by Dennis Dalman
As memories fade, as townspeople get older and pass on, town history often disappears with them.
That is why a group of people is determined to start a renewed Sartell Historical Society.
One of them is distinguished historian and author Bill Morgan of Sartell. Morgan, his wife Judy and about eight others have been meeting, brainstorming and trying to form a plan of action to form a historical society and to find a secure place, if not an actual museum, in which to house many Sartell artifacts.
One of the group members, Kaye Wenker, has stored thousands of artifacts in her house for years, ever since the Sartell Centennial, 2007, which Wenker helped spearhead. At that time, many Sartell residents scoured attics, basements, garages and memory trunks and came up with interesting scraps from the past to share at city hall and elsewhere as part of the centennial celebrations.
After the birthday hoopla faded, however, Wenker had no choice but to use her home as a repository for the artifacts: photos, implements, books, letters, trinkets and even a long logging pole used to maneuver logs in the river by the old paper mill.
Other members of the history group are lifelong Sartell residents Ron Hurd, Jack McCann, Maggie Kraemer and Jeff Sartell, who lives in Princeton and who is a descendent of Joseph Sartell, for whom the city is named. Several members, including the Morgans, are members of the Sartell Senior Connection.
“We’ve been meeting for a couple of months,” said Judy Morgan. “We feel strongly, passionately in reactivating a historical society for Sartell. We are trying to get the word out to others. We are trying to get younger people interested, and we know we can do that because we know there are younger people here who are very interested in Sartell’s history.”
Unfortunately, some Sartell residents think the city doesn’t have a real history, that it was always just a pale shadow of nearby St. Cloud, Bill Morgan said.
Morgan is a retired American Studies professor from St. Cloud State University and an author of five history books. He is keenly aware of Sartell’s interesting history since the days when it was just a small village by a paper mill.
“Many people think Sartell is an extension of St. Cloud,” Morgan said. “This viewpoint implies Sartell lacks its own history, a sense of place or a culture with its own distinctive roots. We believe Sartell does have a history, one that extends from the days of Native American habitation to today’s bustling modern city.”
In a recent essay he wrote, Morgan delivered a warning about how quickly a city can lose its history.
“Many of Sartell’s historic features have vanished or soon will, including its original downtown, the paper mill and the iconic Fasen round barn. Those and other physical features now exist solely in photographs, recorded histories and memories held by local citizens.”
Unless those artifacts can be preserved, preferably in a secure museum, time will march on, leaving artifacts to neglect, forgetfulness and oblivion.
“Most small towns and cities across the state support museums where a community’s heritage can be displayed,” Morgan said. “All kinds of artifacts today are stored in the homes of Sartell citizens. Efforts should be made to collect, catalogue and select materials for displays.”
Morgan said all residents in Sartell, including newcomers so far unaware of the city’s history, should keep the following topics in mind. Each of them is brimming with historical significance, he noted.
The Mississippi River. The Native Americans who lived by it, the explorers who traveled on it and how it became the sight of the paper mill more than 100 years ago.
Native American History. Watab Creek was long ago a dividing line between the sometimes warring Dakota and Ojibwe nations. A 100-year section of the old “Indian Trail” still remains north of the creek’s mouth.
Oxcarts. Between 1845 and 1870, oxcart caravans traveled through the township on journeys between St. Paul and Winnipeg. A few oxcart ruts can still be seen near the site of the vanished village of Watab in east Sartell.
The Sartell Family. Massachusetts native Joseph B. Sartell arrived at the future site of Sartell in 1854 and erected a sawmill. He and his wife, Lucinda, built a homestead the next year. Many of his descendents still live in Sartell.
Nehemiah P. Clarke. In the late 19th Century, this entrepreneur who came to St. Cloud farmed 1,600 acres in LeSauk Township where he bred horses, cattle and sheep, many imported from England. He called his breed of shorthorns “Meadow Lawn,” and that is the name of the patio-home neighborhood on that same site today – the one, in fact, where Bill and Judy Morgan live.
“I like to look out the window and imagine how it was when N.P. Clarke farmed here,” Bill said.
The paper mill. Since 1905, the paper mill, through its various names and ownerships, was an economic bedrock of Sartell until its demise several years ago after an explosion forced its closure.
The DeZurik Family. Mathew DeZurik was a young millwright at the paper mill who invented several products that caused him to open his own business. It became the other economic bedrock of Sartell and thrives to this day, its valves used throughout the world.
Contemporary Sartell. For many years, Sartell’s population hovered at about 800 people. The boom time happened between 1970 and the present with business and residential development leading to a population in excess of 15,000. A museum could feature the growth and its many permutations through time.
Judy Morgan said the history group wants to remind all people in Sartell to keep an eye open for traces of history that may be right under their noses – in old cardboard boxes stored in attics, in basements, in storage rooms. Spring-cleaning can often produce wonderful historical relics.
“And each one of them has a story to tell,” she said.
So far, the informal history group has no solid plans for a storage facility or a museum. However, they are definitely going to come up with some ideas and recommendations and need input from Sartell residents. More information, including perhaps some public-meeting dates, will be announced in the near future.
In the meantime, the group is asking people in Sartell to keep their eyes wide open for any historical artifacts they may come across.