Saturday, August 8, 2020
Area News + Mountain Lake’s history in a photo album

Mountain Lake’s history in a photo album

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:

scan0315AN EARLY MENNONITE farm, circa 1873.

scan0317LOADS OF GRAIN shocks are ready and waiting for their turn to unload at the threshing machine.

plow threshingA 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.

plowHENRY J. JANZEN, who farmed southeast of Mountain Lake, using his trusty tractor to pull a three-bottom plow as he got fall plowing done.

scan0314MOUNTAIN 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!)

ml 14A 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.


class picnic at the lakeA COUNTY SCHOOL held a picnic at the original Mountain Lake that was located southeast of the city.

ml 15THESES 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.

ml 16ANOTHER 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).

ml history 4THE 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.

scan0322THE 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.

mlps other shot of school 003THE 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.


scan0304MOUNTAIN 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.

ml 17A MAY DAY (May 1) 1914 celebration on the grounds of the public school.

scan0321THIS 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.

ml history 6MOUNTAIN 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.

Laker season of 1938. ML 30 St. James 19, Left to right, Gerhard Buhr, Eddy Derksen, Dave Nickel aPHOTO 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)

Laker season of 1938, ML 30, St. James 19, left to right, Ruben Epp, Dave Nickel, Eddy Derksen aACTION 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)

german school 1THE 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.

german school 2TO 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.

scan0319THIS 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.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. HERMAN KREMMIN AND Frank Derksen were coffin makers for the young Village of Mountain Lake.

ml 11A 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.

ml 12AN 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).

ml 10A MOMENT IN time caught forever for posterity – green bean stringers at work at the canning factory – stringers of both sexes and all ages.

ml 13MOUNTAIN 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.

scan0306THE 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.

scan0311TWO MALE EMPLOYEES supervise the milling process in the Mountain Lake Milling Company.


scan0313MRS. JOHN N. (Kate) Fast – at the switchboard – was one of the first telephone operators in Mountain Lake following the organization of the North Star Telephone Company in 1902. At first service was just for the Village of Mountain Lake, but later expanded to Butterfield and rural areas.

ewert glass blockTHE INTERIOR OF Ewert’s Glass Block Store was a light, airy place stuffed with merchandise. From left are, Mr. and Mrs. Ted Wedel, Herman E. Eitzen, Abe Voth, and the proprietor, David Ewert. It is said that he was a superlative salesman. When buying a straw hat, he promoted the two hat sizes he offered as – too small so the wind wouldn’t take it away – and – too big so that one would grow into it. It was located at the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 11th Street, the present location of the Country Pride Cooperative Service Station.

scan0305WHEN THIS BUILDING was built in 1878 by Henry Hammer, it housed his harness shop on the first floor, and living quarters on the second. The building was on the northwest corner of 3rd Avenue and 11th Street until it was razed in summer 1977. The Rempel family (Henry, Cliff and Harry) took over the building for a café and beer parlor. The building was later owned by Palmer Paulson, who sold it to Elmer and Ann Hansen in 1970, who operated the Corner Café until 1977. John Janzen rented the west section of the building for an electric shop.

scan0310ABE BUHLER AND Peter C. Hiebert were partners in the Mountain Lake Produce and Hatchery business, They bought cream and eggs, sold supplies, such as feed for chickens, cream cans, incubators, etc.. The building (last known as The Joy Shoppe), was located north of 10th Street Pickers, and was recently torn down.

scan0309THE STAFF OF Hiebert and Franz Store are set to assist in the search for groceries in this circa 1930 photo. The store was located along the west side of 10th Street, just south of 3rd Avenue, where The Matchless Gift is located today.

scan0320THIS WAS THE inside view of the State Theatre when it was owned by George G. Schroeder and C. P. Martens. Note the screen covering with ads of local businesses. The first “talkie” was shown on November 4, 1929. Today, the theatre is the north half of Mountain Lake Fitness.

ml 9MOUNTAIN LAKE’S FIRST hospital. Legend has it that Mrs. Isaac Krahn was the first person admitted to the hospital, and that she was admitted by Sister Margaret Friesen, who was in charge of the hospital. It was in 1904 that J. D. Hiebert and his brother, D. D. Hiebert, bought the first public school building on 3rd Avenue between 8th Street and 9th Street with the intention of using it as a hospital. The 12-bed hospital opened in 1905. The first baby was born in the facility in 1910. In 1911 or 1912, the Mountain Lake Hospital became affiliated with the Bethel Deaconess Hospital in Newton, Kansas – the name changing to Bethel Deaconess Hospital. A new two-story 21-bed hospital was built to the west of this building and in 1927, a two-story brick home was built to its north for the sisters and hospital staff. The affiliation with the Kansas Hospital Association ended in 1930, with a local board taking control, and was called Bethel Hospital. The “first hospital” was used as a home for the aged until 1960, when it was torn down and a 26-bed hospital was built. The 1921 hospital was torn down in 1970 and a medial clinic and solarium built in its place. In 1972, the name was changed to Mountain Lake Community Hospital, and was owned and operated by the city. Today that building is the home of Parkwood Estates, as well as Sanford Clinic-Mountain Lake.

ml history 3AT LEFT IS Bethel Hospital, which was converted into a Home for the Aged following the building of a new hospital facility, at right. Today, the old Bethel Hospital is gone, replaced by a medical clinic on the lower level and apartments above, while Mountain Lake Community Hospital at right (also originally called Bethel Hospital) is now Parkwood Place apartments.

commercial hotel in mt lakeMOUNTAIN LAKE’S FIRST hotel, the Commercial Hotel, was built in 1900, and stood on the corner of 3rd Avenue. Mrs. J. J. Balzer had a tailor shop in a left-side room, specializing in fixing men’s clothing. This building was remodeled several times during the ‘teens and ‘twenties and later became known as the Basinger Annex (to the Basinger Hotel on 10th Street). The hotel rooms were remodeled for apartments and various businesses – including the Land Company, the Ewert Repair Shop, Jungas Hardware Store and Jass Real Estate business. It even had a four-lane bowling alley in its basement. The building was razed in 1962.

ml 8THE TITLE ON this post card photo states “A comfortable home – Mountain Lake, Minn.” This comfortable home was known as either the “Ewert” or “Basinger” mansion. In 1905. David Ewert built this $8,000 house east of 12th Street on 3rd Avenue (where the present Laker Apartments are located). It was a Victorian-style home with large towers and turrets rising three stories along the front corners. It also had many dormers with little towers on the side of the high pitched roof, and a gazebo on one side of the roof (in the photo it is at the upper left and was rescued from the home’s demolition and is located on the Laker Apartment grounds).  The interior featured large rooms and high ceilings. There were two fireplaces inside built of well-polished stone. It had an open stairway built of heavy oak, with a unique railing making a turn near the top. The large windows, tripped in oak, resembled church windows. The downstairs had a large dining room, living room, study, kitchen and front entry. It had a full basement with many rooms – including a wine cellar. The bedrooms were upstairs. The home was built on a lot the size of two-thirds of a city block and had a large orchard with many fruit trees, such as apple, plum, cherry and pear – and had a large vineyard. There was an iron fence around the front of the property along the sidewalk, with a fancy gate. The sidewalk leading to the house was built of special rocks. The front of the home and part of the side was an open porch surrounded with large pillars and a fancy railing. Dr. and Mrs. Harvey Basinger took charge of the estate in the early 1930s and remodeled it. It was town down in 1975.

main street in mt lakeMAIN STREET IN Mountain Lake in about 1882, with horse-drawn buggies and wagons pulled up at its businesses – the riders inside purchasing goods.

ml 6LOOKING EAST ON today’s 3rd Avenue. Note the dirt road, water tower in the distance and, at the front left – a watering trough located on 10th Street near the southeast corner of Mountain Lake City Park, available for farmers traveling into town to water their horses. One of the duties of the Village Marshal, John Lewis, was to keep it clean. Lewis would also ride around the business section on a bicycle to light the gas lamps. The era is 1910-1915.

ml 5A LATER ERA view looking north on 10th Street from 2nd Avenue – the automobile has arrived.

ml 710TH STREET AGAIN, this time looking north from 3rd Avenue – Mountain Lake City Park at the left.

ml history 5LOOKING NORTH ON 10th Street from 4th Avenue.

CHRISTMAS STREET DECORATIONS cross 3rd Avenue (then Minnesota State Highway #60) from 10th Street to 12th Street. At right, where Sweet Fields is now located, was the Post Office, as noted by the American flag.CHRISTMAS STREET DECORATIONS cross 3rd Avenue (then Minnesota State Highway #60) from 10th Street to 12th Street. At the left, see the sign noting Basinger Hotel. At right, where Sweet Fields is now located, was the Post Office, as noted by the American flag.

ml 2AN EARLY SPRING scene of 3rd Avenue looking east during 1962.

brown parr gas stationFOLKS ENJOYING THE day outside the “original” convenience store – the Parr Brothers Gas Station and Small Store, located at this time in 1941 at the northwest corner of Cottonwood County Road #1 and 3rd Avenue. It was earlier located north of Mountain Lake. The station was closed in 1972. During the time it was open, the price of gas rose from 25.9 cents per gallon to 39.9 cents. (Photo courtesy of Eleanor (Schriock) Carter)

ml history 7AND – ACROSS THE road to to the south was the Phillip’s 66 station of Mountain Lake “entrepreneur” (bootlegger) and gas station owner Pete Falk – Pete leaning against his station. Here’s a link to a post on Mountain Lake native Tamara Carter and her quilt and book dedicated to the legend of Pete Falk – (Photo courtesy of Eleanor (Schriock) Carter)

ml 1THIS IS A 1962 photo of A. A. Penner, said to be the first white child born in Mountain Lake, at the front door of his birthplace – at the time, the town’s oldest remaining building. This building was located to the south – across 2nd Avenue – of the Laker Bar & Grill, now a lot used by Lohrenz Construction Inc.

ml 31962 COVER PHOTO of 93-year-old Maria Fast, the widow of a Mountain Lake pastor, from the March 25, 1962 Sunday Pictorial Magazine of the “St. Paul Pioneer Press.” An article with photos was the feature story in the magazine, written by the newspaper’s “Oliver Towne” or Gareth Hiebert, whose roots go back to Mountain Lake. Hiebert began his article using his Grandmother Ewert’s description of Mountain Lake as first she saw it in 1871, as a girl of 12 – not long from Russia: “I got off the train and parted a field of sunflowers and there it was.” It was at the time a tiny settlement of huts built by Mennonite who had roamed Europe for over a hundred years – from their native Holland to German to Russia – and, at last – the southwest Minnesota prairie, yellowed with sunflowers.

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