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). With this NWSA series, I hope to share with my readers what I have learned after reading these important documents out of about 70 boxes.
This week I am taking a step back from my series on Superintendent Torger A. Hoverstad. It takes some effort to research and then explain about the little known leader, T.A. Hoverstad. Fortunately, he was later recognized by Conrad G. Selvig during his years as Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA) Superintendent of 1910-1927. Because I read through all of Superintendent Hoverstad’s letters, I found he had worked steadfastly and diligently for ten years (1895-1905) with little instruction at the beginning from the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Later I read letters to Hoverstad in what I would term overbearing “guidance” toward him from the St. Paul campus.
I will be frank about Hoverstad’s successor, Superintendent William Robertson, since I also read through all his correspondence after he replaced Hoverstad in 1905. I believe, this is only my opinion, that Professor Robertson was part of the “in crowd” from the St. Paul campus. He had been a physics teacher in St. Paul and then became the new Superintendent for the ag high school in Crookston. Robertson would usually end his official letters with his characteristic sarcasm or a cynical remark. I read letters that Supt. Robertson’s wife helped him write when he was absent from his office during his years of 1905-1910 because of the bulk of mail that would build up while away or recovering from ill health. During those five years, there had been some serious accidents that had happened to Robertson that hampered his health. In January of 1910, Robertson died suddenly while on a train going down to St. Paul. Perhaps he was on a mission to solicit more money for buildings that needed to be built or for the drainage problem on campus which had hampered Hoverstad when he was in the lead.
Hoverstad during his ten years of being Superintendent had been indefatigable working against the obstacles in an adverse kind of climate, working with a different kind of soil from what farmers were accustomed to in southern Minnesota. That is why I appreciated reading correspondence written by Superintendent Selvig who championed the first superintendent, T.A. Hoverstad.
For now, I will introduce three different families who had a connection to the Northwest School of Agriculture (NWSA) to some greater or lesser degree. The school’s curriculum required at least 150 credits of class work in order to graduate from the NWSA. For the six months of study that started in mid-October (end of harvest season) until March (beginning of planting season), the students’ parents paid for not only instruction but for room and board as well. The other six months the students were required to document their home projects related to domestic or agricultural work while they were at home working on their family farms.
The first of the three families most everyone who has lived any length of time in Crookston would be familiar with, the late Norman Landby and his wife Ilene. When I saw a March 9, 1911 letter from Swift, Minnesota with letterhead, it showed A.M. Landby as dealer in horses, cattle, bailed hay and machinery, addressed to Mr. C.G. Selvig. I looked on the map to see if Swift was located near Lake of the Woods area. I thought it might have some relation to Gerald Landby, Norm Landby’s son. I sent Gerald a scan of a handwritten letter that turned out to be written by his great grandpa:
“Dear Sir: Yours of March 7th at hand, in regard to legislative matters in behalf of Crookston C.S.A. I have at this date written Senator B.E. Sunberg, Representatives G.H. Mattson, D. Robertson and also Senator Frank Clague and Representative L.C. Spooner. And called their favorable attention to said measure. Respectfully yours, A.M. Landby”
I was very happy to get Gerald Landby’s reply: “My great grandfather, A.M. Landby, emigrated from Sweden and he later became a Minnesota state senator. When the lands opened for settlements, AM (Anders, no middle name. Actually the “M” is from his name in Sweden – Mortenson) filed homestead on the south shore of Lake of the Woods north of Swift. Other family members and in-laws filed homesteads in the area; Loana and Moransville Townships. I believe great grandma Marta filed a homestead too. When they came from Sweden, they first came by Stephen, Minnesota by way of Canada; they had a hotel and bakery operation. Several relatives went to the A.C. including my Grandpa Martin, son of A.M. My dad [Norm] also went to the A.C.”
You can see by his last sentence, Gerald referred to the NWSA as the A.C. while writing about his own grandpa and dad. People new to the Crookston area might not know that to local residents both terms were one and the same, A.C. was meant for Agricultural College and easier to say than NWSA. In any case, A.M. Landby got many things accomplished when he eventually became a senator at the Minnesota legislature.
Another great grandpa I read about lived closer to Crookston with the familiar name of Mattson. I then wrote to my friend Jean (Mattson) Larson who was originally from Warren but now lives with her husband Mark Larson in Thief River Falls. I wrote: “I came across these names which were related to the North Star College in Warren in 1923. Would John P. Mattson be one of your ancestors? If so, his name was simply on the letterhead. I can't recall what was written to Superintendent Selvig. If related, please let me know.” As a side note, I believe Superintendent Selvig reached out to many other administrators of neighboring schools for different reasons. He may have written to J.P. Mattson at the North Star College in Warren to compare notes on education.
Jean wrote back: “Hello Kristina, I can tell you with tremendous pride that John Peter Mattson is my great grandfather. He came to Warren in 1882, I believe. Quite the dapper and scholarly gentleman at that. He was a graduate of the first graduating class of Gustavus Adolphus, St. Peter, MN. He came to Warren on a $5.00 one-way ticket from the Twin Cities on the train. Eventually, after being the superintendent of schools in Marshall County, ended up owning the Warren Sheaf newspaper. He died in 1932. My dad [Neil Mattson] remembers J.P. as his grandpa who would give him a nickel to buy candy. Dad was 5 when JP died.”
I looked on-line into a bit more of the history of JP Mattson and found that he was born in Savannah, Illinois on Dec. 18, 1857. He came to MN in 1858 and the family’s first home was a one room log cabin. JP’s mother died when he was 6 ½ years old with two younger siblings. When the Civil War broke out, his father enlisted to fight and left the three children in the care of a neighbor. At age 25 after schooling, JP Mattson came to the Red River Valley, to Marshall County in the fall of 1882. He first worked on the Woodward bonanza farm and then was elected as county superintendent of schools in 1883 until the end of 1888. He was one of the founders of the North Star College. At the end of his career as an editor and publisher of the Warren Sheaf, he had this to say, “I have done my full duty and there is nothing to regret.”
Finally, one family name of Hannah had come to the Fisher area almost at the beginning of the Scottish settlement in the 1880s. I wrote to Steve Hannah and asked about a possible connection to a letter I had read written by Alfred Hannah dated August 5, 1913 and addressed to C.G. Selvig. When I asked what he knew about the Hannahs, Steve admitted, “I haven't got a lot about my Hannah side; they were typical farmers, deeply Presbyterian, and homebodies that didn't make the paper much except church events and the Bobby Burns celebration.”
I shared with Steve the scan of his grandpa’s writing to Selvig: “Dear Sir: I have on hand your letter inquiring about my summer practicums which I might say I have neglected to send in the reports but will send in the report for August later. Yours truly, Alfred Hannah”
My guess is that Superintendent Selvig was following up on a home project that needed to be completed in order to graduate the following year. At 15 years of age, Alfred went straight to the point in answering Selvig because no doubt during August the Hannahs would have been very busy harvesting grain. The necessary schoolwork would just have to wait. Thankfully, Alfred did graduate from NWSA in 1914 and had been active in student government and the school play. In fact, next to Alfred’s senior picture he was listed as being involved in the boy’s glee club, debating club and was class treasurer. Not sure what the sentence in quotes meant “Spends his spare time at Robertson Hall.” Was that the boys’ dorm south of the Kiehle building where he slept and studied or was there a pool table to occupy his time? Looking through old Aggie yearbooks, there are other funny or cryptic sentences for each graduate.
This article about three families brings to the fore the kind of environment the Superintendent T.A. Hoverstad had created from the early beginnings of the Experiment Station from 1895-1905 to the establishment of the ag high school. I consider Hoverstad an unsung hero of the early NWSA years. I want my readers to understand that Hoverstad had done the thankless but necessary “ground” work of laying a solid foundation for the Experiment Station first before the NWSA classes began in 1906. Hoverstad’s vision had been to create a technical school that ran counter to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents idea. They instead wanted to have formal training with classes in chemistry, physics, biology, English, grammar, handwriting. Everything that was already set up at the St. Paul campus farm school was to be followed in Crookston. Next week I will continue with more about Superintendent T.A. Hoverstad.
Kristina Gray is a local author and historian, and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Crookston.