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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


Pictured here are six local men hired as part of a crew working on the construction of State Highway No. 38. You read about Mike Knutson in Chapter V. He is the bearded gentleman holding a shovel and fourth from the left side.

The construction of Highway 38 was a great boost to the economy of Marcell and other towns along its route. The previous route to Grand Rapids, the County Seat, was via Hoover's Corner & Deer River, a total of 40 miles. A very crude road went to Bigfork. The train was actually the major mode of transportation. Resorters and the tourists were certainly elated to have this new highway. At first it was also a dirt road, but later on it was tarred. This highway provided a faster route to Grand Rapids on the south and Bigfork on the north and was the beginning of a link to Canada.

Construction was a slow process. Horse drawn drags and men with picks and shovels did much of the work. There was not much in the way of heavy equipment like that used in later years. A lot of big rocks were in the way and they were just shoved into the ditches. For years it was dangerous to go in the ditch because of those rocks. The rugged terrain of hills & lakes added to the slow process of completing the road. I believe it is safe to say that Highway 38 is the "crookedest road in the State of Minnesota".

When Highway 38 was completed into Marcell, it joined up with County Road No. 4 (Now State Aid Road No. 286). A triangle was formed and Newstrom's Store was very conveniently located right there.

Not too long after Highway 38 was completed, a roadway was built behind the store to connect the two roads and Newstrom' s Store was then indeed located in a triangle. The location was a "hot spot" for business, but the intersection also was the cause of a few accidents, especially for cars from the north that were "exceeding the speed limit". Also another common habit was that the cars coming on Highway 286 from the west would not even pause for the stop sign located where highway 286 joined up with 38.

So now we had a new highway providing good access to our community and it brought in new business. I am not sure what the inducement was for new people to come in to start new business, but there was a great growth after the 1930's. I suppose many of these new people had some of the same visions that Walter Stickler had. Resorts were built, another store went up right downtown Marcell, and Lloyd Stickler built a garage downtown also. I shall tell you about some of these business ventures in the rest of this chapter.

Mr. & Mrs. Harry Olson built Marcell's second store just south of my father's store. Mr. Olson worked for the Forest Service and his wife Alice ran the store. The Olsons built a house just north of town on a hill between Little Ranier Lake & Big Turtle Lake. Mr. and Mrs. Olaf Hagen came to Marcell about the same time and built a home west of Marcell on Big Turtle Lake by McKenzie Island. Mrs. Hagen was Harry Olson's sister. Their homes were just a short boat ride apart across Little Ranier Lake. Mrs. Olson had been a teacher in the Marcell Elementary School previously and I had her as one of my teachers in that one room school. More about schools in another chapter. Here is a picture of the Olson Store which later sold to Mr. & Mrs. Ed Isaacson. I believe the gas pumps were put in after the Isaacson's took over. That store was named the "Marcell Mercantile".

Ed Issacson was not content with that little store on the west side of Highway 38 so he started to build a new store in 1937 just a bit south and across the highway. He moved into the building the summer of 1938 and in that store they sold most everything you might need. It was a true GENERAL STORE for a small rural town. It was a much larger building and there was lots of floor space. Glass show cases & display tables lined both sides of the store. The meat department was clear to the rear. Behind the meat counter was a doorway to their family living quarters on the back of the building. The cash register and checkout was conveniently located at the front of the store where clerks could see the gas pumps out front and attend to pumping gasoline.


The picture above is of the interior of the MARCELL MERCANTILE STORE. Proprietor Ed Isaacson stands on the right. Marie Eckert and Mrs. Carl Mellin are on the left. The store was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Carl Mellin in 1941.

Shown below is a front view of that store. Standard Oil Company installed new gas pumps and soon the post office moved in. Ed's sister Helene came to live with them and clerked in the store for about two years. She then worked at Camp Idlewild as pastry cook and fell in love with one of the guides and soon became Mrs. Albert Ingstad. A separate chapter later in the book about POSTAL SERVICE features more about Helene Ingstad who became the postmaster for Marcell in 1948.

Marcell now had a commercial garage and two stores with a post office located in one. The summer resorts that were building up around the area had their immediate needs in Marcell. Also there was the road to Hayslips Corner and Highway 6 south to Deer River and with new Highway 38 came a direct route to Grand Rapids south and Bigfork & Effie north. Access to all of the necessary needs was much better and more cars started to appear.

Marcell was now firmly established as a tourist center. The word spread and more tourists were coming to the area. The summer resorts were feeling the effects of increase in business. Each year beginning about June 1st, the tourist business would begin. By Labor Day in September, the busy summer season would end. There would be some business in the fall with grouse & duck seasons and then in November, the deer season would bring a brief flurry of extra business. In chapters to follow there will be much more about a thriving economy. Individual chapters will tell about progress in Marcell. One chapter will tell individual stories about some of the resorts. Another chapter will tell about the end of the railroad and still another will tell about the coming of electricity to the north rural area. Forthcoming chapters may not always be in chronological order, but will cover the full scope about the community where the author spent the majority of his life.

At the beginning of this chapter I told about new Highway 38 coming into being. To conclude the chapter it is only fitting that this picture below should have an explanation. About halfway between Grand Rapids & Marcell at the top of a hill, this sign was to identify that the Continental Divide north & south was at that point on Highway 38. I do not remember ever seeing that mallard duck on the sign so I am assuming that this was just a piece of art work by the paper that ran the picture. As this book is being written, United States Forest Service has a project going on with the construction of a Laurentin Divide Wayside Rest Area at that same location. More about that in one of the final chapters.


Chapter X told you how Carl Newstrom used "his smarts" to build a new store building in a new location to take advantage of the construction of State Highway 38. This new building was much larger than the old store having two stories and a full basement. He was able to move into that building in 1928 even though there still was some work to be done. Here is a front view of that store taken not too long after moving in. Not many gas stations had "canopies" in 1928, but Carl Newstrom had one. In later pictures you will see that it was removed and I wonder why. Now days we see most gas stations with a canopy and that makes for great convenience for customers to get out of the rain.


Now in 1928 Marcell had no electricity so Carl Newstrom installed a battery operated light plant to provide a convenience that he knew would be a very valuable asset to the business. It did do some good things, but on a limited basis. The batteries would run down, power would fluctuate and good strong "juice" was not always there. However, another entrepreneur, Mr. Lloyd Stickler, had some of the same ideas and had installed a much better light plant in his commercial garage just down the street. He rented out electricity to anyone in town that wanted it and could afford the cost. Carl Newstrom soon took advantage of it and was rid of the nuisance of his own plant. I had to dispose of those old batteries a few years later when I took over the store.

The "new" Newstrom's Store even sold ice cream in the 30's. Our father built his own ice cream "box" which was well insulated and had two trays that you filled with crushed ice & coarse salt. I will never forget the job of taking care of that "box". It was often my job to go for the ice, chop it up and then pack the trays. Without proper care, the ice cream soon got soft...and I ate a lot of "sloppy" ice cream sundaes. Ice was stored in an "ice house" which you will learn more about in the next page. Needless to say, ice cream was a treat for area residents. Some did not have the means to get to Grand Rapids or Deer River where you could really enjoy such a treat. As I remember, our store was the only one in Marcell that sold ice cream in the 30's.

At this time of telling about the new Newstrom's Store, I must digress a bit to tell about "harvesting of ice" . Not only did Newstrom's Store use ice, but so did many resorts & private homes. Ice harvesting was an every winter job for many people. Some home owners would pool their efforts to put up a supply for several homes. Each residence had their own ice house which was a rather crudely built structure with sides and a roof ...with a dirt floor. Ice was in layers with sawdust over each layer. When you looked into an ice house, all you saw was sawdust. Each resort put up their own ice, or at least I think they all did. Most ice harvesting was done with a "one man saw" such as used to cut firewood...before the day of chain saws. Ice tongs were used to get the floating cakes out of the lake once a "field had been cut". It was a dangerous job, but I don't believe I ever heard of anyone drowning while harvesting ice. Like I did, I suppose everyone used a wheel barrow to transport a "cake of ice" from the ice house to the ice box....or in the case of Newstrom's Store - to the ice cream freezer. Later on in another chapter I tell about the advent of electricity and all the more modern technologies that came with it. To this day I wonder why we always refer to those days before electricity as "the good old days".

Back to Newstrom's Store. Carl Newstrom hit on another great idea after moving to his new store building.... Just one of his many ideas that he always seemed to come up with! Many of the tourists wanted to get fish back to their homes. How to transport them was a big problem. My father built "Fish Shipping Boxes". It did not take the guides long to find this out. As guides returned from a day on the lake with a party, they often stopped off to buy one of Carl 's boxes -for $1.00. Now he built these out of rough scrap lumber. A cover was provided with nails loosely attached. To pack fish for shipment, one used moss from the woods and enough ice that supposedly would keep the fish fresh until the shipment arrived at its destination. Shipments went to Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma...and a few more states...and I do know that some fish arrived in a pretty putrid condition. Some of my tourist friends would tell me how they got home to some "smelly fish". Also - some of the tourists would haul a box of fish home in their car trunk. The boxes were made so water would run out as the ice melted. I suppose most put their suit cases in the car - but you can imagine what the trunk was like upon arriving back home after a day or two on the road...during the warmth (or heat) of summer. One last thought on the subject: Sale of fish boxes slowed down after a while and Carl Newstrom could not figure out why this was happening. The guides "got smart and built their own and made a buck or two"! Needless to say, Carl finally went out of "box making business" . Oh yes - modern time came along with "dry ice" which provided the perfect way to keep fish frozen enroute...but that was much later.

Carl Newstrom had other ideas for ways to make an extra buck. Although I was not aware of it at the time, I suppose these "extra dollars" were needed to support his family. Now I can appreciate what he was doing to keep his family in food & clothing. One of those ideas was his involvement with a "traveling movie man". He was approached one day by a man from Crosby, Minnsota who went all over northern Minnesota with a portable movie operation. Of course all this consisted of was a movie projector & screen. All he needed was a space for people to sit. My father built home made benches and had the capacity for 50 or more people. I believe admission was .25C per person. The man and his wife also sold boxes of candy between the changing of reels. A prize in every box...and I believe the cost was .10C. The kids really enjoyed the candy as well as the movies. And of course - those were "silent movies" with the captions shown below the picture. Cowboys & Indians were the favorites, but El Brendel was my favorite - a great comedian. I shall never forget the one that I believe was titled "The 25th Century". In his part, Mr. Brendel is standing at a machine with these labels: Boy - Girl - Twins .25C. Up comes the caption: "Give me the good old days".

Still another "brain storm" Carl Newstrom had to make some extra money was to have dances upstairs in the store building. Many Saturday nights in the 1930's, there would be a dance at Newstrom's in Marcella Different dance combos would provide the music and in another paragraph, I'll tell about one special group. People came from many other communities as well as Marcell and would stay for the "last dance" at 1 AM. I suppose most could sleep in Sunday morning! Not Carl Newstrom though. He had to be back at the store early next morning.... especially in the busy summer months. Now these dances did cause some problems on occasion - in fact, quite often. Although no booze was allowed in the building, that did not deter people from having a supply of "moonshine" out in their car. A constable was always on duty though and "drunks" were evicted. Some had to be physically "thrown out". My mother never really had much favor for those dances. She just knew there was going to be trouble. I remember one night so well when we really had a "big problem". Two men got in an argument upstairs in the dance hall - it was one man after another who was "paying too much attention to his wife". The constable told them to leave, but they just adjourned down to the store where Olga Newstrom was on duty. I'm not sure at this point in time, but I suppose she was "a security guard" for the store. Well - a bloody battle ensued right there in the store. I heard my mother scream and came to see what was going on. I was just a kid of about 14 and thought this was fun. One man had the other down on the floor and fists were flying. A lady - I assume the wife of one of those men and the lady involved - was trying to pull them apart. My brother Gordon jumped in to "help out". I don't recall who won the fight, but in the melee, a glass show case got busted up. My mother was very upset and I don't think it was too long after that when dances terminated at Newstroms. To this day I have no idea what kind of money my father made from those dances.

Another dance night brings back memories about a young man from the Bigfork area who had "too much moonshine". Evidently the "cop" on duty had told him to leave the dance hall and he was standing at the top of the stairs trying to decide if he could make it all the way down. Now I happened to be standing at the bottom of the stairway and I watched him stagger all the way down. The door out led to a cement landing where you had to turn right and take a step down to the sidewalk. He stood briefly on that landing, did not make the turn....and fell off flat on his face on the gravel driveway. I got help and we carried him to a cabin near by owned by my father and where we laid him out on a bed. The next morning he was gone. A friend must have found out where we took him and got him after the dance was over. Olga Newstrom was very unhappy - the bed linens were all bloody. I've heard many stories about that person - now deceased, but he was a man of great talents with the logging industry. He could invent great things, was a hard worker, but liquor could do him in.

During the days of dances at Newstroms, there was no "legal booze". There were a number of "bootleggers" around the area and the drinking crowd knew where they were. I did learn about some of them and knew one just a few miles from Marcell. I never went there, but in later years when fishing on North Star Lake with a friend (when we stopped off "for a break") we found the evidence of a "moonshine still". Some time in my younger life, I did drink some of that rot gut booze and can say that it was practically poison. The alcohol content must have been 100 percent!

One of the greatest drawing attractions ever had for dances at the Newstrom Hall was VIOLA TURPEINEN. This Finnish lady played the accordion and was famous in Minnesota and in the state of Michigan where she was born. She played with other musicians and they were very popular...especially to the finnish people. The firms of the area came to dance to her music or just to hear her play her accordion. Now it was quite a coincidence that I picked up a copy of the Grand Rapids Herald Review in June 1994 which ran an article in the entertainment section about Viola' s nomination into the IRONWORLD USA POLKA HALL OF FAME. The picture was of her playing on her accordion...with her first name on it. The picture quality was not good so I contacted the paper in an effort to obtain a copy of the original - or a negative. That was the beginning of a quite lengthy process to produce a picture. The paper did not have the picture, but referred me to IRONWORLD USA in Chisholm. They in turn referred me to Mr. Robert Schmid, President of Chapter 14 of the Minnesota Finnish-American Historical Society. This gentleman sent me all kinds of materials.... but not the picture that had been in the Herald Review with the article. In my phone conversation with Mr. Schmid, we talked about a mutual friend, Mr. Leo Keskinen, who I had worked with when we were both school administrators. Mr. Schmid advised me to talk with Leo as he had done much research on Miss Turpeinen. Here again I did not get the picture I wanted. Not too long later, I received a copy of a finnish newspaper with more materials about this Finnish accordion player, but still no picture.


So I finally settled on using the original photo sent to me by Mr. Schmid and share it here.

On the page following is the article that appeared in the Grand Rapids Herald Review, but (without the picture). I also include another article sent to me by Mr. Schmid that tells more about inductions to the POLKA HALL OF FAME. This article includes the picture of Viola that I tried to obtain as well as a picture of her fellow inductee and lifetime friend, Frank Kramer. Please go to the next page for more.

Viola Turpeinen and Frank Kramer have been selected as the 1994 nominees into the IRONWORLD USA Polka Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will kick off IRONWORLD'S five-day International Polkafest and will take place in the Festival Pavilion at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 22.

In order to be considered for the Hall of Fame, nominees must have made substantial contributions in promoting and popularizing polka music either locally or on a national level. This year's inductees, who were chosen by a committee of local DJs, join a distinguished roster that includes polka luminaries such as Frank Yankovic, Myron Floren, Rudy Perpich, Father Frank Perkovich, Oscar Fryckman, Don Lipovac, Frankie Smoltz and Hank Thunander.

Of Turpeinen, James P. Leary writes "Turpeinen, as a mere girl and ever after, was a consummate musician able to infuse technically difficult and rapid passages with feeling. When we consider that she barnstormed through nearly every Finnish-American community in the country, that she recorded more than 100 different tunes on three labels and that her career spanned four decades, it's no wonder that Viola Turpeinen emerges as the dance musician of her community."

Turpeinen was born in 1909 in Champion, Mich., to parents who played the "kaks rivinen" a two-row button accordion, an instrument popular in Finland in the late 19th century. They instilled their love of music in their young daughters and by the time Viola had reached her early teens, she was playing the more prestigious piano accordion, a requisite for becoming a professional musician.

She began her career playing in the local Finnish Labor Hall and the Italian's Bruno Hall. In 1925, at age 16, she teamed up with concert promoter John Rosendahl, who quickly realized that she was not only a virtuoso accordionist but also had star quality.

In 1929, they toured Finland, attracting a crowd of 2,300 people for a concert in Helsinki. Viola considered it a highlight of her life, often remarking, "They really loved me there." Although recognized as international entertainers, John and Viola frequently came home to perform in Finnish-American communities in the Midwest.

It was on one such tour that she met her future husband Bill Syrjala in Cloquet. By 1931, he and Andrew Kosala were teamed with Viola and Sylvia Polso as "The Finnish Accordion Quartet."

After Rosendahl's untimely death in 1933, Syrjala and Turpeinen were married and continued to make music together.

In 1952, they settled in Lake Worth, Fla., and found steady work playing for dances at the local Finnish Workers Educational Club. They still toured occasionally but many of their fans had reached retirement age and resided-- at least part time--in Florida. It was there that Viola Turpeinen died of cancer at age 49 on December 26, 1958.

I could tell many more stories about things that took place in the grocery store owned by the Newstroms. However - the main point of this chapter is to show how Carl Newstrom had some great ideas to the making of a success of the business and how he worked so very hard to fulfill his dreams & ambitions. As money became available, improvements were made in the store. After he passed away in 1965 I found documents in his old safe which told me a lot about his trials & tribulations in the grocery business. I found that between 1918 and the 1930's Carl Newstrom got many loans and carried several mortgages on his property. They were all paid off on schedule! Reading those records was my first knowledge of how he financed all of the improvements he made. Now I can appreciate how he slaved, worried...and got the capital to buy a new meat case, a cash register or a new scale...or even to lay in a fresh stock of groceries.

Here is a picture of Newstrom's Store taken in the early 1940's after the canopy had been removed.

Newstrom's Store, Marcell Minnesota, early 1940's

In the picture are Olga Newstrom and her "baby" - 18 year old son, Donald. Evidently my brother is ready to go hunting. Take note that the "original" gas pump of Marcell appears in this picture at the left front corner of the store by the VEEDOL sign. It was now being used for kerosene. The original gas pump was told about previously in Chapter VIII ...and you will hear some more about it in one of the final chapters.

At the period in time when the picture above was taken, wife Jennie and myself were living in Chicago. My "kid" brother had grown up some and now was taking my place to help our mother. She must have given him "the day off" to go hunting.

More pictures appear on the next page and that concludes this chapter about the "new" Newstrom's Store.

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