The Saga of 120 S. Main Street – a story of books, millinery, jewelry and shoes told over 136 years!

With the new book store, the Fox Den opening today downtown I am very excited. I am really excited not only because of the store, but of its location. River Falls has had many book stores, but the longest standing book store in River Falls was in the same building from 1878 to 1936, 58 years! What a coincidence! It is amazing a book store could last that long in town during those early years, but thanks to three ladies, Harriet Levings, Emma Levings and Laura Weld it did. What follows is a history of that building that the Fox Den is going into as well as a general overview of book stores that have been in River Falls in the past.

River Falls’s earliest settlers were for the most part not stupid at all. The majority that founded the village were Congregationalists that came from Orange County, Vermont and St. Lawrence County, New York. In the first one to build a business building in block 9, the block that the Fox Den Book Store is located was Sumner Dodge in 1857. Dodge Hardware was a staple in River Falls for 100 years from 1855 to 1955, but not many know the first library of the Greenwood Library Association held their book collection there starting in 1857. You had to be a member to be a borrower, which many of these early settlers were. Books were a part of many collections at home, but there were no book stores in River Falls until the 1870s. That was when in October 1871 Harriet and Emma Levings, opened a book store in what was Kees confectionery and fruit store at 120 N. Main Street, the first book store in River Falls. I am sure there were books available in some of the general stores, but this was the first true book store. Emma and Harriett were 29 and 21 respectively.

Emma and Harriet Levings were two of four daughters born to Alpheous Levings and Rhoda Powell. Their parents were quite old for that time period Alpheous being born in 1806 and Rhoda in 1814. The Levings sisters including their other sisters Lucy and Charlotte were all born in Hamilton, Illinois along the Mississippi between 1840 and 1849. Alpheaus Levings died on April 17, 1863 at the age of 62 and his wife died on June 10, 1865 at the age of 50. Emma and Harriet would have been 23 and 16 at that time. Their uncles on both sides of the family were in River Falls early. On their mother’s side their uncles were Oliver S., Lyman, and Nathaniel N. Powell, founders of the village of River Falls. On their father’s side was Daniel Levings who was in the painting business and built his home on south Main in 1858. Daniel’s sons and Harriet and Emma’s cousins, Edwin and Homer Levings had just come back from the Civil War. Homer and Ed Levings’ diaries are kept at UW-RF Area Research Center and many are being published on the web through their Civil War blog. Anyway, after their parents had died that year Harriet and Emma along with another sister Charlotte came to River Falls from Illinois to stay with relatives. Their older sister Lucy had just married and stayed in Illinois. Charlotte also married soon after coming here to Phineous Flint on October 2, 1866.

The site of 120 S. Main was first occupied by Henry R. Child’s harness shop and hall. This two-story building built in 1867 for $1200. This harness shop changed hands to John Watson in October 1870 and Burnett Brothers (Edward P. and Benedict) opened a blacksmith shop there in May 1871. This shop employed six smiths. The Odd Fellows leased the hall starting in April 1872. A cousin of the Burnett Brothers, William Burnett bought the blacksmith shop and moved it to Maple Street. John D. Putnam, later mayor of River Falls bought the building in March 1873 for $3100. The next year tub building was moved north along the block to lot 4. Another building was built at 120 S. Main in March 1875 for Hedderly and Davis’s Dry Goods store. It was a 20 x 46 two story building owned by Mrs. Mary Esterbrook. It opened on July 5, 1875. The top story was occupied by the Good Templars. No matter because the next January a fire destroyed almost that entire block putting all of these businesses out of business. This summer Pat Hammerback showed me evidence of this 136 year old fire in her building on that block, the McGregor building. It is amazing that any evidence exists from this old fire.

The Levings sisters were not immune to this fire. They had moved their store from 120 N. Main to 118 S. Main in October 1873 into a building that also held the River Falls Journal of Abner Morse upstairs. They were determined to not let the burning of their business keep them out of business. They soon opened at a new location at 204 N. Main, the Pingrey Buiding in February 1876, a month after the fire. Freeman Drug Company had just moved out of that location. Along block 9 rebuilding began in earnest. That year ApRoberts, Dodge, the Bradshaw Brothers and Joseph M. Smith all built new buildings that are still standing today. They all stand a little to the southeast compared to the Brackett building, the one building that survived the fire in that block, also standing today. Joseph M. Smith built 120 S. Main at a cost of $3000 that fall. He was the first banker in River Falls opening the Bank of River Falls in 1875. He did not build the 22 x 70 ft. one story building for himself, but for Floris C. McCay’s insurance office. He only was in the building for six months from October 1876 to March 1877. The next tenant was John H. Bump who opened a jewelry store there. Bump was already in his late 60s and soon sold out and actually died by 1878 in New London Wisconsin. William Williamson opened a dry goods store there, but went bankrupt within four months, his goods sold at auction by Reuben W. Fleming. The second book store in River Falls then opened in the building in November 1877 by J.A. and Willis Lawrence, brothers from Red Wing. The normal school had recently opened, and I guess they thought River Falls could support two book stores despite its relatively small population. They also had a circulating library as did Leving Sisters two blocks down. By June of 1878 the Lawrence Brothers sold out to the Levings Sisters and the stocks were combined in the building. They kept the jewelry counter in there that summer for Cook and Bell from New Hampshire leased Bump’s former counter.
Another supplemental business in the book store was millinery counters. Mrs. Jane Winchester was the first to have that counter in August 1878. This was sold to Nettie Thayer and Mrs. Louisa Hamilton. The two businesses owned by women in that time in River Falls were in the same building. Millinery and the book store were all women owned for businesses during the 19th century in River Falls. A new circulating library was added in February 1885. Prices in my opinion were quite high. If you wished to borrow a book it was $3 per month and $5 for two books a month. There would not be a public library in River Falls until 1923, so this was really your only alternative to buying books in that same store in town. Mrs. Hamilton kept the millinery counter going until 1896 when it was sold to Mrs. A. Ross of Saint Paul. The building was also sold in 1893 to Sebastian Gehring for $3500. After the short time of Ross’s tenure, the millinery business was sold to Julia Morse, sister of Calvin Morse, who ran the River Falls Journal. She called the business the River Falls Millinery Emporium. Charles Winter briefly had a jewlery counter in there after a 1894 fire. Eleanor ApRoberts was added as a trimmer and fitter of dresses in 1901. The Millinery was sold from Morse to Mrs. E. Austin in April 1908. This whole time Emma and Harriet Levings maintained the main business of the book store. By 1916, when Emma was 74 and Harriet was 68, the sisters decided to retire. (They lived 113 S. 3rd most of their life in River Falls).

The Leving sisters did not want the store to go out of business however. They sold it to their cousin Laura Weld. Laura was a cousin through the Powell family because her grandfather was Lyman Powell, who was the Levings sisters uncle. Laura named the busines the Weld Book and Art Store. Laura had a number of art prints for sale along with books, stationary, school and office supplies. She had partners for a time with Mrs. Groves and later Mrs. Taggart, but was truly the head of her business. By the 1930s, business was down for Laura and during a fire in February 1936 she lost $300 of inventory. In the fall of 1937 at the age of 65, Laura too chose to retire. All of the cousins had a retirement. Emma Levings died on October 10, 1919 age 77. Harriet died on June 16, 1940 age 91 and Laura Weld died on July 21, 1956 in Longmont, Colorado where her brother was at age 84.

The next month Gerhard Kulstad moved his shoe store to this location. He had started in business in River Falls in 1912 as a manager of the Wadsworth shoe store. Soon he opened his own shoe department in the Stewart Mercantile Department store in 1920. He stayed at that location until this building became available. His brother Otto opened a Men’s clothing store in the same block earlier in 1922. Kulstad was born February 22, 1891 in Red Wing. At age 64, he decided to retire and sold the shoe store to Lyle Lewis of Clear Lake on April 8, 1955. Lewis Shoe store stayed in business for 20 years with Leonard Lewis joining the business in April 1965. In March 1975, they sold out to Jim and Evelyn Lokrantz of Minneapolis who named the business the Shoe Den. They stayed in business for over 20 years and sold to Pat Mayco in March 1997. It went back to the Lokrantz family, specifically Brian Lokrantz who closed the Shoe Den in July 1999. Darryl Hetrick’s Gemini Jewelers moved to this location in September 1999. He stayed there for his last 10 years in business until early 2009, after first opening in the River Falls mall in 1977. A 2003 burglery that stole 90 percent of inventory did not deter Hetrick from staying open that many more years. In December 2009, Laurie Henn decided to move Mr. Movies, the last real video rental store of River Falls to this location from their former location along Pine Street which they were at since 1992. This kept the rental store open for almost two years until the summer of 2011. The 2011 holiday season saw a wearable art gallery set up shop in this building. Now the Jim, Heather and Evan Williams are set to open the Fox Den book store today. I hope their book store is as much a staple in River Falls as the Levings Sisters was. If that turns out to be the case, they will have a successful future at 120 S. Main for sure!

Next time I will post about the many other book stores that have been in River Falls.

Posted in Overall Pierce County History, River Falls History | 1 Comment

Pierce County Historical Association Open House – all about Ellsworth

The year 2012 is flying by, at least in my world. Pierce County Historical Association’s open house is this Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at our Bay City History Center. At 2 p.m. I will be speaking on the history of Ellsworth based on the research I did for the History of Ellsworth book that hopefully will be coming out before the end of the year (fingers crossed). A representative 65 photos out of the 100s that will be in the book will be shown and the subjects of the photos talked about. Questions will be answered if there are any. There is no way I can cover everything or please everybody, but there will be great variety in the talk. Subjects discussed include Ellsworth beginnings, civic improvements, business histories, East Ellsworth, historic houses, medical history, schools, churches, groups, recreation, township history and a select family history. Once the book is out and completed I will be giving at least one talk similar to this in the future, so I consider this my trial run!

Before and after the presentation there will be food and refreshment provided. A meeting will be held that addresses the progress we made this year at the Lawrence Building. We are to move in these coming weeks! It is exciting to say the least. We need more funding to complete new bathrooms as well as the store fronts, but we have made great progress since we got the building from the family in the summer of 2011! More details will be discussed at the meeting as well as our annual quilt raffle drawing! I hope to see some of my followers here at the meeting Sunday! Everyone is welcome.

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The Origins of River Falls Days and the early River Falls days of the 1970s

The 39th River Falls days is well underway. As I am writing this I am anticipating going to Rubber Soul Thursday night and our River Falls Historic Preservation Commission will have a booth at Veteran’s Park on Friday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. We will have 1880 bird’s eye views of River Falls available for a small donation. Historical Walking tours will be available on request. We also have some activities for children at our booth. Come check us out! You might even get a glimpse of Oliver S. Powell, co-founder of River Falls there.

River Falls has a long history of having summer celebrations. The earliest celebrations were held on the 4th of July in almost every community. Locally they would switch off who had the celebration and other communities could come join in as they would take time off from their busy schedules for our nation’s independence. The earliest organized July 4th celebration in River Falls was in 1856. Of course we celebrate Independence day all around still, Hammond one of the last communities moving their celebration from the 4th of July to Heartland days very recently. Ellsworth celebrated the 4th of July and its 150th this year with an event at the Crossroads Church there. It was quite an event.

The earliest parades were held on the 4th of July or circuses would have their own parade as they came to town. The earliest circus to visit River Falls was in the Northwest circus in August 1868. A large parade was held in River Falls at the end of World War I in October 1918, In 1919, the first regularly scheduled  Normal Homecoming parade was held. While there were variations of a band in River Falls since 1868, a regular marching band from the Normal school or High School was not organized until the 1920s. 1928 saw the first year of the Legion festival had a 49rs play and large parade that March. This repayed the Legion’s indebtedness and netted a total of 1000.

The Legion would have more festivals during the 1930s and 1940s. A particularly large celebration was held in September 1937 when the district legion conference was held here. During that same time period Marching band contests were held in River Falls. The first one being in 1931 with 15 bands competing for a prize. Although I have not completed the research on these events, my understanding is that the Legion festivals and band contests both ended sometime in the 1950s as regular events.

Two other large events with parades during the 1940s was the Will Fortune River Falls Homecoming event of 1940. I will write more of this sometime later, but Will Fortune wrote to people all over the country that at one time or another they or their family lived in River Falls. The entire guest book was reprinted in the paper. What I would give to see that original guest book! If anyone had information or photos from this event that is one of my “holy grails” of River Falls history. The other event was the River Falls centennial event of 1948.  Now again I need to do my homework, but I believe the first Miss River Falls was picked out that year, Mary Andrle, later Mary Kuselik. She might have been picked out the following year at an unrelated carnival event.

1953 saw the first regular Town and Country day. I don’t believe this event had a Miss River Falls picked out. Regular annual city celebrations were still not the norm in the 1950s. This is where the history becomes complicated in my opinion. While there were carnivals held in the 1950s and 1960s, I don’t believe they had an official name. What is clear is there was a Miss River Falls picked during these years when there was a carnival. Among them were the Nelson Twins in 1961, Valeria and Joan, Linda Finstad in 1965, Barb Petricka in 1966, and Paula Brown in 1967. Why there was no Miss River Falls or summer celebration held between 1968 and 1973 is still a mystery to me? Maybe lack of coordination at the Chamber of Commerce or not enough volunteer help? Anyone have any kind of clue, I would like to know. These 1960s celebrations were not considered “River Falls days, that much is very clear.

The origin of River Falls Days is rooted in Old Fashioned Bargain Days. This was started in 1963 by downtown merchants as a way of attracting customers to their stores in a big way. There were sidewalk sales up and down Main Street. While this still occurs today, it is not as spectacular as it was in years past. Retail shops have changed quite a bit since that time. Big bargains could be had at the A.W. Lund Company, the Town Shoppe, Kulstad’s Clothing, Benson’s Clothing, Ben Franklin, Hageberg’s Department Store, the Shoe Den, the Ivy Shop and many others. These sales were great! The best deals I and my father ever found were at Lund’s! I miss those sales.

The first “River Falls Days” were held on July 26th to July 28th 1974. What might surprise some people about that event is that there was no parade, no carnival, nor was there a Miss River Falls picked out for the year. The way the Journal advertised it, was an additional set of events to go with old fashioned bargain days. It was organized by the chamber of Commerce, moose, Legion, Lions, Jaycees, Women of the Moose, Legion Auxiliary, and Jaycettes. Events that year included free swimming at the Glen Park pool, free outdoor dance on South Main on Friday at Lindquist Motors, Bike Decorating Contest for kids, Tennis Tournament organized by Mike Davis of UWRF, 3 day fast ball tournament, bridge tournament, firefighters water fight on Locust, Horse pulling on Sunday, and a canoe race along the Kinni on Saturday at 1 p.m. Two one time only events happened that first year. On Saturday the new foot bridge was dedicated downtown. This was two years before Heritage Park was created on the west side of the River. It was built because the bridge on Maple Street was being replaced for the first time since 1912 that same time and pedestrians needed a way to get downtown. Wells Park was dedicated in the south part of the city that Sunday at 5 p.m

 

This bridge was constructed because access was not available to downtown south of Cedar Street during construction of the Maple Street bridge in 1974, when this photo was taken.

The second annual River Falls days more events were added. The first River Falls days Miss River Falls, Lori Calentine, was selected at the Lamplighter on July 25th, 1975. Many past Miss River Falls attened that event. The first River Falls days carnival was set up just west and south of Lund’s that year and ran all weekend. Ticket prices were 6 for $1! There were now street dances on Friday and Saturday night, again at Lindquist’s lot. A wishing well was installed at Veterans Park by Denny Cronin.

Start of the first River Falls days parade held on Sunday July 27, 1975, 1 p.m.

One of my favorite photographs I found relating to River Falls days is shown above. The first parade was held on a Sunday and this is the start of the parade. I love how everyone is looking down Main Street anticipating the parade. I also love the fact that Jaws is the current movie at the Falls Theater! There were said to 80 units in that first River Falls days parade. I wouldn’t know personally because I wasn’t born yet, but my parents went to see Jaws at the Theater that weekend.  Other new events that year were a chug a lug contest, volleyball tournament and a tug of war event after the water fight.

1976 River Falls days was held on July 22 to July 25th, 1976. Miss River Falls, Rita Nelson, was crowned at North Hall Auditorium by Dave Reetz, master of ceremonies. There were new chamber drawings. You could win a 17″ color television ($400 value), coffee maker, lawn chair or tickets to UWRF summer theater. The parade was again held on Sunday afternoon. New events included a rope climb, tractor pull where Perkins and Ace Hardware are today and a 10 mile cross country race starting on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Wendy Haller was selected as Miss River Falls on July 22, 1977. A seemingly one time only event was held that year, a community picnic at Glen Park on Sunday after the parade. You were asked to bring a dish to pass and there were games for children, softball, horse shoe, and tennis tournaments at Glen Park.

The first River Falls Days Float is shown here in this newspaper photograph. Though it unclear from the photo, I don’t believe that there is a “Falls” represented in the back part of the float. If anyone has a clear picture of this float, black and white or color, please contact me. It was used from 1975 until June 1981.

1978 Miss River Falls was Linda Harness. Three new events that year were a demolition derby on Sunday, a band concert on Saturday at noon and a pie auction. If you won the pie auction, you could select who to “give” it to. The 10 mile run was moved to 6 p.m. and started at the Dairy Queen. The parade started at 5:30 on Sunday after the demolition derby. Prises for the raffle were a microwave oven, 17″ color television and radio.

1970s River Falls Days buttons I own. I am only missing 1974. Notice there is no theme on the buttons until 1977′s “Gay ’90s”

1979 Miss River Falls was Melissa Graf. Prizes in the raffle were a gas grill, clock radio, and television. The parade was moved to Saturday at 11 a.m. and there was a horse shoe tournament at Glen Park on Sunday. The moving of the parade to Saturday seems to have canceled the canoe races, which started in 1974 at that same time.

While there are many familiar events today that we would recognize, River Falls days was quite different in the 1970s. The Journal was not very specific on who was responsible for coming up with River Falls days other than naming the groups responsible. If you or someone you know was involved in organizing any of these early River Falls Days, I’d love to hear from you. Next year will be the 40th River Falls Days and hopefully we can and will give credit to the proper people that got the event off the ground. Please leave comments too if you can remember these early River Falls Days at all and things like the Parade on Sunday or the carnival or street dances at that time. If anyone has any clear photographs of those early River Falls Days they also would be welcome! Pierce County Historical Association has none. We collect any photographs from any time period that anyone is willing to share with us!

 

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558 E. Maple and the Powell family – the most important family to ever live in River Falls, Wisconsin! The definitive history here

This week’s River Falls Journal has an article about the Historic Preservation Commission honoring 558 E. Maple. That home is one of 4 homes still standing that were once homes of members of the Powell family, the founding family of River Falls. While Joel Foster was here earlier than the Powell family, he did not put together the village of River Falls. River Falls would not be what it is today without this family.
The Powell family in River Falls initially consisted of two brothers Nathaniel and Oliver S. Powell who came to the St. Croix Valley later in 1849. They initially looked at land in Saint Paul near Ford Parkway, but ultimately made a pass at that land and bought 180 acres where core of the city of River Falls stands today. That year they brought by steamboat the first threshing machine ever operated north of Prairie du Chein, Wisconsin. The farm they threshed on was located two miles south of Stillwater, the Fisk or Fiske farm (depending on the source). The brothers were born in Madrid, Saint Lawrence County, New York. The Powell family were descendants of a Welsh family who came to the colonies in 1730. Their father, Deacon William Powell was born in Lansboro, Massachusetts in 1784. In 1805 he married Lucy Newell in Charlotte, Vermont. They then moved to northern New York, then a frontier. In 1843, after the death of his wife Lucy, the family moved to Augusta, Illinois where it was also frontier territory at that time. There was the father William and his five children: Amy age 31, Rhoda age 29, Lyman age 21, Nathaniel age 15 and Oliver S. age 12. The daughters stayed in Illinois while Lyman and their father William all came to River Falls just after Nathaniel and Oliver did. It was said that the father William Powell, when he was 65 in 1849 just missed the last steamboat of the season down the Mississippi. He had business to attend to so he bought a rowboat at Prescott and he and Oliver took the boat to Keokuk, Iowa, pretty much all unsettled territory at that time.
It is unclear what exactly happened with the Powell brothers in River Falls during the year of 1850. They lived in a log shanty up on the Mound at that time. By 1851 they built the first real house in River Falls, which would have been located on the southeast corner of Main and Maple today where the Drewkie Building is holding the corner saloon. They then decided to put in a stock of goods for a store, which was called the Pioneer Store appropriately.  It was built by Osborne Strahl and Charles B. Cox from lumber cut at Cox’s saw mill in Clifton Hollow. Horace A. Taylor hauled the lumber through Mann Valley with two yoke of oxen. There were a few families like the McGregor, Mapes and Foster families among a few others, but their homes would have been located outside of what became the original village limits. This building was the center of River Falls for its earliest years. The first church service was held there in 1853. The first white child born in River Falls was born there on January 26, 1854, Nathaniel Powell’s daughter Eva Lucille Powell.

Eva Powell - the first white child born in River Falls, Wisconsin

The first post office was started in that building in February 1855, Charles Hutchinson post master. After the great influx of settlers into River Falls in 1854, the store took in $20,000 worth of business during 1855. The records of this store are located at the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul. There is huge amounts of material there relating to the Powell family and early River Falls. It is well worth taking a look at if ever studying that early period of River Falls history. After the business became too much for them they rented the store to William W. Patterson, William Powell (no relation), Joseph Bowron, Benjamin Vannatta, Gwilym ApRoberts, Fred Darling, Gwilym ApRoberts again, then finally sells to George Mapes in May 1866. Mapes closed the general store in November 1874. A bakery then a harness shop moved in after that, but the building ultimately burned down in a fire that burned the entire block during April 1878.

The Nathaniel Powell home – 421 N. Freemont as it looked in 1990 – oldest home on the west side?

In 1852 the Powell brothers built the first sawmill in River Falls, which would be located where the railroad tressels are today. They had to get the materials for this mill from Chicago. The mill dam gave them trouble early on and broke during August 1853. It ultimately burned down in 1876. In 1854, the village of Kinnickninnic, was platted by the Powell brothers 80 acres on the east side of the Kinnickinnic. This plat included the upper waterfalls, which were donated to Charles B. Cox to induce him to put a flour mill, the Prairie Mill on that site and move from Clifton Hollow. The other mills started by Cox, the Greenwood Mill and Junction Mill would not have been possible without the support of the Powell brothers selling the land there for a cheap price. During 1854, the Powell’s built a second home on what is now 3rd Street – 107 S. 3rd Street. The brothers then platted out 120 acres on the west side of the River in 1856. One block was set aside for River Falls Academy square, where the first higher educational institution opened later that year. This has been continuously used as an educational facility and is where the River Falls Academy is today. They also donated land for the first Congregational church, which they were a part of and the Methodist Church. In 1856, their older brother Lyman Powell moved with his family to River Falls with his wife, Lucinda Taylor (sister to Horace and Lute Taylor who started the River Falls Journal in 1857) and five children all under age 10. Their children at that time were Frances age 9, Alice age 7, Ida age 5, and William an infant. This necessitated building another home, this time on the West Side. Nathaniel and his wife and daughter built a home at what is now 421 N. Freemont Street. Although highly modified from those years, it also still stands today and I think is the oldest home on the West Side.

Nathaniel N. Powell 1827 - 1862 - co-founder of River Falls

Nathaniel Powell would open a new dry goods store in Charles Cox’s hall during the summer of 1859. This hall was located where River Falls Tire, Inc. is located today. It was River Falls’s first public meeting place. He would run this store until his death on February 7, 1862, age 36. It is unclear what Nathaniel Powell died of, but I always have suspected tuberculosis. His wife Martha and children Eva age 8, and Wintrhop age 2 would stay in River Falls where the children worked in downtown stores like ApRoberts store. Then in 1884  they moved to Warren, Minnesota where Winthrop became part of a large implement and hardware store business with fellow River Falls native George Clinton Winchester.
Oliver Powell married Lydia Nichols on September 27, 1860. Oliver Powell would open a second general store during 1860 in the Babcock block located today where the Tremont building is. This would be open throughout the Civil War. In 1868, Oliver purchased 220 acres of land just east of River Falls, part of which is where 558 Maple is today. The next year he built the house the Oliver Powell family would live in part until 1952, 403 E. Maple. The Prescott Journal had this to say about the home upon its completion in December 1869:  Oliver Powell has moved into his new house. Lovers of architecture should visit his cottage as it is model of neatness and good taste. The inside furnishings is nearly all one in black ash giving a fine appearance of the rooms. It is by far the finest house ever built in the village and is a fine addition to it.

The Oliver Powell home on 4th Street - bulit in 1869

On November 9, 1872 River Falls lost another founding Powell brother when Lyman died at age 50 of tuberculosis. The Lyman Powell family stayed in River Falls with their daughter Alice and River Falls first City Clerk among other things, her husband living in the home at 107 S. 3rd Street. Their granddaughter Laura Weld, born in 1872. also lived in the home and owned a bookstore downtown. John Prucha remembered Laura Weld in this exerpt from Kinnickinnic Years (1993):

One day I was in third grade I left home early enough after lunch to have sufficient time to swing down to and along Main Street as a deliberate detour enroute back to Campus School, which I attended. I did this frequently, for I always enjoyed the excitement to be derived from window shopping along the way.

On this particular day I made the mistake of taking a short cut diagonally across the front lawn of the house on the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Walnut and Third Streets.
     I had not gone far when I was brought up short by a stern and strident reprimanded from Miss Laura Weld., a prim grey haired spinster with metal-rimmed pince-nez glasses, who ran a book and stationary store on Main Street. She knew all the youngsters in town because her shop was where most of us went to buy crayons, ink and other kinds of essential school supplies.
     “Why, John Prucha, you know better than to trespass upon someone else’s property!, she shouted at me. She was right of course, but I countered, “I’m only using a path across here others had made.” to no avai! That doesn’t make any difference. You know better, and you should do the right thing no matter what someone else does,” she admonished me.
     I retracted my illicit steps back to the sidewalk and made a proper orthogonal turn at the corner, knowing full well that word of this object lesson would never reach my parents. The exchange was simply between me ant the caring shopkeeper.

107 S. 3rd Street as it looked in 1978- the Nathaniel / Lyman Powell home - perhaps the oldest home in River Falls still standing. Too bad it is a college rental now.

Oliver S. Powell became a representative to the state assembly in 1870 and stayed that way until 1872.With Allen Weld’s father also known as Allen Weld they convinced the powers that be to locate the 4th Normal School here. This is now the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. Oliver would take over the goods of Mark Sanderson in what is now Glass Express in 1875, when Sanderson went Bankrupt with a partner Titus Bunnell. This would be until 1879 when Martin Wolf, a Stillwater brewer bought the building. Powell also looked into getting a railroad into River Falls as early as 1860. While two railroad efforts ended in failure, one amounted in sucess in 1878 when the Western Wisconsin Railroad built a branch line into River Falls that year. This railroad would run until 1966, 92 years and be a very important part of the community.
In 1880, for whatever reason Oliver Powell became interested in Sorgum manufacturing and building up his farm. The July 29, 1880 River Falls Press had this to say Oliver Powell is putting up an extensive building upon his farm for the storage of grain and machinery, and for stabling his large herd of cattle during the winter. In 1887, he built one of the first silos in the St. Croix Valley on this farm. At that time he had 30 head of cattle, 10 horses, and 150 sheep.

The cane mill was built where the Meyer Middle School is today. It is no coincidence that there was problems with the pool and foundation of that building. Powell built there because there was  a source of water unequaled anywhere else on his farm. This mill’s production varied, but in the season of 1885 11,000 gallons of sorgum were produced. His son Harvey helped him extensively with the operation and they both would attend conferences in places like Madison, St. Louis and New Orleans to find out the latest methods and tecqniques of sorgum manufacture. The product would be shipped out to the Chicago market where it was said demand was unequalled for it. A large article can be found on the mill in the October 13, 1881 issue of the River Falls Journal to those interested in learning more particulars of that mill. Unfortunately the mill would be Oliver’s demise. On September 26, 1888, he became caught between its rollers and the injuries were such that he died later the same day. All businesses in town closed the day of his funeral, a Saturday, a very busy day in that time period. He was respected by all. This is what the paper had to say:

As a neighbor, obliging and sympathetic, always rejoicing in the prosperity of his neighbors, he had a helping hand for all, and those lips now forever sealed, had other things than scandal to publish of his fellows.
He was not without human frailties, but in the essentials of his nature he was an honorable, earnest, reliable, generous brake, and at times heroic man. It was natural for him to e on the right side of things. In his convictions he was abiding sometimes, intense, but too broad and liberal to be a crank. His understanding of human nature was unusual; and when he chose to exert his influence he was a power. No mention is made of the public positions he held. they are often accidental and mean little, But his public spirit will be remembered as his pre-eminent quality. What a misnomer would a history of River Falls left out! Whenever there has been an enterprise afloat looking forward the material or moral good of the place, this busy man was never busy or tired; this man of rigid personal economy never frugal. With ready hand, open pocket and dauntless eye, he was ever in the forefront of the effort. There is not a protestant church here that did not have a site given it by Mr. Powell. What do not our schools owe to him? Was there ever a railroad in sight? he was the first to the front and the last to leave the field.That these words are the verdict of the community, the gloom that settled upon the city at the announcement of his tragic end full faithfully attests.

Oliver Powell's plat at Greenwood Cemetery - His death in 1888 was a tragic loss to River Falls

This was reprinted in his Hometown New York Newspaper as well as later articles about him being one of the most important people to come out of Madrid, New York. In 1900 Osborn Strahl, who was one of Oliver’s closest confidants,  had this to say about Olvier S. Powell:

Nathaniel Powell died early leaving the Oliver the younger brother in charge of the principal affairs of the Pioneer store and as subsequent years proved he was an important factor in building up of the place and the general development of the country round about. Overflowing with energy and good will he made himself in my estimation the head man of the neighborhood worth more to this place and community than any other man who ever livd here, and when his useful career was cut short a few years ago in the cane mill it was a large loss – the place has never been filed. Where is the man that would do as much help and risk as much? is unanswered.

558 E. Maple St. in 1978- the Oliver Powell farm house - built there or moved there? More research needs to be done!

The Powell legacy to River Falls did not end with Oliver’s death. It is my opinion that the house at 558 E. Maple was moved to the Powell farm shortly after Oliver’s death. The primary source of this is a school history of the River Falls Institute which I glossed over in the other school history that I did in early 2011. Here is an excerpt that talks about this possible move:

When Cady was superintendent of schools Hiram S baker was the property owner, was with M.E. Severence and Hattie Levings for 2 years. 1876 Baker was also county superintend of schools Fall of 1877 inducements to reopen the school patrons good Normal school largely absorbed the teaching element. Professor Cady professor at Collegiate institute purchased 3 lots on corner of Elm and 4th street upon where the old school was J Lord committee for building did not charge to the institute was 40 x 60 feet 2 stories high one addition to the rear was arranged with ample study room and assembly room. Apri4, 1876 cyclone visited unroofing the incident. replace by a hip roof. square roof had a tower furnished with a bell. hip roof replaces it. This building was purchased by Mrs. Oliver Powell and moved up on the farm and rearranged for dwelling house.

Oliver and Lydia Powell and their children in a formal portrait at Kellogg Studio

Oliver and his wife Lucinda had seven children Lucy, Birdie, Amy, Harvey, Newell, Lyman and Miriam. Their oldest daughter Lucy married Elbridge Currier in 1883. They lived on the Currier farm in Clifton until 1901 when they moved to the house at 558 E. Maple Street where they had a truck garden farm until 1934 when they moved to 207 N. 4th street across from the other Powell house where Sarah “Birdie” Powell lived and their parents lived before that. The Currier family had 5 children, one of which Margaret stayed in River Falls area and married James Allen, who living people may remember farming just outside of town. “Birdie” always stayed in River Falls and was a music teacher who taught at her home until her death in 1952. Amy married Charles Bliss who was in the insurance business in Minneapolis. She later moved to the Los Angeles Area. Amy had no children. Son Harvey Oliver Powell started a bank at White Rock, South Dakota before moving to Weyburn, Saskatachawan Canada where their home is on the local historic register. The city’s website has this to say about the home at 815 4th Street SE:
The heritage value of the Powell Residence lies in its association with its first owners Harvey and Elizabeth Powell. The Powells’, originally from White Rock, South Dakota, moved to Weyburn in 1907. It was in that year the Mr. Powell began his career as the first and only Manager of the Weyburn Security Bank, the first federally chartered bank with its headquarters in Saskatchewan. Mr. Powell’s success as a banker led to the bank’s success until the 1930s. The economic recession resulted in the Weyburn Security Bank selling out to the Imperial Bank of Canada in 1931. Initially educated as a lawyer, Mrs. Powell was actively involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and was President of the Knox Auxiliary Women’s Foreign Missionary Society in Weyburn from 1909-1910.

The heritage value of the Powell Residence also lies in its architecture and location. The general symmetry of the building bears a slight reference to the Georgian architectural style as noted by the covered entrance. Constructed in 1913, the three-story house is considerably larger than other residences built during this period on Signal Hill. The building’s size is similar to the Moffet Residence, the home of Frank Moffet, a prominent member of Weyburn’s business community.

Newell Nicholas Powell started a bank in Fairmount, North Dakota before moving to the Minneapolis where he also was a director of a bank. Lyman Theodore Powell became a lawyer at the age of 19 graduating from the school at Ann Arbor, Michigan in the spring of 1892. He located at Superior, Wisconsin. The Powell’s youngest daughter Miriam married Frederick C. Miller in 1900. They moved to Appleton, Minnesota where he was a practicing doctor. She is the only one of the seven children not to buried at River Falls’ Greenwood Cemetery. In fact their are Powell family members buried at Greenwood Cemetery that never lived in River Falls at all.

One final legacy the Powell family gave to the city is Glen Park. Before 1898, there was no real park land set aside in the city limits at all. The Powell’s not only donated the land for the park, but were instrumental in developing its early look. So in summary what is the Powell legacy to River Falls in one sentence? The core of the city, the educational facilities both public and university, the church, the railroad, and the park system all owe a debt of gratitude to the Powell family, particularly Oliver S. Powell. Why is there nothing in the city named after this family except the Plat? I think mainly it is because the family did not promote themselves as something special when they lived here and there are no descendants living in the area for the last 30 years where as Joel Foster has many descendants in the area to promote his legacy. Hopefully in the not too distant future something in town could be named after the Powell family, the most important family to ever live in River Falls.

Posted in Overall Pierce County History, River Falls History, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Titanic – 100th anniversary of the sinking – Now! Wisconsin and Minnesota connections.

Highlights of my Titanic Collection - April 2012

While my main emphasis in this blog is to spread awareness of  Pierce County’s history, I could not go by the Titanic 100th anniversary without blogging about it. I personally remember when I first even heard about the the Titanic, was in the summer of 1985. Robert Ballard was in the news because he actually had found the Titanic. I never heard of it at that point. After reading news stories and the later National Geographic and book coverage of this discovery, I was hooked. This was the first “historical” story that I became fascinated by. My dad and I then decided to make a small Titanic collection. This collection grew slowly at first, but built up into quite a collection over the years. Two highlights of this collection are a first edition the first book (as far as I know) on the Titanic from 1912 called The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters – Thrilling Stories of Survivors and a copy of the Saint Paul Daily News dated April 16, 1912. Both of these items were found at auctions in Pierce County. That paper’s headline was 1,492 Drowned in Titanic Sea Disaster. There also is a report on Twin City People in Titanic Wreck, which I will reprint later below.

When we learned that Jim Cameron, who was already one of my favorite directors thanks to Aliens and the Terminator movies, was interested in the wreck of Titanic and even thinking of making a movie about it, we were ecstatic! Needless to say when Stan got the movie at the Falls Theater were one of the first in line to see it. We both really enjoyed the movie and how it would this fictional love story around the actual historical events of Titanic’s story.

This blogger outside the Falls Theater - 1998

My dad, Charles Geister, showing off his Titanic, outside the Falls Theater 1998

My Dad's Titanic April 2012.

Of course the movie was fantastic and won many awards and prompted my dad, Chuck to make his own small version of the Titanic. Our Titanic collection grew large by this point, but this is my most unique item in the collection. It landed my dad on the front page of the River Falls Journal March 26, 1998. This was right after Oscar Sunday where Titanic swept most categorizes. The next year Titanic: The Exhibition came to the Union Depot at Saint Paul. We both went to the exhibit, but my dad made an extra effort to attend (along with over 1,000 others) the ceremony where they blew a set of whistles recovered from the wreck for the only time. I now have a decent audio recording of that event. Unfortunately, when Titanic: the Exhibition returned to the twin cities, this time at the Science Museum of Minnesota in later 2009, my dad and I could not go for he had died that July. I did attend that exhibit as well, but felt a little more connected to the lost lives on the Titanic because of my recent loss of my dad.

My passion for Titanic and its story has not ceased. As of this writing, I have not seen Titanic 3-D, but plan to on Saturday April 14th, the anniversary of the Titanic hitting the iceberg. I am sure to be blown away with it seeing it in IMAX for the first time, let alone 3-D.

What is the local connection to the Titanic? No there were no Pierce County people on board. In a broader scope of what is local there were only 8 people from Wisconsin that were on board. The most “famous” being Captain Edward Crosby from Milwaukee, who lost his life. Of these 8 people 3 died and 5 survived. There were 19 others who had destinations in Wisconsin. As for Minnesota, there were 12 on board. Seven survived and five perished. One of those was Walter Donald Douglas who was a millionaire even at that time. 16 others listed their destinations in Minnesota, including a Norwegian immigrant Karl Johan Salander who was going to Red Wing, Minnesota. Both the Wisconsin and Minnesota passengers were from first and second classes, no third class passengers at all. Almost all of the immigrants were in the third class and did die in the disaster. If you combine those who lived and were going to Wisconsin there were 27 passengers, 11 of which survived. Each of the 2223 people on that ship had a story to tell. There are so many details that people have unearthed on the Titanic you could study it exclusively for years and not uncover everything about it. Below is a transcribed version of the St. Paul Daily News story called Twin City People in Titanic Wreck. It mistakenly says Walter D. Douglas survived. While his wife survived, he did not.

News of the several Northwestern people, who were among the passengers on the ill fated Titanic was awaited eagerly by many Twin City friends and relatives today.

Newspaper offices were besieged with inquires and every late report was sought assiduously.

At least eight people from Minneapolis and North Dakota were aboard the Titanic when the vessel sailed. Of these, H.F. Chaffee, Amenia, N.D. is believed to be among the men that stood back and allowed the women and children to secure places in the life boats first, thus sacrificing his own life when the ship took its final plunge to its two mile grave.

Anxiety is also felt in Saint Paul for the fate of F.D. Millet, American painter, who is among the missing according to the latest devices.

The first telegram from New York was received by W.G. Strickland, 657 Portland ave., at 2:30 o’clock Tuesday morning saying that his sister Mrs. R.L. Beckwith, Hartford, Conn., and her husband were among the rescued on the Carpathia.

E.W. Challee, 722 Aurora ave., son of Mr. and Mrs. Chaffee received a telegram from New York with unconfirmed information that his parents were safe on the Carpathia, but Mr. Chaffee’s name does not appear on the Carpathia’s list of rescued.

Hope McCall sent the first direct message received in Saint Paul from the White Star line offices. Mr. McCall’s telegram relieved the anxiety felt for Constance Willard, daughter of D. M. Willard, and sister of Mrs. Hope McCall, 63 S. Avon st. Miss Willard is on the Carpathia.

Mrs. G.A. Goodell has received no information as to the fate of her sister, Mrs. Walter D. Douglas, and Mr. Douglas, who were on the Titanic.

There were three families named Douglas booked on the Titanic and among the list of rescued appears the names, Mrs. Water Douglas and Mrs. Fred Douglas. The names have been so badly confused and misspelled by the wireless operators that Mrs. Goodell entertains hope that her sister may be on the Carpathia. It seem that Mr. Douglas may have been saved, but it is unclear.

Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Snyder, well known members of the younger society set in Minneapolis, were on the Titanic, but were taken aboard the Carpathia.

Mrs. F. G. Bangs, Lincoln ave., had no word today from her cousin, Clarence Moore, Washington D.C. who was a Titanic passenger. His name does not appear in the list of those rescued.

Miss Willard will come direct to St. Paul from New York after the Carpathia docks Friday morning. Miss Willard had been traveling in Europe for several months with her cousin, Mrs. F. G. Mackey, formerly of Minneapolis, now a resident of London.

Mrs. Chaffee will be met Friday morning in New York by her son H. Lawrence Chaffee student at Oberlin college, Orberlin, O. She will stop in St. Paul before going to North Dakota. Mr. Chaffee is a well-known business man, being president of the John Miller Grain Co., with offices in Minneapolis. He has large land holdings in North Dakota.

Mr. and Mrs. F.H. Snyder, who have been abroad since February, curtailed their visit in Paris so as to sail April 17 on the new Titanic. But they were unable to secure passage and were compelled to wait for the next White Star liner, the Oceanic, which sails from England April 20.

Several other Twin City people, among them Mr. and Mrs. George H. Partridge and Mrs. F.M. Prince, Minneapolis, expected to sail on the Titanic on her maiden trip, but it was not easy to secure bookings, so they and many others were disappointed over what proved to be their good fortune.

Mr. and Mrs. T.W. Stevenson, 2620 Portland ave., Minneapolis, parents of Mrs. J.P. Snyder left Monday evening for New York.

Mr. and Mrs. Snyder were married January 27 in Minneapolis. Mr. Snyder is the nephew of the late John Pilsbury, one of Minnesota’s early governors.

 

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Falls Theater was featured on Twin Cities Live KSTP today! – Wed. April 11, 2012

River Falls Theater - 1964 - notice the outside Ticket Window covering

As I a special treat, I found out River Falls’s beloved Falls Theater was featured on Twin  Cities Live today. The Falls Theater has been a great asset to River Falls since it opened in 1927. It is hard to believe, but that is 85 years ago now. Audrey Alton, who I know very well used to work there as an usher. I personally never remember any theater that had an usher. Although there were five managers before him, Stan McCulloch, who bought and managed the theater starting in 1972, came to be famous for his generosity and giving to River Falls as a community. Stan was approached in 1995, to open a multiplex in Riverside Square, but he politely refused. He ended up owning the theater for 30 years, longer than anyone else. His daughter Michelle “Mickey” has been the head of the theater for last ten years already. 2002 does not seem that long ago to me, but it is! Mickey along with her children and long standing crew continue to keep this wonderful asset to River Falls open every day of the year. The commitment is enormous, but rewarding, it is home to their family. It still blows me away when they get first week movies at only $3.00 a pop, latest example being Hunger Games, and on May 4 – The Avengers! (with scheduled midnight showing)

Raiders of the Lost Ark!

My first real memory of going to the Falls Theater was in 1981 when I was 5 years old. The movie playing was Raiders of the Lost Ark. I remember Main Street was torn up at that time for renovation. Both my parents went to the movie with me, somewhat of a rarity after my parent’s divorce in 1978. Raiders is one of my favorite movies of all time, one of the very few I can say most of the lines before the actors say them. Amazingly years later, I found two things that verified that day of movie going. I found my father’s diary he kept from that year with an entry “Danny went with me and Marcia to Raiders tonight.” Not only that, but while looking through the River Falls Journal file photographs, I found one with Raiders playing at it and the street tore up. I guess my memory is not that bad after all, even for a five year old. I love the fact they have an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom poster up in the lobby now. When Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opened there in 2008, I saw the movie there 5 times, the most times I have seen a movie in the theater since 1989′s Batman (also at the Falls Theater).  I have seen probably a few hundred movies there at least, the last one being the Hunger Games this past weekend. What is the first movie you remember seeing at the Falls Theater? Leave a comment below!

For the link to the story of the Falls Theater on the KSTP website click here:

http://twincitieslive.com/article/day/S20120411.shtml?cat=10699

For the Falls Theater Website with a lot more history of the theater and  latest movie showtimes and reviews go to:

http://www.fallstheatre.com/

I always prefer the Falls Theater before any other theater. They always seem to get the movies I am interested in during opening weekend. There is more history going to be made at the Falls Theater this year! Stay tuned! Here’s hoping for another 85 years of movie going!

Posted in Overall Pierce County History, River Falls History | 4 Comments

Protected: The ApRoberts family in River Falls (and elsewhere) history! The origin of 100 S. Main Street

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C. F. Winter and how I hate initials! – The “City Hall” clock guy and long-time River Falls Jeweler

As I have been researching local history for about 6 years now, one thing I notice that annoys me more than anything is when many people were referred  to in the newspaper only by their initials or as Mrs. John Smith. This is the case with C.F. Winter. The Journal this week has an article on C.F. Winter’s clock and it history up to being moved to city hall. No where in the article is C.F. Winter refereed to by his first name Charles. This was common at least in the newspapers for almost everyone and for sure all business people. Only at the time of their death are some full first names revealed. I am not sure if they were called by their intials in person or not. If any one has any insight on this common practice then let me know! I am glad it is not in favor now.

Anyway a little bit more about Charles F. Winter. Charles Frederick Winter was born November 8, 1858 in Watertown, Jefferson County, Wisconsin to immigrant parents Mathais and Caroline Winter. At the age of 10 months the family moved to Columbus, Wisconsin. His parents came to be in charge of a hotel in Columbus shortly after the Civil War. Chuck grew up in Columbus where he also attended the Lutheran Church there. He got interested in Jewelry in Columbus, but became apprentice at the August Wiggenhorn Jewelry store in Watertown. How long this was is unknown, but he moved to Saint Cloud, Minnesota and started his own jewelry store there in 1881. In 1883, he worked at a jewelry store in Columbus again.  Why he decided to come to River Falls is unknown, but in the spring of 1885, Thomas Yates’s jewelry store was for sale in the Bradshaw Brothers building (118 S. Main Street). A jewelry was first at that location in August 1878 when Henry Cook opened his shop there. The first jewelry store in River Falls was at the Day Daylight store. Egbert Wallace Reed opened a counter there on North Main in the summer of 1871.  Charles Winter opened his store late in July 1885. He did not waste any time settling down here for he married Katherine Gehring November 11, 1885. I think they lived downtown until they built their own home on 4th street in 1894 ( 203 S.). He was active in River Falls being an alderman for the 2nd ward of the city and also a member of the Masons. He was even honored during that run as alderman by having a street named after him. Winter street on the Brooklyn or West side is named after him and not the season, so I have been told. I have never found written proof of this fact though. If anyone has it let me know!

The Winter family had two children Otto L. and Coie Winter. Otto was born December 26, 1888. He became a lieutenant in the first World War. He died of pneumonia during the epidemic on January 2, 1919. Coie married Wilbur Powell Ensign. Wilbur was also in the first World War as a marine. He worked for the Tubbs Medicine Company here in River Falls. After the River Falls Opera House became a ladder factory in 1919, he was in charge of the workers there. When that place burned down, he stayed employed with the same ladder factory and moved to Minneapolis where they had another location. Coie and Wilbur Ensign stayed in Minneapolis for the rest of their lives. Their only child was named Winter Ensign after Charles Winter’s surname.

Winter had a good practice downtown as a jeweler. He mostly worked alone, but I know that George Searle and Arthur Todd both worked there at a time. William Sanderson had an insurance office in the back of the store. They had a bad fire in the store during the spring of 1898. He did reopen shortly after, luckily having insurance for that kind of thing.

In 1900, Sebastian Gehring, Charles Winter’s father in law,  bought 110 S. Main Street. At that time it was a millinery store. When that store left Charles Winter took the opportunity to move to that location, doubling the size of the store. This was in May 1906. Winter’s anniversary sales after this were well advertised as he had been in business many years up to that point. He continued the store until his death on August 5, 1928. The later years he had Herbert Helmer (b. September 13, 1894) as a worthy employee. The store became the Winter-Helmer Jewelry until 1932 when Mrs. Winter relinquished ownership. Helmer would stay in business in River Falls in 1947, even building a new building for himself at 115 S. Main Street in 1947. He sold out to George Neher that year. That address would stay as a Jewelry store in River Falls until 1992, when Richard’s Jewelers closed. Charles Winter himself was the longest proprietor, being in business from 1885 until 1928, 43 years or 36% of that Jewelry store’s lifetime. I guess it is a tribute to what kind of space a jewelry store needs, but Winter’s original location has been Gemini Jewelers at one time and now is the Goldsmith, who is also a jeweler. Anyway, that is a little bit more about C.F. Winter or Charles Frederick Winter and his life in River Falls!

Posted in Overall Pierce County History, River Falls History | 10 Comments

My old home town – Roberts, Wisconsin and Roberts remembered! by Great Aunt Gert.

I have not focused on my own history on this blog so far. While I was born in River Falls, I did not live here until 1988. From 1978 to 1988 my home town was and in some ways is Roberts, Wisconsin. My mother had got a divorce from my father at that time (we were living in Hudson), and it was decided it was best if I went to live with my mother. I was 2 years old at that time. My formative years were then spent in Roberts where we lived at 48 Frank Street. Some of my best childhood memories are from Roberts. Being a town kid I walked to school and spent many afternoons at friends or alone at home (before my mother came home from work at Northwest Airlines) around town after a usual stop at the Roberts Grocery Store. Teachers I remember fondly are Mrs. Christensen, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Helders, Mrs. Dougherty, Mr. Magee, Mrs. Huser among others. At that time I did not have any sort of interest in local history, family history or history in general at all. After spending 10 great years in Roberts, my mother met someone and was going to get remarried in October 1988, which she did. Where did that leave me? There were two options: move to White Bear Lake, where my mom was or move in with my dad and uncle in River Falls. Being from Roberts with the St. Croix Central Class of 1994 consisting of about 50 people, my parents decided I should go to River Falls. River Falls was a very large place compared to Roberts and it took some adjusting to living there, especially in school.

48 Frank Street, Roberts, Wisconsin

This blogger at home in Roberts - 1981

Skipping ahead 18 years, my father Chuck Geister, was working on his memoirs on growing up in Beldenville. This was released in the summer of 2007 as a limited edition book called Lillies of My Valley. It is a great read and available at local public libraries. This had inspired me to look in the history of Beldenville in general. I found there never was a book written on its history, just scattered articles in the newspaper and other places. This introduced me to research at the UWRF archives, the Pierce County Historical Association, and many resources to investigate Beldenville. I quickly went from knowing very little about area history to knowing a lot. The “Beldenville Book” was published by the Pierce County Historical Association in 2008.

While initially researching at archives I met Peter Close for the first time. Pete had recently decided to research Roberts and Warren Township history along with his friend Rand.  He saw me and we got to talking about both our projects. I told him about Beldenville, and he said he had family that lived in Beldenville. I did not believe him at first because I did not get to researching that part of Beldenville’s history. It ended up that profiles of some his family appeared in the Beldenville Book and this summer’s Ellsworth book family names being: Locke, Close, Mason, and Williams. Pete and Rand began trading information back and forth with me on local history. If I found something on Roberts and Warren I would share and if they found something on Pierce County, they would share, a process that happens up to this day. Their project is slightly different, because they need a story to publish every two weeks in the newspaper! They have been using a pseudo name which is quite clever. They have collaborated to explain their project Roberts Remembered, which is ongoing to share on my blog. It is a privilege to put this information out on the web to get it more exposure. They are always looking for input and more information on Warren and Roberts! So here it is: Roberts Remembered!

The Village of Roberts and Town of Warren are located within St. Croix County in Western Wisconsin.   With few resources documenting their history, knowledge of their past has disappeared with the eventual passing of key residents.  In 2006, Roberts Remembered was formed to research, compile and preserve this local history with a goal to make it available for current and future generations to enjoy.  Although a comprehensive history book is our ultimate goal, the first serious project of Roberts Remembered was a newspaper column entitled “I Was Wondering …”

 

Local history is stereotypically enjoyed by a mature age group.  The challenge was to devise a writing style which would reminisce about the historical accounts of Roberts/Warren and make it interesting for every age.  A fictional character that had personally experienced nearly every historical milestone over the past 150 years became our device to captivate readers.  A local newspaper publisher thought the idea had merit and, on February 9, 2007, Great Aunt Gert gave the first of her many oral histories of Roberts in the inaugural issue of the Western Wisconsin Weekender.

 

The Western Wisconsin Weekender was free to the public and available to a generous portion of St. Croix County residents.  Great Aunt Gert recounted a different piece of Roberts/Warren history to her readers every week for two full years.  The Weekender discontinued operations in February 2009.  Aunt Gert was immediately offered the opportunity to continue regaling the public with her memories of yesteryear to the subscribers of the Central St. Croix News.  The “I Was Wondering …” column has appeared every other week in that newspaper since 2009.

 

Hardcore history buffs may disapprove but writing local history as if it had been personally experienced has its advantages.  Warm stories spun by a family matriarch–spiced with the use of old slang phrases–can soften the cold facts of history and captivate a reader’s attention.  The phrase “Stars and garters I can remember it as if it were yesterday” is incorporated into every “I Was Wondering …” column and adds a little fun to the flavor of the story.  In the case of conflicting historical data, Great Aunt Gert may include an account which is different from hers.  The reader is not condemned to follow a one-sided version of history.

 

Nearly 200 “I Was Wondering …” columns have been featured in the first five years.  In addition to historical events, equal attention has been given to landmark buildings, organizations, people, and gossip worthy tales.   There is hope that these stories may one day be available in bound form for another generation to enjoy.

 

Roberts Remembered is not limited to the newspaper.  Tossing a special history story to the crowds along the parade route, Aunt Gert has made several personal appearances at the annual Roberts Good Neighbor Days Grande Parade.   Framed photo displays have been donated and permanently exhibited at the Village of Roberts, Town of Warren, and other buildings frequented by the public.  Written contributions have been requested and included in The Hammond/Roberts Community Guide, Hazel Mackin Community Library Cookbook and several editions of The Local Biz monthly advertiser.  Roberts Remembered spearheaded a historical exposition at the Warren Sesquicentennial celebration in 2010 which included an exhibit of historical artifacts as well as display panels featuring photos and text of the township’s rich past.  Due to our efforts, the Roberts Veterans Park now includes many lasting memorials in honor of forgotten residents who performed military service for their country and the Warren Cemetery has several new headstones that identify graves that have been unmarked for decades.

 

Although we utilize government records, plat maps, history books, internet sources and personal interviews, a majority of our early documentation of Roberts and Warren history has been obtained through archival newspapers.   It has taken a substantial investment in both time and money to pursue this hobby but it was never our intent to make this a profitable venture.  History is something that truly belongs to us all and giving everyone the chance to rediscover the Roberts of by-gone days continues to be our goal.

 

Pete Close and Rand Waughtal

Email:  greatauntgert@lycos.com

 

Roberts Remembered

P.O. Box 22

Roberts, WI  54023

 

 

 

 

Posted in Ellsworth History, Overall Pierce County History | 1 Comment

The Ellsworth History Book progress – and corrections for the publications put out for the 150th so far.

As I am now wrapping up putting together chapters of the Ellsworth history book, I thought I’d write about it and the two publications that have come out so far under Ellsworth’s 150th celebration.

The book that I am working on will be coming out this summer under the Pierce County Historical Association. The book has two main parts to it. I have researched and written about a variety of topics from Ellsworth history that are all going into 10 chapters.

1) Ellsworth Beginnings and County Building Evolution – This chapter covers Ellsworth before the county seat when for about 10 years it was known as Perry. It also covers why the county seat was moved to Ellsworth and the history of the county buildings that have been built in the village.

2) Civic Improvements – Electricity, Sewer, Water, Paving, Village Incorporation, and other improvements like a fire department are in this chapter.

3) West Ellsworth Business History – This chapter was the longest to write, but not necessarily the hardest to research. It attempts to put Ellsworth business histories in order, building by building (even if they don’t exist) from the corner where the Freedom Station is to the Midway Mall. It contains about 50 pages without any photographs yet.

4) East Ellsworth Business History – This was similar to chapter 3, except it involves East Ellsworth. I had some excellent help in this part, for Marvin Struve did similar research and writing in the 1990s. Earlier versions of Chapter 3 and 4 were given to Cal Butts, Jim Peterson, Jack Hines, the Ellsworth Care Center and Ellsworth Chamber members to make sure the information is as accurate as possible. Changes were made and these chapters are nearing final form.

5) Historic Homes – I have this chapter up as a test chapter on my blog. I did not get any feedback on anything wrong in this chapter except some spelling mistakes on current owners. This was an attempt at researching most homes built in Ellsworth before 1960. When where they built and by and for who? Historic photographs will be a highlight of this chapter along with something about renowned architect Cass Gilbert’s connection to Ellsworth.

6) Medical History – This chapter covers all doctors who practiced in Ellsworth from the first, Dr. Dempster Woodworth to Dr. Jonas and Dr. Klaas. Judea Klaas and Dr. Jonas contributed greatly to this chapter. It also will have something on Ellsworth Hospitals (yes there were two!), nursing homes and clinics.

7) Ellsworth Schools – Ellsworth School district history is recounted, not only in a new narrative about the village schools that cover previously unrevealed information, but also histories of all township schools which were: Clayfield, Freier, Maynard, Murphy, Sleepy Hollow, Iverson, Cudd, and Lantz Schools.

8 ) Ellsworth Churches – This chapter will cover histories of all churches past and present in the village and Ellsworth Township. Many of the histories were submitted by long time members and pastors of the churches themselves.

9) Ellsworth Organizations – This will have some histories of organizations in Ellsworth, both active and inactive. Everything from the Hesperian Society to Lions Club, to Masons, to G.A.R. to Girl Scouts, with many others as well.

10) Ellsworth Recreation – This chapter covers some of the fun events and places in Ellsworth over the years. The events include the harvest festivals, 4th of July, Circus, Sno Fest, and Cheese Curd Festival among others. The places include the infamous Ellsworth Pavillion a.ka. Proch’s Pavilion.  Other places include the fairgrounds, the Fireman’s Opera Hall and even the East Ellsworth Pavillion.

These are the chapters I have been working on for the past four years. It feels good to be so close to handing them over to my editor, who is Darleen Schommer. The remainder of the book will be about pioneering Ellsworth families. These are families that came to Ellsworth village or township before 1880. Why 1880? If we try to cover everyone who ever lived here it would be the never ending story. This is the format that other local books have used as well when publishing family histories. The books with family history information so far include volume 7 on the Cherma area, volume 8 on El Paso Township families, and volume 9 on early Beldenville families. These are all still in print and available through our office. Other books that also have extensive family genealogies include The History of Prescott by Beeler and Ahlgren (1996) covering Prescott and surrounding area families and Is there Any Lefse and Ludafisk Left? by Wiff covering Martell Township families (1994). Both of these are also available through our office. Pat (Winn) Mory has been working on a lot of these families for years and has been working diligently and has most of them completed at this time. This section is not only interesting to the families included, but I would think to others who want to know more about the early history of the county and some of their current neighbors families for sure.

Sesquicentennial publications so far.

So far there have been two publications put out as part of the sesquicentennial celebration in Ellsworth: The Ellsworth 150th Calendar put out by the Sesquicentennial committee and the Ellsworth Visitor’s and Residents Guide Sesquicentennial Edition put out by the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce through Helmer Printing. While both of these publications are good in their own ways, there are a few mistakes in them that I feel like I need to share here, because I feel accuracy is important. Once a history is in print, many who read it assume that it is correct and will not check a original source to see if it is really correct.

The Ellsworth 150th Calender

The Calendar has three major mistakes and a few minor ones. Mistake 1: The Pierce County Historical Association was under the impression from our agreement that we would get credit for the photographs used for the calender individually. Instead the powers that be created a list instead. Photos are important view into our past and it is too bad they were not credited individually. Here are the individual photo credits by month.

Cover: Photograph by Ken Close. This is part of the Ken Close collection at PCHA.

January: Pierce County Historical Association photo

February: From the Kathy Deiss post card collection

March: Provided by Brickner’s service station

April: Photograph from the Pierce County Historical Association Collection. This is one of two photos with the incorrect description with the photograph. The cut line talks about the Methodist Church in town, while the photograph is an early one of the Presbyterian Church with Arthur Travis in front of it delivering mail.

May: This is from the Pierce County Historical Association

June: This is provided by the Co-op creamery in East Ellsworth

July: This Main Street view is a Hakkon W. Lawrence photograph out of the new Lawrence negatives in the Pierce County Historical Association collection.

August: This photograph is a Pierce County Historical Association photo. The cut line is incorrect on the first four high school students that graduated from Ellsworth. They list teachers and a principal in the cut line. The correct 4 students are: Mark Terpenning, Lizzie Peterson, Etta Rounce, and Alice Crownhart

September: This also is a Hakkon W. Lawrence photograph from the Pierce County Historical Association.

October: This is a Pierce County Historical Association photograph. It also exists in the Kathy Deiss post card collection.

November: I am assuming this photo of the Ellsworth pavilion was provided by Dick Proch, since he is credited in the list of where they got the photographs from.

December: This a some what common post card of the community Christmas Tree of 1916. It is hard to say where their source is for this.

This was my major problem with the calender : citing sources and having bad information for the cut lines. It was lucky that they did have some of the cut lines proofed, or there could have been more mistakes. There are some minor mistakes in the information on some days as well, but only one serves mention. On August 28 it states: 1855 Anthony Huddleston, cousin of Daniel Boone, was the settler who bought the land where the creamery now stands. First of all, no research has ever linked Daniel Boone to Huddleston. The family has looked into this in great detail and found it is NOT true. Also no mention of the fact that Huddleston is the first settler is made here. The ladies did great work with it, and put together something that it would have been hard for me to do. I am just slightly disappointed in the final product, but not so much that I have not bought more than one!

The Ellsworth Sesquicentennial Edition Community and Visitor’s Guild

Now what is wrong with the Ellsworth visitors guide, you might ask? There are two major problems with it in my estimation. Mistake 1) There are numerous historical photographs including the front cover that are not of Ellsworth at all, but of River Falls! The front cover shows Thomas Tomlinson and Matt Simon’s meat market on it. The proprietors are in the white outfits and Earl Foster is the boy in the center of the photograph. This meat market partnership lasted between 1904 and 1906 and was located where Steve’s Pizza is today on North Main Street in River Falls.  On page 10 there is a photograph of Langwear plant in River Falls during 1931. This was located on Second Street where the Fire Department is today. Langwear was never in Ellsworth! On Page 22 there are a series of photographs, one clearly marked Fred Johnson. This Fred Johnson never lived near Ellsworth, but at Maiden Rock.  Finally on page 37 there is a clear half page image of the Park View Dairy truck with the Bartosh boys shown beside it. The truck is clearly marked River Falls! This was located on today’s Church Street before that area became full of residences as it is today.

The other major problem I have with the book is that it includes 42 historical photographs. None are individually credited anywhere. On Page 1 it says the Historical Photographs were supplied by the Ellsworth Historical Society. This organization does not even exist! It is very clear that the photographs are almost all from the Pierce County Historical Association. This is news to our organization. The authors of the Ellsworth book and the board can not find any documentation showing they could use these photographs or any photographs in a publication. I am sure the information is right within the pages, but these two things put a damper on this publication.

Anyway, hopefully we are on the right track in putting out the Ellsworth History Book a.k.a. Pierce County Heritage Volume 10, by June. It will be over 500 pages and if you pre-order with our office you can get a special rate. E-mail or call our office at 715-273-6611 to reserve a copy. Thank you to everyone who contributed to its creation! You are all on the list to be contacted when the book is completed! We had information, photographs, and artifacts submitted from southern California to Connecticut to Florida as  well as many local contributions. You can also e-mail me if you have any questions about the book’s contents

Posted in Ellsworth History, Overall Pierce County History, Pierce County Historical Association events, River Falls History | 11 Comments