Sunday, January 29, 2006

Families: The Gooselaws

The Gooselaw family were one one of the earliest to settle  St. Vincent, as the article in these two scans explain. Be sure and read about their family as told to the local school's annual, Borderlines many years ago, at left.

One of the Gooselaws mentioned in the article - Louis - grew up to be a barber in Pembina across the river. My Dad at one time had his hair cut regularly by Louis. Louis' shop was a real old-time barber shop complete with the red and white cylinder out front, smoking inside, and lots of calendars and magazines laying around. No one was in a real hurry, and while no men would admit it, a lot of gossip flew around in there! A few times I hung out in the waiting area while my Dad got a quick trim...

When I was growing up, Eli Gooselaw lived across the east field from our place, just north of the St. Vincent cemetery. I'm not sure who brought it up first - I think it was me, as a child, mentioning it to my mother - but between my Mom and I, we always joked how Eli's house looked haunted at night. There was this one particular pane of window glass in his upstairs that always looked hazy like a light was on, but not quite, even on overcast nights. It's hard to explain now, it's one of those things you'd have to see for yourself.

Another thing that gave Eli's place extra atmosphere was his teepee. It wasn't an actual teepee like the native Indians used to live in, but rather a tall teepee-shaped vertical stack of wood, most likely old telephone poles and such, that Eli kept by his house. We speculated he used it for firewood.

Eventually, Eli passed away, and so did his house - it was pulled down to make room for the St. Vincent dike. The tall, weather-beaten house with no paint, creepy windows, and its teepee, was no more, now only memories.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ahles General Store

I got an exciting phone call this morning!

I was at my office catching up on some work, about to leave, when my cell phone rang. I answered to an unknown voice, who said he had been informed that someone at this number was interested in talking to people that knew St. Vincent history. I said yes, most definitely!

I found out that his name is Allen Ahles. He remembered my grandparents Al Fitzpatrick, and "Mrs. Al", as he called my grandmother Elizabeth (or Liz as she was more commonly known...), as well as my parents Gordon and Harriet Short.

I didn't want to ask in case I was remembering wrong, but I was thinking as he talked, wasn't there an Ahles Store that my Mom talked about? I asked him about his parents, and he said that they had had a farm about one mile south of town, near Bud Fiek's and the Ryans. I said I knew where he was talking about, yes. He said that they moved into town at one point, and bought a general store (I was right after all...!) They eventually sold that store to Fred and Babe Stranger, who in turn sold it to George Sylvester (the person that I remember as a child running the store...) His family moved away in 1952 to Staples, and eventually they moved to the Minneapolis area, where he lives with his wife to this day.

He said he had a lot of information for me, but will need to get it out and organized and call me back. I said I was thrilled to hear from him, and that I would be coming to the twin cities in July to visit a friend. He gave me his address, and I plan on stopping by one morning or afternoon while I'm down there to talk to him in person. I'm hoping to find out lots of stories to share with you all...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Early Insights: 1857 - 1859 Expeditions

Click to see larger imageBy the close of the fifth decade of the nineteenth century both Britons and British subjects in Canada West wanted a more detailed picture of western terrain than had hitherto been made available to the public by the Hudson's Bay Company. This desire arose as the time approached for the fur-trade monopoly to apply to the British parliament for a renewal of its charter: unsurprisingly, Parliament, like the expansionists in Canada West, wanted to know once and for all just what the company was being permitted a monopoly to control; thus, virtually simultaneously in 1857, the parliamentarians and the colonists commissioned survey expeditions of the West. Known today respectively as the Palliser (British) and the Hind (Canadian) surveys, the two expeditions overlapped very little of the country they charted and assessed...


The image at the top of this post was drawn by John Fleming (1836-1876), a colonial land surveyor and draughtsman as well as the [Hind]expedition's artist. It shows Pembina as it was seen by Fleming in 1857. If you follow this link, you will find a summary of the expeditions, with fascinating insights into what the participants found, including 'tropical' like greenery and rain, after which 'clouds' of insects descended. Can you say, mosquitos?!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Short's Cafe

Liza & Gail Short ran the Short's Cafe in St. Vincent starting in the 1930's. Gail was my Dad's uncle, and in 1938 Dad came up to work for his uncle in the cafe. He became quite popular with the local girls, especially when he was working behind the counter at the soda fountain. [I heard he could mix a mean cherry coke...!]

Short's Cafe was not only a cafe, but a soda fountain, a bar, and a general place to hang out for the young and the young at heart. Canadians would flock down because the beer at that time in the US had higher alcohol content. The restaurant was known as serving great meals. Liza rented out rooms for visitors to the town.

It was here that my parents met that summer, her a school girl of 16, and he a man of the world of 19. Little did they know the lifetime adventure they would go on, as a result of meeting at that little St. Vincent cafe/bar...

UPDATE 09/23/2010 - My sister recently emailed me some memories surrounding Short's Cafe...
My earliest memories of Mom and Dad taking us to Short's Cafe were:

- A jukebox as you entered the door to the right
- Booths to sit in
- Two counters to eat at, one being longer than the other
- The smaller one was towards the back where alcohol was served
- At that end there were large doors that slid apart and we were NEVER allowed to enter. It was a large room that Mom never wanted to talk about, but we gathered it was where the "hard" liquor and gambling went on.
- There also was a side door on the east side that "those" people used

There was a time when Sharon and I worked there, cleaning. We scrubbed all the linoleum floors on our hands and knees. I also remember the kitchen was SO BAD for the grease on the floor. There was a door on the west side of the kitchen that when you opened it, you had a choice of either turning to the left and going outside, or turning to the right, which went upstairs...or going straight which led into their home. We were NEVER allowed to go to anywhere except to go outside.

St. Vincent Native Responds...

A St. Vincent expatriot contacted me yesterday out of the blue. It was great hearing from someone, and to know that I'm touching people with the town history. That is one of my main goals with this project...
Dear Trish:
I don't know if you remember me. I am from St. Vincent...I just stumbled across your St. Vincent website and it brought up such a well of emotions. I think of St. Vincent a lot...I was a bit of an outcast in school -- the one that everybody picked on -- so when I graduated from high school, I left town and never looked back. But St. Vincent never left my heart and it makes me so incredibly sad to see it disappearing before our very eyes. The...Humboldt School is no more, the Sylvester's store building is gone and there's not even a post office anymore. I always say, only half joking, that today I know more people in the St. Vincent Cemetery than I do in the actual town. It's scary to think that it can all go away, like we never even existed. So to see your web site warmed my heart, to know that someone actually cares enough to keep the memory alive.

I have a St. Vincent de Paul medallion (St. Vincent was named after him) that I wear constantly as a reminder of "home." When I purchased it at a Bible book shop, the clerk asked me If I wanted it blessed. The priest looked at it and said, "St. Vincent dePaul -- he's my patron saint," to which I replied, "Oh yeah? Well he's my home town!" I have to laugh when people here refer to [censored for privacy] as a "small town." They don't know what a small town is!!!!!

By the way -- I have a set of very old salt and pepper shakers that belonged to your Grandmother Fitzpatrick. I bought them at a rummage sale at her house...They are small, in the shape of an elongated square that flares out at the bottom. The bottom half is painted a sort of periwinkle and the tops are a rose pink with delicate flowers and leaves.

Anyway, I've bent your ear enough for one evening. Keep up the good work on the web site. I haven't had a chance to look over every aspect of it, but certainly plan to...
I responded with this...
You're the first person (besides Mike Rustad, but he's been writing to me for a long time now about home stuff, before I started the website...he's a law professor back east now!) to write and let me truly know what you think. I LOVED IT! *smile*

Yeah, I know just what you mean about the town slowly disappearing before our eyes. My Mom said that very same thing when I was a little girl 40 years ago, and I didn't understand, but I do now. St. Vincent was a much busier place than what we remember, when she was young back in the 1920's and 1930'. My Grandma Fitzpatrick, of course, remembered the 'boom time' in the 1880's and 1890's when everything seemed possible.

While St. Vincent per se is a ghost of what it once was, the spirit is still there, and I'd like to let people know, it was there, it's still there, and there is a legacy not only about St. Vincent but the whole area up there that made a difference in many people's lives. Not only that, but those people went on to make a difference in other people's lives.

I will be periodically updating the St. Vincent website, at LEAST once a week, if not more so be sure and continue stopping by. By the way, I have comments enabled on the St. Vincent site for each entry, and you can even comment annonymously if you want, so feel free to comment...


Sunday, January 22, 2006

A Window into 1800's Pembina

Click to see FULL SIZEThe photo to the left, taken by a St. Paul photographer in the 1800's, shows one of the main streets of Pembina, storefronts in the background, and an ox cart train loaded up and ready to go. Location of the shot is not specific, but let me take a guess: On the left are brick buildings while on the right are frame buildings. The street parallel to the Pembina River has a layout like that. My guess is that it's the street with Dick's Corner on the south, and further north is the Spot; towards the end at one time was a grocery store, Heineman's and later owned by George McCall (not sure what is there now, if anything...) Please correct me if anyone knows differently...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"...Leprosy Town..."

From the March 7, 1890 edition of the St. Vincent New Era comes this distressing assessment of St. Vincent as a town to be avoided (albeit for good reasons at the time):

And now poor St. Vincent is to loose the Signal office also. It is recommended by the chief signal officer that it be discontinued, as the reports from Winnipeg are deemed sufficient. The truth is that St. Vincent is in Minnesota and the reports from St. Vincent makes the climate cold. Thus Minnesota don’t want it. And thus time and cold avenge the theft from Pembina.

"The customs to St. Paul
The signal to dust
Only for the New Era,
St. Vincent would bust."
During the past few months the city papers have referred to St. Vincent as the leprosy town, Hallock was referred to as the pauper district; we have been advertised as the refuge of tramps and quarantined on account of glanders*; but last of all and worst of all Bro, W-- --- has commenced pelting us with poetry, and SUCH poetry!

- Ed. ERA (March 7, 1890 edition)

* A contagious, usually fatal disease of horses and other equine species, caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas mallei and symptomized by swollen lymph nodes, nasal discharge, and ulcers of the respiratory tract and skin. The disease is communicable to other mammals, including humans.

A Peek into 1890 St. Vincent...

The little things that make a town, the politics of growth and decline, the individuals that made a difference; this is St. Vincent, in the year 1890 (thanks to Kittson County Museum and History Center archives and its director, Cindy...)

July 4, 1890

The Pembina silver cornet band played a number of tunes of sacred music, on the river bank, last Sunday afternoon.

On Tuesday the liquor sellers at Pembina closed their bars. Since then it has been hot, the drinkers thirsty, and the procession of them to St. Vincent well attended.

June 6, 1890

If the gentlemen, who are members of the Pembina Cornet Band, knew what pleasure their excellent music gives us and other St. Vincentites, nightly, when playing on the river stand, they would not grow weary in well doing.

"…he has virtually been the resident Doctor [these past 10 years], consulted for every form of sickness; there are few families in the neighborhood of St. Vincent but are under obligation to him for attendance and advice in time of affliction. Anything we could write would not adequately express the loss St. Vincent will sustain in his removal or the regret the disappearance of his familiar face from our streets will occasion." – Notice of departure of Mr. A. Schmid, resident of St. Vincent, businessman, druggist, and emigrant from Switzerland; known as a scholar, fluent in German and French…

April 25, 1890

Monday evening the Pembina silver cornet band played a number of beautiful musical selections on top of the toboggan slide on the river bank. The people of St. Vincent appreciated the treat. Mr. Vaughn is a very talented first cornetist.
My mother often recalled the band, and the concerts they had once played, down by the river. I wonder when I see the dates in some of the news briefs about their concerts, such as in these 1890 issues of the St. Vincent New Era, how many years they were around, and if she actually saw them, or was just recalling what her mother, my grandmother, told her. Either way, it does sound like a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening...

Monday, January 16, 2006


The St. Vincent cemetery has always been a community cemetery. Not affiliated with any particular church or family, anyone could, was, and are still buried there. For most of its existence, it had a caretaker from the community, informally passed from person to person via the St. Vincent Cemetery Association. For many years it was my grandfather, Albert Fitzpatrick. After him, my father Gordon Short took over. Duties included maintaining the books (recording deaths), plotting graves, arranging gravediggers for funerals, and mowing the cemetery lawn. My sisters and I all took our turns with my Dad helping mow the cemetery. I have a vivid memory of having an old tilted gravestone fall over on my foot and howling like mad (I seem to have had a history of 'foot' accidents - another one involved a potatoe fork in our garden...!) I could see the cemetery from my bedroom window, across our open pasture.

Now, I'm told by one of the town's leaders, the cemetery's care was formally taken over a few years ago by the town itself, "...when there were no longer any of the oldtimers that were able to continue the [Association]".

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Brethren

I grew up with the Brethren.* They were always a semi-mysterious group to those of us on the outside looking in. Everyone in St. Vincent knew them, worked with them, were neighbors of them, even went to school with them. But we really didn't know them. Many of them left their church, knowing full well that they would be ostracized from the rest of the group for the rest of their lives, including their own parents and siblings. Those that did leave often felt torn between loss and a sense of freedom. Others never looked back, bitter from their experiences.

The Brethren were early settlers to the St. Vincent area, and although apart, were at the same time part of the community. While they continue to be to this day, they appear to be drawing further apart by creating and maintaining separate schools for their children, where in earlier years they sent their offspring to the public schools.

For a few years, the self-appointed 'universal leader' of the Exclusive Brethren was James Symington from Neche, North Dakota.

When I was growing up, periodically we'd drive by a man on the corner by the Tastee Freez in Pembina (the old location by the Pembina School) who was street preaching. My Mom said it was a Brethren man, and that what he said was true, meaning it agreed with what our church taught. I always wondered if it is a tenet of the Brethen's faith to do this public preaching, sort of like how the Mormons feel it's important to go door-to-door...or, if it was just the personal beliefs of that particular Brethren man...?

* To be specific, they are the Exclusive Brethren

1897 Flood: Downtown Steamboat

Now here's something you don't see every day...

According to this article, the steamboat S.S. City of Grand Forks was sent to rescue folks around Pembina/St. Vincent, while another steamboat from Winnipeg, the S.S. Assiniboine, was sent down to help the citizens of Emerson (as seen here in this photograph...) It's quite a site to see a steamboat coming down the main street of a town! I'm surprised my grandparents never mentioned this, since they were around then. Another reminder of how much of the past we will never know...

Then Again...

Well, after that last post, I found this in an issue of the Kittson County Enterprise published in October 1903, which said:
The practice of tying cows along the streets of St. Vincent is a nuisance that the city authorities ought to have abated long ago. Our sidewalks are clean, and should be kept that way, without having them service as depositories for the filth of cows, between which pedestrians are obliged to tread their way during the day, and at night to make impressions in the plastic material by dainty footwear.
...that's not exactly putting your best face forward, having cows tied along the main street!

St. Vincent Fair circa 1952

"Next Wednesday, Sept. 17, the St. Vincent Fair will open its gates to conduct the 68th Annual Fair which will continue this year from Wednesday through Friday the 19th, a three-day run..."
St. Vincent used to be the site of the Kittson County Fair. At some point it was moved to Hallock, which became the official county seat.

The quote is from a September 1952 issue of the Kittson County Enterprise.

According to my family's oral history, St. Vincent was trying to make a name for itself early on, and part of that was vying for county seat. There were tense feelings between some of the early settlers in both St. Vincent and Hallock because of this. Many area persons living further into the county considered St. Vincent unworthy of the honor. Many cast aspersions, to use the old phrase, to the town's capacity for lawfulness, sobriety, and culture. Others felt that St. Vincent had had it's chance, and it's better days were behind it.

This atmosphere of ill will between small towns in a small county is one aspect I will be exploring more as my research (hopefully) reveals more concrete basis for said hostilities. Stay tuned...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Googling St. Vincent

Pembina/St. Vincent via satellite, courtesy Google Earth

Old Homestead

This image shows my great grandparents Sheldon Albert Fitzpatrick and Margaret (Berry) Fitzpatrick (and other unknown individuals), in front of their home. This home was on the lot where the Warren Clow home is today...