Thanks to Dr. Albert Sims, Director of the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, I have been looking into the past of the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA) where historic letters have been stored. Maureen Aubol has also helped as I read correspondence that stretches for thirty years (1895 to 1925).
Reading about the tough ten years (1895-1905) that Superintendent Torger A. Hoverstad spent working to prepare the campus for the future Northwest School of Agriculture, I came to highly respect and appreciate this man who worked long and hard alongside the early pioneers. Through the letters I read in response to his letters, he becomes known as caring for the “little guy.” If he had gotten some much-needed produce from a hard working farm wife or farmer, he would go to the Contingency Fund to pay them. Otherwise, for all other purchases, he was required to go through the usual red tape and extra paperwork of getting acquisitions approved from his higher ups in St. Paul in order to get the compensation taken care of. Sometimes it took months to process. In some cases, the contingency fund was depleted and perhaps with all other big projects going on, things were misplaced or forgotten. It might be 3-4 months later when Hoverstad would get a brief note from the farm family asking why they had not been paid yet.
What came through to me after reading ten years of correspondence was that Supt. Hoverstad identified himself as the “little guy.” Hoverstad and his mission may not have been deemed as important by those overseeing the Crookston Experiment Farm from the distance of the St. Anthony Park Experiment Station in the Twin Cities. One man known as the Chairman was Colonel William M. Liggett. At first, I saw Col. Liggett as perhaps grandfatherly towards Hoverstad, when giving advice on how to run things. I know Hoverstad deferred to him when looking at prized cattle for the Crookston Experiment station. Later when 1904 and 1905 approached, I witnessed that Col. Liggett was more of a nemesis than Hoverstad’s helper.
Perhaps the St. Paul Experiment Station authorities realized that Supt. Hoverstad was making a success of his own Experiment Station despite the unfavorable conditions he had worked against. Responsibility had been laid upon Hoverstad to oversee this land thanks to Willet Hays. Hays is the one credited for getting things started in Crookston.
The following letter dated May 13, 1895 was written by Willett M. Hays, considered by Supt. Selvig as the “Father of the Crookston Station.” Addressed to Mr. T.A. Hoverstad, he had not been given the Superintendent title yet as he was living in Camden, Minnesota at the time.
“Dear Sir, I have been to Crookston and seen the glory thereof. Liggett, Barto and Pendergast of the agricultural committee spent Thursday at Crookston and after looking around the town looked quite favorably upon the Great Northern proposition to give the university ¾ section No. 19. We hinted to the town that they ought to identify themselves with the movement to get an experiment station which would make their people feel an interest in it by giving something. It would help the station and it would avoid any criticism of other points which might think that the matter was taken up without sufficient consideration.
“I feel very certain that you will be located on section 19. I have another matter I want to look into, however, before the plan is entirely closed up. People are getting ready to present to the board $2000 and the land is certainly worth $10,000. Of course, no one else is likely to compete with this proposition.
“I have asked Prof. Green to send you a garden drill and hoe. I had a note to this effect but had very much neglected it. Certainly put in some plots of millets and sorghums and anything else you can to advantage to try Campbell’s drill and cultivator. It is so late now that we can do practically no planting at Crookston. I presume it will take a week or two at least to close up the deal and get a deed for the land. You will have a great amount of work there in building buildings, making roads, constructing ditches, breaking some land, building fences, making a well, gathering up horses and possibly a little other stock, looking after the matter of machinery and a thousand and one other things needed to get the farm started for next year’s work. We must simply put in the year getting things ready to make them go next year. There are 50 to 60 acres of wheat on the land and it is pretty well filled with mustard. Mr. Barto bewailed the fact that there was “so much mustard and nothing to soak it up!”
“I suppose that you have such a new “Heaven on earth” at Coteau that you will very much regret pioneering it on the ¾ section in the Red River Valley. But let me just advise you that you are going to set a gait for the whole shooting-match, especially the sub-stations, and it is the nicest opportunity to do the work untrammeled by school or anything else. I found that the Crookston people responded very nicely to the proposition that they give a little something and became quite enthusiastic in the matter. They were rather taken back though when they suggested that they had such a hard time working J.J. Hill to get the land and I informed them that the offer came long before they ever thought of such an idea. Yours very truly, A.M. Hays”
By 1904, the plan was to turn Crookston’s Experiment Station into a branch school and it was written up in the Crookston Weekly Times on Nov. 12, 1904. Supt. Hoverstad’s interview was taken from the Minneapolis Journal and gives an idea of his thoughts about a school in the Red River Valley based on his nine years work in the area. The article reads as follows:
“An effort will be made to get the legislature this winter to establish a branch state school of agriculture and agricultural mechanics at Crookston. So says Professor T.A. Hoverstad of the Crookston experimental station…the plan is to have the school on such a practical basis that the work the students do will be such as to make the institution almost, if not entirely, self-supporting when once established.
“What we want of the legislature now is simply money to erect the needed buildings so that school may be opened next fall,” said Professor Hoverstad to the Journal. There is a demand for such a school at Crookston and in the Red River Valley. Many young people would like to attend the state agricultural school, but do not care to go so far from home. Hence the desire for a school nearer their homes. Fifty to a hundred students will enter the institution next fall if it is then ready for them.”
“The institution would be made as practical as possible in its instruction, actual work being the basis of the contemplated course of instruction, and to keep the students in recitation and classrooms as little of the time as possible.
“A special point would be made of teaching farm drainage. This is very essential for the residents of that part of the state, and with this instruction should come practical farm mechanics—excavating, laying of the drains and the practical work as well as the theory of drainage ditching. It is the desire to have the work of the contemplated school demonstrated on the farms of that part of the state. Their course will include practical work on their own farms as well as work at the school; and because of this fact, it is desirable to have the sessions held throughout the summer as well as during the winter, the usual time of school sessions.
“It is desirable also that a special study of mechanics be made. In this modern day, when a big machine plows up the ground and lays drain pipes without further human aid than the guiding hand of the engineer, it is but proper that the scientific farmer be posted in mechanics as fully as possible.”
What happened when Col. Liggett and members of the Board of Control and U of M Board of Regents already knew and had read what Supt. Hoverstad’s thoughts were in the Minneapolis newspaper? I could see with the correspondence of 1904 and 1905, the controlling powers were making things extremely difficult for Hoverstad to move forward. By July of 1905, there was a clash with the Board of Regents that wanted the agricultural college to be purely educational. Hoverstad wanted industrial features to be carried out in the school. On Aug. 5, 1905, it was announced in the Crookston Weekly Times that William Robertson was selected to replace Professor Hoverstad.
I will write later about the correspondence that I read of Supt. Robertson, but in order to put my thoughts together on those five years (1905-1910), I need to step back a bit. Starting a new ag school was not easy for Robertson even though he was fully qualified with his teaching experience as a prominent physics professor at the St. Anthony Park agricultural college. What he would woefully find out was that the drainage issue that Hoverstad knew about only too well, would be his own battle to fight.
Later I will add more about Hoverstad but I will jump ahead 18 years to 1923 when Supt. Selvig received a letter from Hoverstad who was working in Chicago for the Great Western Railroad Company. Selvig had given the hard earned recognition that Hoverstad deserved. In Hoverstad’s beautiful, flowing handwriting, he wrote the following on Nov. 26, 1923.
“My dear Prof. Selvig, I am back in my office. My memory frequently runs back to my visit at Crookston. I did not realize what that meeting was to be and how much joy and comfort it would give me. I met so many who kindly remembered me from former days. For all your kindness, I want to thank you most heartily.
“My work in the Red River Valley would have been fruitless had not my successors been real builders. The Station and School has justified its existence. I am so glad my superior officer Mr. Oscar Townsend, General Freight Agent permitted me to go. I had some work to do that almost compelled me to decline your very kind and cordial invitation. I had one sorrow. My good and faithful wife who struggled with me so earnestly was not with me to share with me the joy of this event.” Sincerely, T.A. Hoverstad
My readers need to realize after reading those ten years of Hoverstad’s struggles and then knowing Selvig’s greatness to recognize him at a banquet still tears me up. Hoverstad’s wife, Mary, had died earlier that year of 1923 after having their four children in the big white house, home to five more superintendents after the Hoverstads had departed.
Next week I will break from NWSA writing and revert to writings by a columnist Win V. Working. His daily column was titled “History of the Northwest” in the Crookston Daily Times and he wrote throughout the 1930s. Mr. Working knew much history up and down the Red River Valley. I am particularly interested in what he wrote about the Native American Indians as he continuously referred to them as Chippewa and Sioux. I believe Working was not his real name and I will try to find out who he really was but I do know he was very active with the newly formed Polk County Historical Society.
Kristina Gray is a local author and historian, and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Crookston.