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Marcell, Minnesota History

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6

Excerpted from Memories of a Small Town
by Curtis L. Newstrom, 1995


So far in the book you have heard about the beginning of the Town of Marcell, about the author and his family, and about one of the business ventures, I now devote this chapter to detail the organization of government for the township. In order to properly function as a government entity, there must be officers, a place to meet & to store records, and the rules & regulations for the conduct of township business. During my research on this type of information I learned a number of interesting things about those early days. I shall use this chapter to also tell about some of those very interesting items I dug up.

I have already told you a few details about the beginning of the town in Chapter III, but now I shall cover more about provisions for a town hall, a bit about local politics, etc.

According to the minutes of the township which I researched quite extensively, construction of a hall was talked about quite some time before it was built. I can only surmise that lack of funds possibly held back construction. Whatever the case might have been, the records show that the hall was completed in 1921. A tract of land was donated to the township by Carl Newstrom. This tract was located on the north side of the dirt road going west. If you go back to Page 2,
the top picture there shows a barn. The barn burned down and the hall was built on that site.

Here is a picture of the original hall. In it 's many years of existence, the outer appearance never really did change much. A new roof was needed, and some painting and some inside remodeling was the extent of any improvements over the years. Plans for the building were drawn up by Carl Newstrom. It was constructed by Dowling & Lind of Jesse Lake at a cost of $1,105.18.

The hall remained at that same site until 1983 when it was put out on bids and it was sold to Mr. & Mrs. Charles Eckert for $1,050.00. They were required to move the building. Chapter XXIV tells how and where the building was moved.

Over the years, many different people have served on the township board. Some retained their office for years. Some families had more than one member serve on the board at different times. Now and then a vacancy would occur for some reason or other during a term and the board would appoint someone to fill in until the next regular election. As often happens in "politics", that person filling a
vacancy was "hand picked" to be "a good candidate" come election
time. Yes, even in small towns like Marcell, there could be some "political maneuvers". Marcell had some very interesting elections occasionally, especially when there was a "hot issue" to be voted on. If there was a particularly so called hot issue, voter turnout would be larger than usual. A slate of candidates was never very large...not very many natives wanted to be involved in township government.

Minutes of Town Board meetings must record all business transacted. Some of the items I found were very interesting. One such item was this: In July 1906, shortly after the town was organized, the town officers voted to raise the amount of $10,000 for "roads & 2 bridges". The money was obtained from the First National Bank of Chicago! How interesting! Do you suppose banks in the area were short of funds? Or perhaps, a new township entity was a poor risk? I would like to have been present at the meeting to hear how they did negotiate a loan from Chicago.

Another interesting item was that about the town cemetery. Now in reading all the minutes, I could never find any reference to a location of the cemetery. I have since learned that it was on the north edge of the township along a road north of Big Turtle Lake. It still exists and there are a few graves remaining. The interesting thing I found was this statement: "The town cemetery was rediscovered upon the alteration of Road No. 43 by Itasca County". A lost cemetery? Marcell now has another cemetery which is located west of Marcell along Highway 6 and you will learn more about it in Chapter XXVI.

One of the most interesting items in the early minutes was the recorded birth of the first child born in the township. It just so happens that the person still lives in Marcell and is a friend of the author. The first birth recorded was a baby girl, Ellen Knutson, born to Mrs. Mike Knutson on April 27, 1908. As a young man, I knew the Knutson family and attended school with Marvin, a brother of Ellen. Ellen is now Mrs. Arle Wolfe and she resides with her husband in the same area near her birthplace. I had an interview with Ellen in July 1993 and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. She recalled many memories of those early days and loaned me a great many pictures which are shown in this chapter.

Ellen told me that she attend elementary school in Marcell one year before the family moved to another state. Then upon return some years later, she worked at Camp Idlewild Resort on North Star Lake for Walter Stickler. It was at that time that her brother Marvin attended the Marcell school. I also learned that her father, Mike Knutson, was one of the workers in the construction of State Highway 38 in the late 20's. You will find a picture of Mike and other men working on that project in Chapter X.

Here is a picture of the Knutson homestead where Ellen was born.

1914 picture of Ellen with sister Josephine, her parents and a neighbor couple.


Mrs. Carl Newstrom probably lived a very miserable 3 years in her tar paper shack. I have no idea of what conveniences there might have been, but I've been told there wasn't much! However, when Mr. & Mrs. Ildved decided to leave Marcell, a move was made into the Ildved large white home that was next to the store. This was a two story dwelling that was considerably better than a tar paper shack. It was here that our mother became pregnant with her 4th son.

Carl Newstrom had been making plans for some time to get back in the good graces with his wife. After moving to the white house, he got rid of all of the tar paper shacks by burning them. What a fire that was! Snap, crackle & pop. Dry old rough lumber burned very fast and thousands of bugs in the walls added to a very hot fire ..... with lots of black smoke from the tar paper. Then came the "big plan". Our father started to build a new home where the tar paper home had been. It took a while because he had the store to run. Brother Donald was born on October 27, the white house, but as an infant, he was moved to the new home and where we would be settled in before winter. I have always called that home the "Green House" because of the green wood shingles. Several teachers were boarded in that home over the years. It was about 1955 when my parents moved to Grand Rapids. The house was rented for one year to a school teacher and wife, but then was sold three times and is still being lived in, but has seen some renovations. I still refer to it as the "Green House" as it still has some of the same shingles. Searching though boxes & albums of old pictures, I managed to dig up these old photos of that house that was "home" for many years.




In these modern times in the twilight years of the 20th Century, it is very difficult for me to believe that there was a time without TV, Word Processors, Copiers, Electric Shavers....or even light bulbs. The modern technologies of today are great! How could we ever give up our shower, the heat pad, and such items that we take for granted today. I doubt that anyone would want to go back to those days without the power of electricity. I think those "good old days" are really today. I have some very vivid memories of my childhood without the modern ways of living of today. I would like to re-live some of those memories in this chapter.
One such memory that really stands out for me is WINTER! It seems to me that winters were always long, always cold and always with a lot of snow. I recall one specific winter when I must have been about 8 years old. Did it ever snow....early too. Then came the cold. For several weeks straight the temperature was a minus 50 degrees every morning and stayed mighty cold all day. The snow banks were high and frozen solid.. We kids around town walked to the school and for some time we walked across frozen piled up snow. We also dug tunnels that were deep & long and had great fun playing in those tunnels.

Another thing I remember...and still have a result that will never let me forget, was an accident where I lost my upper front teeth. There was a valley between two hills by the school where we would slide down both ways. I was sliding "belly flop" style down one hill. Fellow student Gus Eckert was coming down the other hill and we met at the bottom. The front bar of his sled hit my mouth. I still have a bridge of false teeth to remind me of that incident.

WINTER IN MARCELL MEANT - That my brothers and I took our turns making daily trips to the lake nearby for pails of water for household use. We had to chop a hole every morning and usually had to open the hole again more than once during a day. Our clothes were often covered with frozen water from that chore of chopping holes.

WINTER IN MARCELL MEANT - Saturday night was bath night. Yes - we bathed once a week! And we carried more water on Saturdays! With no electricity & no running water, the baths were taken in a large galvanized tub just big enough for one body - standing up if you were a big kid! Mother always had the tub ready by Saturday evening right in the middle of the kitchen floor. She had heated water all day on the wood burning kitchen range. Right after supper, one by one, each boy took his the same tub of water! There were 4 of us boys. Mom & Dad got fresh water.

WINTER IN MARCELL MEANT - Chopping firewood in the back yard where a huge pile of logs was always stacked up during the summer. A gas engine driven saw rig sawed the logs into firewood length chunks before cold weather came. We boys then had the chore we all more or less hated - chopping the wood up into smaller chunks. Next we had to throw the wood into the basement through a window...and then pile it up in the basement. In my old age - after owning my own home - and after using wood for heat there also, I have vowed that I shall never handle another stick of firewood again! The wood we harvested was used to heat the house and for the kitchen stove. A furnace was in the basement and there was a 3 foot square metal register just above on the first floor. We often did some pushing of each other to stand over that register to keep warm. The entire house was heated by that means, but we boys had some cool nights sleeping on the second floor. We just piled on more blankets! The stove in the kitchen had a water tank built in on one end and it was very important to keep that tank full of water during the winter. In trying to recall the summer months and the need for warm water, I believe our Mother heated water in kettles on top of the stove. It must have been warm in the kitchen. You've heard the statement: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". I suppose our Mom did just that at times.
Yes, winters in northern Minnesota in those early years without electricity were tough! You did the best you could with what you had....but we did have fun. I don't know how many times in my many years that I have said something like this to my grand children: "You should have been a kid when Grandpa was". And of course I would add: "We didn't have HARDIES - MC DONALDS - TELEVISION - MOVIE THEATERS" -and all those "accepted conveniences" of today. Yes, winter time was also fun for us kids. Sliding & skiing was a big part of winter. And of course there always were "snowball fights" . Winter nights we kids had school homework every night. I also recall many cold nights lying on the floor near the heat register listening to the radio. I enjoyed "Amos & Andy" and some of those other oldies which are just faint memories.

SUMMER IN MARCELL MEANT - that winter was over. Spring & fall were just two seasons stuck in between! With the passing of each winter there was the usual tempering off from the cold during the springtime. We knew summer was coming and I believe most were happy about it.

SUMMER IN MARCELL MEANT that we could wear lighter clothes, yes, even shorts in those days too. That we could go on picnics, go swimming in the lakes...and perhaps do some fishing. There was not much employment for kids, except possibly those on a farm had to do their chores...and there always was "hay to harvest". Most of the kids just spent the summer having fun. Summer meant a busy time for the resort owners. They had to make their money in a very short season - four months at the most. They slaved all summer - if business was good -and had winter to relax. Some of the resort owners went away for the winter months.

There you have my interpretation of EARLY MARCELL BEFORE ELECTRICITY.


Although I am not positive of the exact year, automobiles did get to Marcell in the early 1920's. With road improvements by Itasca County & Marcell Township, some of the "possibly more effluent" or perhaps "those with sufficient funds", saw a need for better means of transportation than the train....and the horse & wagon. Some of the first car owners that I recall were Victor Nylund Sr, Carl Newstrom, Walter Stickler & Lloyd Stickler. No doubt there were others. I'm not sure who was "first", but I do know that we Newstrom boys were quite impressed when our father bought his brand new car. Sorry, I don't recall the year of make. It was an Overland 4 door with a collapsible roof. There was a covering of paper on the running boards when purchased...I suppose for protection until received by the owner. My memory of that car is just a faint recollection, but I heard the story about Dad's first car many times over. Here is a picture of that car.

Carl Newstrom & passengers enjoying the car

I suppose people in Marcell thought Carl Newstrom was rich, but he knew better! It is a fact that he went into "hock" in order to get that vehicle. Another bank loan! He felt he needed the car for his business and he talked his wife into letting him purchase it, It wasn't long before the improvement to roads brought in more and more tourists...most driving their own automobiles. And how were these cars powered? Yes, with the same fuel used today - lead. Since then we've been through "lead" ...and now once again "no lead". And each change has resulted in a higher cost. I have heard that the first gasoline used in America sold in the neighborhood of .15C. Now owning a car, our father saw the need for installing a gas pump ...the first pump of Marcell. The brand was PURE OIL and the pump was painted blue if my memory serves me right. There was no electricity least not in Marcell. The larger towns like Grand Rapids & Deer River had electricity, but that was quite a drive for those days. Our father would have business in Grand Rapids as that was the County Seat. Now with a car he could make the trip more often even though the roads were all gravel and not very good.

Here is Marcell's first gas pump. The two people making some type of adjustments to the pump were relatives of our mother & had come from Minneapolis for a visit. I believe they were first customers for gas as the pump was a new installation. I don't really know the year. To pump gas, you had to unlock a cover that you rotated to the right to open. There was a crank that you turned to pump the gas and you could pump pints, quarts & full gallons. It was a slow process of going back & forth with the crank. That first pump is still in my possession, but it is now located at Ena Eckert's museum. It has been loaned to her for memorabilia to display. There will be more detail about Ena's museum in another chapter

More and more tourists were arriving in their cars. A rumor that a new road would be built direct from Grand Rapids to Marcell and on to Bigfork & Effie caused Carl Newstrom to get busy constructing a new store building. He had found out where the roadbed would be in Marcell and built the new store in a strategic spot. More about that new store in the chapter to follow. More people were also migrating to the northern part of Itasca County. Logging was still the principal industry, but tourism was fast becoming very important to the area. More and more summer resorts were being constructed and new homes were being built by the new residents. The first summer resort was built by Walter Stickler. He and brother Lloyd had moved into the area from Indiana. Walt & Lloyd first lived on an island on Big Turtle Lake for a while with Walt working in Lundeen's store and the postoffice. Lloyd was the engineer at Lundeen's sawmill. However, Walt Stickler had visions of his own and built a store in Jesse Junction. As I've told you before, this name was changed to "Alder". With the loss of the postoffice by the fire that destroyed Lundeen's store, Walt Stickler applied for the job of postmaster and he did become postmaster in February of 1910 with the office located in that store in Alder. However, this entrepreneur had more ideas and his next venture was CAMP IDLEWILD. By 1912 his American Plan resort was in full operation. More about that in the next chapter.

With the advent of automobiles there was a need for a commercial garage. Lloyd Stickler, already a resident of Marcell as stated in the foregoing paragraph, evidently had the abilities to repair cars. Lloyd had been engineer at Lundeen's Sawmill Operation, but saw the potential to start his own business in a garage. He built a building of unusual structure right downtown Marcell in 1927 - its present location - still operating as a garage business. Lloyd used cement and short pieces of logs to build the walls of the building. For years you could see those "log ends", but eventually stucco was added.

Other changes were coming along rapidly in Marcell. With all of the new resorts & homes, more automobiles and more people, the Township Officers saw the need for more roads. This expense called for raising tax levies to get the funds to work with. This had to be approved by the voters. Taxes for home owners and the business people went up, but the economy was gaining day by day. Highway 38 was being constructed and would bring even more business.


There probably have been many people in Minnesota, or even in the States, that had the vision, the insight and the gumption to enter into a venture like Walter Stickler, but I doubt that there were very many back in the beginning of the 20th century. Here was one great entrepreneur! In 1912 he embarked on a business venture that was to prove a huge success. As far as I could learn, there were no resorts in the Marcell area in 1912, let alone an American Plan resort. Just getting the fresh foods to serve at such a resort was even a challenge in those days of limited transportation. But he did it...with the help of his wife Rose.

Camp Idlewild earned a great reputation in a very short time. Having come from Mishawaka, Indiana, Walt Stickler had good contacts with the type of customers that he wanted to cater to. Camp Idlewild soon became famous. Here there was great food, great hospitality, great scenery and great fishing. Add a homey atmosphere, excellent services and top notch guides....and you had Camp Idlewild. It was known as Minnesota's most complete resort and was appealing to the clientele seeking this retreat from their business world. And here is the man who did it all.

Here on this page and the pages following are some typical scenes of Camp Idlewild. Compare the rates of cabin rates today with those on this one below and you know that it was from many years fact it is from a brochure put out by Walt Stickler in 1935.

All of the pictures & materials about Camp Idlewild in this chapter were furnished to the author by Pete Bonesteel. Pete was a summer visitor years back who stayed at Stone Acres Resort on Big Smith Lake. He heard I was writing a book about Marcell and got in touch with me. My sincere thanks to Pete who is getting a complimentary copy of this book.

So much attention has been paid to Walter Stickler and very little has been said about his wife Rose. Actually she probably did more manual labor than her husband as she was in charge of the kitchen help & the maids. Anyone ever connected with an American Plan resort having 25 or more cabins, could appreciate the work involved in preparing & serving food to that many guests. Then there was every day service to each cabin plus change over cleanup almost every week. And to top that all off, there was no rest from the opening of fish season in May to closing time in September. I can hear Rose saying, "Walt, all you have to do is talk to the guests and tell them where to catch fish , but I HAVE ALL THESE GIRLS TO SUPERVISE, SEE THAT THE CABINS ARE CLEAN AND COOK FOR ALL YOUR GUESTS!".

Here are two pictures of crews that "Rose supervised" at different periods.

This picture probably taken in the early 30's. I had some difficulty in identifying the gals pictured here. "Boss" Rose Stickler is at the extreme right and Eleanor Nylund is the third young lady from the left.

I was fortunate to obtain this picture from Mr. & Mrs. Bob Sanders, both former
employees at Camp Idlewild. Starting from the left side of the picture we have:
Ruth Hedquist, Cindy Coolen, Edna Lee (Sanders), Harriet Felsted, Alva Skallman and Lila Lee. This picture taken late 30's.

 Continue to Marcell History Page 4

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