Gateway to History
Going through field notes and photographs gathered over the summer, it’s easy to become wistful. Right now I’m thinking about strolling through the stone arch gateway into Mirror Lake Park, in Hettinger, North Dakota. Mirror Lake was the creation of the Milwaukee Railroad, which always needed water for its engines, and which also was the impetus for the founding of Hettinger in 1907.
Rudely crafted as it is–pillars of clinker rock mortared around iron pipe, with a steel girder supporting the rock stone arch–the archway nevertheless is a nicety, a laudable gesture toward dignity and beauty in a prairie town. It is to be noticed and appreciated, and I am sure it has a certain pleasing effect on people who pass under it, even if they never stop to think about it.
The legend on the arch reads, “In Memory of Hettinger Pioneer Businessmen’s Club / A. O. Brown and M. P. Quickstad.” A pioneer businessman’s club. I can imagine such a group getting together now and then in the manner of old settlers, reminiscing about the early days on Main Street.
If ever there was a pioneer businessman, it was Alfred O. Brown. The very first advertisement in the very first issue of Hettinger’s Adams County Record read as follows: “A.O. Brown / Watchmaker and Jeweler / Located in Taylor’s Barber Shop / All Work Guaranteed.”
Born in 1883 in Minnesota, the son of parents from Trondheim, Brown epitomized the class of Norwegian businessmen typical of this frontier era on the northern plains. Second-generation Norwegians, coming out of the midwest, were the Yankee traders of the northwestern plains.
A course in watchmaking under his belt, young Brown filed on a homestead near as he could to the new railroad, which he would prove up while repairing watches and selling jewelry in town. In the meantime, when the business lots of Hettinger went on sale, Brown brought a plow into the townsite and marked the lots with furrows so the bidders could see what they were buying.
Brown got active in local politics and community causes, even organized a dance band. He bought the bank in Bucyrus, built two rural telephone lines there, and stocked a ranch with Shorthorns. Retiring from business in 1957, he organized the historical society in Hettinger.
Plenty of pioneering in that life, and likewise with Manvel P. “Quickie” Quickstad, pioneer grocer. Born in 1882 in Minnesota to Norwegian parents, he went west, worked in a grocery in Toronto, South Dakota, and then took up a homestead in Adams County, North Dakota–while also opening his own grocery store in Hettinger. There he married his hometown sweetheart, Florence, and they had two sons, both of whom went into business in Hettinger, and a daughter, who did not.
In fact, Shirley Mae Quickstad changed her name to Shirley Buchanan, went to Hollywood, had quite a few bit parts in film and television (one in an episode of Perry Mason), and married extremely well, more than once!
In memory of, the arch reads. It serves, rather, to those of us unacquainted with the community, as an invitation to inquire, and to learn that there was such a thing as a whole class of Norwegian pioneer businessmen on the twentieth-century frontier of the northern plains.