Where is the mountain? What about the lake?
+ On Saturday, September 8, the 44th annual Heritage Fair – or Utschtallung – will be celebrated at Heritage Village in Mountain Lake, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. To get in the spirit of the day, below are some “short-takes” from Mountain Lake’s history book and photo album.
The first white settler to the Mountain Lake area, William Mason, arrived in the area in 1865, staking his claim on land in the midst of a shallow, mud-bottomed 900-acre lake with three islands, located two miles southeast of the city. The two smaller islands just broke the water’s surface. The third much larger, higher island looked to Mason like a mountain rising from the lake. He named the lake, Mountain Lake and the largest island, Mountain Island (he called the smaller islands Big Bug and Little Bug).
The lake was home to much wildlife, including many bullheads and pickerel in the waters, plus deer, elk, fox, mink, otter and wolves. Many native shrubs added to the mountain beauty. Wild grapes, chokecherries, gooseberries and currants grew in abundance.
Mason, a hunter and trapper, built a log cabin on the island, and brought his wife to the new home. The couple lived in the island cabin for about three years, during which time their daughter was born.
Other early homesteaders included Joseph Bean and George B. Walker and the Peter Hunstads, as well as Alfred A. Soule, a Frenchman from Kentucky, who purchased land on the north side of the lake from Mason in 1869.
When the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad (today, Union Pacific) came in 1871 Mason insisted that the train stop-turned-village being platted be named Mountain Lake. The railroad had selected Midway as the name of the village since it was the midway points on its tracks between St. Paul, Minnesota and Sioux City, Iowa.
Mason eventually won.
In the 1890s, there was an attempt to turn the mountain into a lakeshore resort. The demand for more tillable land and construction advances led to the draining and demise of the lake in 1905-1906. After the lake was drained, the land was farmed – first as the spot to grow vegetables for the city’s canning factory and later as the location for growing sunflowers, whose seeds were locally roasted and salted and turned into sunflower seeds.
These seeds, popular during the mid-to-late ’20s and throughout the ’30s into the early ’40s – were the innovation of the ingenious George P. Neufeld and Reinhold Rupp. Neufeld owned the Mountain Lake Variety Store (later the Ben Franklin Store) and opened up The Electric Roaster Shop in the rear of the building. (Today, Mountain Lake Floral is located in that building.)
Rupp handled the roasting duties, while Neufeld was the marketer, sending the finished product out in vending machines across Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and part of Montana. (One of those vending machines is on display in the depot at Heritage Village.)
They were originally known by their “old country” Russian/Low German name – “knack seeds” – as well as Russian peanuts, but a contest in the local newspaper came up with a new twist. Neufeld settled on the suggested Latin name, “solflora seeds” – “sol” that comes from solar (the sun) which described the flowers’ bright yellow color and “flora” for flower.
In the biggest year for the business, 42,000 pounds of seeds were roasted and salted.
Eventually, the business was sold to the Fisher Nut Company – and became popular as sunflower seeds.
However, the history of that lake – even before Mason – has been carbon-dated to perhaps 100 B. C. – the Fox Lake Indians also had a home – a winter home – on that same island of land. That dwelling was 20 feet in diameter. It was in 1976 that Joe P. Hudak and a number of student archeologists from the the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul came to the mountain and peeled back 15 inches of topsoil near the south end of the island to make the find. Near the center of the dwelling, near the pole, were concentrations of pieces of a pottery vessel. Around the area where the cooking fie was believed to have been, a substantial quantity of stone chips were recovered. This indicates that someone worked there fashioning projectile points and stone knives. The Fox Lake Indians used the large projectile points as thrusting sticks and spears. Additionally found was a fire hearth, ceramic vessels, an ex, rock sofa – and a refuse pit of bison and fish bones.
That is the “mountain” in the city’s name.
And what about today’s lake?
After the original lake was drained, there was no lake in Mountain Lake for nearly three decades. The current Mountain Lake was built by the Work Progress Administration during the New Deal days. In 1937, a nine-foot earthen dam and outlet was constructed to create a man-made Mountain Lake – made complete, too, with an island.
Following the completion of the railroad, the area settled rapidly, with the arrival of nearly 1,800 Russian Mennonite immigrants between 1873-1880. That emigration was followed a few years later with the addition of Russian Lutheran immigrants. The town was not officially incorporated until 1886, however.
The Mountain Lake of today enjoys a strong sense of its past while looking to its future. The historical Heritage Village, on the city’s southeastern edge, remembers the challenges German and Russian immigrants faced as they built new lives in a new land.
The city and area’s earliest history is encapsulated at Heritage Village, located at the southeast corner of the city. And each year, on the second Saturday in September – this year, Saturday, September 13 – the Village and the history captured within it – comes alive during the annual Utschtallung. This year will be the 40th such celebration – the first Heritage Fair held in 1972.
The descendants of those 19th century immigrants now enjoy a culturally diverse community with the recent addition of Mountain Lake’s newest immigrants – the Laotian, Hispanic and Hmong.
The community continues to reflect the agricultural base on which it was founded, but is also well served with a growing industrial base.
To honor and preserve those first years, following are photos of Mountain Lake from that era:
AN EARLY MENNONITE farm, circa 1873.
LOADS OF GRAIN shocks are ready and waiting for their turn to unload at the threshing machine.
A THRESHING CREW. Crews started work as soon as the first fields of grain shocks were ready to thresh in the middle of July. The steam tractors used to run the threshing rigs used five tanks of water (300 gallons each) and it took 15 loads of straw to burn and heat the water each day.
HENRY J. JANZEN, who farmed southeast of Mountain Lake, using his trusty tractor to pull a three-bottom plow as he got fall plowing done.
MOUNTAIN LAKE’S FIRST railroad depot, which was used until 1900. (Actually, the very first railway station was located two miles east of Mountain Lake, placed there by the Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad. The railroad wanted to name the new village Midway, as it was midway between Sioux City, Iowa and St. Paul, Minnesota. However, William Mason, this area’s first white settler, wanted to name the town Mountain Lake, after the lake and the large island that rose like a “mountain” located southeast of today’s city. And . . . we all know who won that battle!)
A GROUP OF male Mountain Lake residents- from young-to-old – await the arrival of the next train at the Mountain Lake Railroad Depot. The first Mountain Lake “station” – built of logs – was located three miles east of the city, but this depot was built along the tracks within the platted village limits in 1900 was used daily until 1972. It is now a welcoming sight at Heritage Village.
A COUNTY SCHOOL held a picnic at the original Mountain Lake that was located southeast of the city.
THESES THREE ENJOYED a successful day fishing at the original Mountain Lake, as evidenced by their line strung full with fish. Bullheads and pickerel comprised the majority of fish caught out of the shallow, mud-bottomed body of water.
ANOTHER PHOTO OF a successful fishing trip to the original Mountain Lake. No need for “fish tales” here. ACCORDING TO IRENE Holmes, the people with the fishing success for the day include, from left, Mrs. C. J. Brown, Art Kliewer (Irene’s uncle), C. J. Brown (a photographer in Mountain Lake in its early years), Viola Kliewer (Irene’s mother), Dave Kliewer (Irene’s uncle) and Marie (Toews) Kliewer (Irene’s grandmother – and the mother of Art, Dave and Viola).
THE CURRENT MOUNTAIN Lake, located northwest of the city, was built by the Work Progress Administration during the New Deal days. In 1937, a nine-foot earthen dam and outlet was constructed to create a man-made Mountain Lake – made complete, too, with its own island. Above is a 1950s-era photo looking at the island from the swimming beach which was located at the lake’s southeastern corner.
THE FIRST PUBLIC school in Mountain Lake was built in 1880 – a one-story building for 16 pupils. In 1890, a second floor was added. It was located where the current Parkwood Estates is located.
THE SECOND PUBLIC school building, built in 1903, is pictured above. The school – at 12th Street and 4th Avenue – was constructed at a cost of $32,000. Building began in 1903 and dedicated in January 1904. The first full year, with grade 12 added, was in 1904-1905, with the first high school graduating class in spring 1905.
MOUNTAIN LAKE’S FIRST basketball games in 1910 were played in what was known as the “hayloft,” the third story (or attic) of the school building. Pictured are, from left, Pete Schroeder, Dave Vogt, Superintendent and Coach H. Griebenow, Pete Gunther, Ben Schroeder and Frank Balzer Jr.
A MAY DAY (May 1) 1914 celebration on the grounds of the public school.
THIS PHOTO SHOWS Peter P. Buhr collecting students for the public school in 1921, along his three-mile route. During the winter, foot warmers helped keep the students’ feet warm. The school district had three such buses. A few years later, this type of box was put on a truck chassis.
MOUNTAIN LAKE PUBLIC School as it looked pre-1957 – without the two building project additions of the elementary, auditorium/gymnasium, swimming pool and elementary gym and high school classrooms. Pictured are, front, the 1940 addition and back, the 1930 addition. Not visible is the remodeled 1903 original building.
PHOTO FROM THE “old gym” of the 1930 public school building addition during the Laker season of 1938. Mountain Lake defeated St. James, 30-19. Lakers (in white), from left, Gerhard Buhr (partially hidden), Eddy Derksen and Dave Nickel (behind). (Photo from the collection of Mike Nelson)
ACTION AT THE gym’s south basket from the same game. Lakers are Ruben Epp, left, Dave Nickel, center and Eddy Derksen, right. (Photo from the collection of Mike Nelson)
THE GERMAN SCHOOL (now Mountain Lake Christian) building was dedicated on October 12, 1901. It had three departments – “Unterstube” (grades 1-3), “Mittelstube” (grades 4-6) and “Oberstube” (grades 7-8). Reverend J. J. Balzer was the first principal, with Henry Bachman, the first teacher.
TO ACCOMMODATE OUT-of-town and out-of-state students, a dormitory was provided when the former First Mennonite Church building was moved in to the right of the school in 1912. It was remodeled to house students, with the basement converted into a dining hall. Students were seated a long tables in the basement dining hall, as pictured above.
THIS WAS MOUNTAIN Lake’s first general store. It was built by Abram Penner in 1876.
A TRIO OF men stop to “chew the fat” over the day’s news in front of the Frank Balzer Lumber Yard in 1888.
HERMAN KREMMIN AND Frank Derksen were coffin makers for the young Village of Mountain Lake.
A VIEW OF the exterior of the Mountain Lake Cannery – a canning factory begun in Mountain Lake in 1908. It was located one or two blocks west of the train depot (which was located along the tracks at 10th Street). It was a vegetable processing plant. The plant closed after a few seasons of operation.
AN INTERIOR VIEW of the canning portion of the canning factory. The vegetables processed were grown in the drained lake bottom of the original Mountain Lake (drained in 1905-1906).
A MOMENT IN time caught forever for posterity – green bean stringers at work at the canning factory – stringers of both sexes and all ages.
MOUNTAIN LAKE ALSO once had a flour mill. David Ewert started the flour mill in 1870 south of the railroad track right-of-way on the east side of 10th Street and the depot. The mill was a three-story frame structure that produced two grades of flour, with a capacity of 60 barrels. To be profitable, it had to sell at least one train carload of flour per week to other outlets. The two types of flour marketed were “White Rose” – the top grade – and “Snowflake” – the second grade. They also produced rye and buckwheat flour. In addition to flour milling and feed grinding operations at the mill, an electric generator was added to the steam plant. This was used to run the mill – and to supply Mountain Lake with its first electricity. This was later taken over by the Interstate Power Company. Hiebert operated the mill for about 12 years. from 1884 to 1913, it changed hands a number of times.s In 1913, a group of Mountain Lake businessmen purchased the operation, after which it became known as Mountain Lake Milling Company.
THE OFFICE FOR the Mountain Lake Milling Company was hidden in the back. Neighborhood children enjoyed running on the long ramp. Wind power (see windmill at right) pumped water for the mill.
TWO MALE EMPLOYEES supervise the milling process in the Mountain Lake Milling Company.