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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


I don't remember getting off the train in Marcell that cold day in February of 1919. My mother carried me in her arms. I was just two years old and my two brothers, ages six & eight, tagged along behind mother as she stepped down to the depot platform from the train. No one was there to greet us as our father was tending the store which was just a short distance from the depot. We headed for aentered the store and our father stopped waiting on a customer to give his wife a big hug. We boys had our turn next before our mother posed the question, "Where is my house?" . Dad made for the door with all of us eagerly following. Outside, he pointed to a row of tar paper shacks and told her the first one was her home. The story has been told many times over how she was never going to forgive him for bringing her there from a nice home in a "tar paper shack in the northwoods"! My younger brother Don likes to tell the punch line to that story, that she must have forgiven him because he was born three years later in 1922!

Although the picture above is not a winter scene, it gives an idea of what we saw that day upon arriving in Marcell. I was too young to recall that actual arrival, and in fact, too young to even know why we were in Marcell or where we had come from. The railroad tracks & depot are not in this picture, but they would be in the foreground and they are in a picture on the next page. You can see that Marcell was just a small berg along the railroad line and you could count the total population on two hands. There were others living in the surrounding area though and most of them at that time were loggers....and most were bachelors.

In a chapter to follow, you will learn more about the arrival of Carl Newstrom and why he came to Marcell. Over the past many years, I have oftened wondered if he would have come to Marcell if he had done more research and possibly had come to look the town over first. He had seen an ad in a Minneapolis paper that there was this store for sale in northern Minnesota and he made the deal by letter...over the objections of his wife. However, I never heard our father express any such regrets during his lifetime.

Here you see the railroad tracks that were just a little west of the store. The only existing road crossed the tracks and it was a "dead-end" at the store. As there were no cars yet in 1919 in Marcell, the road was more of a "dirt trail". Those who had a horse might come to town by a horse driven buggy or wagon... .or they just walked to town. The barn shown in this picture was for horses and it burned down and horses perished in the fire.

The two pictures below have their own captions and are typical scenes of what there was in Marcell in 1919. Our father thought it was paradise.

This is a picture of people sitting on hay bales on the depot platform. Evidently they are waiting for the train to arrive with mail.

Picture of the author as a tiny tot playing with his kitty in front of the store. Mother Newstrom must have been close by.

Although I have no recollection of those days in 1919 and how the town looked, I did collect a number of pictures. Some are displayed on the next page and show that there certainly was not much appeal for living there....especially for a lady from a big city. Our mother found little to be happy about at first, except for the fact that she was with her husband & family.

A picture believed to have been taken about 1912 which shows how the store and tar paper shacks looked when first built by John Lundeen.

Somebody with a team of horses and wagon came to town. This picture was probably taken about 1914 as some stumps have disappeared

Some Newstrom relatives came for a visit. The year is possibly 1919 because later pictures show some improvements to the building.


In Chapter I you read all about the author's arrival in Marcell. Now we go back a few months to tell you about the arrival of father Carl Newstrom and the early days of NEWSTROM'S STORE. It was the only store in Marcell in 1918.

1918 - Carl Newstrom was a carpenter's helper working with his father in Minneapolis building houses. He had been married nine years and it was a struggle supporting a wife and 3 boys...and he was a young man with dreams. One day he read an ad in a newspaper about this grocery store for sale in northern Minnesota. Now he had never been north of Minneapolis, but he wrote a letter in reply to that ad and that was to be the beginning of a new adventure for Carl Newstrom. Over the strong objections of his wife, he mailed a payment and in August of 1918 he took off on a train to Deer River, Minnesota where he was to transfer to another train to reach Marcell . That local train was not making the run to Marcell that day so he just walked the 19 miles along the railroad tracks to Marcell. Arriving late in the afternoon, he walked into the store, met the owner, Mr. Peter Ildved, paid over some more money and started to wait on a customer. Carl Newstrom was in the grocery business!

This is now a good time to tell about a typical GENERAL STORE that some small towns had in those days. It was a store where you could buy groceries, perhaps some item of clothing, maybe a water pail or some barbed wire for a fence, If you could buy some meat it was probably salt pork, slab bacon or pickled pigs feet. You see - there was no electricity, at least not in Marcell. Some rural towns had a post office and it was always in the store in those days. Carl Newstrom became the Postmaster, taking over from Mr. Ildved. People came to town by horse & wagon to get their mail...or they walked. While in town they might buy a few groceries.

NEWSTROM'S STORE was that typical store. My memory of it from those days in 1919 are practically non-existant, but some pictures were available to me which are shown in this chapter. However, for some reason, no pictures were available of the inside of the store. I am sure my parents had a camera, but evidently they just never thought about taking a picture inside. As I write this book, I think how great it would be to have pictures of all of those items that would now be considered quaint & antiquated. Also, I wish I had asked more questions of my parents. But how was I to know that some day I would be writing a book about such things?

NEWSTROM'S STORE. I can see the long oak counter that was there for many years. It had many drawer bins on the back side where the clerks worked. Those bins were filled with such food items as flour, rice, beans, sugar, etc. They were sold by the pound and packaged in brown paper bags. There was a scoop in every bin. On the front side of that counter there were glassed in sections with small supplies of each food item so the customer could see the product. I remember that our father would sometimes change the display because the food got wormy. Of course, the supply to be sold was always fresh.

NEWSTROM'S STORE. Just like most every country store, it had the cheese hoop. This held a fairly large round shaped hunk of yellow cheese sitting on a wood base and covered with a glass cover. You removed the cover to cut a hunk of cheese for the customer. Oh how I remember that cheese. Was it ever good! I loved it ...and so did our dog! It seems that if the dog was nearby, I would snitch a piece of cheese for it. If my Dad caught me doing it, I would get bawled out. That might be another reason why I remember about that cheese because one day while cutting cheese for the dog I cut my finger too. I still have the scar!

There were many items on that oak counter. A scale was one and then there was the cash register. It did nothing more than store the money. Along side of that register was a box that contained SALES SLIP BOOKS. Regular credit customers had their name on a book. You wrote up a slip itemizing each item and marked it paid if the customer paid for the order. However, most sales were "charge accounts" as most people did not have the ready cash, nor did they carry checkbooks. You marked the slip with the word "Charged" and the original stayed in the book. Totals were always brought forward and the customer got a copy each time, showing their total bill to-date. Oh yes, the paid slips for cash sales were put on a spindle and I believe our father would add them up at day's end to see what his cash income was for the day and if it balanced out with cash in the register. Here is a reprinted part of a sales slip that had 18 lines on it. Occasional sales were made to some customer who had no established credit and those slips had a special file and sometimes were never paid. Dad was a "soft touch" and did some "credit business" that he regretted later. I never knew what our father experienced in those early days, but after my purchase of the store, I asked him one day if he knew how much money he lost over the years that he was in business in Marcell. His answer was "thousands". I assume that much of those losses were those occasional sales to the people who had no credit rating and he would have been money ahead by not being a "softie".

NEWSTROM'S STORE was a family run store. Most all rural stores were in those days. I don't recall that my parents ever had any hired help. As we boys became old enough, we were expected to help. We probably were hard to locate at times...typical young boys! However, I know that the experience was a teaching lesson for me as I helped to manage the store years later in a new location. But now I am getting ahead of my story!

As I mentioned before, most rural towns had a post office and it was located in the store. Our father had the job of postmaster a couple of times. There will be more about postal service in another chapter. Mail was delivered by train to Marcell three days a week and on those days, many of the area people came to town. In fact it was somewhat of a ritual to congregate around the depot and the store waiting for the train to come in to town. A great time for some social get-togethers, and I even recall that one time two men had a fight on the depot platform.... over a women. Such was life in a small town where there often was some kind of excitement to talk about.

Carl & Olga Newstrom were both hard workers. Dad would open the store as early as 6 AM in summer months to be ready for the tourist trade and with guides taking their fishing parties out to the many lakes in the area. Winter time he might "sleep in" to 7 AM. In the first years of business for the Newstrom family, the early morning business were loggers who were heading for the woods. They would stop by for a plug of tobacco, box of snuff or a can of "Prince Albert" smoking tobacco. . . along with papers to "roll" their cigarettes. Mom Newstrom had to get her boys off to school all those years so her duty in the store would come a bit later. The need for her in the store was the reason that she came to Marcell earlier than originally planned. Years after both of our parents had passed away, letters were found (in an old safe) that our father had written to his wife back in Minneapolis. Those letters begged her to come to Marcell sooner than planned. I believe June 1919 was the original target date to arrive. He did convince her of the dire need for help because we did arrive in February 1919 as stated in Chapter One.

Our parents were "softies". Many of the early settlers were hard up and needed to charge their purchases. Some would only get a pay day when their logs were delivered to a mill. Fishing guides generally were paid when their fishing party left from their vacations. Dad would carry charge accounts as long as possible, but he did lose his patience now and then. In my research for writing this book, I went through some old mortgage papers that told me just how tough things were in those days starting up in the grocery business. His bank carried many a loan from $200 to $1,000....that he paid off on schedule. Today I can realize just how much of a struggle it was to operate that store and make a living for a family of five.

A "vivid memory" of that old store on the east side of the railroad tracks was the "Pool Room". In the rear part of the store was a storage area with a connecting door to the store. I often wondered why there was a door, but my Dad answered that for me one day. He felt that some customers might not approve of "playing pool" . Well I loved that pool table. One bachelor in the area was a "pool shark" - at least he was in my estimation. His name was Peter Blackstead and he had migrated in from some city. He lived in a log house on an island on Big Turtle Lake north of Marcell. That property was later sold to Mr. & Mrs. William Hage and subsequently to Mr. & Mrs. Wallace O'Brien. The O'Briens became great friends of the Newstroms. Back to Pete Blackstead and that pool table....Mr. Blackstead taught me to play pool when I was barely tall enough to see over the cushions of the table. As I grew older, I became pretty good at the game and even could beat my friend on occasion. The only problem with that "pool hall" was that my father needed my help and I would be playing pool when I was supposed to be doing my chores. I learned my lessons the hard way after a few tongue lashings. On occasion I might be slapped "on the butt".

You have heard much about the early days of Newstrom's Store in that crude building which stood there for many years. If my memory serves me right, the building finally caved in about 1966 long after it had been abandoned in 1928. Dad had received some "hot" information about a new road coming through Marcell from Grand Rapids and built a new store west of the railroad tracks. That location proved to be a hot spot. You will learn more about that store in another chapter. To conclude this chapter, turn to the next page for a few pictures of the store & town.

A picture of my brother Gordon, a lady relative, & "our dog that loved cheese".

Carl Newstrom having a smoke.
A pig and chickens have joined him in front of the store as he enjoys a cigarette. 

Carl Newstrom, two sons & another young fellow pose in front of Mr. Ildved's house. The year is 1922.


In the two previous chapters you have learned about the coming of the Newstrom family to the small town in northern Minnesota. Now we backtrack a number of years to tell you how the TOWN OF MARCELL was started.

In the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, a number of people had migrated into the area around Big Turtle Lake. Among them was a John Lundeen from Wisconsin. He had applied for homestead rights on two pieces of property. In 1901 after becoming married, he and wife Katie moved to the area near Marcell located by Big Turtle Lake. He had learned that the Itasca Lumber Company was building a railroad spur to Big Turtle Lake so evidently he had visions of doing business in the area with loggers because he built a two story log home, a store & restaurant and a sawmill. The log home had 5 rooms on the first floor and 6 bedrooms on the second floor. His intentions were to accommodate new people seeking homesteads in the area. By the end of the year 1901, Itasca Lumber Company had finished the railroad spur to the lake and it was extended out in the bay. The spur came from Jesse Junction, later named Alder. The lumber company moved in two steam boats on the lake to load logs on railroad flatcars through the use of booms. The lumber company also owned a big barge which was used to transport supplies.

Katie Lundeen applied to be postmaster in 1902 and the post office was located in the store. A Jack Rushenberg built a saloon nearby and a one room school was also erected in the area. Mr. Lundeen evidently saw the need for an official town in that location as his name was the first on a petition that was presented to the Itasca County Board of Commissioners in 1905 for a town to be named TOWN OF BIG TURTLE LAKE. On November 5, 1905 the County Board issued an official notice that gave approval for an election to be held to vote in township officers. At an election on March 13, 1906, Mr. Lundeen was elected Town Clerk and the first members of the Township Board were John Sundloff, Oscar Harbin and Matt Zimmer. Albert Jaynes was elected as Town Treasurer. Another item of business for that meeting was to change the name of the town to MARCELL. The Postal Authorities had advised that there were too many post offices in the state with the name TURTLE LAKE. In my very thorough research about those early days, I was provided a letter written to my friend Iivo Saari in 1958 that he had received from Walter Stickler (both now deceased). That letter stated that a train accident was blamed on Andy Marcell, the conductor on the train, so the town was named after him. As all parties involved in the business transacted back in that meeting in 1906 are no longer living, I accept this information to be correct. I would have no reason to doubt Mr. Walter Stickler, a very prominent figure in the future of you will read in another chapter.

Getting back to that location of "Old Marcell", today there are none of the buildings left at that site. I obtained information from old records and then learned much more from friends Ena Eckert and Betty Weathers that led me on to more very interesting facts as detailed on pages following.

One day as I visited with my friend, Betty Weathers, she told me about a visit she had with a Mr. Elliot Olson. This man came to Marcell to revisit the town where his mother, Katie Lundeen, had once lived. He "found" Betty and they had a great visit. He later sent her many pictures and detailed information about "old Marcell". My visit with Betty prompted me to get the phone number of Mr. Olson and I called him one day in July 1994. As a result of that phone call; Mr. & Mrs. Elliot Olson came from Frederic, Wisconsin to visit me as they were on one of their excursions into Minnesota. What a visit we had. I got "first hand" information on how his mother Katie had remarried after first husband John Lundeen had died. From her second marriage, she had son Elliot. On this day in 1994 the Olsons brought me some great pictures of those original buildings of old Marcell, a picture of John & Katie Lundeen and a 4 page document written by Elaine North Judd, grandaughter of John & Katie. That document was such an interesting and revealing piece of information about original Marcell that I have made it a part of this chapter. That document and pictures supplied to me by the Olsons are on pages that follow.

Newspaper article about fire at Marcell Minnesota

Betty Weathers gave me a great deal of information that she had obtained in her research about old Marcell. One of the items was a newspaper clipping about the fire that destroyed the Lundeen Store in 1910. That item came from the "Deer River Itasca News" and is reprinted here. Note that the article states that Mr. Lundeen would rebuild. That did not take place at that site. Records show that he moved some buildings and built a new store in the area where Marcell now exists. That is the store building that was sold to Peter Ildved and then later to Carl Newstrom. In my research about old Marcell and the railroad system that existed in the northern part of the county, I found that the Minneapolis & Rainy River Railroad Company was to extend a line from Alder directly north to serve towns on the way to the Canadian border. Present Marcell was along that route and it is obvious that John Lundeen built the new store in a location near where the train depot would be located, a most advantageous spot. From all that I learned about John Lundeen, he was a man of great foresight and with much determination to become a successful business man.

After the fire loss of the store at the Turtle Lake location, the post office had moved to Alder in 1910 and Walter Stickler had applied for and received appointment as postmaster. Then in 1912, Katie Lundeen again became postmaster and the post office moved into the new store. All of these events between 1910 and 1912 must have been confusing. It was a decision by Walter Stickler to go into the resort business that caused the change of post office in 1912. More about Walter Stickler in Chapter IX.

Pictured here are John & Kate Lundeen and below is their log home which is described on the next page. This was their home until 1916 when John's father requested his presence back on the farm in Wisconsin. This log home remained on the site until sometime in the 1920's when it was torn down. Wouldn't it be interesting to have some taped recordings of conversations in that old house? There were new homesteaders moving in and out and sawmill workers ate in the dining room. I bet that those tobacco chewing men lent some real "juicy" words to the conversations at the table.

That site of the log home was located where the present home of Mr & Mrs Gene Weathers now is I was told that the tall man standing just to the left of the door is John Lundeen. The men out front on the ground are sawmill workers.

John & Kate Lundeen




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