by Dennis Dalman
After children’s games, during a jazz-band performance, as people chatted and reminisced, pieces of birthday cake were served to celebrate Sartell’s 111th birthday Oct. 6 at the city’s community center.
The Riverside Jazz band played in the center’s large foyer for 90 minutes as visitors sat in chairs and enjoyed the music. Inside the senior center, people gathered to explore historical artifacts and videos of the city’s history. In the meantime, some of the visitors boarded a trolley car for a ride through the city to view historically significant buildings and sites.
The event was organized by Judy Morgan, a member of the Sartell Historical Society and also a member of the Sartell Senior Connection. Helping Morgan welcome visitors were four other local history enthusiasts: Diane Sartell, Kaye Wenker, former Sartell Mayor Bob Pogatshnik and Jeff Sartell.
Among the exhibits spread about on tables throughout the senior center were artifacts that evoked memories of the city’s early founding families, the Watab Paper Mill, the DeZURIK valve plant (now 90 years old), the fire department, the beginnings of the city’s own school district in the late 1960s, the popular Winter Haven festival held in the 1950s, the McCann-Wesler Ice House, and more.
One of the special guests was Joyce (Yozamp) McCann, who was the 1951 Winter Haven Queen. A video during the birthday party told the story of Winter Haven and of Yozamp’s coronation and the social swirl surrounding it. McCann watched the video and made various comments as memories popped up in her mind.
“Oh yes,” she said. “That’s me going up in the ski lift. Oh, I remember that well.”
Another exhibit featured a stereoscope, a device in which people would insert a card, then look through the eyepiece to see scenes in three dimensions, a form of home entertainment many years ago. Near the stereoscope on the exhibit table were artifacts from Perry’s Bar (long defunct), including a T-shirt and a photo of the building.
Another intriguing artifact was a ledger book from some kind of business in Sartell in 1891. The mysterious book contains page after page of columns of charges and expenses written in the florid handwriting of yesteryear. The book was found some years back in the Jim and Myra Campbell house at 638 Riverside Avenue.
Yet another interesting exhibit, which surprised many visitors, was a table of photos and implements relating to ice-harvesting businesses decades ago on the Mississippi River above the dam in Sartell. The man greeting visitors to the exhibit was Jack McCann, now 81, whose grandfather, Archie Paul McCann, started two ice-harvesting businesses with partner Julius Wesler. The two men and their employees operated the businesses from 1935 to 1943. In one of the exhibit photos, there stands Jack as a boy beside his mother, Marguerite Sartell-McCann, while men cut blocks of river ice around them.
A printed handout at the exhibit, written by history author Bill Morgan of Sartell, gave highlights of the ice-harvesting business.
Before the widespread use of electricity, the only way to keep foods cold and fresh was to use chunks of river ice in chests that resembled to some degree wooden refrigerators.
Ice harvesters, Morgan wrote, would wait until the ice layer on the river was anywhere from 16- to 22-inches thick. Then they would shovel off the snow, mark off long strips along the ice, then, using long-tooth saws, cut the ice into huge rectangular blocks. Then the ice would be hauled off on wagons to area icehouses, including the McCann-Wesler Ice House in Sartell. To keep the ice nice and frozen through the coming summer, it was kept in the large ice house, covered in a thick layer of sawdust from the sawing of logs at the Sartell paper mill, Morgan noted in his essay.
At the 111th Sartell birthday party, visitors were given a hand-out listing Sartell Fun Facts. The following are some of them:
• In 1997, entertainer Willie Nelson was in the area for a concert and played 18 holes of golf at the Sartell Golf Course.
• In July 2006, E. Zakrajshek caught a 42-inch muskie on the river.
• The Winter Haven snow train (1949-1954) brought 900 to 1,000 passengers to Sartell to join the popular winter event. Tommy Bartlett and the Lennon Sisters singers (later frequent performers on The Lawrence Welk Show) sang at Winter Haven.
• On April 1, 1930, the Riverview Casino opened for dances, wedding parties and other events. A sign outside the casino read, “Everybody Welcome, Ladies Free.” The casino closed in 1952.