Surviving the Elements

A Life Changing Storm

In various settlements throughout what became Scott County, the Dakota witnessed all types of weather during their hundred years in the Minnesota River Valley.  Samuel Pond, a missionary to the Dakota who lived among Chief Shakpe’s band in the 1830s, described the near-death experience of a Dakota acquaintance.  Cloud Man, chief of a village on Lake Calhoun (Bde Maka Ska), told Pond of being caught in a blizzard while hunting on the plains near the Missouri River.  He and his companions pulled blankets over themselves and lay down where they were, letting the snow cover them in cold, but protective pockets to wait out the storm.  To his surprise, Cloud Man and each of his companions emerged the next day alive, though weak from cold.  During his confinement in his little bubble of snow, Cloud Man thought about farming, a controversial occupation for the Dakota, who were primarily hunters.  After the storm, he did indeed begin one of the first Dakota agricultural settlements on Lake Calhoun, an experimental village known as “Eatonville.”[i]

Early Settlers & Weather Worries

Scott County received an influx of settlers after the 1851 treaties with the Dakota that opened the land to settlement.  One of the earliest pioneers to the Shakopee area, Moses Titus, described the first lonely winter of the few settlers who arrived almost before the ink on the treaties was dry:

“The winter was long, and cold, no news, no festivities, no pleasures, parties, no dancing (unless to warm freezing toes), and no papers from St. Paul or Ft. Snelling…Our town proprietor [Thomas A. Holmes] did not starve, his Indian friends brought him plenty of venison; potatoes were to be had at the old Mission site (S.W. Pond’s) and towards spring our heroes in their rambles captured a large bear.  This was rare sport, and furnished them with food, and fun, for a full month.”

As Minnesota opened to European settlement, it was “pitched” to eager pioneers in various ways.  Some writers tried to counter rumors of a harsh environment.  Others proclaimed the vigor and “robustness” gained from the cold, dry climate.  Writing in 1853, Wesley Bond strongly put forward the case for a stalwart northern temperament among the settlers: “To begin with, if you are of that incorrigible class of persons who have taken it into their brains that no part of this great globe is habitable, by reason of the cold, to a higher degree of latitude than about forty degrees north, we have no use for you.”[iii]


“A Glorious Old Storm”

March of 1899 saw a major snowfall in Shakopee.  A photograph from the time shows C.J. Strunk looking over his shoveling work in front of the businesses along First Street.  In front of Strunk a hitching post is dwarfed by a pile of snow.  The photograph tells us something of winter weather gear at the turn of the century.  Only one person in the picture is wearing what we would think of today as a winter jacket—the man at the right in the fur coat and hat.  The rest have ventured out to shovel in coats and ties (though it could be that it was not all that cold that March).  Another photograph taken just after the storm shows the snow removal system in 1899—two men with a horse-drawn wagon who haul the snow away.  The Argus dismissed what looks from the photographs to have been a major storm, saying, “Wasn’t that a glorious old storm we had Saturday night and Sunday?  There is no scarcity of snow here at this writing.”[iv]


The Armistice Day Blizzard

Even with the modern conveniences of heating, electricity, and automobiles, severe weather still wreaked havoc in Scott County in the 1940s.  November 11 was Armistice Day, a day marking peace at the end of World War I.  But in 1940, on the verge of another World War, the day was anything but peaceful.  Fine fall weather turned abruptly into a hard-freezing rain that coated the streets.  By mid-morning the snow was falling, as well as the temperature, and by midday the blizzard was in full force.  Local papers describe the escalating dangers of “tornadic winds” and “15-foot drifts.”  Motorists were apparently taken by surprise and had to abandon their cars as the roads became impassable.  The only human deaths in Scott County were two Minneapolis men who stayed in their car near Belle Plaine to wait out the storm.  One of them wrote to his girlfriend to pass the time, telling her he was quite comfortable in the heated car, and had even taken off his shoes.  Snow piled up underneath the car and clogged the exhaust pipe, flooding the car with carbon monoxide and killing the men.  In Shakopee, an electrical highline snapped, which sent the town into utter darkness.  Those with electric heating had to wait out a very cold night.  Snow plows could not get through because of all the stranded cars.  In and around Belle Plaine and Shakopee, every hotel, farmhouse, and public building was filled with stranded motorists or school children seeking shelter.  In New Prague, 200 turkeys froze as farmer Edward Palma tried to get them to shelter.[v]

blizzard-armstice - MHS

These stories are not merely tall tales of exceptional weather.  Part of their historical value is the way they show the interaction between society and our environment.  Some of these interactions are humbling, putting a stop to social life as “usual” and leaving us at nature’s mercy.  These stories also show how people adapted to radical changes in their environment, helping each other cope with nature’s antagonism and upholding social bonds that we rely on during times of distress.  And, of course, there are lessons about preparedness and safety to be learned from every storm or disaster.  Studying history is one way to prepare for future crises.  If you would like to know more about this topic, visit the Scott County Historical Society on the web and search our collections at

Edited from original article by Patrick Rodgers, SCHS 2006

[i] Samuel Pond, Dakota Life in the Upper Midwest.  (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986: 10-11); Roy Meyer, History of the Santee Sioux.  (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993: 49-50).

[ii] Speech by Moses Titus to the Good Templars Lodge, 1879.  MHS manuscript collection C.F.612.55.T623.

[iii] Wesley Bond, Minnesota and its Resources.  (NY: Redfield, 1853: 161).

[iv] Scott County Argus, March 16, 1899.

[v] Shakopee Argus-Tribune, Nov. 14, 1940; Belle Plaine Herald, Nov. 14, 1940; Belle Plaine Herald, Nov. 21, 1940.


Santa Claus is Coming to Town

As the Christmas season begins to get into full swing, people we start shopping for Christmas presents, family will begin making plans to travel, and of course Santa! Tis the season when we will begin to see Santa Claus on our TV, on billboards, and most importantly in person. Shopping centers, town halls, and community centers nationwide will soon start having visits from Santa.


Have you ever wonder how St. Nick became so busy leading up to his big day? The use of Santa in stores has been attributed to James Edgar in 1890 in Massachusetts when hired an actor to play the role. Store employees acted as Elves to help him with the flood of children. Having your picture taken with Santa dates back to at least the 1910s.


Santa’s workshop, or some name to that effect, is a staple of the Christmas season in most communities. Pictures with Santa are as much a tradition for many families as Christmas cards. While the trend of an in-store Santa may have begun in 1890, a store Santa can expect to work ten hour days and see over 30,000 kids a season. In fact, schools across the country now train people to play Mr. Kringle. Since so many are running around, I guess they do know who has been naughty or nice.


If you want a chance to see Santa for yourself, then bring the family down to the museum this Saturday December 1st. We will have Santa in the Stans House, as well as marshmallow and weinie roasts in the Community Garden. It’s the annual Holiday Fest and we would love to have you come out and enjoy the day with all of us here at the museum.

Black Friday: A Little History

While holiday gift-giving is a centuries-old tradition, the holiday shopping season is not – it was defined by of all things, parades!  By the mid-20th-century parades were drawing large crowds and not just in large cities. Many parades were sponsored by local retailers (usually department stores), who by attaching their names to the parade, increased store visibility with holiday shoppers. Over time, Thanksgiving parades came to be seen as the unofficial start to the shopping season. In fact, Macy’s first parade on November 27, 1924 was advertised as a Christmas Parade with the arrival of Santa marking the official start to holiday shopping. (Note, the first few Macy parades included live animals from the Central Park Zoo, who were replaced with large balloon animals in 1927.)

thanksgiving-trivia-1st-macys-thanksgiving-day-parade-1924-Bettmann Archive-Getty Images-515134184
Macy’s 1st Thanksgiving Parade 1924, Bettman Archive – Getty Images

But where does the term Black Friday come from?


Originally, the term was used to describe a financial crisis in 1869 when James Fish and Jay Gould worked together to buy up as much gold as possible ,to drive up the price and corner the market. However, their conspiracy unraveled on Friday, September 24, 1869, sending the stock market into a free-fall, ruining investors and tanking the economy. That day came to be known as “Black Friday.”

So if that’s where the term comes from, why is it associated with shopping? Well, we have to back up a bit.

President Lincoln designated the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving and, as noted above, that day came to be known as the start of the holiday shopping season. This was fine until 1939, when Thanksgiving fell on November 30, leaving only 24 shopping days (actually, a bit less as most stores weren’t open on Sundays). President Roosevelt gave in to pressure and moved Thanksgiving up a week to allow more time for shopping. (Remember, this was during the depression and a longer shopping season was seen as good for the economy.)  This move caused controversy and confusion, particularly because he made the declaration in October! Congress finally passed a law in 1941 making the fourth Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving holiday.

Franklin Thanksgiving, Bettman Archive – Getty Image 

By the 1950s it was clear that many people were taking the Friday after Thanksgiving off work, giving themselves a four-day holiday and getting a head start on holiday shopping. Although the day after Thanksgiving isn’t a Federal holiday, many state and school employees were given the day off, increasing the number of potential shoppers. This came to a head in Philadelphia where the annual Army / Navy college football game takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Thousands of people flooded into the city to not only take in the game, but to shop. The combination of football fans and shoppers was a bad mix – city cops had to work extra-long shifts, deal with large crowds and traffic, and the headache of shoplifters who took advantage of the situation too. By the 1960s locals were calling the crazy day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday”, a name that stuck and spread.


Black Friday came into its own during the 1980s and 90s when large big-box stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy advertised blowout sales. By the turn of the 21st century deal-hunters were camping out in parking lots and waiting in lines through the wee-hours of the morning to be the first to get bargains.  At times, some crowds have turned a bit violent with fist-fights breaking out.  There’s even a website called Black Friday Death Count!

black-friday-gallery-gettyimages-97160565 (1)

Today Black Friday has to share space with Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday, but Thanksgiving is still seen marking the start of holiday shopping.

If shopping isn’t your thing, a group in the UK (Buy Nothing Day ), invites people to escape the “Shopocalypse” by engaging in anti-commercial activities, suggesting you stay at home with a good book or organize a free concert, anything as long as you don’t buy anything.

All of us at the Scott County Historical Society wish you and yours a warm and filling Thanksgiving Holiday.

(FYI: The museum is closed for Thanksgiving and Black Friday – we’re eating goodies and shopping!  The museum – and our museum store are open on Saturday.)

thanksgiving dog and cat

A Short History of Thanksgiving

Early Thanksgivings:

Setting aside time to express gratitude and feasting to celebrate harvests where both practices that predated European and English arrival in North America.  Similar practices are recorded as being part of life for more than one American Indian nation. Feasts of thanks were recorded by both the Spanish and French settlers who came to North America in the 16th century.

Thanksgivings were also commonplace among the early British colonial settlers. The first settlement at Jamestown in 1610 routinely held thanksgiving feasts. In fact, it was written into their charter from the London Company that “the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned… in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.”

The event that Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by

patricia donnelly of cedar lake township 1950
Thanksgiving card made by Patricia Donnelly of Cedar Lake Township for her her mother, 1950. SCHS Collections

the Pilgrims in October 1621 after their first harvest in what they called the “new world”. This feast lasted three days. Attendee Edward Winslow described it thusly:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labor. They four in one day killed as much fowl as served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we retired our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days with whom we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which we brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty

As feasts of thanksgiving were a relatively common cultural practice at the time, the Pilgrims’ feast with the Wampanoag was not identified as the first Thanksgiving until a booklet titled “Of Plymouth Plantation” was published in 1841. The booklet contained collected writings of the Plymouth colonial settlers. The editor, Alexander Young, pointed out the above passage as the original Thanksgiving in a footnote.

The United States:

Thanksgiving was a part of the national identity of the United States from its onset. During the revolutionary war, the Continental Congress declared one or more days of Thanksgiving each year. Rather then falling on an appointed day each year, these Thanksgivings were declared to honor individuals or events such as a battle

thanksgiving card 1906
Thanksgiving card listing beloved family members and friends, 1905. From the SCHS Collections

field victory. The proclamations were lengthy and wordy affairs, such as this December example:

It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these United States to set apart Thursday, the eighteenth Day of December next, for Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please God through the Merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty God, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, Independence and Peace: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.

After the end of the Revolutionary war, Thanksgivings continued be periodically declared. President John Adams proclaimed Thanksgivings in 1798 and 1799. Thomas Jefferson was a deist and a skeptic of the idea of divine intervention. Thanksgiving was

shakopee 1956
Thanksgiving menu from the Mill Pond Club, Shakopee, 1956. From the SCHS Collections

at that time associated with giving thanks to God, not to other men, and because of this Jefferson did not declare any thanksgiving days during his presidency. James Madison renewed the tradition in 1814. Madison also declared the holiday twice in 1815; however, none of these were celebrated in conjunction with autumn or the harvest.

The Civil War

Thanksgiving as we know it came to life during the American Civil War. In 1863 Lincoln, in a bid for national unity, declared a national day of Thanksgiving, to be celebrated the final Thursday of November, 1863. Of this decision William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, wrote:

 In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom….It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving. 

Since the Civil war a Thanksgiving, in one form or another, has been celebrated annually in the United States. While traditions have varied from feasts to shooting matches, charitable works to football games, Thanksgiving continues to be a time when Americans gather with family and friends to be thankful for the good things that have happened that year.

At the Scott County Historical Society, we are thankful for the wonderful members, volunteers and donors who help us to keep our doors open each day. We are also thankful for the interest in history and community that drives visitors to stop in and attend events. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


Today we remember the end of WWI and honor veterans – Thank You!

The world before August 1914 was bustling, on the other hand, there existed an unsettling trend of imperialism and nationalism, backed by militarism and complex alliances.  Although war broke out in August 1914, the United States didn’t enter the war until April 6, 1917.  Overnight, the country shifted into war mode with an undermanned and under-equipped military.

President Wilson pushed Congress to enact the Selective Service Act of 1917 in May, which required all men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for possible enrollment in the military. Within a few months over 10 million men had registered. By the end of the war 24 million men had registered with about 2.8 million selected to serve in the military.

Most Minnesota recruits went through induction and training at either Camp Dodge near Des Moines, IA, or Camp Cody in the desert near Deming, NM.  These camps (often under construction and incomplete) introduced men from all walks of life to the fast pace and strict order of the military. Exercise and drill dominated their days until they were assigned to larger combat units and sent for further training at camps on the east coast before shipping off to Europe.


Quote from Peter Solheid’s Journal (of New Prague)

Basic – “There was hardship all the way. We got shot in our arms 3 times and vaccinated and so we stayed 3 weeks in O.B. and got our class and got transferred to the 91 Div 364 Inf. Absolutely all strange. It was on Saturday June 23, 1918 and there they put me in Co B and gave me all tools to fight with- a rifle with No 3453 and a bayonet.”

World War I was fought mostly in trenches; a system developed in the early months of the war in order to help troops escape the effects of new types of weapons being used—primarily machine guns and high-explosive artillery. While the killing power of weapons increased, the technology to enable quick movement and communication lagged far behind, making it difficult for troops to advance.


Trenches consisted of intricate systems of multiple lines with machine gun nests, dugouts, and bunkers to protect the occupants from the flying shrapnel and bullets above.

Life in the trenches was safer than life above ground, but a trench was often a horrible place. They were regularly inundated with water and mud, leaving troops vulnerable to trench foot and making it nearly impossible to keep anything clean. The trenches also stunk due to latrine overflows and the rotting of bodies from previous battles that had yet to be buried. These conditions proved perfect for the transmission of disease and infestations of lice, flies, and rats, which could grow to the size of cats.

Quote from Peter Solheid’s Journal (of New Prague)

explosion near trenches in grounds of fort de la Pompelle near Reims.jpg

Battle – “All at once a big shell landed in my squad of 8 men. I saw three fall over and at the same time I had two pieces of shrapnel hit me in the leg and one across my chest and 2 of my partners got it in the head and it was still dark.” “Let me tell you the Germans opened up on the bloody Americans. All the same the rest of the boys went forward with lead under smoke and the ground covered with wounded and dead soldiers and the eyes full of dirt and shoes full of blood.”WW1-100-years-02-flooded-trench

“Dead men all over and I was still in that hole 12 inches of water, wet like a cat, and surely I heard some bullets go by in the forenoon all alone. What should I do now? All alone in a shell hole in France on the Battle Field.”



On Monday, November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m., the war came to an end and would forever be remembered as Armistice Day, or Veteran’s Day in America.

Official word of the signing of the Armistice came over the wire around 3:00 a.m. and spread around Scott County by the sound of shouting, car horns, factory whistles, and church bells. Citizens began to fill the streets and spontaneous celebrations occurred everywhere. Shakopee resident Julius Coller remembered that day as “the noisiest day the county ever knew.” Businesses were ordered closed at 2:00 p.m. so everyone could partake in the celebrations and parades. The Scott County Argus wrote that, “…anyone with a tin-can and a stick could start a parade.” Rallies were held in parks where patriotic speeches were given and effigies of the Kaiser were burnt. Celebrations continued well into the night.


Due to the complexities of demobilizing millions of troops, the first group of Scott County soldiers to return arrived in October 1919.  They were greeted with a raucous parade that featured fourteen bands and dozens of veterans of America’s previous wars.


By the time the war was over, 116,516 U.S. men and women had made the ultimate sacrifice: 53,402 in combat and 63,114 of disease and other non-combat related incidents.

World War I Casualty List – Scott County

Killed in Action: Sgt. John F. Bohls, Shakopee; Pvt. Arthur H. Lemmer, Shakopee; Pvt.  Walter J. Scherer, Eagle Creek;

Died of Wounds: Pvt.  Charles Borack, New Prague; Pvt. Harry Mather, Shakopee

Died of Disease: Pvt. Erwin Fehlandt, Jordan; Pvt. Edward L. Preslicka, New Prague; Pvt. John W. Sticha, New Prague; Pvt. Frank Stradcutter, Belle Plaine; Pvt. Albert Svoboda, New Prague

Wounded: Pvt. Alvin P. Blan, New Prague, Pvt. Albert Bednar, New Prague; Pvt.        Jerry Svoboda, New Prague

Buried in France: Pvt. Charles Borak, Sgt. John F. Bohls, Pvt. Harry Mather

After the war ended the world was a different place. Roughly 16 million soldiers and civilians died, much of Europe was ruined, either physically, economically, or politically and empires and systems which had lasted hundreds of years collapsed overnight, leaving power vacuums to be filled by revolutions and civil wars.  American soldiers returned to a changed nation: an economic recession loomed, women were close to gaining the right to vote, and the sale of alcohol was about to be federally banned.

Armistice Day

From “As I Remember Scott County”

I was about thirteen years old when the word came on November 7, 1918 that World War 1 was over. It was a nasty, cold, rainy day and the town went wild. were were dismissed from school and ran around excited, but to our great disappointment, the evening news brought the word of false report. News reports were much different back then and the telephone was our fastest dispenser of good and bad news.

The O’Connor girls, Ann and Winnie, were the telephone operators then. November 11, about 4:00am, the call came in that the War was officially over. Winnie, the night operator, called Ann. She got up and dressed and went across the street to ring out the good tidings on the bells of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

My sister and I had collected noise makers after the false  alarm so we were ready when the real news came. Some of the young men of the borough had stuffed a suit of clothes to represent the Kaiser and had made a cannon noise maker and shot the Kaiser at day break, put the remains in an old style casket from the local undertaker, put that on a flat sled- like thing and lined up for a parade.

Later in the day farmers came to town on steam engines screeching whistles and the band played and we all marched in the parade that followed. It was a day full of excitement and memorable indeed.

Written by Kathleen Walsh, Belle Plaine

armistice day bp 1918
Armistice Day, Belle Plaine, 1918. From the SCHS collections
Armistice Day, Belle Plaine, 1918. From the SCHS collections

Aprons – Tie One On

The holiday baking season is upon us and one item of clothing will be getting plenty of use… the apron.  Aprons have survived thousands of years as practical, functional clothing items; they served as towels, pot holders, baskets, and more.  Historically, the apron has engendered the feminine aura of domesticity. Some women adorned themselves with the apron as a mantle of pride, a symbol of homemaking, motherhood and nurturing.  Yet others felt it a symbol of constraint or oppression. Despite this, women found ways to be creative and resourceful, making them equally objects of skill and art.  The apron may be a simple object, but is firmly associated with home, motherhood, comfort, work, and servitude.

Early aprons were made from muslin, silk, and serge, and formed part of the dress for special occasions as well as everyday wear. Aprons in the early 1700s were in regular use to protect clothing and were usually a simple rectangular piece of fabric fastened with ties or a belt.  By the end of the century, they were fashionable, particularly for upper-class women, and decorated with embroidery and drawn work. The dainty apron of the 1800s became the small tea apron pinned on – and became called the “pinner”, and was often the badge of the parlor maid.

1906apronpattern-bAprons gained popularity in Victorian England. The ideals of femininity and domesticity ensured their status as upper-class women wore them adorned with embroidery and hand-made lace. It was around the early part of the 1900s that aprons began to slowly diminish in size, previously covering the wearer from neck to toe.

During the 1920s, the apron returned to its practical uses, but in a new style. The “Hooverette”, a loose, wrap-around apron, was influenced by the drop-waist, straight-lined dresses of the time. By the 1930s, the apron ended at the knees and the upper bib portion became smaller. During the Great Depression, a resurgence in home crafts resulted in many hand-embroidered aprons. Instead of the traditional white cotton or linen, women used what was available, including flour sacks and clothing scraps.  Aprons weren’t merely decorative, they meant hard work, often by members of an unpaid labor force.  Despite that, wearers found a way to be resourceful and creative.

By the 1940s, aprons decorated with rick-rack and made of calicos and floral prints became symbols of pride. Flour sacks could be edged with stripes, ribbons, or ruffles.  By the 1950s the cocktail apron became a fashion statement. Summoning glamour, they weren’t created for protection. The bib portion was gone, and the length was shortened to well above the knees.  Fashion was more important than practicality.

The 1940’s and 1950s were the heyday of aprons, when commercial and intricately hand-decorated aprons flourished as symbols of family and motherhood. The TV family of the 1950s included the perfect housewife and mother, proudly wearing an apron as a symbol of her occupation. Apron kits became popular, but women continued to make their own. Hostess-aprons of sheer organdy trimmed with lace were more ceremonial than 1ate 1940s-men-apronfunctional. Another change emerged in the 1950s – backyard barbecues, which allowed men to handle the cooking duties.  Aprons for “Dad” covered his larger size and many had whimsical pictures and sayings printed on the front.

In the 1960s aprons plummeted out of fashion, seen as housewifely accoutrements that symbolized a secondary role for women. The apron became a frivolous item. This was also a time of washers and dryers, and better detergent. Ready-made, easy-to-change clothing  became cheaper so the need to protect and cover clothes disappeared.  By the 1970s, aprons were again utilitarian in nature, relegated to waiters and cooks at the barbecue. The bib returned, and fabric became heavy-duty.  Women began to work outside the home more, but cooking duties were still largely her responsibility. The more protective apron allowed sm-caution-redwomen to cover their business clothes as they started dinner.

In recent years, planned menu and scratch cooking have become recreational activities and relegated to the weekend. Today’s aprons fit any size of wearer and are not gender specific, but their use continues to be limited to the kitchen and barbecue. However, snazzy / snappy sayings and beautiful fabrics are still popular today.

Apron etymology: Middle English, alteration of napron, from Middle French, naperon, diminutive of nape cloth, modification of Latin mappa napkin.

Apron: a garment usually of cloth, plastic, or leather usually tied around the waist and used to protect clothing or adorn a costume.

Apron String: the string of an apron – usually used in plural as a symbol of dominance or complete control.

Idiom: “tied to your mother’s apron strings”; wholly depended on or controlled by a woman, especially one’s mother or wife.  This expression, dating from the early 1800s probably alluded to Apron String Tenure, a 17th Century law that allowed a husband to control his wife’s and her family’s property during her lifetime. In other words: a husband could only hold title passed on by his wife’s family, only while the wife was alive.

From the SCHS 2003 exhibit, “Aprons: Tie One One”

Prohibition by the Numbers

Why Ban Alcohol?


The United States had a drinking problem. At the turn of the century, alcohol was beginning to be seen not as natural or medicinal, but as a vice that attacked those who consumed it. Alcohol consumption was also primarily a male problem due to social pressures that kept most women in the home and out of the saloon. In a time when men primarily controlled family income, alcoholism had an outsized impact on dependent wives and children. The early 1900s was era of reformers, and with a newfound focus on health and the rights of women and children, it was natural that drinking would come under attack.Picture3 Sides were formed between the “Wets” and the “Drys”, and an increasing number of Americans began to call for the ban of liquor.

In 1920 the18th amendment was added to constitution, banning the sale if intoxicating liquors. This law was given teeth by the Vosted Act that allowed for enforcement.

Unfortunately, alcohol was woven into the fabric of US society, and it not fade peacefully into the night. Instead, Alcohol consumption was driven underground, and criminal elements rapidly gained control of supply and production. Though organized crime existed before prohibition, criminal groups received a major boost in income and publicity from the ban. Throughout the 1920s “wets” gained renewed support, painting prohibition as a source, rather than a cure, for crime and debauchery.Picture2

There were several legal sources of alcohol during prohibition. Doctors could prescribe it for medicinal purposes- a clause that was often abused. Over the course of prohibition, it is estimated that the medical community made more than $40 million dollars form illicit prescriptions. In order to appease rural populations, the Volsted act also allowed for home-brewing of wine and hard cider.

The prohibition experiment finally ended in 1933 with the push of the great depression creating a vested interest in the tax revenue that the sale of legal alcohol would bring in.

What about Scott County?


Minnesota a whole was in favor of Prohibition. The “Prohibition Party”, a political organization that put forth Dry and pro-suffrage candidates (the movements were closely linked) elected it’s first state candidates in 1871. Andrew Volsted, the imfamous author of the Volsted act was born in Goodhue County and attend St Olaf College. He served in the US House of Representatives from the 7th district of Minnesota from 1903-1923

Group standing with kegs and beer. Taken in Shakopee between 1921 and 1928

Unlike the state at large, these Dry sentiments were not popular in Scott County. At the turn of the century, the county was overwhelmingly German and Czech, immigrant groups that were largely against prohibition. In fact, the specter of Prohibition was enough to completely alter the county’s voting habits. In the presidential election of 1920 and before the county voted largely Republican. In 1924, the Socialist 3rd party candidate won the majority of votes, and by 1928 the county mostly voted Democrat- a dramatic change that occurred without any major demographic shifts.

Prohibition By the Numbers

Alcohol-Related Arrests in Scott County in a single month, March of 1921

Jordan: Four arrests. It was claimed that 100 gallons of liquor were seized, 25 coming from one house alone.

Belle Plaine : Three arrests, including 10 gallons from a single restaurant

New Market: A man was arrested after drunkenly bragging that he had already made $16,000 ($225, 000 in 2018’s money) from the sale of illicit liquor

Shakopee: Only one arrest…this was not because Shakopee was low in crime, but rather because complicit police were tipping people off to the raids.

Scott County Presidential Election Results During Prohibition
Or, How the Right To Drink Flipped the Polls
Republican: 69%
Democrat: 29.7%

Republican: 29.3%
Democrat: 18.3%
Socialist: 52.4%

Republican: 28.1%
Democrat: 71.7%

Republican: 18.7%
Democrat: 80.6%

Scott County Ethnicities in 1920
German: 47.1%
Czech: 23.3%
Norwegian: 7.7%
Swedish: 3.6%
Irish: 2.8%
Canadian: 2.6%
Danish: 2.1%

Scott County Population
1860: 4,595
1930: 14,116

Alcohol Consumption Per Capita Per Year in the US
1790: 5.8 gallons
1830: 7.1 gallons
2016: 2.3 gallons

Death by Cirrhosis (liver failure) in US Men
1918: 29.5 / 100,000
1928: 4.7 / 100,000

Written by Rose James, Program. Thank you to Paul Keever for research.










Spooky Times Are Here Again

Well its that time of year again, soon ghosts and goblins will hit the streets in search of candy. Halloween is always a fun time of year, a last hurrah for kids before winter rears its head. Halloween has had quite the transformation over the centuries. It started as All Hallows Eve, and was associated with witches and demons. It was a dark day when you stayed inside and hoped nothing came for you in the night.

Did you know that the first Halloween costumes were meant to scare away evil spirits? I can’t imagine a spirit being too afraid of Charlie Brown is a hole-filled bed sheet, but I can imagine them getting a good laugh.


The turn of the twentieth century, and even a little earlier, saw the waning holiday go from being a day to be feared to one of jokes and pranks. In time, it became the Halloween we know today.


It is little wonder, given the history of the festive and colorful holiday why we still tend to associate fear and other dark things with it. Even today Halloween has an air of unease for some people. The neighborhoods of American before graveyards and haunted mansions, I wonder if those are to scare away evil spirits too?


So before the weather decides to turn its old familiar Minnesota Cold, let’s have one last night of spooks and jokes at the expense of whatever evil spirits might still linger. After all, the reward for be brave and going out is the best one of all some sweet, sweet candy!


Ring Ring

Today, our phones are permanent fixtures in our lives. Most Scott County residents take their capacity for instantaneous global connections for granted. Telephones first came to Scott County In the 1880s, and quickly changed the face of county-wide communication. First citizens relished the ability to talk to their neighbors. Soon, they wanted the ability to communicate with the wider world.

shak arg jun 1 1933 phone-1

From the Scott County Argus, June 1, 1933

By 1882, Joesph Strunk of Strunk’s Drug Store convinced the Bell phone company to run a line connecting Shakopee to the Twin Cities. The company was initially resistant to his proposal, claiming that Shakopee was not large enough to be worth the effort. Strunk finally got his wish by agreeing to pre-pay for $500.00 of long-distance calls as an offset the $1200.00 cost of installing the line. By 1886, other businesses around Shakopee had hired “unlicensed local talent” to connect their businesses to Strunk’s long distance access. Before long, the web of lines had spread throughout the county. These were not private communication networks. For many years, Scott County had party lines.

If you haven’t heard of this concept, when using a party line you picked up the phone and talked to an operator. That operator then physically moved a plug to connect your call. There were only so many lines, and only one person could be on them at once. If you were on the phone, your neighbor would hear the call when they picked up the receiver, and would be unable to place a call themselves until you were finished.phones march 20 1947-1

“All A’s For Alice” From the Shakopee Argus Tribune, March 20, 1947

At the telephone’s conception, the first telephone operators were teenage boys- it was an entry level part time job, similar to getting a job at McDonalds or as a grocery clerk today. Early customers complained about the disrespectful tone and language of these operators. Alexander Graham Bell  had the solution of replacing one of them with a women. At the time women were thought to be naturally more patient and soothing. By the end of the 1880s, the job of telephone operator was considered exclusively a female trade.

Telephone employees, operators and linesmen. Belle Plaine, 1900

Telephone Operator, New Prague 1910

Unfortunately once the job of telephone operator became to be know as exclusively female, the pay (predictably) lowered. Emma Nutt, the first American female telephone operator who was picked by Bell himself made only 10$ for a 54 hour week.

In 1919, East Coast telephone operators went on strike, shutting down phones across New England and eventually won a wage increase.

This movement for equitable pay in the Telephone industry hit Scott County as well. On April 3rd, 1947 the following ad appeared in the Shakopee Argus Tribune

phones april 3 1947-1

In spite of the company’s unusual bid for public sympathy, on April 2nd the Shakopee phone operators, along with two linesmen, went on strike

phones strike 2 april 10 1947-1

Telephone operators remained a fixture, and almost exclusively female one, for a long time. 1973 saw a national strike of female Bell operators. Along with the strike, the women filed a complaint with the EEOC. They pointed out that almost all operators were female- a low wage job with little advancement, while better paying management and repair positions were almost all male. The company responded by hiring more men to be operators, but other positions remained bereft of women.

Operators remained an essential part of telephone service until the late 1990s, an occupation that lasted over 100 years in spite of changing technology. The job even outlasted Strunk’s Drug Store which finally closed in 1977

Today, Scott County residents (along with the rest of the globe) independently operate the vast communication powers of their own phones- for better or for worse. Come visit the Tools of the Trade exhibit at the Scott County Historical Society to try out several eras of Scott county phones, or harness the powers of your own phone and check out our upcoming events at

phone from msp to drug store sept 15 1982-1

phones around town argus mar 26 1896-1