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Book researches two decades on Hubbard Prairie

Jim Johnson (JeanRuzicka / Enterprise)

A notable number arrived for the recent Headwaters Center for Lifelong Learning presentation, imaginations piqued by Jim Johnson's introduction of his book, "Heyday - Twenty Upstart Years on the Hubbard Prairie."

The impetus for the work is intrinsic curiosity about his own heritage. His great-grandfather, in a photograph standing by a weathered farm home, wears an expression "as timeless as the old trees in the yard," he writes in the introduction.

But his quest to find the location of the Minnesota farm where his forbearers lived was unsuccessful.

The village of Hubbard that became his home after retirement is his subject of study. Two decades, 1880 to 1900 - were "upstart years" in terms of settlement and change in this neck of the woods - and the book's focus.

The person behind Hubbard's Sleigh and Cutter Fest resurrection asserts, "no place better represents the development of Minnesota than Hubbard Township."

"That's a big claim to make," he told the HCLL audience, "but it's mostly true"... with the possible exception of Duluth and iron ore mining, he admits.

During those two decades, homesteading was beginning, a diverse group of nationalities and religions arriving. Logging was under way, with Minnesota to become home to more log buildings than any other state in the union.

"It was material at hand," Johnson said. "The log cabin was a symbol of homestead life." The framed home was considered the upscale abode.

Agriculture was swiftly becoming the primary source of income, the wheat boom "in full flower" during the period.

Hubbard was home to its own flour mill, until 1911, when it burned.

The railroad was a key factor in the economy, changing business potential, he said. Odds were initially in Hubbard's favor, but when Justice S.P. Todd refused to sell land along the proposed route to Hubbard, the railroad decided to run the route to Park Rapids from Wadena.

Readers learn of a steamboat that chugged on the Shell River, and the first woman business owner in Hubbard and the county as a whole, a millinery shop.

"A sausage factory is supposed to be in running order, but we haven't missed any dogs yet so we have our doubts about the matter," Hubbard's correspondent for the Enterprise reported.

"The Enterprise reporter did not limit himself to business matters," Johnson ascertained from his research.

"The church meeting is over and a great majority of sinners are still unconverted," the newspaper reported in 1892.

"Mrs. Fanny Wright drives four horses and handles the binder with dexterity," the reporter observed.

A "very nasty" battle was waged over the location of the county seat during the era, Johnson learned. Hubbard, named for "our soldier governor Lucius Hubbard," was a front runner "but politics came into play," Park Rapids earning the nod.

"The tangible, and maybe even the most interesting and romantic character in the book is the prairie," he states of the township's features.

"In many ways, it is a prairie book," Johnson said. "Hubbard thrived, thanks to the prairie..."

The book takes readers through a pivotal period in village and county history.

At journey's end - the book's conclusion - the county was evolving.

Hubbard residents were heading down to Verndale to see the first car to arrive in the area.

One-room schoolhouses were closing; kids were headed to town.

But the area's fertile soil would continue as an "agricultural powerhouse."

The area "looks nothing like its old self," he writes of pictures from the turn of the century, wheat fields bent over in the wind.

But "Hubbard still looks like a frontier village set down on a lovely plain at the end of Long Lake, with a grassy hillside leading down to the water, a tiny Minnesota Eden, just as it was 150 years ago."

The expedition to yesteryear is expected to be in stores before Christmas.