs in wooden water pipes that firemen would remove to connect their hoses to the main.  The gangs in New York would send out a man with an empty barrel to put over the main to guard the plug from rival companies.  These goons were called “plug uglies” and that’s very similar to what Mose is doing here.

What does all this as background have to do with Scott County?  The earliest Scott County and Minnesota fire departments were just as social organizations as their eastern predecessors, only much less violent.  Important citizens were active members of volunteer fire fighting, including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.

What did towns do without a fire company: let a house burn or put it out yourself. Fighting fires was everybody’s business and everybody’s job.  As towns expanded and became more dense, the dangers of fire became more serious, and clamor for a fire company grew.

Fighting fires in the 19th century was tricky for several reasons: for one, building materials were easily combustible.  While 1870s Scott County was by no means a new settlement, there were enough log houses to make a general conflagration in a city a major disaster.  Second, sources of heating were dangerous: gas lights, fires, stoves, candles, all contained the possibility of getting out of control and starting a blaze.  Finally, the earliest industries that helped cities grow often contained dangerous possibilities for fires.  Lumber industry, flour milling, textiles, etc.  In fact, one of Shakopee’s flour mills burned in 1885—a very dangerous fire because of the explosive properties of wheat dust.

In 1872 Shakopee had it’s first big fire at the St. Paul and Sioux City railroad machine shop on east First Avenue.  It caused quite a bit of damage to a vital part of the city’s growth and sustenance – the railroad.  In 1879, the National Hotel burned, wiping out an entire city block that contained a grocery, several saloons, and a meat market.

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Belle Plaine Fire House

1883 is our starting date—that’s when years of agitation for a fire department finally paid off and a fire department was organized with elected members and three companies: Hook & Ladder, Engine (pumper) and Hose Companies.  Belle Plaine organzied their company in January of 1883 with great success, however the department would dwindle and disband over the next two years.  However, their early success may have inspired Shakopee to organize their company in the fall of 1883.

 

The Shakopee Fire Department (SFD) has all its original ledger books that record the dates of their earliest meetings, who was present, who was not present and had to pay the absentee fine, and a list of fire calls .  This ledger is of the Hook & Ladder Co.—so not the entire department—and in 1884 their budget was $31.80, a tidy sum for that day, though they received a city appropriation for $2,900 for initial equipment purchases.

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The department was always a tight social organization.  But there was a lot of pomp and entertainment to their events.  They held annual Thanksgiving and Christmas balls which were the talk of the town and also helped the department raise money.  The Shakopee Argus reported on their first one in 1883: “The first annual ball of the city Fire Department was held last evening and was largely attended and thoroughly enjoyed.  The firemen were all dressed in their uniforms and presented a fine appearance in their drill…a thoroughly enjoyable time is the unanimous verdict.”

In America, we don’t talk about class very much.  But some of the earliest visitors to our nation when it was young were amazed at the spirit of community and civic duty that cut across class lines.  The son of a French nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville, was one of the most astute observers of early American life, and remarked on how, in towns across the county, people felt the duty and desire to pitch in and steer the direction of their community and nation.  This translates down to the Shakopee fire dept., as well.  On its rolls, you see that its members were farmers, butchers, lawyers, shop owners, craftsmen and speculators; blue collar and white collar, sometimes both at once.  Most of them were immigrants.  But they were connected to the growing town and to each other, perhaps by civic duty, by self-interest, or both.

Just as the early town was dependent upon the civic engagement of all its citizens to survive, so were nearby towns dependent upon each other.  Fire calls in Shakopee history have often been assisted by companies from other towns.  Before Shakopee had its own department, St. Paul was one of the only organized fire departments in fledgling Minnesota.  They had men and equipment, like a pumper engine, though it took the department several hours to get here by rail.  Jordan and Chaska were also instrumental in fighting Shakopee’s fires, and it works vice versa.

A page from the first ledger of the department shows part of the fire record for 1884.  It indicates that barns and railroad shops were the unfortunate recipients of fire for the first half of the year.  The Omaha Railroad company shops caught fire twice, and neither fire was ruled accidental but “incendiary.”  It also lists J. B. Conter’s hotel barn as catching fire accidentally for a loss of $2.  Conter’s hotel was Shakopee’s Pelham hotel, later the Merchant Hotel.  The details of early Shakopee society that the ledgers reveal and the services rendered and records kept by the fire dept. are extraordinary.

The first decade of 1900 brought new improvements for Shakopee’s firemen.  The city installed new water mains and fire hydrants for a larger and more reliable water supply.  Hydrants provided their own pressure, so the use of heavy pumpers was reduced.

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Shakopee Fire Department c1928-1930

In 1916, the SDF aquired its first motorized fire apparatus, a Kissel Chemical Fire Engine. That same year, fire broke out at Ries Bottling works (of which we have the letter).  The fire took off because the warehouse that caught fire stored paper, boxes and wooden cases that fed the blaze.  Apparently the Kissel did not perform well at that fire.  Another large fire took place in 1923 at the Minnesota Stove Co.

A pivotal year for the SFD was 1954/5, the year that they got their new building and moved out of the city building on 2nd and Lewis.

Fires included the McMurray building at 1ststation.jpg and Lewis in 1957, the Shakopee Warehouse  in 1962, and the St. Paul House in 1965 which firemen kept at for 16 hours.  Simons Lumber Yard burned in 1968, and was at 2nd and Lewis, visible at left of the picture with the fire bell.

 

1959 had the worst fire that Shakopee has yet seen, not so much for loss of property or extent of the blaze, but for the only loss of life to occur within the department’s history.  A fire started at Schesso’s garage, a Chevrolet dealership.  The fire was tricky because the fire fed on the gas and oil in and around the cars.  The blaze lasted 6 hours, in the course of which, Max Wermerskirchen, a 28 year old fireman, fell through the roof of the building while trying to break out a skylight to ventilate the building.  The SDF dedicated a  plaque to Max’s memory as the one firefighter to die in the line of duty in Shakopee.

We recommend Caroline Paul’s book Fighting Fire for the women’s side of the occupation.  Her book is grizzly in parts, but a very interesting read.

Original article written by Patrick Rodgers, former curator at SCHS.

 

Junior High Yearbooks from 1996, 2004, and 2013

We have an extensive collection of yearbooks, both high school and junior high. Not only are these extremely useful by providing photographs and identifications for an entire generation, but they are excellent glimpses into the past and a fun walk down memory lane. These junior high yearbooks are great examples.

In 1996, the yearbook gave out awards for the best groomed, best personality, most unique, biggest flirt, and easiest to talk to. There are photos of students studying, eating in home economics, and goofing around. (Is it just me, or is the yearbook the only place where goofing off is approved of?)

In 2004, teachers got to have their own say with quotes about what it was like when they were in junior high. The awards are extra fun with categories like flashy hair, formidably outgoing, favored politician, and florescent eyes. There are even a few “edited” pictures when a student didn’t like their photo!

In 2013, there are fantastic photos of the school play Pirates of Penzance, along with a faculty versus freshmen basketball game, and lots of school dances. Students also participated in an anti-bullying day and a spelling bee.

 

Fires, Floods, Blizzards, and Crashes: Disasters in Scott County through LeRoy Lebens’ Photos

As a man who seemed to always have his camera nearby, LeRoy Lebens managed to capture a wide variety of happenings here in Shakopee and Scott County. In our inventorying of his large catalog of work here at SCHS, his pictures of disasters in the area, both man-made and natural, have caught my attention. LeRoy succeeded in being in the right place at the right time to document people’s reactions and the damage done. Two of the more notable incidents we have in our collection include the Ketterer building fire in downtown Shakopee on September 7, 1957, which took three hours and six fire departments to extinguish and the great flood of April 1965 that saw the Minnesota River crest at a record height of 721.8 feet. This flood submerged a third of Chaska and cut off access to Hwy 169 North for 15 days, requiring boats to be used to ferry people back and forth. Some of the other photos we highlight here include a train derailment off of 2nd Ave and left grain all over the street, blizzards (including LeRoy digging himself out of one), and a number of other business fires, most notably of the iconic St Paul House where LeRoy would often play swing with his trio. If you would like to learn more about these events, or to see more of the Lebens collection, come on by the Scott County Historical Society!

 

Brass Bands of Scott County

Nothing says “summertime” like an outdoor concert, and that was as true 125 years ago as it is today. Back then, the music of brass bands filled the summer air, creating a festive soundtrack for community celebrations and events. Brass bands peaked in popularity between the 1850s and early 1900s, a time when new cities and towns were springing up all over the United States. This music brought community members together and helped foster a sense of civic pride. Here in Scott County, nearly every town had its own brass band; below is a brief history of some of these bands:

  • The Valley Cornet Band of Belle Plaine was established in 1890 by Mr. E.E. Chamberlain. As of 1891, they had around 16 members. Aside from brass players, the band also consisted of a couple of drummers and a piccolo player. The band played at a variety of events, including horse races, baseball games, weddings, and parades. According to a quote in the Belle Plaine Herald in 1891, “The members all have good instruments, handsome uniforms to which they have recently added leather music pouches for every player. They are now as fine a musical organization as can be found in the Minnesota Valley and Belle Plaine can justly feel proud of them…”
  • Shakopee was home to the Shakopee Cadet Band, started in 1901 by Hubert Stans (father of Maurice Stans). Like the Valley Cornet Band, the Shakopee Cadet Band performed at local celebrations, parades, fairs, and events. One such event was a street fair in honor of James J. Hill, the railroad tycoon from St. Paul. He gave a speech, and then the band played a song. Afterwards, Hill gave Stans a $50 bill (a lot of money in those days!), which he used to treat his band members.
  • There were several brass bands in Jordan, but the most prominent was led by Al Hagie. Al Hagie was a traveling musician who ended up in Jordan thanks to the Nicolin family. The family (who owned the Nicolin Opera House among numerous other Jordan businesses) wanted to get some better musicians in town, so when Hagie came through with his group, the Nicolin family convinced him to stay. He went on to become the dominant musical figure in Jordan, starting numerous bands and orchestras over the years.
  • The New Prague Cornet Band, also known as the Bohemian Brass Band, was established in 1893 by J.W. Komarek. Like other Scott County brass bands, this band performed at various community celebrations and events. The name “Bohemian Brass Band” alludes to the band’s cultural background; New Prague was primarily settled by immigrants from Bohemia who brought their musical traditions with them. The Bohemian Brass Band existed for a long time and produced a number of talented musicians who went on to perform in other bands and orchestras including Minneapolis and St. Paul Symphony Orchestras and the U.S. Marine Band. The Bohemian Brass Band can still be seen today, in mural form on New Prague’s Main Street.

Of course, brass bands continue to perform at parades and events, so the next time you hear those lively brass melodies, remember that you are hearing music that has long been part of our county’s history.

 

Valley Cornet Band circa 1891
Valley Cornet Band circa 1891
Shakopee Cadet Band, 1901
Shakopee Cadet Band, 1901
Jordan Cornet Band (Al Hagie is pictured front row, third from right, next to his son)
Jordan Cornet Band (Al Hagie is pictured front row, third from right, next to his son)
Mural of Bohemian Brass Band of New Prague
Mural of Bohemian Brass Band of New Prague