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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Crookston's small business owners from a century Ago

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  • During and after a talk I gave last June at the library on Crookston's early history, many attendees shared fascinating information about Crookston's past. I hope the same thing happens during my talk on "Crookston's Early History (Part II)" on October 9, Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. Before that date I intend to uncover some answers to questions that continue to mystify me. Hopefully, many can show up to share their perspectives on the "Queen City of the Northwest" so called one hundred years ago, when Crookston had the same population as now, hovering around 8,000 people.
    I want to find out more about the fur trade that came through on the Red Lake River. A friend who lives along Crookston's serpentine river told me that there was an old, brick tannery building that has since been covered over by the new dike. During the massive renovation, she found pieces of hides and broken china amongst the brick ruins. From what I can tell, August Miller was the person who owned that building along with another earlier tanner before him. What other secrets are covered up along the river banks in Crookston?
    People love to share lore. Recently, I told this bit of info about the tannery to a Minnesota History actor who portrayed George Nelson at the recent Chautaugua French Festival in Huot Park. Long ago Nelson was a fur trader who kept a journal of his adventurous life in this region. The young history actor was enthused to know more about Crookston's past because his great, great grandpa, G. S. Chesterman, was one of the first mayors of Crookston. I found out later that Chesterman had been an undertaker at the turn of the century. Crookston's own Ox Cart Days, celebrated every August, ties in with the fur trade. One could say that Crookston started out with fur and lumber but what endures is agriculture.
    Next, I hope to share in October more about what I learn about the two brick factories that were situated along the banks of Crookston's river. One was by Aunt Polly's Slough (who was Aunt Polly?) and the other was by the mighty lumberyard that was established by T.B. Walker, noted lumber baron of the northwest. Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is known to most Minnesotans as a holding place of the art T.B. Walker purchased. In his collection are many masterpieces done by well-known artists. But how he made his money was through felling timber and he employed thousands of men to mill it back in the late 1800s before he headed his operation out to Westwood, California. Where did Walker's oldest son live in Crookston while he managed the lumber plant that worked round the clock and year round, 24/7, milling the logs that were floated down the Red Lake River from timber sawn down east of Crookston?
    Page 2 of 4 - One older gentleman told me after my talk that there used to be three railroads that came through Crookston. I now have found proof of that assertion and will expand on the railroads and roads that were built in the Crookston area. Of course James Hill's name keeps surfacing whenever I look into any info about Crookston's early history. Hill had a brick house built close to the Washington school that still stands. Since he donated hundreds of acres of land to what was known as the Northwest School of Agriculture, it is fitting that he has a building named after him on the UMC campus.
    I want to learn more about the original Polk county fair in Crookston which used to be by Highland middle school before it moved to a more central location in Fertile. The only reminder of that are two stone pillars where the entrance to the hippodrome (racetrack) and fairgrounds used to be.
    There is something permanent about bricks and stones that have almost eternal value. Actually, I intend to scout around the cemetery to discover some names of original settlers and find out where they are buried. Crookston's street names can also give a clue to those men who made significant contributions to Crookston's early history. (i.e. Sargent, Stephens and Stuart Streets)
    Finally, the most important as a former farm girl, I want to learn more about agriculture. There used to be bonanza farms in the Crookston area. Who owned them? What about dairy farming? Why was there so much apparent talk then about diversification for farmers? Drainage of wetlands and ditches seemed such a priority that the legislature in St. Paul had to take care of. There's a host of things that had to happen in order for this Red River Valley town to prosper and grow.
    To research about Crookston's sugar beet plant we almost lost to another town due to bad decisions and poor planning would really be too recent of history to my liking. I'm more interested in what seems like archeological digging -- going through old archives. It gives a feeling, like that of finding an Indian arrowhead while I was working up our family's sugar beet fields as a 13-14 year old girl driving a tractor. Unfortunately, I'm not an anthropologist so Native American history seems too early and much too difficult to uncover. I 'hanker after' the documented, written up articles that tell Crookston's late nineteenth century history.
    To search out more about Crookston's early business owners, I went to the earliest directory I could find about Crookston's occupants dated 1899-1900 and found out who (from A to Z) owned small businesses in Crookston. First of all, did you know that Crookston had two apiarists (beekeepers) while there were six agriculture implement businesses? N.P. Stone was one of these dealers and the grandfather of the late Merle (Stone) Miller. At this time in history there were ten barbers because there were many men from the factories with beards and heads of hair to be cut. There were four bicycle shops and three billiard halls. Seven blacksmiths and two boiler works businesses. One bookbinder and four bookstores. Eleven boots and shoes places, one owned by a Kiewel. One Bottle Works but three breweries, one owned by Rasmussen of the Hamm's distributor just down the river from Charles Kiewel, the manager of his own brewery (the brick building still stands and is now owned by Glen Torkelson Repair). One broom factory but two candy manufacturers (this would be before Widman's Candy came on the scene in 1912.)
    Page 3 of 4 - With all the settlers moving into the Red River Valley, not only was there the lumber milling, but also, 19 carpenters and contractors. These were just the names listed in the directory. However, I'm sure many of the new farmers settling in the valley built their own barns and farmhouses. In 1915, my grandpa and his brother built the house I grew up in.
    Only one carriage [sic] and wagon works--perhaps by this time people were very intentional about staying in Crookston instead of pushing westward. Ten cigars and tobacco establishments. Nine dray and transfer places, one was owned by John Heldstab. Ten dressmakers, one who was listed as Mrs. H. Audette. Only three drugs and stationery stores while there were eight dry goods establishments. Two founders and machinists. Three flour and feed stores and there were three flouring mills (one close to where the Holiday gas station is now which burned down in the late 1940s, if I'm not mistaken).
    Nine fruits and confectioning businesses and only four furniture stores. Surprisingly by this time there was only one furrier and one gunsmith while there were four glassware and crockery stores. Again, people of Crookston were inclined to stay on because of the agriculture and not because of the fur trade. There were 14 grocers, perhaps "ma and pa" stores to help supply each city addition (Sampsons, Woods, Jeromes, etc). Sadly, these have all disappeared, but I remember some of them. There were four hardware stores which we still have need of today but four harness and saddler establishments that we no longer need and which no longer exist.
    Two hospitals and 19 hotels were listed (half were boarding houses, I assume for factory workers). I was surprised to find two house mover businesses. Was that because some people built a house too close to the river or some wetland that needed to be moved to higher ground? That enterprise struck me as odd.
    We've always had insurance companies and at this time in Crookston's early history, there were 12 insurance agents. But only three jewelers. Two places sold musical instruments and there were four millinery stores. Four music teachers advertised their expertise, giving voice, piano or violin lessons. Crookston had four newspapers of which Editor McKenzie headed up the Crookston Times, which still exists today as a daily newspaper.
    Also not surprising there were 14 lawyers listed at the turn of the 19th century. Easy to imagine the saloon fights and brawls among factory workers or farm hands where attorneys were needed if thefts or murders happened. Reasonable to assume this because there were once 21 saloons in Crookston. Probably not too many divorce attorneys at that time. I did read elsewhere from a book about Crookston's city ordinances, that from 1896 there were "Houses of Ill Fame" and gambling that went on in Crookston. Of course, this would not be recorded in the Crookston city's directory with street addresses.
    Page 4 of 4 - Two liquor stores existed where "intoxicating liquors" were sold and four livery - feed -stable establishments. Four lumber companies were listed, one of which I have written earlier, the one started by T.B. Walker's lumbering enterprise. Before the turn of the century Walker sold out to Shevlin which eventually closed in 1914, soon after it burned to the ground. There was once a Marble Works place owned by T.O. Sundet and two other men. Four meat markets and one "Pe ddler" were listed. I actually remember the days of the McNess spice peddlers who traveled around the countryside to sell their wares.
    Two different photographers by the names of P.E. Lynne and M.O. Mossefin took many portrait photos of people and families. I would guess that if there are any old photos in a family collection, these photographers' names might appear on the outer sleeve or cardboard casings. I don't know how long these two photographers were established in Crookston. By 1911 there was a very good photographer who captured the visits of James J. Hill and also President Taft.
    For the two hospitals that existed, there were 11 physicians and surgeons listed. These men may have done the house calls to farmhouses where babies were being born. My dad was one of those babies born 82 years ago. Interestingly, this major event was completely unknown to his three older sisters (ages 9-11-13) at the time. Back then in the early 1930s being in the "family way" was kept hush-hush even within the family. How far we have come to where pregnancy and what leads up to it is discussed very openly.
    One plumber and gas fitter place which leads me to believe that everyone who arrived in the Red River Valley came with a skill set to fix anything from kitchen sinks to other water pipes in the house. But back then there were the ubiquitous outhouses, so plumbing was not a big issue as it is today.
    There was one pork packer who was George Vine. I noted of the ten restaurants in Crookston, one was owned by another Vine. So I'm sure some of the fresh meat was sent over from the packer's freezer. I mentioned earlier about George S. Chesterman being an undertaker, there was another one too. Not as many deaths as perhaps only vigorous, healthy people poured into the Red River Valley at first.
    Understandably there were nine real estate and mortgage agents, immigrants from the Old Country were encouraged to move to Crookston by the droves. This was a "happening place" but the surrounding area needed the three surveyors to check property lines. For communication with the outside world, there were three telegraph and telephone companies. One sewing machine store, one shoemaker, one shooting gallery and one tent and awning place. There were five tailors and one tinsmith. Finally, for all the cattle and horses, there were two veterinarian surgeons.
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