LOOKING BACK AT LITCHFIELD: Steamboat began traversing Lake Ripley in 1889 | Entertainment
1846: Founder and owner of Litchfield’s famous Ames Brickyard, Henry Ames, was born in Oswego, New York on May 4, 1846. Builders chose his cream-colored bricks to build business blocks, schools, churches, and residences throughout Meeker County and in at least three surrounding counties. Of course, Litchfield itself was his best customer. The Meeker County Courthouse (1885), the G. A. R. Memorial Hall (1885), the Litchfield Woolen Mill (1885), the Masonic Temple building (1889), and the Litchfield Opera House (1900) are a few of the more prominent buildings that were constructed with Ames’ bricks. In the neighboring city of Willmar, the Merchants Hotel and the Kandiyohi County Bank used “Litchfield” brick, as did many home builders.
1856: The Minnesota Legislature established Meeker County on Feb. 23, 1856, and named it in honor of Bradley Meeker of Minneapolis, who was an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. D. M. Hanson and John W. Huy, who were appointed county commissioners, met in the newly started village of Forest City on May 6, 1856, and organized the county on paper, making it legal. (By the way, Minnesota became the 32nd state in the Union on May 11, 1858.)
1875: Litchfield’s first teacher John Blackwell’s health was getting worse and worse. So, on Friday, May 21, 1875, he rode out, with August T. “Gus” Koerner, his brother-in-law, to visit their father-in-law, John McGannon. After they had talked for a while, Blackwell, said “Goodbye, father! If we never meet again on Earth, may we meet in heaven.” The ride back was too much for John in his enfeebled condition and from that time on he became bedridden. On the afternoon of Monday, May 24, John’s wife Mary Jane asked him if he wanted some refreshment, and he replied, “I suppose I ought to eat and drink.” She gave him some tea, which he drank, sitting up in bed. Her attention was then called away from him for a moment by some of their children. Suddenly she heard a groan that drew her back quickly to John’s side. John had fallen back on this pillow, his head thrown back. She raised him up quickly and sent one of their children for help. Very quickly, livery stable owner and friend Henry Chase came, but John had already died from “rheumatism of the heart.” The next day, Mary Jane’s father, John McGannon, also passed away. It must have been a terrible two days for Mary Jane McGannon Blackwell.
1876: The Litchfield Independent, a forerunner of the Independent Review, with a stock company of Edward P. “E. P.” Peterson, Albert B. “Al” Sanders, and Nathan Clay Martin began publishing on May 30, 1876. A month later, Martin was out. In 1878, Sanders sold his interest to Henry Isaac “H. I.” Peterson, a brother to Edward P. Peterson, for a cow. Yes, a cow. Was that moo-lah back then? Then John Harmon bought the paper from H. I. in May 1937.
1879: So many immigrants kept coming through and to Litchfield by wagon trains that the local newspaper referred to them as being as thick, in 1877, as the grasshoppers were during the locust plaque. I get the feeling that the “welcome mat” started getting worn out. (Sound familiar?) A May of 1879 News-Ledger newspaper read, “Emigrants! Emigrants! Emigrants! Emigrant wagons are passing through the city, west, in unusual numbers.”
1886: F. P. Zimmerman and Joseph “Joe” Barth had a farm machinery business in the Anderson Chemical lot in 1886. Zimmerman committed suicide in May of 1886 by slitting his throat in the Litchfield House. (It was by the Carnegie Library). There were a couple of suicides that took place there. One man swallowed acid.
1889: A steamboat was ordered from Little Falls for the Brightwood Beach Resort, and it arrived in early May 1889. Christened “LuLu” after co-owner Hiram Branham’s sister, it was 30 feet long. It was chugging across the lake on June 1 to take guests to Litchfield’s famous resort on Lake Ripley. Israel Miller, a Civil War veteran who owned the Litchfield Feed Mill, operated the boat. Four years earlier, Israel had built another steamboat, which he took people around the lake on. During the off-season, he took out the steam engine and used it in his feed mill. LuLu took guests to the resort across the lake from a landing at the site of today’s Anderson Gardens. In those days, a road came to the lake from downtown, but there wasn’t a road around the lake. Tokens to ride LuLu could be purchased in downtown Litchfield and a long horse drawn carriage, named the “Brightwood Bus,” took the patrons to the boat landing. Most of the guests were met and picked up at the train depot.
1893-1894: Because of all the saloons in town,and the trouble they created, the city was finally forced into a self-prohibition, which began on April 22, 1893. It didn’t last long. It was over in a year, in May 1894. A fountain was added to the city park in May of 1894. I don’t know if it was the same as the one that’s there now.
1900: The old city hall was sold at an auction in May 1900 to George Mills and it was moved off the lot to make room for the new building (the Opera House). Mills moved it to the lot opposite the Litchfield House hotel (by the Carnegie Library. A warehouse for Ideal Lumber is there later.) The building was used as a warehouse for Mills’ Deere, Webber and Company business. He eventually sold the building to the Peterson Implement Company, and it was torn down in the 1920s for the lumber.
1904: The May 1, 1904, edition of our local newspaper had this story, “A cow, just in from the country and not used to city ways, entered a saloon (the White Front at 210 N. Sibley) here Wednesday afternoon and created consternation for a time. Not that it was feared, she would leave the establishment high and dry, but for the damage she might do inside the place. The animal had been tied by a rope outside the Sather’s Meat Market. She slipped the rope, taking advantage of her newfound freedom, took it into her bewildered head to wander into the Von Vitzthum saloon by the rear door. Unwilling to depart, they say Bessie took an exit to the front, leaping through the front window. Apart from the broken window, no particular damage was done. That was an odd experience.”
1904: The Carnegie Library’s doors were opened to the public on Tuesday, May 17, 1904. The library was one of 65 public libraries built in Minnesota with funds from Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corp.
1911: The Unique Theater was leased to Boyd L. Helgeson and Raymond J. Maher in May of 1911. David T. Hobson changed the name to the Hobson Theatre in May 1918.
1914: Downtown Litchfield, at 226 Sibley Ave. N., was Cox’s Market, a meat market and grocery store. Cox’s was a small family-run store started by Freeman Cox in May 1914 and passed on to his son Merlyn, whose daughter Diane or “Dee Dee” was also a classmate of mine from kindergarten through high school. Dee Dee Cox and her husband Mick Revering and I had gone to school together from kindergarten at St. Philip’s Conservatory (the Campbell mansion at 307 N. Holcombe), through grade school at Washington and Longfellow, then fifth through eighth at St. Philip’s School, and then the old high school. Mick died on May 31, 2019.
1938: One of the greatest athletes of all time was professional golfer, Minnesota’s own, Patty Berg. She came to Litchfield on a Sunday afternoon in May 1938. At that time, she had won 15 of the 19 tournaments she had entered. (Her 15 major title wins remains the all-time record for most major wins by a female golfer. She is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.) She played in a foursome with state amateur champion Kenny Young and Babe LeVoir, a former U of M football quarterback star.
1938: There was a fire in one of the rooms at the grand Lenhardt or Litchfield Hotel. It was caused by a cigarette on a mattress, which burned a hole in the floor. The hotel added the Coffee Shop in May 1928. Litchfield’s Post Office came to 220-222 N. Sibley on the north part of the building there (Legion Club) in May of 1931, while the current Post Office was being built.
— Terry Shaw is a sort of unofficial recorder of Litchfield history, having researched and written two books — “Terry Tales” and “Terry Tales II” — of his remembrances of growing up here. In recent years, Shaw has made daily posts on the Old Litchfield & Meeker County Facebook page. This column includes snippets of history from both his books and Facebook posts.