The Pickle Men of Dassel
By Bill Ward
On a Saturday afternoon in late February, 1916, the Dassel Auditorium was jammed to the doors. It wasn’t a dance or a ball game that attracted the huge crowd. These were all farmers arriving to pick up their pickle seed for the 1916 growing season and hear a talk from a representative of the Gedney Pickle Company.
Nearly all of these farmers either had contracts or planned to sign up at the meeting. In the end about 250 acres of pickles were collectively under contract with Dassel area farmers. This new area crop was anticipated to yield about $20,000 in total revenue for the community’s economy.
The pickle, or cucumber, was not a new crop. In fact it is mentioned in several verses in the Bible, even by Jesus himself. It just took a long and weaving road getting to the point of being a commercial crop in the Dassel area. The idea of a Minnesota pickle company was the result of the mid-life career change of Matthias Gedney. Mr. Gedney was an adventurer in early life, spending time on merchant and navy vessels before joining the California Gold Rush in 1849. He took his gold money and started a trading business in California, then eventually moved back to Illinois where he worked for two different pickle companies.
In 1879 Gedney decided he was ready to start his own pickle business, moving to Minneapolis and commencing the search for local farmers willing to raise his pickles. The farmers of Dassel eventually joined that throng of pickle growers, reaping good benefits from their efforts.
While the pickle crop of Dassel has long since moved away, there may yet remain a little inherited wealth in a bank here or there that has its roots in the California Gold Rush and the odd dream of an adventurer to become the tycoon of the Minnesota pickle industry. Who remembers today that Dassel was once proudly producing fruit to share with the rest of the nation? (Yes, the pickle is a fruit.)
Photo © Gedney Foods Company All rights reserved.
Dassel’s Unknown Man
By Bill Ward
In the spring of 1925, Levi Danielson of rural Dassel had quite a surprise. When he opened the cover of the cistern he used as a water reservoir for his livestock, there floated a badly decomposed body. The authorities were advised and they removed the body to the Eckman Undertaking Parlor.
An autopsy was performed by Drs. Peterson and Wilmont and Coronor Robertson where it was discovered the man had been crushed over the left temple by a heavy blow such as might be produced by an ax. It was evident the man was dead before being tossed into the cistern.
No family lived on that farmplace, it being some distance from the Danielson home and used only for livestock. The house on the place was empty, and occupied only in the summer for migrant Mexican worker housing. Odds are that the body had been in the cistern all winter. While many inquiries were made as to who this man was and how it happened that he was floating dead in the Danielson cistern, there was to be no answer to the many mysteries. It was speculated that he may have been part of a Mexican work crew that was chopping wood in the area the previous summer but that was not confirmed.
No one ever claimed the body and it was ultimately left up to the county to dispose of. The man was buried in the Dassel Cemetery with no marker stone, under the name Unknown Man. He remains there today, a very, very long way from home. Wherever that home was, there may still be someone there today wondering what ever happened to the fellow who headed north for work and just never came back.
Information from April 8, 1925 Dassel Dispatch
Meeker County Tobacco Farms
Meeker County is known for many important and slightly unique products including seed corn, ergot, chickens (Red Roosters) and the more typical dairy, corn and soybeans. One product not so well known is tobacco.
While tobacco is historically a southern crop, there was a period in the early half of the twentieth century where northern Meeker County, along with several other central Minnesota counties, were producing a large crop of a tobacco variety called “Burley,” a brown leafed sweet tobacco. By 1931 area producers harvested just short of three million pounds, most to be shipped off to southern processors. Some was also used in Minnesota cigar shops, most located around the St. Cloud area.
Tobacco was a very profitable crop with per acre earnings many times that of other traditional crops. However, the labor required was excessive, limiting the acres that could be planted to about five per farm. Tobacco growing was also limited to those farmers who had access to cheap labor. In most cases that meant their children.
The annual process included caring for and germinating the seeds, nurturing young seedlings indoors, hand planting seedlings in the field, meticulously cultivating and weeding the fields, managing insects, topping the mature plants and shoots to encourage leaf growth, and finally cutting the plants and hauling them in from the field. Once harvested these leaves of about 1.5 to 2 feet in length were hung to dry in a drying barn for several months.
Most of the crop was disappearing by the middle of the twentieth century but a few farmers held on into the early 1980s. Today tobacco is yet another piece of history, with barely a memory left of the tobacco business of central Minnesota.
(Research for this article provided by Brent Schacherer.)
When was the steel water tower built
By Jeanette Servin
Eureka!! After looking in all the wrong years for the year Dassel’s steel water tank was built, the date was finally found—the year was 1919. In the June 5, 1919, issue of The Dassel Dispatch, the following articles are found on the front page: (In Part)
“Will Build Steel Tank: The Village Council is advertising for bids for the construction of a steel water tank of 47,000 gallons capacity to replace the wooden tank now in use. New motors are also included in the specifications. The (wooden) tank is leaking badly, and the entire plant is in bad condition.” In another article entitled Notice to Contractors, it is stated (in part) the following:
“Sealed proposals will be received by the Village Council of the village of Dassel, Meeker County, Minnesota, until 7:30 p.m. on the 27th day of June, 1919, for the erection on a steel tank on the present steel tower and new pumping equipment…The work will consist of the erection of a new steel tank of approximately 47,000 gallons with steel riser pipes, two pump jacks and motors………Signed:
H. E. Swanson, Village President. Attest: John Clarquist, Clerk.
The actual work of installing the tank was begun in October of 1919.
Editors note: Jeanette noted that Roland Dille gave the DAHS a tip that led her to the sought after information. In a note to the History Center, he wrote, “There was some question of when the new water tower was built. In the article in the Dispatch about the burning of the Murphy store in October, 1919, the writer said that the fire department had a bad time fighting the fire because of the shortage of water, the old water tower having been torn down and the new one not yet up”
Jeanette Tomlinson, First Dassel Seed Corn Jubilee Queen, 1941
As the DAHS is preparing to plan and install a seed corn exhibit, a great photo has surfaced. It came to light that Jeanette (Skalberg) Tomlinson was the first Dassel Seed Corn Jubilee Queen in late September of 1941.
Jeanette remembers it was warm comfortable weather and the corn was ripening. The royalty rode on a float in the parade. Ken Anderson was her escort after the parade. “He was in the service at the time,” Jeanette remembers, “so he was in uniform and he helped me off the float.”
Dassel State Bank provided the dresses for the royalty, and Jeanette remembers that Mrs. Sam (Eva) Ilstrup went to Minneapolis to purchase them. “She asked us our size and came back with the dresses in the photo,” Tomlinson said.
The queen and princesses were chosen by a business promotion, Jeanette remembers. Each business had tickets, and when customers would purchase something, they received tickets in accordance with the price of their purchase. With these tickets, they cast votes for the candidate of their choice. And the girl with the most ticket votes was crowned queen.
According to articles in the September and October, 1941 issues of the Dassel Dispatch, the queen and attendants were announced between the halves of the Dassel High School and Minnehaha Academy of Minneapolis football game; the coronation was at a special program Saturday night on the big out-door state at the fair grounds [which were in Dassel.], There were 43 candidates before the first elimination after which there were 15. The celebration was said to be the greatest celebration Dassel has ever sponsored and included a program, “The Hybrid Seed Corn Industry in Review,” by the University of Minnesota Extension Divison. It was held at the Haapala Seed Co. building on the fair grounds. It also noted that “Corn was King” because it was vital to the prosperity and survival of Dassel.
The Dassel Seed Corn Jubilee in late September of 1941 was followed by Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of 1941. There was only one more Corn Jubilee — in 1942 — when Betty Bergquist was crowned queen.
Jeanette said that someone had made home movies of that first corn event and that she thought they had been shown at the high school some 20 years later. She would be interested in any information about those movies and so would the DAHS. If anyone has any information contact the DAHS, 320-275-3077.