441 North Park Drive, Morton, MN 56270 info@renvillecountyhistory.com 507.697.6147

Perservation of History: Jails & More by Nicole Elzenga

As the Renville County Historical Society & Museum starts gearing up for the 2018 season I have a list of projects I want to complete for the year and one of the projects is the restoration of the old Morton Jail that was once located by the old fire hall. The structure now sits outside of the Heritage Building (behind the church) on the Museum Grounds. This building needs restoration and will make a great hands-on exhibit for visitors.

The Morton Jail was donated by the City of Morton in 2015. I have since been searching for stories and photographs of the old fire hall and of the structure the jail stood in. Dick Roper recollects he used to play in the building that held the jail as a kid. The building needs to be sandblasted, painted and moved to a different location on the Museum Grounds.

The Morton Jail isn’t the only historic jail in the area. You can visit the Renville City Jail in Renville, Minnesota. This jail’s architect was Oscar Berg who was paid one installment of $1000 on September 8, 1913 and another installment of $275 on January 12, 1914. It sits next to the Renville City Museum on Main Street.

There is a jail building at the Redwood County Historical Society behind the main museum that housed the famous William Rose who was accused and convicted of murdering Moses Lufkin of Gales Township on August 22, 1888.

You can also enjoy a jail on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum grounds. This jail was located inside of the old Walnut Grove fire hall and donated to the Museum when the fire hall was torn down.

In my search of other jails being preserved in the area I found one at the McLeod County Historical Society in Hutchinson, Roseau County Museum in Roseau has a bed and jail door and the Stone House Museum in Marine on St Croix originally served as the Marine Town Hall and jail. Scribbled messages of those jailed can still be seen on one wall.

Outside of Minnesota, the Franklin County Historic Jail in Hampton, Iowa doubles as an escape room. In 2017 the historic Brentsville jail in Prince William County opened as a museum in Washington, D.C.

There are always some good murder and scandal stories attached with jails. I mean, really, hang a guy twice? That’s crazy.

Why not visit the area historic jails this summer. This adventure would make for a fun Instagram post or blog piece. Don’t get me started on telephone booths!

There are quite a few Minnesota county courthouses listed on the National Register Historic Places including Renville County’s in Olivia, Aitkin County in Aitkin, Crow Wing County in Brainerd, Houston County in Caldonia, Le Sueur County in Le Center, Lincoln County in Ivanhoe, Nicollet County in St. Peter, Rice County in Faribault, Rock County in Luverne, Sibley County in Gaylord, Stearns County in St. Cloud, Todd County in Long Prairie and Washington County in Lake Elmo.

While attending a museum related conference last week I started thinking about all the churches, country schools and gas stations of the county and wouldn’t it be fun to feature the ones still standing and those lost over the years. As you pull into Morton there are two old gas stations on Hwy 19, one was once the Red Sled and now Detail Plus and the other, on the corner of 2nd and Valley Drive, is used for storage. If you have any stories about the old gas stations, fire halls and other historical building of Renville County please contact me at the Museum, you can call and make an appointment 507-697-6147 or stop by. Preserving the history of these buildings is as important as preserving the buildings themselves, when that is possible.

The Renville County Historical Society is open June – August Monday through Friday 10 AM – 4 PM. Admission is charged unless you are a Member! Be sure to check out the website www.renvillecountyhistory.com for more information.

Honor Our Veterans Every Day

Let us all honor and remember our veterans every day not just on Veterans’ Day. I want to bring awareness of how important it is for us all to respect and honor our United States military veterans. My father, Wayne Higgins, served in the U.S. Air Force in Japan during the Vietnam War. Growing up he didn’t talk much about his service but now he’s attended reunions and shares stories with us. I am proud to be a daughter of a military veteran.

Back in 2007 I met a wonderful veteran, Russ Freeburg. He served in the Vietnam War as a dog handler. He was delivering posters for the Traveling Vietnam War Monument that was in Marshall that year. I recognized his name and asked him about his family history. His father, Harry, had grown up outside of Walnut Grove and had served in World War II and at the time his son, Matthew, was in the Marines. Our conversation led me to start seeking out more of the Walnut Grove area veterans’ photographs and stories. When the Veterans’ exhibit opened at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (LIW Museum) in 2008 we had collected over 120 military veterans’ photographs. Troy Krause, of the Redwood Gazette, came to Walnut Grove and interviewed three local veterans, Emil Bannick, WWII U.S. Army veteran, Don Johnson, Korean War U.S. Army veteran and Jack Van Gelderen, Vietnam U.S. Marines veteran. These three men served their country and were willing to talk about their service. It was a very enlightening event. The exhibit continued to grow. I remember when Gordy Pederson, Redwood Falls resident originally from rural Walnut Grove, stopped by the museum to donate his uniform and his brother’s scrapbook. He was so proud that the Museum wanted ‘his old stuff’. The local veterans were proud the Museum took an interest in their stories. Through these kind of projects communities are brought together. Other organizations could get involved by interviewing veterans and sharing their stories with historical societies and libraries.

Here at the Renville County Historical Society (RCHS) in Morton, we continue to preserve our military veterans’ histories, their stories and of course their photographs. Currently RCHS has been gathering World War 1 photographs, artifacts and letters. These items have been added to our permanent files and are on exhibit until 2019. The upcoming exhibit, Renville County in World War 1: 1918 will have the stories of the soldiers we lost that year, the war effort through various organizations and of course photographs of those who served that year. If you have a World War 1 connection please be sure to contact your local historical society and share this history. World War 1 is the forgotten war by many because it happened so long ago. Let us honor these soldiers by remembering they had families, hopes and dreams. Renville County lost 69 soldiers in World War 1. The returning soldiers came back different men. The Olivia Times printed the book Renville County in World War 1: 1917, 1918, 1919 in 1920. This book is a good record of the soldiers, nurses and organizations that served and assisted in World War 1. Stop by the Museum to check it out. Currently RCHS is working with the Renville County Genealogical Society (RCGS) to revamp the book. We are gathering as much information on the men and women who served and will be putting together a new book that we hope will be available at the 2019 Renville County Fair.

Just because it is the anniversary of World War 1 doesn’t mean historical societies have stopped collecting other veterans’ items. If you are currently or have in the past served in the military please contact your local historical society and share your information. It is imperative that not only the past veterans be remembered but the current and future ones as well. We do not want any forgotten veterans. Historical Societies do not just preserve the past but they preserve yesterday and tomorrow. We have binders of Renville County veterans in the Research Library along with many artifacts donated over the years of other Renville County veterans.

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with U.S. Navy Korean War veteran Wilbur Oberg during my time at the LIW Museum. He was very proud of his service and was part of the Walnut Grove American Legion. He passed away on July 17, 2013, I miss him to this day. I have been blessed again to work with another U.S. Navy Vietnam War veteran, Dick Roper. He grew up in the Beaver Falls/Morton area and has taught me a lot of this area’s history. He is a great friend and I enjoy seeing him at work and socializing with him. I must be meant to hang around Navy guys.

Let us all honor and respect our military veterans every day and remember to carry on their stories. I have met so many veterans I couldn’t list them all here in this article. I do want to send out a personal thank you to military veterans for their service and all they have done and continue to do for the United States of America.

If you have Renville County military connections either personally or through your family please contact the Renville County Historical Society. Museum Hours for the Winter: Monday – Friday 10 AM – 4 PM to make an appointment outside of the posted hours please call 507-697-6147. You can also reach the Museum via email info@renvillecountyhistory.com and or go to ‘Share Your Story’ page on this website. Be sure to LIKE us on FACEBOOK or FOLLOW us on TWITTER to keep up with our events.

RCHS has two events honoring our veterans each year, the Veterans Round Table on the Museum Grounds on the 4th of July at 1 PM and the Patriotic Pancake Breakfast that takes place the Saturday after Labor Day 9 AM-11AM Free Will Donations accepted at both events and proceeds shared equally with RCHS and the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon of Renville County. RCHS also holds a Patriotic Sing-a-Long on the 4th of July in St. John’s Church on the Museum Grounds at 7 PM.

Poems of American Patriotism by Brander Matthews

Poems of American Patriotism by Brander Matthews published by Charles Schrbner’s Sons 1899

The book, Poems of American Patriotism, is from the Renville County Historical Society’s collection. The book is from Renville County District # 117 which was located in Kingman Township in Section 18.

Excerpt from the book Pg 21 – 24: Ticonderoga


May 10, 1775: After the new of Concord fight, a volunteer expedition from Vermont and Connecticut, under Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, seized Ticonderoga and Crown Point, whose military stores were of great service. From its chime of bells, the French call Ticonderoga ‘Carillon.’

The cold, gray light of the dawning
     On old Carillon falls,
And dim in the mist of the morning
     Stand the grim old fortress walls.
No sound disturbs the stillness
     Save the cataract’s mellow roar,
Silent as death is the fortress,
     Silent the misty shore.

But up from the wakening waters
     Comes the cool, fresh morning breeze,
Lifting the banner of Britain,
     And whispering to the trees
Of the swift gliding boats on the waters
     That are nearing the fog-shrouded land,
With the old Green Mountain Lion
     And his daring patriot band.

But the sentinel at the postern,
     Heard not the whisper low;
He is dreaming of the banks of the Shannon
     As he walks on his beat to and fro,
Of the starry eye in Green Erin
     That were dim when he marched away,
And a tear down his bronzed cheek courses,
     ‘T is the first for many a day.

A sound breaks the misty stillness,
     And quickly he glances around;
Through the mist, forms like towering giants
     Seem rising out of the ground;
A challenge, the firelock flashes,
     A sword cleaves the quivering air,
And the sentry lies dead by the postern,
     Blood staining his bright yellow hair.

Then, with a shout that awakens
     All the echoes of hillside and glen,
Through the low, frowning gate of the fortress,
     Sword in hand, rush the Green Mountain men.
The scarce wakened troops of the garrison
     Yield up their trust pale with fear;
And down comes the bright British banner,
     And out rings a Green Mountain Cheer.

Flushed with pride, the whole eastern heavens
     With crimson and gold are ablaze;
And up springs the sun in his splendor
     And flings down his arrowy rays,
Bathing in sunlight the fortress,
     Turning to gold the grim walls,
While louder and clearer and higher
     Rings the song of the waterfalls.
Since the taking of Ticonderoga,
     A century has rolled away;
But with pride the nation remember
     That glorious morning in May.

And the cataract’s silvery music
     Forever the story tells,
Of the capture of Old Carillon,
     The chime of the silver bells.


Poems of American Patriotism Chosen by Brander Matthews

Poems of American Patriotism Chosen by Brander Matthews published by Charles Scribner’s Sons 1899

The book, Poems of American Patriotism, is from the Renville County Historical Society’s collection. The book is from Renville County District # 117 which was located in Kingman Township in Section 18.

Excerpt from pages 19-20, This poem was written to be sung at the completion of the Concord Monument, April 19, 1836 (date written in the book, July 4, 1837 is when it happened).

HYMN by Ralph Waldo Emerson

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
     Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood,
      And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
     Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;

And Time the ruined bridge has slept;
     Down the dark stream which seaward creeps

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
     We set to-day a votive stone,

That memory may their deed redeem,
     When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
     To die, or leave their children free,

Bid Time and Nature gently spare
     The shaft we raise to them and thee.

Careers of Danger and Daring by Cleveland Moffett

Careers of Danger and Daring by Cleveland Moffett

This book was found in the collection in our Country Schoolhouse District 36 located on the Museum Grounds. The book was originally from Renville County School District 109 which was located in Wellington Township Section 9.

Careers of Danger and Daring include: The Steeple Climber, The Deep Sea Diver, The Balloonist, The Pilot (Ocean & River), The Bridge Builder, The City Fireman, The Aerial Acrobat, The Wild Beast Tamer, The Dynamite Worker and The Locomotive Engineer. There are four-five stories under each heading about the career including photographs and illustrations.

If you would like to read some of the stories in this book please stop by the Renville County Historical Society Monday-Friday 10 AM – 4 PM, admission is $5 (FREE for Members)!

RCHS has an impressive Research Library that covers Renville County, the Dakota War and much more. Stop by and check it out today!