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St. Ansgar Centennial History

1853 - 1953


Part 8






The Railroad

     Early in 1862, rumors of a railroad were noised about. The Cedar Falls and Minnesota Co. had already made surveys. In 1865, the county issued bonds in the amount of $50,000 to
First Illinois Central Depot.
Built on east side of the main tracks.
aid the company.

     Through a ruling concerning taxes, the bonds were annulled except $8,000 worth.

     Before the railroad reached Mitchell County the property passed into the hands of the Illinois Central. The road finally came through in 1869, extending only as far north as Mona.

     George Brown surveyed for the railroad through this area. His surveying equipment is now in Palmer Olson's possession.

     The first depot was on the east side of the main track, and between the two tracks.
George Brown.
Surveyed the railroad through St. Ansgar, purchased land, and became a prominent farmer.

     It is interesting to note here that the Illinois Central had its roundhouse at Mona because it was not permitted to build into Minnesota. Some say it had been favorable to the South and therefore Minnesota Northerners were prejudiced against its building there.

     In 1898, as a result of pressure brought to bear by the Business Men's Association, a new depot, 70 feet long, was built on the west side of the track.

     And that in turn has been supplanted by a smaller building now in use.

     The original depot was auctioned off at a public sale in 1897 and was purchased by Will Getts. It was eventually purchased by Herman Pahl and made into a dwelling, in which capacity it still serves. The present station was built in 1942. The one which it replaced (the second depot) was torn down.

     Passenger service was discontinued about the time the highway came through in 1932.

     The Illinois Central railroad has played a vital part in the development of this region through its constant interest in improved agriculture. Today, through its employee, Robert Taylor, it is a moving force in the matter of soil conservation.

C. M.



East end of Main street. Across street, front to back former Peter Larson store, now Jack Sprat store; former Syverud harness shop, now Hanson Radio and TV, above which the Modern Woodmen met. O.K. Berg blacksmith shop, the jail, and the Jeff and George Toffefson Elevator, which burned in December 1882.









Looking west, south end. from Left: Helfritz Drug; Racket store (later the Dodge Grocery); Hulse (later the Schuyler) barber shop; Clausen Bros., early photography gallery (later a hat shop, and now the Josephine Gilbertson residence); L. Moe's tin shop; Annie Moe's merchantile store; O'Conner building (housing Larson's Boot and Shoe store, a general store, and for a short time a Chinese laundry.)














Main St., portion of south side; building indicated by X is the old McCarthy hall, also known as the "Old Candy Kitchen." To the right of the hall is the present Economy Store. Arrow at far left indicates Walkup House hotel (later harness shop), where present McKinley garage now stands.















    In November 1903, the people of St. Ansgar were called to vote on the question of giving to the Woodworking Co. a franchise to establish an electric light plant. The company had made the town a proposition to furnish light at the rate of 75c per month, for a 32 candle power street light, only the main street to be lighted.

    The election was 57 to 7 in favor of the franchise.

    In 1907 the plant was taken to the Helfritz mill and was operated by water power until 1921, when the power plant was built at Newburg. A corporation organized in 1919, called "The Light and Power Co." with A. N. Lund as president, built the plant. In 1926 it was sold to the Interstate Power Co., present owners.

    In 1929, a "White Way" became certain, when a contract was signed with the Interstate Company to equip St. Ansgar with a lighting system of 25 standards, with 250 candle power.

    In this Centennial year, another improvement is taking place. Before the Centennial is observed this June a strictly modern new "White Way" system will be installed costing the Interstate company approximately $11,000. This was made possible by a franchise election completed early in 1953. These lights were turned on for the first time June 5 under direction of local Interstate Power Co. manager, L. J. Coon.


History of the REA Co-operative Electric Company

    The REA was born back in the depression days of the mid 1930's. It was established to provide funds to relieve unemployment. Congress, in the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act approved April 8, 1935, made available to President Roosevelt one hundred million dollars. The President then, by executive order, created the Rural Electrification Administration on the urgent solicitation of, and in cooperation with, the major farm organizations of the nation.

    When the Rural Electrification Act was signed by President Roosevelt on May 11, 1935, less than ten percent of the farms in the United States had central station electric service. One year after the President's executive order Congress passed a bill approved on May 20, 1936, extending the life of the REA for ten years and it has been continued up to the present time.

    Electricity has become a very important part of farm life. More than three million farms, homes and rural industries in tbe United States are now receiving electric service through REA financed cooperatives and their government loans are being paid back with interest.

    In 1937 a group of farmers got together in Mitchell County and organized the Co-op. Electric Company, which was incorporated in 1938. They were: Allert G. Olson, J. P. Hansen, E. M. Torblaa, C. E. Biederman and Arthur Gerlach. Later, two more members, Leon Smith and Walter Harman were added to the Board of Directors. Donald P. Chehock was employed as their attorney.

    On February 1, 1939, Louis Vandermyde, Electrical Engineer with Ellerbe & Company of St. Paul, was employed as superintendent. He later became Manager of the Co-op. Electric Company.

    During the summer of 1939, building of the lines was started. On November 22, 1939, the first section of line was energized. The first farm to be connected to the high line was the Elling M. Torblaa farm where the directors, the attorney, the Manager and their wives gathered to witness the momentous event. At this time a little over 200 miles of line were energized.
Air view of REA offices, plant and quonset warehouse. with beautiful park area to right of offices. The pole yard is located two blocks south and one block west of this site.

    Originally electric power was purchased from the Interstate Power Company. In 1939 the Co-op Electric Company with eleven other electric cooperatives from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa organized a Power Co-operative known as the Tri-State Power Co-operative. This group later merged with thirteen Wisconsin electric cooperatives and formed the Dairyland Power Co-operative with headquarters at LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Since June 1941, all electric power has been purchased; from the companies own Power Co-operative.

    Today, the Co-op Electric Company has over 1,000 miles of line serving almost 2,800 members. The Co-op Electric Company has an investment of approximately $1,500,000. Approximately six million dollars have been invested by the members in wiring and appliances. This will give some idea of the business brought to this area and throughout the nation by the organization of the REA Electric Cooperatives.

    The principal place of business of the Co-Op Electric Company was originally at Osage, but no office location was ever set up there due to the fact that no suitable office building could be found. A large room in the First National Bank building in St. Ansgar was available and the Board of Directors decided to locate here. The office was set up March 1, 1939, with warehouses and garages for trucks in various places. In 1944, the company purchased the blacksmith shop owned by Bob Olson and located on highway 218 for a garage and warehouse. This building was later sold and now houses the Town Talk Cafe.

    Due to the rapid growth and expanding business of the Co-Op Electric Company, the Brenna property located in Block 81 at the east edge of St. Ansgar was purchased. The spacious house on this property was well adapted to use as office headquarters. In May of 1946, the office was moved to this location. The interior of the house was redecorated and the grounds were landscaped.

    In 1948 a new brick warehouse and garage were built on the northwest corner of the block at a cost of approximately $35,000. In 1952 a large quonset building was erected for additional storage. This is located just east of the new warehouse. Also four lots in Block 58 were purchased from Palmer C. Olson. This location was improved by grading and crushed rock surfacing and is now used as a permanent pole yard. The Illinois Central railroad spur to the Olson warehouse was extended to the pole yard to expedite the unloading of poles. This area has also been beautified by the planting of a honeysuckle hedge.

    Two-way radio equipment was purchased in 1946 to be used between the office and service trucks. This equipment has aided greatly in maintaining good electric service. The Co-Op Electric Company of St. Ansgar was the first REA Cooperative in the state of Iowa, as well as in the Dairyland system, to install two-day radio equipment.

    The present Board of nine Directors consists of Allert G. Olson, Osage, president; Walter Harman, Osage, vice-president; Clarence Biederman, Osage, secretary; Orlo Jensen, St. Ansgar, treasurer; E. C. Flatness of Northwood, Alvin Frank Charles City, Fred Langrock of St. Ansgar; Irving Winer and Harlan Noble of Riceville and L. E. Plummer of Northwood, attorney. Other men not mentioned before, who have served on the Board, are Lawrence WoIff and John Markham.

    The following people are presently employed by the Co-op Electric Company: Louis J. Vandermyde, general manager; Gene Gerlach, superintendent of electric lines; Ed Callen, power use advisor; LaVerne Michaels, office manager; Margaret Ehlke, assistant bookkeeper; Rosella Houg, cashier; Mary Ann Halverson, assistant cashier; Elaine Petersen, secretary; Marion Neeley, work order clerk; Robert Chancellor, store keeper; Orven Stromley, mechanic; Harlan Hansen, lineman; Virgil Horgen, lineman; Leonard Fox, lineman; Donald Piper, lineman; Roger Berg, lineman; Gerald E. Halverson, lineman; Walter Brown, groundman; Arthur Schmidt, custodian. Twelve of these employees own their own homes, and all of them are happy to to be living in the town of St. Ansgar.



    From the files of the Enterprise of 1879, we learn that the town had two chimney inspectors; C. K. Martin and J. Hatton; that C. K. Martin was at work on ladders for a "Hook and Ladder Co.;" that said company had headquarters in the Keystone hotel. C. K. Martin was captain, C. H. Owen, first lieutenant and S. W. Cook, second lieutenant. Henry Lubiens was mayor.
Fire Department 1953.

    In 1897 we read that the town had "no organized protection" and that a "very effective means is within reach in the shape of hand grenades and a few portable fire extinguishers." Lewis Intorf was inspector that year.

    In 1884 we read-"The council discussed the question of buying a fire engine, and having at least two good cisterns in parts of town where most serviceable."

    Today, in 1953, St. Ansgar has a fire department of which it may well be proud. A company calling themselves "The Eagle Hose Co." was organized in 1903, and has functioned steadily through these fifty years.

    The town truck was purchased in June, 1928; the rural truck in May, '48.

    Present officers are: Fire Chief, Waldo Wold; President, Richard Chancellor; Vice president and assistant chief, Glen Priem; Secretary, Clair Carson; Treasurer, Alton Kittleson.

    The company has a complete file of minutes for the full fifty years. We wonder if any other volunteer fire company can show as complete a record.



    In March of 1902, the matter of installing water works in St. Ansgar was presented to the voters of the town. The proposition was carried 143 to 19. The council called for bids and later accepted Emil Sedlacek's bid for drilling the ten inch well. In July, a contract was let calling for an eighty-foot tower to hold a tank twenty feet in diameter and 22 feet high, with a capacity of 1,500 bbls., or 48,000 gallons. The price was a little over $7,000. The tank was located on the corner where the fire station now stands.
Bringing in the second well in 1932.
Left to right: August Janzow, John Bernstein, Tom Tollefson, La Forest Sherman, E.R. Tessman, Clarence Goldberg. Center back is a driller Bert Scharf, flanked by his two sons at far ends.

    By the middle of February 1903, the plant was practically completed. The fire department tested the throwing power of the system, and pronounced it O.K. because they were able to throw water to the top of the Methodist church spire (old church).

    In 1902, a Waterworks Company was organized for the purpose of building that part of the water works for which the town had not money to build. The same was leased to the town.

    Articles of incorporation were published in March 1903, signed by Martin Moe, R. C. Lubiens, George Lubiens, A. N. Lund, George M. Brown, T. H. Hume and Ole Severson.

    In 1917, the tank was moved to its present location in the east part of town.

    In 1932, the second pump was added and both were replaced in the late' 40s.

    In the spring of 1939, St. Ansgar received approval for a W.P.A. project for installation of sewer mains throughout St. Ansgar. Fifteen W.P.A. workmen found employment on the job. Mains have been extended until today the town's needs are quite adequately met.



    The town has a modern disposal plant and is also unique in the facilities they have provided for the disposal of garbage. Alfred Hansen operates a garbage service truck for those who wish this service. He is also village marshal. All junk is buried at the city dump in charge of Grant Berg.

    In 1922 a disposal plant was completed. It is an ingenious device for taking sewage as it comes from the pipes, putting it through various processes and delivering water at the other end 95 percent pure. A huge tank, 20 feet square and 21 feet deep is made into compartments, with chambers for gas to be carried off, allowing solid matter to settle. About once a year the solid matter is forced into what is known as the sludge bed, where gasoline is poured on it and it is burned.


St. Ansgar Telephone

    The St. Ansgar Telephone and Exchange Company was organized in the fall of 1900. At the turn of the 20th century, it proved to be one of the most needed and best improvements in this vicinity.
Martin Moe
Editor of the Enterprise; President of the telephone company; elected Mayor in 1887, 1898 and 1924.


Sylvan Peshak
One of the organizers of the St. Ansgar Telephone Company, 1900; an expert electrician.

    It was headed by three local men: Martin Moe, president; R. C. Lubiens, vice-president and treasurer, and S. J. Peshak
R.C. Lubiens
Banker, and one of the organizers of the telephone company, and its first treasurer.
secretary and manager. Construction work started in the spring of 1901. By the middle of April, the switchboard was installed with 51 town telephones and 21 rural subscribers at a nominal fee of $1.00 per month.

    Edith McCullough Anderson was the first telephone operator, with daytime service from 7 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. As the business expanded, a night operator was added and from that time on the community has had 24 hours service.

    Martin Moe and S. J. Peshak served as officers of the company until 1927 when it was sold to the Iowa Union Telephone Company for $60,000. At the time of this transaction, there were 633 telephones. A year later, the company changed hands again and the Mid-West States Utilities Company became the owners. In 1934 it was sold to the Central Iowa Telephone Company, which is the present owner. At the present time, there are 725 telephones.



Continue to Part 9

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