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

By Lois E Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

1918 Red Cross house dedicated

Home 'serves as a symbol' for resiliency, compassion, character of communities


Lois E. Johnson

The home of 1918 Fire survivors, Alfred and Jansina Johnson of Kettle River, was dedicated at the Soo Line Event Center.

The Red Cross house, the home of 1918 Fire survivors Alfred and Jansina Johnson of Kettle River, was dedicated at a ceremony at the Soo Line Event Center on Sunday, July 1, by the Moose Lake Historical Society. The home was donated by the Johnson family and moved to a site across the Soo Line Trail from the Soo Line Depot in Moose Lake.

After the 1918 Fire swept though the area on Oct. 12, 1918, the Red Cross was one of the organizations that came in to help survivors recover from their great losses.

"After the devastating 1918 Fire, the fire survivors had to prove their need for a home by filling out a bunch of paperwork and apply for assistance to replace a lost home," reported Steve Blondo, an area archeologist and historian, said at the dedication ceremony.

"The Red Cross offered plans and building materials for one of two sizes of homes, 12 x 16-foot home for smaller families or 12 by 20-foot home for larger families.

"After the fire, a mild fall and winter allowed for an overall quick rebuilding process. The supplies were available by October or November."

Blondo read published comments of people who lived in the Red Cross houses or shacks, as they were commonly known. The Red Cross used the term 'shelters.'

"My parents obtained enough lumber to build a shack. Half of it was portioned off for a shelter for the cattle from the upcoming winter weather."

"It was funniest thing, all you could hear was rat-a-tat tat until 10 at night and early the next morning as people built their shacks."

"The houses were small. But we were happy with it."

"My grandparents obtained uncured lumber from the lumberyard to build our shack. They covered the shack with tarpaper to keep the wind out. The only source of heat was a pot-bellied wood stove.

"As winter wore on, the uncured lumber began to shrink and cracks appeared between the boards on every wall. Blankets were hung over every door and window to keep out the drafts."

"The small home was divided into a bedroom and a kitchen. The floor was dirt and so cold on my feet. My dad had to get up many times during the night to keep the fire in the stove going."

"The four of us lived in that house until 1924 when dad built us a new house."

John Keith, a volunteer and representative of the Red Cross said, "On behalf of the American Red Cross, Duluth chapter, we thank the Johnson family for the donation, those that donated financially, and those that donated the time and talents to get this thing ready.

"Not only do we remember those who perished but this house is also a reminder of those that reached out to help in every way possible. The home serves as a symbol, I feel, of the resiliency, the compassion and the great overall character of the people of these communities all over northern Minnesota and Northwestern Wisconsin.

"Bonds have been created among those families, bonds that still survive today after that horrific event. These families still come together and still remain friends."

Family representative, Ken Johnson, great-grandson of Alfred and Jansina Johnson, gave the history of the family and the home.

"My great-grandparents had been there for 10 years when fire came through," he said. "My grandfather was 10 years old at the time of the fire. They were in the process of building the house that mom and dad currently live in. When the fire was coming, Alfred and Jansina grabbed what they could and ran next door to the neighbors, the Kolodge farm, because they had a plowed field. That's how they survived the fire. I read somewhere that they had just finished building the basement of that new house when the fire came though.

"I also read somewhere that all six of the boys were still at home so that means that there were eight people living in that little house after the fire.

"The current house was finished in 1922, and Alfred and Jansina sold the farm to my grandparents, Emil and Gladys, in 1935. Alfred and Jansina moved back into the Red Cross house.

"Alfred passed away in 1939, and I think that Jansina lived in that house until the late 1950s, when she went into a nursing home."

Lois E. Johnson

Ken Johnson is the great-grandson of Alfred and Jansina Johnson, whose house is being preserved by the Moose Lake Area Historical Society. The house was built after the Johnson home was taken in the 1918 Fire.

The farm was sold in 1963, went into foreclosure, and his parents bought the farm back and moved back to it in 1976, said Johnson.

He also explained that a new foundation was built for the Red Cross house when he was a child and that is probably why it had lasted so long. But it was deteriorating once again. It was offered to the historical society to preserve it.

"We are tickled pink that you got it," he concluded.

Natalie Frohrip, a member of the committee that worked to bring the house to the site, had it set up and restored, said that members of the Johnson family brought in historical information and photos. Copies have been made and placed into three-ring notebooks that are on display in the house.

The Moose Lake Depot is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Tuesday though Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays through Oct. 14. Call the historical society at 485-4234 for more information.


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