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!


Presented in Smell-o-Vision!


While looking through a 1959 newspaper for marriage announcements, I came across an 1959 article declaring that “Smell-O-Vision” will be movie theaters’ next innovation. I never could understand the appeal of smelling what I’m watching: sewers in Buffy, horses and people in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, job sites in Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, not to mention the tendency of smells to hang around and mix towards the end of the movie. But, smell-o-vision is coming back, it seems. A 4D version of Batman vs Superman in New York came with smells and there is even a device available that emits scents.

In 1959, smell-o-vision was introduced to keep people coming to movie theaters, which were closing in droves, thought to be because of the availability of television. They had 35 scents in one (and it seems the only) film, The Scent of Mystery: including roses, garlic, banana, a sooty tunnel, and the sea. This wasn’t the only innovation, however, the same 1959 article states that a horror film came with a hypnotist so the audience would “experience horrors first-hand through the power of suggestion,” not something I’d be interested in! The only problem the theaters anticipated: a lack of good new films to show!


Original Device from

As you can imagine, this never quite took off, and who knows if our current reintroduction of the idea will fare any better. One article tells of a Japanese invention where the smells are released directly through the monitor, and only from the pixels of the source of the smell!  It currently can only produce one scent (until the cartridge or capsule of scent is changed), but who knows how many scents might be available, or how large and expensive these cartridges may be?

You never know what you’ll find when looking through Scott County Historical Society’s collections!

Smell-o-Vision image: from

Celebrating Summer Outdoors in Scott County

While we continue our inventorying of LeRoy Lebens’ vast catalog of work here at SCHS, it is hard to miss his passion for nature and everything outdoors. Often times we will come upon long series of photographs showing outdoor scenes of all types: wildlife, flowers, trees, and people simply enjoying the outdoors. As we enter summer in Scott County, particularly on beautiful sunny days, it is easy to see how LeRoy was so captivated by these surroundings. What better way to celebrate Memorial Day weekend and summer than to share a small sampling of these outdoor pictures? We hope that these might inspire you to get outside this weekend to enjoy and explore the bounty of outdoor spaces and activities that Scott County and the Minnesota River valley have to offer us all. Perhaps you can channel some inspiration from these pictures and snap a few shots of your own! Happy Memorial Day from all of us here at Scott County Historical Society.

Connections Across Time

It’s kinda weird, creepy even, when today’s events reflect those from 100 years ago. This year marks the centennial of the U.S. entry into World War I.  While researching this topic I was struck by the similarities between what we’re experiencing today and WWI sentiments.


Before the U.S.19980150001 got involved in WWI, the phrase “America First” was used by those wanting to stay out of the war. This same phrase was used in the 2016 presidential campaign.

President Wilson stated: “The World must be made safe for democracy.  Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.”  Barack Obama stated: “…we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.”

Loyalty – Surveillance

20000490029Being of German descent was not a positive fact during the war.  Since Scott County was settled by a majority of Germans, loyalty to America became a public issue.  This pamphlet of a speech by Julius Coller, clearly illustrates this public demonstration of loyalty.  In Belle Plaine, a movie that had a pro-German bent, was thrown into the street and burned by local citizens!  100percentAmerican

Not only were you expected to demonstrate your loyalty to the U.S., you were also encouraged to turn in those you suspected of German sympathy.  “It is the duty of every good citizen to communicate to proper authorities any evidence of sedition that comes to his notice.” New York Times, July 1917.  “Clip and send to us any editorial utterances they encounter which seem to them seditious or treasonable,” Literary Digest.  All of this brings to mind today’s wire taps, surveillance, Wiki Leaks, and investigations.


The Immigration Act of 1917, among other things, required that immigrants be able to read and write in their native language, which led to standardized literacy tests. Standardized testing continues today in schools across the county.



WWI introduced air raids and poison gas – precursors to today’s chemical weapons, bombings, and nuclear war threats.

It’s funny how researching the past can give you a clearer understanding of the present, and an understanding of how personal beliefs/conduct, and national and global relations evolved.

The SCHS newest exhibit: The Great War: Scott County in World War I, opens June 22, 2017.  Special guest speaker Iric Nathanson, author of World War I in Minnesota.

Recent Program Highlights

It’s been a busy few months at the SCHS! Below are photos and highlights from some of our recent programs.

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David Schleper presenting “We Were Here, Too: African-Americans in Early Shakopee” at the SCHS on Feb. 9, 2017.

– In February, we learned about the lives of several African-American men and women who lived in 1800s Shakopee, thanks to guest presenter David Schleper of the Shakopee Heritage Society.

– In March, Shelley Gorham from the Minnesota DNR taught us all about the Minnesota River valley, from the history of fur trading in the area to present-day habitats and wildlife. (PSSST- if you haven’t yet visited the SCHS’s “Minnesota River” exhibit, there’s still time! It will be up through the end of May!)

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Making lye soap at the SCHS!

-In April, guest instructor David Hudson showed us how to make our own lye soap, just as people did in the old days. (Well, except we had the advantage of microwaves to help speed up the process!)

We’ve also had lots of fun kids’ programs recently!

– If you visited the museum on just the right Saturday in January, February, or April, you may have seen students carving tools out of rocks, throwing darts with an atlatl, or digging for artifacts in the museum garden. This was all part of our Youth Archaeology program. Big thanks to the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund for making these workshops possible!

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Students flintknapping as part of our Youth Archaeology workshop series.

– Meanwhile, younger kids enjoyed singing songs, listening to stories, and making crafts at our monthly Kids Kraft program, a fun opportunity to introduce young children to the museum.

We have many more great programs coming up, including our annual meeting next Thursday, May 18 featuring guest speaker and local racing legend John Boegeman. Register for that program here, and stay up-to-date on all of our events by visiting

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St. Patrick’s Day Kids Kraft at the SCHS





Spring Has Arrived!

Spring is here! The flowers are blooming, the grass is green, and the days are getting longer. Indeed, summer will nearly be upon us in a month!

Now that the weather is warming up, and the sun is shining more and more, don’t forget to step outside your house and enjoy the warmth you haven’t felt since last year, as well as the activities your town has to offer.

Call your friends, sit in the yard, and enjoy a picnic or a party, just like these Shakopee foundry workers did back in 1905. 19960190001

Parades will soon start marching down the streets of towns, so don’t forget to set your chair on the curb and make memories like these individuals did during a parade in Belle Plaine in 1901! (And maybe…not so secretly… snack on some candy).

Baseball season is already well underway, so make your way to your local baseball diamond, eat a hot dog and some nachos, and cheer on your favorite team, just like the fans of this Rock Spring team did in 1910.20130320068

Try and make time for some leisurely afternoon walks in your local park, be it to listen to music, take your dog for a walk, or just to hang out with friends, like these young women did in 1905. 19990680001

Last, but not least, hit the road! Head to your favorite destination, with your windows or top down, and enjoy the spring breeze on your face and in your hair. Have fun and make memories, just like Mathilda (Nyssen) Stans and her family did in 1905.20080051907

Prefabricated Homes: Page and Hill’s 15 Year Stint That Ended in Disaster

The Page and Hill Company moved to Shakopee in 1942 into the old Kienzle & Merrick oven enameling plant, and began operating in late June. They planned to make and sell prefabricated homes (also known as pre-fab or kit homes). They came in many styles, all designed by architects. Most things could be altered, giving each house a unique look and many possible floor plans. These were very popular for government use (in military bases) and for civilian homes, and are still very common. You can find whole neighborhoods full of prefab homes, and still purchase new ones today! Page and Hill employed many people during their 15 years in Shakopee. They planned to start out with 125 employees and increased that number to 500 in a few months, many of which were filled by women.

Two prefabricated homes (419 and 427 Seventh Avenue W.) that were constructed in 1948 are listed as historic properties today.

Within a few months of opening, the employees voted in a union and presented an employment contract to the company. The contract was not accepted, and this resulted in the declaration of a possible strike. The company was unable to accept more contracts (for 500 houses and several thousand grain bins) until the proposed strike was delayed for negotiations. A settlement was finally reached in late October 1942. Another labor dispute over the wages for skilled, unskilled, and common work caused a strike in 1948, halting the production of two houses a day that the plant was producing.

Nearly one decade later, in 1957, a fire swept through the plant. This caused a total of $500,000 ($4.4 million dollars today) worth of damages and destroyed a city block-sized area. The company either did not have the ability to recuperate after the major loss or did not want to rebuild, and decided on the permanent closure of the Shakopee plant.

The fire that caused the end of the Page and Hill Company in Shakopee was documented by LeRoy Lebens, who photographed the fire during its progress. These are photos of the fire.


You Save What??

It’s Spring, and you’ve got an itch to pitch. When that feeling comes over you, STOP! Consider whether what you’re about to pitch might be something the Scott County Historical Society (SCHS), would love to have in its collection.



Your old work uniform, shirt, apron, steel-toe shoes, etc…?  If it’s from a business in Scott County – YUP! Bonus points if the name of the company or its logo are on it someplace.  Don’t worry about holes, stains or wear; that indicates the item was used, and helps show how, and how much it was used!


RahrcranePhotos from the workplace?  RIGHT again!  We love photos of behind-the-scenes and front-of-shop pics of workplaces in the county.  How about signs?  YEAH – as long as they’re not too big (space is a premium at the museum).  But hey, if it’s big, call us anyway, sometimes we’re lucky at finding places to save the big stuff too!


What about all those great plaques you received from all the good 20060380003work you / your company have done in our communities? ABSOLUTELY! When they’re done hanging on your wall or sitting on your desk, we would be delighted to find space in the collection to tell your story of service.


blueprints20030570003Doing or completing work on your house or business?  What about donating a set of blueprints, or work contract? YES please. These are great resources that help us track the history of space and use over time.

Work contracts too are great resources on a variety of topics, including — gender roles, assigned duties, hours / compensation / benefits, location, materials, timing, work conditions, etc.   FYI: Are you worried about anyone seeing your work / business contract?  No problem.  You can put a restriction on the donation stating no one can see it until you’re deceased – or even some years after you’re gone.

If you’re like me, you have a pile of receipts just sitting in your wallet, on the kitchen counter, or taking up space in the desk drawer.  Do we really want these slips of paper? YES – these are valuable resources to us! Receipts are a snapshot of history… recording place, product, price, business, etc.  So, if your receipt is related to Scott County – send it over to us and preserve a bit of history.

millpondmenuWhen you get your receipt from dinner, lunch, breakfast, mid-afternoon snack… from a local restaurant, think about us, not only for the receipt – but also the menu! Ask the business owner if they will allow you to donate the menu to SCHS. Really, menus?  AFFIRMATIVE – menus are particularly cool items.  The graphics are always great, and again, they’re snapshots of history and place.  Great resources for researchers and for use in programs and exhibits.

20160616_091702The collection is what drives everything at SCHS – programs, exhibits, outreach, research, etc.  Items in the collection help tell stories such as: who we are, where we came from, how and what we do/did, how places have changed and why, shifts in ideas and design, what is / was popular and why, how we coped with the good and the bad, and lots more.

With your help, the SCHS collection can continue to be a rich resource for years to come.  Please, STOP and think of SCHS before pitching. Thanks!

Photo Treasures from the Lebens Collection – Shakopee Businesses

Over his long career in photography,  Shakopee native Leroy Lebens seems to have documented a little bit of everything in Scott County: weddings, construction, floods, graduations, sports, wildlife, and concerts to name a few.  He also happened to track the growth and development of many Shakopee businesses and institutions. This week we are taking a closer look at a few of these photographs of Shakopee businesses from his collection we have housed at Scott County Historical Society. Spanning well over thirty years, these ten pictures feature places you can still visit and some of which have long been closed. This is just a small sampling of what we have found so far. Take a quick trip down memory lane with us!

Shown: Wampachs, Midland Glass, Shakopee Motors, Rahr Malting, Betty Lu’s, Abeln’s Bar, Mill Pond, St. Paul House, St. Francis Hospital, and First National Bank.

Keep It or Pitch It?

Spring cleaning time is upon us, and with it, the eternal question: should I keep it or pitch it? Indeed, what to do with all of that stuff that somehow always piles up in the basement, attic, or garage?

Keep It or Pitch It
Keep It or Pitch It? Workshop held at the SCHS on April 6, 2017.

To that end, the SCHS recently offered a workshop at the museum titled “Keep It or Pitch It?” This workshop was designed to help people who are in the process of cleaning out a room or a home figure out what they should keep and what they should pitch.

Kathy Klehr, SCHS Executive Director, took on the “keep” portion of the workshop. According to Kathy, items are worth keeping if there is a story attached, or some sort of sentimental value. (This brings to mind Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was all the rage a few years ago, and particularly Kondo’s suggestion to keep only those items that “spark joy.”)

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Does your item tell a story? This one does! It was used by the Grommesch & Gerold families on their farm southwest of Marystown beginning in the early 20th century. (From the SCHS collection.)

If you are downsizing in your own home, or helping someone else to downsize, Kathy strongly recommends doing a walk-through of the home with family members in order to determine which items may have special meaning to them. Maybe one of your kids finds great sentimental value in that knick-knack you were planning to give away – better to find out now than after the fact!

Kathy also offered up some tips about how to preserve your “keep” items. (For instance, store photos in acid-free photo sleeves.) If you want to learn more about proper preservation practices, you can always contact the SCHS for advice by email at or  by phone at 952.445.0378.

Stephanie Herrick, Curator of Education, took on the “pitch” portion of the workshop. However, in honor of Earth Day coming up, Stephanie focused on alternative ways to dispose of your “pitch” items rather than tossing them in a dumpster. Her suggestions included:

  • Donate your items – There are a huge number of thrift stores in and around Scott County (Goodwill, CAPS Thrift Store, Bridging, etc.) that will take your donations of clothes, household items, small electronics, etc. Donations are usually tax-deductible! (And don’t forget, if you have an item that helps tell the history of Scott County, the SCHS will accept it for our collection!)
  • Sell your items – Selling your unwanted items has never been easier, now that we have the internet! and Facebook garage sale groups are great go-to websites for selling stuff.
    Wooden darning egg from the early 20th century. These were used in the process of mending fabric. (Photo courtesy of

    Repair your items – As historians, we are always thinking about life long ago. Back in the day, people didn’t have the luxury of constantly replacing items – they had to repair them! You can too, either by taking them to a local repair shop or by giving it a go on your own. Google is your friend in this regard (true story – Stephanie once fixed her car radio by Googling how to do it!).

  • Repurpose your items – Take something you don’t want and turn it into something you do want by getting creative! A few vintage suitcases stacked on top of each other can become a nightstand! Old t-shirts can be sewn together into a new quilt! The possibilities are endless! (You can also check out or if you think someone else might be able to repurpose your items.)
  • Recycle your items – We all know that paper, glass, plastic, and cardboard are recyclable, but did you know you can also recycle shoes, computers, clothes, and carpets? There are TONS of resources online – the Recycling Association of Minnesota ( is a great place to start. Also, most cities in Scott County have a city-wide clean-up day, so check out your city’s website for more information!
  • Pitch responsibly – Do NOT throw your household hazardous waste (medicines, household chemicals, paint, etc.) in the trash. Follow proper guidelines for disposing these items. Scott County residents can learn more here:

Happy Spring Cleaning!!