Friday, August 2, 2019

The Sloughs of Sleepy Eye

The Sloughs of Sleepy Eye

     The word “Sisseton” means “swamp dwellers” and the people of Chief Sleepy Eye spent their lives in or near sloughy places.  This could be probably one of many reasons why Chief Sleepy Eye chose our town to live after he and his band was told to move from Swan Lake in 1857. Few sloughs are left in Brown County, today due to the eagerness for drainage. Nowadays, we have to learn to remake sloughs when and where are needed.

     The railroad tracks in Sleepy Eye had to be laid on the highest ridge of land.  This sloped northward to Sleepy Eye Lake and its widely twisting surroundings.  A slough lay along Fifth Street (now First Avenue) between the tracks and St. Mary’s Church.  A large arm of Sleepy Eye Lake spread behind the low hill at the end of Fifth Street (First Avenue) and was known as Geschwind’s Slough.

     The main part of Sleepy Eye Lake has been dry twice in known history.  The first reported time was in the 1802.  The second time was in the early 1930s, and there are pictures showing this.  Then the lake bed was so dry that several persons planted gardens in it.  One man missed his small dog and found it barking for help from a crack into which it had fallen.

      Moving toward the south part of town, the land sloped into innumerable sloughs, some of which became arms of what was known as Ross Lake during the rainy seasons.  Ross Lake was located for those who are unfamiliar, at the southeast edge of town.  People on Ross Lake tied boats to their steps as the only way to get in and out of their homes.

      Ross Lake took its name from a trader who had had a cabin near it.  Warned of the Uprising in 1862, the Ross family fled eastward toward Mankato, following the Cottonwood River.  Along the way, Mrs. Ross gave birth to a child.  This was one of the few families which did not return after the region was pacified.  The Ross Lake was always small, brushy and weedy, and it was made smaller and smaller by being filled in until final drainage and filling removed it entirely, but not before it flooded several blocks in 1965.

      Hotel owner Carl Berg, who came to Sleepy Eye in 1873 to build the second hotel in Sleepy Eye, chose a site at the southeast corner of Main Street and Sixth (now Second Avenue S.W.).  He was accustomed to shooting wild fowl from the hotel’s back door.  As late as 1890 the Berg children skated from the back of the hotel southeastward for two blocks.

     Ice boating was an occasional winter sport on Sleepy Eye Lake.  In summer many rowboats could be seen, and a boathouse stood below the park.  Ice skating was popular on Sleepy Eye Lake, the Geschwind Slough, Ross Lake, the Dumke Slough south of Ross Lake (about the place on which the Orchid Inn stands), and even occasionally on the Hilleschiem Slough which was in the southwest part of town and is now a portion of the Hilleshiem Addition.  Often times, Main Street would even be considered a mass of mud.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Berkner Store

The Berkner Store

          If time stood still I wonder what it would be like to be standing back at the Berkner Store.  As I look at their picture I can see myself listening in on their conversation that is going on.  Of course, back then times were different as we all can imagine the men having their own space as did the women.  The men have their own “shop” talk that the women stayed away from.  We were suppose to be more into the domesticated thing I guess you could say.  Just the same I feel this picture came from easier times, less worries. Times when family meant more.  When an afternoon sitting around playing a game of cards with your best buddies, shootin’ the breeze was what the ‘good ‘ol days’ were all about.  Days like that aren’t seen around here much.   You can’t go to a store and see your “buddies” sitting around, playing cards.  It’s all about spending money, how much can we save this week, what’s on sale, and do you want to use your credit card or sign up for one today and save 10%.  But easier times does come with a cost, there was the Great Depression, and segregation, World Wars, lack in technology, to name a few.

          This is why we need to remember our history.  We need to remember it so we can bring back the good and keep away the bad.  A lesson for our future hopefully one that won’t be ignored.  The past always has a way of biting us in the behinders if we ignore the wrongs and only remember the rights.

Berkner Store