*Excerpts from an unpublished manuscript
The information about Baldwin was found in an unpublished manuscript called History of Sherburne County. It was written by Elaine Anderson. The manuscript (N.P.N.D.) is found at the Sherburne Co. Historical Society in Becker.
Baldwin Township is situated in the upper northeast corner of the county. It was organized on September 13, 1858, and was named after F.E. Baldwin of Clear Lake, who was an early county commissioner. At the time of its organization, it included all the territory, which is now Baldwin, Blue Hill, and Santiago Townships. In 1877 it was reorganized and reduced to its present size, 23.040 acres.
According to the 1880 census the population of Baldwin was 256 people. By the thirties the population had risen to 464 persons, followed by 538 persons in the forties, 416 persons in the fifties, 492 persons in the sixties and increasing to 1,099 persons in the seventies. Part of this 123 percent increase was due to persons migrating from Blue Hill Township to Baldwin Township after the establishment of the National Wildlife Refuge. By 1977 the population was 2,208 people.
The first white person to settle in Baldwin Township was Homer Hulett in 1854, followed by H.P. Burrell in 1855 and C.H. Chadborune in 1856. Chadbourne, who became an important figure in Baldwin Township, was born near the battleground of Revolutionary War fame in Lexington, Massachusetts. When he moved to Baldwin Township, he owned little more than a primitive claim shanty. His holdings grew and improved until he owned an estate comprised of a comfortable residence and 614 acres of good farmland. At one time it was the largest farm in the county. He was considered to be a man of sound judgment and was respected in the community. He served as a State Legislator in 1874 and as a county commissioner for several terms. He also held numerous township offices.
Other early pioneers and the dates of their arrival in Baldwin Township were: William Brown, 1861; Morris Guyett, 1856; Edward E. Grant, 1868; M.C. Sausser, 1881; F.B. Knapp, 1870, served as chairman of the board of supervisors for three terms; W.H. Shaw, 1856, served in the Second Minnesota Battery and as town clerk for many years and county commissioner for one term; Smith S. Trask, 1878, served as township treasurer; and Isaac Young, 1866, held offices of supervisor and assessor for several years.
School was in session in Baldwin Township as early as 1857. District No. 10 was organized soon after the township came into existence and a schoolhouse was built shortly after on the west side of Section 8. Oscar and Josephine Carlson recall: “When we went to District 10 school (early part of the twentieth century) there were so many kids that they sat three in a seat, even up in front. Young teachers had a hard time managing some of the older students and sometimes had to resort to switching them. Students would come and go as farm chores demanded. They were used to being on their own.”
District No. 50 was established on Section 21 and a beautiful brick schoolhouse, with four arched windows on either side and an arched doorway was constructed around the turn of century. At one time 40 to 50 children attended school there.
District No. 31 was organized in 1877 with the first sessions held in a granary. A schoolhouse was built in the spring of 1879 on Section 26. In 1902 this building became overcrowded with students and was moved to the center of the township to be used as a town hall. A larger wooden frame schoolhouse was then built on the original site. It still stands, including the hand pump.
District No. 7 was established on Section 7 on the western edge of the township on what was called “Bender’s Corner.” The schoolhouse was solidly built of large bricks and now stands empty and boarded up.
Baldwin town hall and all the township records were destroyed in a fire that took place in the late sixties. According to several persons foul play was suspected. The new town hall was constructed on Spencer Brook Road.
Baldwin Cemetery is located on land which was donated by Mr. McClure. Many of the tombstones date back to the 1800’s, some of them being over a hundred years old.
Although a church had never existed in Baldwin Township, Sunday school was often held in the District No. 31 schoolhouse. It was also referred to as the Judkins School. A Reverend Moritz was said to have officiated at many services and also to have taught vacation Bible school here. To mix a little entertainment in with the preaching, Mrs. Kate Judkin played the guitar and her brother, Mr. Mulder, played on a saw. At one time, according to the Harry Rossings, District No. 10 schoolhouse was also used for Sunday school and for church services. Isaac Anderson was said to have preached for this “free church,” meaning people of any denomination were welcome to attend. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, Isaac Anderson’s parents, were organizers of this church. They were also known as “Salvation Army Andersons.”
“Waiting out the bug” or curing yourself was the rule of thumb of many Baldwin residents when they became ill. The Oscar Carlsons recalls home remedies in which catnip, sassafras roots, herbs and weeds were used for making teas. These teas were supposed to cure colic and an assortment of other ailments. Else Weissenfluh, a neighbor of the Carlsons, served as both midwife and home taught doctor. She supposedly used an old medical book which she referred to when attempting to cure her neighbors’ ailments. It was said that she could cure sore throats, colds, and aching bones. Mr. Carlson remembers when he caught a cold that settled in one of his knees. Mrs. Weissenfluh prepared a poultice for his knee, using various herbs, which Mr. Carlson claims “…. did it wonders.” For colds she rubbed lard or goose grease on the afflicted person’s chest. If a person was suffering with croup, she rubbed their neck with a poultice and then wrapped an old sock snuggly around it. She was said to have “…. a rare knowledge of natural herbs, and was also somewhat of a prophet.”
The Harry Rossings recalls gypsies traveling by in wagons, stopping at farms and stealing food or livestock. As the story goes these meandering vandals could usually be found camping along the river.
Hattie Mae and Walter Johnson contributed several interesting stories about life in Baldwin Township. One involves an eccentric old man named Rube Coffin who was said to have lived in a dugout, along with this flock of chickens. It was supposedly the evening ritual for Mr. Coffin to comb his hair to rid himself of the chicken lice that made their home on his head. Furthermore, it seems that Mr. Coffin enjoyed chewing tobacco, and the juice from his “chew” flowed down his chin and into his growth of long whiskers. His dugout was built half into the ground and was lined with rice shafts.
Mr. Johnson mentioned another person, named Damon, who owned the land that Princeton was built on. Supposedly, he sold this land for 100 pounds of flour.
To obtain decent drinking water many people had to rely on finding a spring. Mr. Johnson described one of the methods for obtaining water from a spring: “Once the spring is located a hole is dug into the spot until water flows out. Then a barrel is inserted into the hold and the water automatically rises to the rim of the barrel. When water is needed a bucket is lowered into the barrel.” This water was said to make “……the best coffee in the world.”
The road to Orrock was said to have been cleared with a saw and an ax, and that all the “Noregs” from Orrock traveled along it. The Johnsons say that traces of this road can still be seen as a faint path winding through the woods. Roads were supposedly crooked because they wound around trees that were too large to dig out. The Pratts explained how they remember roads becoming established: “A person would decide where they wanted to go and then they would just start driving in and around between the trees. Eventually they got a track there and that was the road. If it wore down too deep, they’d go out to the side of it and start another one. That’s the way it went.” Delbert Smithers remembers that a horse grader with eight horses was used for road work. In winter snow was plowed with live horsepower and during the depression many men worked off their debts by working on road crews. Mr. Smithers served as road boss.
The Johnson children provided a sort of taxi service by driving their car to Princeton with as many as a dozen people piled into it. The charge for this service was 10 cents. Mr. Johnson remarked that “you couldn’t do that today; they might arrest you.”
For entertainment people would get together and sing “Swede songs.” Barn dances were popular and once in a while a hall would be rented to accommodate the crowds. Mr. Johnson played the guitar and mouth organ for many of these affairs.
According to Johnson most people got their mail and groceries in Princeton. He recalls that one individual was assigned the task of picking up the mail, which usually amounted to a gunny sack full. When roads became snowbound the mail carrier used skis made from barrel slabs for the journey. Sometimes snow became higher than the fences, making it possible “….to ski right over the top of fence posts.” Mr. Johnson tells of skiing along and accidentally falling into tunnels created by the Hazel brush. To escape, he put his skis over his head, bracing them on the snow above and pulling himself out.
Mr. Johnson almost lost his life during an ice-skating adventure. Apparently, thin areas of ice had become concealed due to recent snow. Not realizing this he skated merrily along until he fell through. Luckily, he managed to pull himself back onto the ice. His pants, being soaking wet, froze as soon as he was up again on his feet. He didn’t dare return home in that frozen condition because he was afraid that if his mother learned that he had fallen through the ice his ice-skating days would be over. To solve this problem, he skated as fast as he could until his body heat thawed out his pants. Then he went home, as if nothing had happened.
The Johnsons provided ice blocks for many of their neighbors. He remembers cutting ice and having to keep the saw moving; if he stopped it would freeze and he would have to chisel it out.
He also recalls seeing more rainbows in the early part of the century than today. He claims, “There was one after every rain, big and beautiful.” Duck hunting was said to be good because “they weren’t afraid of humans yet.”
He recalls that one day he was out walking with his dog, and they came upon an otter. The dog barked wildly, and the otter retaliated by biting the yapping dog in the nose.
Mr. Johnson tells a popular prank which involved switching the front wheels of a buggy around with the back ones, causing the large wheels to be in the front and the small ones to be in the back. When passengers rode in a buggy that had had its wheels rearranged in this manner “…. they felt as if they were going uphill.” Oscar and Josephine Carlson also recall some local pranks, one of which involved tipping over outhouses, whether it was occupied or not. One man, expecting Halloween pranksters, moved his outhouse to the side a few feet and when the unsuspecting tricksters arrived one of them fell into the exposed hole. One farsighted farmer and his wife wrote “Ha Ha” on all their green melons, knowing that persons raiding their melon patch on Halloween night would not be able to select out the ripe from the unripe melons in the dark.
The Oscar Carlson’s recall that it was common practice to have a barn dance after completing a new barn. In the Carlson’s case, however, this was impossible because their builder refused to do the work unless they promised not to hold a dance. Apparently, his religion forbids dancing.
Josephine Carlson explained a shivaree as a prank played on newlyweds in which friends and neighbors tease them with a mock serenade, using kettles, cans, cowbells, horns, etc. To rid themselves of the pests and the clamor, the couple usually gave out money or home-made food. In one case the demonstrators made such a racket that they scared the horses out of the barn. On Carlson’s wedding night one of the shivaree participants accidentally left his cowbell at their home and they have had it ever since.
Mrs. Smithers remembers wild horses living in the area when she was a child. As she and her brothers walked to school they were often hindered in their travels by these “…. wild horses, that were uglier than bulls.” Being too small to climb a tree her brothers would boost her up to the lowest branch and then scamper up after her. When the horses left, they continued on their way to school.
A popular spot for dancing and picnicking was the Elk Lake Pavilion, sometimes referred to as Pratt’s Pavilion. George Pratt and his father, Howard B. Pratt, began operating this resort in 1905 and it remained under family management until 1947. It has since changed hands many times. Fourth of July celebrations, complete with picnics, fireworks, greased pigs, and pole contests were held there. They had an old launch, called a “one lunger,” which was a one-cylinder boat with a hand crank motor. They used this boat for cruising the lake, giving customers sightseeing excursions for a small fee. The lake also offered excellent fishing and good trapping. The water was said to be so clear that one could see the lake bottom from shore as far away as seven to eight rods. Muskrats, also called “bank rats” were also plentiful. Mr. Johnson remembers counting 138 rats in one area alone, with as many as seven or eight of them filing out of a single hole. He trapped the muskrats, selling 100 skins for seven dollars. He believes that his parents were the first to build on the lake with the Pratts being second.
Mrs. Pratt’s father, Nels C. Hansen, was an avid duck hunter, but apparently there wasn’t a duck call in existence that fully suited him. He solved this problem by making his own and it proved to be so efficient that he had it patented and began manufacturing them in 1914 and continued until 1960. This call was labeled the “Broad Bill” duck call and it was sold in the United States, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.
The Rum River, located in the northeast corner of the township, served, along with the Elk River, as a connecting route for early explorers, trappers, traders, and lumbermen to the Mississippi. Later, it was mainly used for fishing and boating. Sandy Lake situated in the southeastern part of the township has no inlet or outlet, being completely spring fed. It is said to be a deep lake with a consistent water level. During World War I a small dance spot, called the Sandy Lake Dance Hall, was in operation there.
The Harry Rossings recalls, “In the old days we were never stranded too long because of storms. With five or six teams of horses and about twenty men we made our own roads, plowing our way through fields to get to town. But after one blizzard it took us two and one half days to make it to town with a team of horses.” They also recall the 1920 cyclone which “…. took the bull down the well,” meaning that the wind blew it into the well pit. Help was badly needed to rescue the distraught bull and their “neighbors piled in to help get that bull out.”
The Oscar Carlsons remembers blizzards in which “we were stranded for two weeks and we had to make our own roads to town. Neighbors would get together and use horses to make our way through huge drifts.” They also recall the tornado of 1938 which destroyed sections of their house.
Mrs. Delbert Smithers recalls lightning travelling through their house three weeks in a row. The first time this happened Mrs. Smithers was sewing during an electric storm. She had just taken her foot off the sewing machine pedal when she noticed “…. a ball of fire travel down the plumbing pole and end up in the toilet bowl.” She felt that if she hadn’t taken her foot off the iron pedal she may have been “fried”. The second time lightning struck she was resting in the upstairs bedroom with her granddaughter when she say “….a bolt of lightning travel across the ceiling from the window.” The next week lightning struck again, this time “…. entering across the ceiling in a different direction, traveling across the living room ceiling and then go out a window.”
Mr. Smithers recalls the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard: “We had 200 Plymouth Rock chickens that were roosting in the willows. I began carrying them to the henhouse as soon as we realized what was coming. I carried them all that afternoon. I missed five of them and the next morning I found them frozen in place.”
Several persons remember what farming was like in the “old days.” Ester Rossing recalls “During the dry years of the depression the little seeds wouldn’t grow. You’d put them in the ground, and they’d just dry up. The Big seeds seemed to make it through. Everyone had buckets of string beans.” The Pratts recall “Nobody ever had much livestock” and that “land was cleared with a shovel and an ax.” Oscar Carlson says: “In the old days most farmers raised cattle and hogs and grew potatoes which were sold in Zimmerman. As time went by the small family farm began disappearing. During the Depression many lost their farms to taxes. The county even had to bury many of the poor folks. The land was nor real prime, much of it was sandy with a clay sub-soil.” Delbert Smithers recalls” “The first man in the township to buy a tractor was Sumser. I was the second. The early tractors weren’t very good on hills or swampy land with those metal wheels. We quickly changed to rubber tires as soon as they came out. The dairy men of Baldwin would take their cream to Princeton, traveling as fast as they could so that it wouldn’t spoil. It was common for farmers to sell the cream and butter but throw the milk to the pigs. This was done because we didn’t have any way to keep it cold.”
Laura Angstman Wheeler remembers life as it was in the early part of the Twentieth Century. She recalls the trip her family made from Sauk Center to Baldwin Township. They left Sauk Center at 8:00 in the morning, her father driving the lead wagon and “…. hauling a couple pigs and sheep.” She drove the buggy accompanied by “…. three or four kids and a team of horses.” They arrived in St. Cloud that evening and stayed at the Germain Hotel. The next day they drove to Santiago and at about 12:00 they watered the horses at a creek. At 4:00 that evening they reached their final destination, a 240 to 260 acre farm in Baldwin Township.
Laura was the third oldest child in the family “….following on the heels of two twins.” There was a total of thirteen children in her family, two girls and eleven boys, four of them being twins. She describes her father as “….a man who was never satisfied in one place, a rolling stone.”
The farm they moved to was in need of some clearing and there was an old shack available for them to live in, “A one room affair with an upstairs.” During one of the first winters there a blizzard occurred and the following morning they woke to find snow banks on their beds. The family soon built a house and a barn but not long after they finished, the barn burned down.
The children in her family were reported to have gotten along well together. They were seldom sick and when a leg or an arm was broken their father would set it, using a shingle as a splint. When someone came down with pneumonia a poultice was made with 6 sliced onions, I cup of rye flour, ½ cup of vinegar, and ½ cup of water. This conglomeration was cooked and then rubbed on the chest. For coughs vinegar, honey and black pepper were used to make cough syrup. For whooping cough yeast, goose oil, and turpentine were used as a cure. Laura says; “Medicine men weren’t too welcome on the farm and didn’t come around much. The boys would scare off gypsies and tramps because they believed that there were gypsies enough at the Angstmens.”
Laura recalls: “Early days in the area were much different than they are now. Santiago was nothing more than a name and a post and a couple of little buildings, a little dump. There were few people in between towns and lots of wild game – pheasants, ducks, and geese. Those days were not bad for fisherman and hunters. We went fishing down at Sandy Lake.”
Her family took a train ride to Sauk Centre from Farmington which she describes as “real excitement.” Her father and the boys rode in the boxcar with the cattle and her mother and some of the children rode in the coach.
With eleven boys in the family, they were able to form their own baseball team. The family competed with teams from Zimmerman and Princeton, as well as with teams from the surrounding area. Laura said that their team was good because “the sisters were working with the scores on the sidelines.” She took care of the balls and bats, commenting that “I was the whole cheese.”
She recalls the barn dances at Spencer Brook where “We used to go and have a glorious time.” They also attended dances at the Elk Lake Pavilion. On completion of a house or barn neighbors would gather to “warm the place,” and “a couple of fiddlers would gather, maybe a mouth organist or two.” One of her father’s favorite sayings was, “If you can dance all night, you can get up and work the next day.”
Laura remembers the depression: “My husband, Jim and I would get up at 4:00 in the morning and he would dig potatoes and I would pick them. We would put them into a 65-bushel load and drag them to Princeton. In wet weather the horses had to wade through mud up to their bellies, hardly getting through. We usually got $4.00 for a load or 10 cents a hundred. We were building a house at that time, and we would go to the lumber mill and buy a couple boards for the house. Just about the time things got so we could enj0oy life, then poof, I was left alone.”
When Laura and her husband were married some of their friends held a Shivaree in which they tried to steal her. They were able to escape across fields, “…. knocking down three fences along the way.”
During May they made May baskets which were: “…. fancy and filled with fruit and candy. We put it on someone’s front door and then knocked and ran away. The person in the house would chase the person who left off the basket to find out who left it.”
Social events included the basket social where: “Girls would make up a basket and then the boys would try to buy their girlfriend’s basket. The girls always tried to disguise the baskets that they had decorated. The boys would bid for them and the proceeds would go to the school for new books.” A harvest celebration was held for farmers to get together and to sell produce at low prices. On Halloween it was the tradition to “…. soap windows and fill up people’s outhouses with wood.” One Halloween her outhouse was filled with wood but “It was a lucky thing because that night a rainstorm set in and the wood remained dry.” Christmas trees were simple, being “…. decorated with a few strings of popcorn, no elaborate decorations.”
In 1928 a tornado passed through Baldwin Township destroying six or seven barns, and she remembers losing many chickens. She recalls a blizzard when it snowed so much that the trucks were unable to pick up the milk. They lost the first milking but saved the rest by putting it in every available container, including tea glasses. They had to shovel their own driveway which took the combined effort of eight horses and six to eight men. They shoveled from noon to midnight before they were able to open the driveway, which was a half-mile long. The milk truck would only come to the end of the driveway so they had to put the milk on sleds and haul it out to the truck.
Today, Baldwin continues to grow with many people commuting to places of employment in Minneapolis or Princeton.