Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

MLAHS to celebrate 50 years

Celebration set for September 17, 6:30 p.m., Soo Line Event Center


Lois E. Johnson

The Moose Lake Area Historical Society and Fires of 1918 Museum contains many interesting exhibits pertaining to the history of the area.

Floyd Clark, a Moose Lake resident who was interested in the community's history, once said people would bring him historical photos and he would hang them on the bulletin board at the power plant, where he worked.

When people stopped in at the power plant, they would often comment on those photos.

In 1966, a group of businessmen decided to form a historical society. The Moose Lake Area Historical Society was organized and chartered.

However, there are no records, other than the names of those founding members: Floyd Clark, Clayton Hartman, Dave Anderson, Don Mills (CEO of the state hospital), Claude Posten, Ray Roos, Walter Lower, John Mohelski and Glenn Hansen.

Of those, Lower is the only one still in the community. The others have moved away or are no longer living.

The Moose Lake Area Historical Society will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on Saturday, September 17. The event will be held at the Soo Line Event Center, Moose Lake, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Natalie Frohrip, the current executive director of the historical society, didn't find any records of minutes of those early meetings. The first minutes were recorded in 1984.

However, she said a museum had been set up in the former hospital building around 1970.

The former hospital also housed the city office, license bureau, police department office and library. The museum was located on the lower level, where there was a meeting room, and later, the Senior Dining Center.

Artifacts were collected and placed on display at the museum. Photos and other archival materials were stored in a closet within the museum.

The most historical event in the area and the community was the forest fire on October 12, 1918, that had swept in from the west, destroying most of the buildings in the town. There were stories from survivors and photos that had been taken, but recording the history of that devastating event was just beginning.

The 50th anniversary of the 1918 fire was commemorated in 1968, and a special edition of the Moose Lake Star-Gazette was published, where many of the stories of the survivors were recorded.

Dan Reed, at the time a college student from Automba, interviewed survivors, gathered photographs and wrote most of the stories for that special edition. Many of the survivors were still living at the time and the memories of that horrific event were still very real to them.

"It was a very reflective, a very somber process," he said in a recent telephone interview. "The defining moment was when I went to the Kohtala's place in Kettle River. Ida was a single woman about 22 years old at the time of the fire and she worked for Dr. Walters in Moose Lake. Almost her whole family burned in the 1918 fire west of town. I had heard and had been affected by my families' stories but I had gotten used to those fire stories. For Mrs. Kohtala, the pain was still there as she talked about it. I could see the fire in her eyes. It's something that I always remember.

"Even when I think about it now, my voice gets very soft and I get very reflective. I still can feel that sadness."

During the centennial of the community in 1989, there were special floats in the Fourth of July parade, and there were displays, such as a large display of the photos of all of the mayors of the city since it was chartered, in the store windows downtown.

Changes were about to come to the city.

According to records, in 1990, the Soo Line Railroad started to negotiate with Carlton County about the county obtaining the Soo Line depot and the surrounding property.

Once the county owned the property, it was transferred to the city in 1992. The city still owns the depot and the surrounding property.

In 1991, WDSE Channel 8 taped interviews, said Frohrip, with local fire survivors telling their stories. "Consumed by the Flames, the 1918 Fire Disaster" is still in use today by the historical society and shown on Channel 8 each fall.

The 75th anniversary of the 1918 fire was held in 1993 and 36 fire survivors attended, according to records.

The project to restore the former Soo Line depot and place a foundation under it got under way in the mid-1990s. The depot opened as a museum on June 1, 1996, according to minutes. The Willard Munger State Trail, on the former Northern Pacific Railroad bed along Highway 61, opened at the same time.

Collecting information about the area, including people and families, is ongoing.

"We started collecting obituaries in 1996," said Frohrip. "Now we have a collection of around 6,000 obituaries. We are always looking for family histories."

There were other changes in the city. Plans were being made for remodeling former downtown business locations into city offices and the old hospital was going to be abandoned. The historical society had to find other spaces for its collections.

About 1998, a home across the trail from the depot was left to the historical society in the owner's will. The home was emptied of its contents and it was used for a short time as storage of many of the artifacts. Archival collections were stored at the office of the depot, where they were susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.

Discussions began to take place about a new heated year-round building for a museum, storage space for the artifacts and archival collections. The home was sold and the funds from the sale were designated for the new building.

Construction on the new building began in 2004 when the slab was poured, according to records. The structure was erected and the building enclosed, but lack of funding halted further construction.

Fundraising campaigns brought in additional funding and the building was finished, except for the kitchen, in 2013.

The building has a large meeting room, now named the Soo Line Event Center, and it is rented out for many events, including weddings, lunches after funerals, birthday parties, meetings and other events. The Bike and Build group, a group of young people who ride their bicycles across the nation during the summer and help build homes, spend the night in the event center and sleep in their sleeping bags on the hard floor, while the historical society furnishes the meal.

The membership of the historical society has been growing over the past 50 years. There are now 234 members, including many of the local businesses.

At the present time, the historical society is conducting a fundraising campaign to collect $150,000 for finishing the kitchen. It is partially usable for setting up food for events but more funding is needed to complete the project.

Volunteers, including the executive director's position, have been the backbone of the organization. The volunteers have contributed 3,000 hours in the past year, said Frohrip.

For more information about the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, visit the website or Facebook at Moose Lake Area Historical Society and Fires of 1918 Museum. Call the historical society at (218) 485-4234.


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