Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sleepy Eye in 1890

Located on the main line of the Great Northwestern railroad, 418 miles westward from Chicago and 133 miles from Minneapolis and the state capital, we feel ourselves right in the center of the most magnificent civilization the world has yet known and fully in touch with and abreast of the spirit of the times. The desire to keep at the head of the procession is what has made Brown County, in which Sleepy Eye is the most centrally located town, one of the wealthiest and most progressive of the many counties in a state noted for its enterprise and progress and of these people we wish to say a passing word. The bulk of our population trace their descent from the sturdy German emigrant, to whose frugality and industry this land of the free is indebted for its rapid strides in the past century. The remainder of the population consists of a nearly even combination of Danes, Americans and Irish and representatives of other people across the big pond, just the proper constituency for a first class and enterprising community.

The splendid country tributary to Sleepy Eye is not excelled by any region under the sun. No more fertile fields can be found anywhere and no better class of people than those who own and till those fields have yet been born. The inexorable law of supply and demand has caused the town to grow with the country. Substantial business houses are found here because the trade demands large stocks of goods and comfortable and commodious quarters in which to store and show the stock. Those long lines of large wheat warehouses were erected to make it possible to handle the crops. Banks were built and capitalized to enable the movement of produce. Our large mill is also in answer to a demand and the product of the mill is superlative because its proprietors saw that nothing less would be satisfactory. Churches were built because the community demands places in which to gather and worship. Our magnificent schoolhouse, rich and ornate in appearance, and almost lavishly supplied with the most approved apparatus was also demanded and the same may be said of all improvements both public and private. Each of these features will be separately treated and we will close our reference to the village by giving a little statistical information, which we do not tabulate, to add to its interest.

The railroad, the Winona & St. Peter, now a link in one of the greatest railway systems known, was completed to this point in 1873 and for a number of years Sleepy Eye was the end of both the freight and passenger divisions. A branch of the Northwestern leaves the main line here and taps the rich and populous country to the northwest adding considerably to the importance of the town. We have a population today of upwards 2500 and this number is increasing quite rapidly. We have a splendid electric light system; the plant being the property of the city and has been operated for a number of years at a net profit aside from furnishing our streetlights without a penny of expense. An excellent system of water works, a paid fire department, and electric fire alarm have proven wise precautions to guard against loss of fire. Well kept streets, broad sidewalks, cut stone crosswalks and careful oversight are all advantages of which we may speak.

Two beautiful public parks, one containing eleven acres of natural grove on the lakeshore, are beauty spots quite noticeably a matter of local congratulation. Two Banks, two newspapers, two lawyers and two doctors, look out for the money, the news, the trouble and the health of the people. Two drug stores, three hardware stores, four general merchants, three exclusive boot and shoe dealers, two jewelers, three lumber yards, two livery feed and sale stables, two harness shops, two grocers, two furniture dealers, four agricultural implement houses, three meat markets, three wagon and wood repair shops, four hotels, two cigar factories, twelve saloons, three millinery establishments, two firms of painters and decorators, two merchant tailoring establishments, a 500 barrel flouring mill, five grain warehouses and elevators, two barber shops, two fine clothing houses, and a score or so of other and different trades and business interests and well-stocked, carefully kept restaurants and bakeries and saloons all add their share to the importance and the comfort of the people.

All lines represented are well handled and it is seldom that so complete and well equipped a community is met with. We are essentially an agricultural community and as such desire to be considered. Our hundreds of thousands of fertile acres teem with the wealth which skillful husbandry has but to develop. At this point each year $600,000.00 is paid out for grain; $250,000.00 for cattle, sheep and hogs; $50,000.00 for barley, rye, corn and oats; $50,000.00 for eggs, and poultry; $150,000.00 for butter and dairy products and probably $200,000.00 is earned in the raising of horses and the production of other things essential to the comfort of the people. In round numbers Sleepy Eye's business men distribute through the various channels upwards of $2,400,000.00 in cash every year for the product of the mill, farm, garden, dairy, and poultry house.

This $2,400,000.00 is natural wealth and the constant and every increasing volume of these sources of wealth is what places our entire community in that condition in life called commonly, comfortable circumstances. We do not think the limit has been reached in the production. The straw, now wasted, which is grown with our grain, could be made into paper and the profits of the work added; vegetable, which now go to waste, could be profitably canned or preserved and marketed at a figure which would pay well; more corn and potatoes could be produced for the manufacture of starch; a tannery might do well and the same might be said of oat meal mills, pork packing houses, plow factories and a dozen other lines. To sum all: Sleepy Eye is a good place, a pleasant place, a prosperous place, and could be made better, pleasanter and more profitable by a fuller development of our natural resources.

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