City of Moose Lake to celebrate 125 years
Moose Lake: A city risen from the ashes
courtesy Moose Lake Area Historical Society
The school (center, set back) was one of the few surviving buildings of the 1918 fire, after which it was used as a hospital. Built in 1911, additions were built on both the north and south ends in the 1920s.
Moose Lake is a town that has literally risen from the ashes. And now, as the city celebrates its 125th anniversary, the residents and city officials can look back on a vibrant history and an important role in the state's economy and history.
The devastating forest fire of October 12, 1918, has lived in the memories of all of its inhabitants who lived through the tragedy of losing their homes, businesses, neighbors and family members during that dark period in the city's history.
The people rebuilt, and the city grew and prospered for these nearly 96 years since that horrific event. Today the city is on the cusp of tremendous growth with new development, both commercially and in housing.
American Indians once roamed the area back in the early years. The old Indian Trail crossed the Moose Horn River near the present city on a rocky fording place, according to Moose Lake Area History, written by David Anderson.
The Old Military Road ran east of the present city and was first used in 1856. It ran from St. Paul to Superior, and stagecoaches and freight wagons, pulled by horses, traveled the rutted road through the woods and swamps of the area, wrote Anderson.
A stagecoach stop, named by the early inhabitants who saw big animals they mistook for elk, called it Elkton. The stop was near Little Moose Lake, located east of the city. Anderson related that an early Duluth editor wrote, "This road was the most damnable ever built in the universe and that the stopping place at Moose Lake too abominable for human occupancy."
The development of the current location of the city came along with the railroad. Anderson wrote: "The Northern Pacific Railroad organization started in 1864 when Jay Cooke received congressional authority to build a railroad from Lake Superior to Puget Sound, on the West Coast.
"The Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad Company constructed the original line from St. Paul to Carlton. In the winter of 1864-65, the Minnesota legislature, acting under the land grant provision of the day, dedicated federal lands, which gave the company 10,880 acres of per mile along the right-of-way.
"The little locomotive, which chuffed and clanked into Moose Lake in the afternoon of Sept. 1, 1870, arrived there from St. Paul, from where it had left that morning. It had made stops ... every few miles to take on water and cordwood, which was then the only fuel."
The depot was soon built, and the town grew around the railroad, which remained the important artery to the north and south until the trains stopped running and the tracks were removed in the 1980s.
The village was also located on the shores of Moosehead Lake, and Moose Horn River, so named because the lake is roughly shaped like the head of a moose and the rivers its antlers.
Another railroad, the Soo Line, was built through Moose Lake in 1910, with branches going to Duluth, Thief River Falls and to Winnipeg, Canada.
"The coming of the railroad into this area was eventually to stimulate its economy, and materially affect its development and progress," wrote Anderson.
Logging and lumbering were big industries in the area for more than 50 years. A sawmill was located on the shore of Moosehead Lake, and, for years after its demise, logs would occasionally float up from the depths of the water.
The village was incorporated on February 15, 1889.
Settlers purchased land from the railroads and began farming. Businesses, such as blacksmiths and harness shops, were opened to serve the needs of the settlers. Telephone service was brought to the community, and stores were built. Those were accompanied by hotels, saloons, drug stores, and the post office.
The Scandinavian settlers remained separated by their ethnicity and established separate churches. Bethlehem was the first Swedish church in Moose Lake, and Zion Lutheran was the first Norwegian church. The two combined in early 1961 to form Hope Lutheran Church.
"The first Catholic church was built in Moose Lake in 1916. Prior to that, the Moose Lake Catholics attended the mother church in Sturgeon Lake by horses or train," wrote Anderson.
The congregations from St. Joseph's Catholic Church and the Barnum Catholic church combined with the congregation from Holy Family Catholic Church in Moose Lake in the 1990s, and the name of the church became Holy Angels Catholic Church. A new church was built and dedicated in the fall of 1998, said member Brian Garvey.
"The Moose Lake Covenant Church was organized in 1896, and held their services in the Eckman school, located west of Moose Lake," it was stated in Vol. II. The church was later moved to the village.
Other churches were established: United Methodist Church was the first church in Moose Lake in 1891, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church was established in 1916, and Family Worship Church was founded in 1951. St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, was dedicated in 1967. The Seventh Day Adventist Church was built in 1919, and remodeled in 1981. The congregation moved into a new building in 2009.
Doctors and dentists were hard to come by. Doctors from other towns came to Moose Lake by train, and those who came to live in the community did not stay long.
Dr. and Mrs. F. R. Walters were living in and serving the community at the time of the 1918 fire, and the nurses took patients into the lake to save them from the flames. The couple's plans to build a hospital were discouraging because of the lack of funds, and they left the area.
Other doctors came later and stayed. A hospital was built by Dr. Thomas Moe.
The first bank was established in 1902, and another bank opened in 1915. The first attorney, Clayton J. Dodge, had his office in the back room of the Moose Lake State Bank, wrote Anderson.
The credit union was formed in 1939, it was stated in Vol. II.
The first newspaper, the Moose Lake Star, was founded in 1895. The equipment was later sold to the Barnum Gazette. It later became the Star Gazette.
Moose Lake and its residents became victims to a flood on July 1, 1987. Boats were used to get around the town.
The town and its homes and businesses became flood victims once again from June 19-21, 2012, when the water rose to 19 feet.
As time went on and automobiles replaced horses, gas stations were established in the village.
The first state highway was called Minnesota No. 1 in 1905, and it went from the Twin Ports to St. Paul. It was later replaced by a federal highway, Highway 61, which primarily followed the railroad. It was a gravel road until it was paved in 1927, according to Moose Lake Area History, Vol. II.
In 1937, the state hospital was built in Moose Lake to serve northeastern Minnesota, and became a tremendous boost to the area's economy, it was stated in Vol. II. The formal dedication was held on June 11, 1938. The hospital cared for the elderly, chemically dependent and mental retarded, it was stated in Vol. II.
However, the state changed its treatment policy and moved the clients into group homes and other specialized care facilities. The hospital was remodeled for a medium-security prison in the mid-1990s.
A facility for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program was built nearby, and both are now the two largest employers in the community.
The parks in the village have hosted a variety of activities over the years. A pavilion at the park on the lakeshore burned in the 1918 fire. Another pavilion was built and hosted dances, roller skating and the school's homecoming festivities in the 1940s. The American Legion held events in the pavilion, and Halloween and New Year's gatherings were held there. That pavilion was destroyed in a tornado on June 6, 1946.
The current pavilion has hosted many events over the years, including the Santa visits recently.
"On Aug. 21, 1933, the Village of Moose Lake stared producing electricity," it was stated in Vol. II. The Moose Lake Water and Light Commission is still in existence, with generators standing by to generate electricity for the community and the system when needed. Power is purchased from Great River Energy.
The Moose Lake Public Library was established in 1937, and has grown to serve people from a wide area.
The old hospital, once located on the present site of the post office in Moose Lake, was served notice in 1960 that its equipment and structure no longer met state regulations, is was stated in Vol. II.
A new hospital was built with grant funds and general bond issues by the city and surrounding townships of the hospital district and opened June 1, 1963, with a 22-bed facility.
Mercy Nursing Home was opened in May of 1964, with a 26-bed capacity.
The combined facility has been enlarged and remodeled numerous times over the years. Mercy Hospital sold the nursing home to Augustana in 2010.
Current construction on a new addition and extensive remodeling of Mercy Hospital is expected to be completed in 2016.
Gateway Family Health Clinic was built in the early 1970s, and it continues to serve both residents and visitors to the area. The clinic has expanded to open clinics in Sandstone and Hinckley.
Moose Lake is known as the Home of the World's Largest Lake Superior Agate, located at First National Bank, and agates have attracted visitors to the area to search the gravel pits and roads for 45 years.
The Fourth of July and Agate Days in mid-July are the city's two biggest attractions, bringing thousands of people to the area each year.
As times have changed, Moose Lake has changed to meet current needs. Gone are the clothing and shoe stores to be replaced by small stores with a variety of merchandise available.
Some of the older businesses still exist and have adapted to meet current needs as the local economy switched from agricultural to service industries and tourism. The interstate freeway system brought Interstate 35 near Moose Lake, and the railroad beds were turned into recreational trails. The trails, lakes and rivers, plus additional recreational opportunities, attract visitors to the area.
The city continues to thrive, and plans for new commercial and housing development will continue to bring growth to this city that has risen from the ashes.