Author Kristina Gray will be giving a talk on Crookston's early history on October 9 at 6 p.m. at Crookston Library.
Before I write about Sampson's Addition, I need to answer my own question of who was Aunt Polly of Aunt Polly's Slough fame. It helps to re-read Russ Sundet's book "Reminiscing with Russ" because if you are fortunate to have a copy, you will find on p. 42 that question is easily answered. Polly Carelton was the Jerome's Addition built-in Neighborhood watch, point person. She was greatly revered by the children who came to play or skate at the pond next to her house. She would have a warm batch of cookies for children who knocked on her door to visit her. If only we had more Aunt Pollys these days who would give freely of their time and resources to encourage children to play outside.
On a side note, Aunt Polly's Slough when frozen over produced many a good skater and hockey player. Perhaps that is why the WPA in the 1930s built the original hockey arena in the Jerome's Addition and eventually the newer one next to it. Both arenas are gone now because of the new dike project along Robert Street heading east on Highway 2. Does Aunt Polly's Slough or something similar still endure for skaters to this day?
Interesting how nature has a way of developing certain characteristics in different areas of Crookston. My present interest is the Sampson's Addition where the Red Lake River borders three sides of the neighborhood. Bernhard Sampson seemingly goes unnoticed by past and present historians. We readily trip off the names of Crookston's streets and additions, not giving pause to admire those who were early settlers of our fair city. These pioneers hoped for better and sacrificed much to give us what we have today.
I'm not sure how men of the 19th century qualified to have their biographies written up in the "Compendium of History and Biography of Central and Northern Minnesota" published in 1904. If ever there was a man who should have been chronicled, it should have been Bernard Sampson for all the work he accomplished to help improve Crookston's early days of the 1880s and 1890s. He was born in Sweden in 1840 but brought up on a farm in Norway since his father was Norwegian. He arrived to the U.S. as a 27 year old man and moved to Minnesota in 1869 and settled in Crookston in 1872. He died in 1923 and in his 73 years accomplished much for the benefit of Crookston and its early citizens.
I came across snatch profiles written by Bernard Sampson's grandson, that is all I have to go on for now. John Sampson wrote an article published in Dec. 1998 in the "Red River Memories" about Crookston's Pioneer First Citizen – Bernard Sampson. I also have an article written by Ada Ness to help piece Sampson's life together. Sadly, I read so many bits of information in different places and by the time a composite starts to form of a certain character, I have forgotten where I read one sentence or phrase to give proper attribution.
I read somewhere the early settlers in the Crookston area were anticipating where the competing railroads would build bridges to cross the rivers westward. Some claimed land in different areas and it would seem that Bernard Sampson had guessed right with where he made his first home of a log cabin that was only 16' by 24' in size. According to Adoph Ness, his primitive house "was constructed of properly notched logs and sealed with clay with a peak roof which was made by using logs for the beams and carefully laying elm bark over these and then adding a layer of sod for insulation. The family lived in one room. However, a loft was built in one end and here the children would sleep, warm, high and dry." Sampson had homesteaded these 84 acres of land in the Sampson's addition where it became a part of Crookston in 1882.
According to Sampson's grandson, Bernard had amassed almost 900 acres of land in the surrounding Crookston area, which included 252 acres around Lake Sarah and Union Lake. His property stretched into the town of Carmen and extended to what was known as the "Tree Claim," property south of what is now the American Crystal sugar beet factory. Once T.B. Walker's sawmill came to Crookston, there was good lumber to be bought for all the new settlers. Bernard Sampson in 1890 built his family a large, beautiful home of 15 rooms. If you have a chance to visit the Comstock House in Moorhead, you will get an idea of what kind of furnishings would have been used in the upscale Sampson home.
In my reading of the Crookston newspaper headlines back in the late 1800s about Sampson, I came across something published on June 13, 1891 that helped answer another puzzle I have long had. Why is there a "College Avenue" close to Crookston's Riverview Hospital? That would have been land originally owned by Sampson. The headline read "Sampson Will Donate Land if Used for Lutheran College." There is no college there but rather that is where the old Sunnyrest sanatorium was built and now used by Glenmore Recovery center. Perhaps Sampson's aspirations of building a Lutheran College was never realized but the short street of "College Avenue" endures today.
What is interesting to note is that Crookston has a Steenerson Street in the Jerome's Addition and whether that is named after the Honorable Halvor Steenerson or one of his sons, I'm not sure. There were many Steenerson brothers and sons who settled up and down the Red River Valley area. I recall reading that one of the Steenersons, who had no heirs of his land in Moorhead, Minnesota, willed it to what is now the Lutheran college of Concordia college. Steenerson is another high profile name I wish to pursue among the early settlers of the Crookston area. I hope to return to that family name when researching the bonanza farms that were in the surrounding area.
For now, I am fixated on the progress that was made in the Sampson's Addition and have been long intrigued with the tannery that was there thanks to the Swedish settler named August Miller. For some reason, his name and biography is written up in the Compendium (and not Bernard Sampsons?). In 1894, Miller started his tanning business in Sampson's addition and handled over 3,000 hides a year. He and his wife Eva Johnson were among the original founders of the Evangelical Covenant church, which was just down the street from his place of business on Woodland Avenue. Back in 1902 the lot they purchased for the church was $210. The total cost of the church was $2,200. Since my paternal grandmother was Swedish, a transplant to Crookston from southern Minnesota as of 1915, she may have worshiped in this early Swedish church or had friends who attended this Mission church.
In any case, Bernard Sampson and his family had been a part of their own church that had organized itself as early as June 7, 1874 as the Red Lake River Evangelical Lutheran church. The name later shortened to First Lutheran Church. All worship services were conducted in Norwegian and not English as they used their hymnbooks and Bibles from the Old Country. "The charter members consisted of about 60 souls," according to Adoph Ness.
Bernard Sampson was a farmer at heart and was into dairy and diversified farming. He encouraged other Norwegian and Swedish settlers to move into his section of land that was surrounded on three sides by the Red Lake River. According to his grandson his grandfather, as a typical Scandinavian, was also very interested in both educational and political matters. Here is what he wrote:
"My grandfather, from the very beginning, had taken a deep interest in all educational matters. He had personally donated land for the old Eugene Field School. He also donated land to the Sunnyrest Sanitarium, tannery, Swedish Lutheran church and the Old Bethesda Hospital in 1910. He also paid for the pews for four Scandinavian churches in Crookston. The pews had been made in the shop owned by Julius Bjornstad of St. Paul, a brother to Mrs. Sampson."
I wish I had more time to write about this ambitious man, for there are many more accomplishments he achieved. Sampson helped to build the first flourmill in Crookston at the expense of $50,000. It would have been located along what is now Mill Street. Unfortunately it burned down on June 4, 1887. Other headlines later on describe how the Crookston Fire Chief believed there was a fire bug (arsonist) that brought down other buildings in Sampson Addition as in the big blaze at the butcher shop in July 7, 1900. But unintentional fires were one of the biggest enemies of the early settlers throughout the flat plains of the Red River Valley.
I also read elsewhere in the newspaper headlines that Sampson wanted to erect a hotel in his addition in 1883. What surprised me is that they were going to also have a saloon and dance hall built in 1886. But by 1894 is when the new brick building for a tannery was set up by August Miller and as mentioned earlier, the Swedish Mission church down the street was dedicated in 1903.
What struck me as interesting is that Bernard Sampson was a very generous man with his wealth of land and never ending energy to get things improved in Crookston. His grandson wrote: "Because of the choice location of the rapidly growing town, residential lots were now selling fast. Those days had many needy families and Bernhard Sampson was known to have helped them, either by giving a family a lot outright or by selling a family a lot for only a token fee. He would even help some needy families build their new homes."
Today we have such Crookstonites who give tirelessly of their time and money for the future growth and well-being of Crookston. Would that we knew more about the great tradition started by people like Aunt Polly, Steenerson and Bernard Sampson who gave of their resources from freshly baked cookies to donating land plots in Crookston.