Ghost Towns of Scott County

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a ghost town is: “a once-flourishing town wholly or nearly deserted usually as a result of the exhaustion of some natural resource.”1

It is sad to say, but Scott County has its fair share of ghost towns. Below is a list of those ghost towns, with years that the towns were founded and/or ended. As you can see, many of these towns only lasted a handful of years, at most.

  • Louisville, 1854
  • Mount Pleasant, 1856
  • Bellefontaine, 1856
  • St. Lawrence, 1856
  • St. Joseph, 1858
  • Dooleyville: 1855-1870
  • Yorkville
  • Merriam Junction, 1866-1871
  • Helena, 1887
  • Village of Joel: Blakeley Township 1897-1917
  • Brentwood, 1860
  • Luxembourger – early 1900s
  • Lydia

Why did these towns disappear? Many of these towns contained grist or sawmills, a post office, church, school house, hotel, general store, creamery, newspaper, tavern, blacksmith, and of course residential houses. So why, with all the apparent success of a growing town, did these towns die out?

For many of these towns, the main reason was location, as well as mode of transportation to the town. Several of these towns were built near rivers, as that was one of the main sources of transportation at the time. For St. Lawrence, the building of the railroad spelled the end for the town. The river was no longer used, and no main roads were built to the town. For Merriam Junction, a town built right on the railroad, the invention of the automobile was its downfall. All that is left of the town is an old dilapidated railroad depot.

For towns like Yorkville and Brentwood, animosity between their neighbor towns caused them to struggle with their business. Yorkville residents were seen as a threat by those in Chaska Township, and many Yorkville residents were lured over to the other side. Brentwood was on the other side of the railroad tracks to Jordan, and held possession of the depot. Jordan residents disliked this fact, and eventually Brentwood was incorporated into Jordan, disappearing entirely.

No matter the reason for its disappearance, the fact remains that these towns that once flourished are no longer standing. Even though many of these towns have little to indicate where they once stood, their memories are still held in the minds of once residents, as well as their family members. These towns still stand in photographs, newspapers, and postcards. Take a look at a few of the photographs the SCHS has in its collection of some of the ghost towns in the county. Place your mouse over the photo to see the town.

 

If you wish to learn more about the ghost towns of Scott County, please contact the SCHS for more information. If anyone happens to have photographs or information on any of the ghost towns in the county, please let us at SCHS know. We would greatly appreciate the information! Of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, go right ahead and do your own exploring of Scott County’s ghost towns!

Source:

1 (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ghost%20town)

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Storytelling

Everyone has a story – or two – or more.  Some are amazing, or outrageous, or heart-warming, or funny, or depressing, or frustrating, or… The thing is, these personal stories are what we usually take with us to the grave.  They are also the “special something” that makes history come alive.

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Our mission is to search, save, and share the history and cultural heritage of Scott County, which includes our stories.  In our collection we have stories on paper – journals, letters, postcards, books, etc.  We also have stories on cassette tape, video cassette, and digital files. However, not everyone kept a journal, or it’s still packed away in someone’s attic. Stories on cassette tapes, videos or digital files really aren’t very useful if you don’t know what’s on them – what topics were covered.  It’s the transcripts that make the stories easy to search and use.

The SCHS conducted a six-year project to collect stories from the “Greatest Generation” a few years ago.  With the help of dedicated volunteers, stories were collected on cassette tape from over 130 people in our county – over 70 with WWII Veterans.  With the help of the women at the Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility, all the tapes were transcribed, an intern converted the tapes to digital files, and we used snippets for an award-winning exhibit on WWII.

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Because we were able to access the transcripts, we could choose snippets of stories to use in exhibits.  Because they were digitally accessible, it was fairly easy to locate and pull out the snippet we chose, and convert it to the proper format for use.

Hearing someone’s voice describe something you are looking at, or a scene in the past, it creates images in your mind and through their voice, you are able to experience the past in a deeper and richer way.


I don’t know about you, but there are many times I’ve thought – Dang, wish I had thought to record my Mom’s stories about when she was little.  Or… it would be great to hear Grandpa talk about how he made special lures for fishing.  You know…, family lore and stories.  These stories provide an anchor to our past, share special skills, link us to communities, and more.  Unfortunately, we usually think of recording stories after the person has passed away.

At SCHS we thought of this too.  To help capture and save those stories, we partnered with the Scott County Agricultural Society (SCAS), to create a mobile recording studio, named the “speak easy“.

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The speak easy, is ADA compliant (it kneels to the ground, has a ramp, and space inside for wheelchairs); is comfortable (designed to look like a comfy kitchen); includes easy to use, professional recording equipment; and is available for anyone to use.

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With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s a wonderful time to think about actually capturing those family stories before they slip away.  

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We are here to help with advice on what questions to ask, how to ask them, how to capture the stories, and what to do with them once they are recorded.

The speak easy is available for rent – contact us for information at info@scottcountyhistory.org or give Kathy a call at 952-445-0378.

 

HATS OFF TO YOU

Hats serve in a variety of ways: as protection from the elements, identify your occupation, serve as a status symbol, a must for ritual clothing, and of course serve as a fashion statement.  Style and use of hats has changed over time.  Fashionable hats more replaced the bonnet in the late 1800s.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, hat styles began to change by the decade.  The close fitting cloche hat of the 1920s covered short bobbed hair.  During the turbulent 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood glamour influenced women’s hats when feathers, veils, and more masculine style hats became popular.  Hats decreased and increased in size throughout the 1950s and 1960s until concern for maintaining the latest hairstyle became more important than wearing a hat.


Identity and Belonging:

A school baseball team. Muslim women at the grocery store.  Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts at summer camp.  What do these groups have in common?  They all wear headgear, along with other clothing that indicates their collective identity.  The emphasis is on the group, not the individual.

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Cultural Identity:

People with a common ancestry often wear distinctive hats that proclaims national identity, clan affiliation, political beliefs, or common cultural interests.

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Protection for Work and Sport:

We take for granted that workers in heavy industry or dangerous jobs wear standard safety helmets.  In fact protective headgear was confined to a few industries until recently, and become compulsory in those industries only around the 1950s.  Likewise, head wear for hockey and football players, motorcyclists, and race car drivers was standardized only recently.

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Religion and Ritual:

Head wear plays a prominent role in religion, social rituals and ceremonies: many people demonstrate their faith and relationship with God by covering their heads.  The Sikh wears a turban, observant Jews a Yarmulke, and a nun a coif.

Rites of Passage:

During significant events in our lives, such as marriage or bereavement, we often participate in public rituals that require particular dress, especially headdress.  Often these rites of passage have sacred as well as social significance.  For example, the white bridal veil symbolize physical and spiritual purity.

  • Although women of many different cultures have worn veils of some sort for centuries, the white wedding gown and veil tradition is barely a hundred years old.

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Ceremony:

Hats worn for public ceremonies is often spectacular.  Military headdresses worn on ceremonial occasions impress onlookers, as well as foster regimental pride and allegiance.  Indeed, all manner of “pomp and circumstance” requires its particular head wear: civic parade, powwow, royal visits, changing of ceremonial guards…

Authority and Status:

Hats convey power.  Hats such as a tall black top hat represent prestige and social standing. Some such as an army helmet proclaim military might, others identify professional authority such as a police hat or nurses’ cap.

  • Originally nurses wore practical, white, pleated cap and apron of the maidservant – signifying respectability, cleanliness and servitude. As the nursing profession gained recognition, nurse’ caps became less utilitarian and more symbolic, a badge of office and achievement.  Since the Second World War, the cap has lost much of its significance and has virtually disappeared.

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Fashion Hats, 1890-1920:

By the 1890s, the bonnet was declining in popularity and the jaunty hat, perched on top of the head, was considered more suitable for the “new girl” of the period, for whom tennis and bicycling, working in an office and participating in higher education were now acceptable pursuits.

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Women of the 1920s adopted a boyishly tubular silhouette and covered their cropped hair with a close-fitting cloche hat in symbolic rejection of the previous image of femininity.  The chic cloche proved to be an ideal design for mass production; with a few snips, tucks and stitches by a skilled milliner, the hat was ready to wear.

 

The 1930s offered a dizzying parade of imaginative hat styles, including some fanciful and surreal shapes.  Hollywood had an influence on increased glamour and drama in design and lent themselves to the cult of personality, centering on film stars such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Humphrey Bogart.

During the war years the trend towards variety and ingenuity continued as an antidote to the anxieties and rationing of wartime.  Dramatic feather trimmings were revived and the veil reappeared.  Women’s hats often borrowed masculine hat styles, such as the fedora, which complemented the padded-shouldered, tailored suites.  These masculine styles, when combined with feminine trimmings such as feathers and veal, and worn at a coquettish, forward-slanting angle, gave a new meaning to the feminine image.

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After the war, hats became part of the New Look launched by Christian Dior.  Headwear was either very small or very large, hairstyles were neat, and close to the head and make-up included mascara-ringed eyes.  But the hat was in decline by the late 1950s.  Reduced to whimsy and novelty, it began to lose its outstanding place at the head of fashion.

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By the 1960s, the hat represented attitudes to femininity that seemed outdated.  The youth movement jettisoned hats along with gloves, stockings, and bras.  What was new and exciting was hair, teased into bouffant and beehives, and professional hairdressers took over from milliners as the creators of headdress.


Under the Veil:

The veil is the only head covering virtually exclusive to women.  It has been worn since ancient times and is still worn by women who follow a religion that requires the hair, and sometimes the fact to be covered in public.  Many Islamic women wear the Hijab as part of a dress code prescribed in the Koran.  The Hijab denotes both female modesty and reserve, and female dignity and respect.

Cultivated Cloche

The Cloche hat, so simple and modern, nevertheless blinkered its wearer no less than the poke-bonnets of the 1800s.  It dictated a stance that became characteristic of the period, since it was necessary for the wearer to lift the chin and peer imperiously down the nose.  The cloche led to society’s tolerance of eye and lip cosmetics, which gave definition to the face.

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Where did the Mortarboard come in?

The mortarboard’s historical roots can be traced to the medieval square biretta worn by both clergy and laity to indicate social status.  As the affairs of the Church and academe became separated over the centuries, so did their hats.  The biretta was modified to become the head wear of the clergy, and the mortarboard (or flattened square tam), became the hat of the academic.

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The Cap:

A cheap, simple, visor, cloth hat moved from the baseball diamond to perch on more heads than any other kind of head wear today.  The proletarian baseball cap is anti-elitist, deliberately shunning high fashion.  The cap can proclaim a wearer’s affiliation with a particular team; be an emblem of solidarity with workers; a memento of a special place or event; and show what kind of beer you drink or music you like.  Worn with designer jeans it can become trendy, when worn back to front it can mean peer identity or a badge of defiance.

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It is difficult to imagine today, but in the past almost everyone had at least one hat for each season of the year – straw hats for spring and summer, and felt or fur hats for fall and winter.  Upper-middle-class women had a whole collection of hats to suit different times of the day and to match their outfits, which they replaced each year.  Others of more moderate means had a milliner re-trim or recondition the previous year’s model to produce the new year’s shape.  Hats were worn in all public places, including on the street, in restaurants, for visits, and in the theater.  Men were expected to remove their hats in the company of ladies and indoors.

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Many words and phrases connected with hats have become part of everyday language.

When a person puts on their thinking cap to give a problem careful thought, there are mentally imitating the teachers and philosophers of the Middle Ages who often wore distinctive caps that set them apart from those with less learning.

The expression mad as a hatter has been in use ever since Lewis Carroll wrote of the Mat Hatter’s tea party in his famous children’s tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865.  Carroll was referring to the industrial disease caused by inhaling the fumes of mercuric nitrate, used in the felting of animal furs for hat making.  It caused twitching, nervousness and irritability – just like the antics of the Mad Hatter.

bee in his or her bonnet.   eat your hat.   hold onto your hat.   hats off to you!   feather in their cap.    Keep it under your hat.   She’s setting her cap for him.   I’ve thrown my hat in the ring.   If the cap fits, wear it!.   You’re talking through your hat.   That’s really old hat. Home is where one hangs one’s hat.


This blog post is based on a past SCHS exhibit

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!

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.

 

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

 

Advertising in the 19th Century

scrofula You know those infomercials that play on the television late at night, advertising products that claim to improve your daily life, or state that they’ll cure any and all illnesses, only if you call within the next five minutes?! Well, before the television and radio, those infomercials were published in newspapers.

This advertisement for Hood’s Sarsaparilla Cures was discovered in a 1895 article from the Belle Plaine Herald. As you can see, the advertisement uses a testimonial from a user of Hood’s Sarsaparilla, as well as a claim that the medicine “cures this and all other forms of scrofula”. The advertisement certainly catches the eye and draws in the audience.

The beginnings of Hood’s Cures had a humble start in Lowell, Massachusetts. Charles Hood, a son of a druggist, formed his own apothecary – C.I. Hood & Co. – in 1875, and offered many  different types of medicines, although sarsaparilla was by far the most popular. Although the ingredients were rarely listed in advertisements such as above, Hood’s Sarsaparilla included sarsaparilla root, dandelion, gentian, juniper berries, and alcohol. For those unaware, sarsaparilla is actually a root used for medicinal purposes – often which it was said to treat gout, gonorrhea, arthritis, cough, fever, indigestion, and more. Some individuals might also recognize sarsaparilla more immediately for its use in root beer.

shak courier mar 14 1888

Some advertisements just speak for themselves. This advertisement for Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Purgative Pellets was found in the March 14, 1888 article in the Shakopee Courier.

Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce studied medicine and graduated from The Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati in 1862. He studied medicine in Titusville, Pennsylvania for four years, and moved to Buffalo, New York in 1867. Not long after, he began manufacturing his own medicinal prescriptions, and created his own World’s Dispensary Building, as well as Pierce’s Palace Hotel in 1878, and the Invalids Hotel and Surgical Institute. In 1883, he founded the World’s Dispensary Medical Association, where he merged all of those buildings together in to one organization.

Most of his medicine focused on aiding “weak” women – not women who were weak emotionally, but rather those who were weak physically from their strenuous lives. Although ingredients were not listed in the advertisements of his medicine, some of the most used ingredients were often alcohol and opium.

shak courier mar 21 1888 Although this advertisement doesn’t have a drawn image attached with it, it still manages to attract the reader. This advertisement was found in a March 21, 1888 article in the Shakopee Courier.

Similar to the medicine noted earlier, Paine’s Celery Compound was created by Edward E. Phelps, M.D., L.L.D., but unlike Hood’s and Pierce’s, Edward Phelps’ medicine was not listed under his name. The prescription created by Edward Phelps was used in prescription books of Milton Kendall Paine, who was a local druggist. The prescription soon after became known as Paine’s Celery Compound.

As you can see, the ingredients in the compound are listed as celery and coca (the coca leaf  is used to produce cocaine, and has been used in Coca Cola). In some reports, it’s said that 21% alcohol, and even heroin, are noted as ingredients. The advertisement states that the compound will act “gently but efficiently”, but with those ingredients listed, it’s certain that this prescription had quite the kick to it!

Just like infomercials, these advertisements – and their many variations – can be found everywhere, particularly in newspapers of the 19th (and 20th) centuries. In newspapers, these advertisements can be found in nearly every other page, or at least found at the end of each newspaper print for the week. It’s very interesting to wonder if individuals from Scott County were convinced by the advertisements and bought some of this medicine themselves!