Old Albertville: the town that refused to grow

By LeAnn R. Ralph

ALBERTVILLE — Louis Solberg, Oscar Solberg and Lillian Flesberg teamed up to write a book of memoirs they called “Old Albertville: The Town That Refused to Grow.”

There is no copyright date on the book.

The Foreword states, “We are writing this in an attempt to describe what life was like in the days when our Grandparents came to this community and what country living was like in what was our home town. This book is comprised of three parts.”

Louis Solberg’s Aunt Lillian Flesberg wrote the first part; Louis wrote the second part; and Oscar, Louis’s brother, wrote the third part.

Albertville is located southeast of Colfax.

Louis Solberg, who passed away in 2008, grew up in Albertville and owned a farm north of Colfax. He and his wife, Alda (also known as Sweetie Pie) operated the farm during the 1940s and 1950s. Louis is the author of a hand-written manuscript about his life entitled “Sweetie Pie and I” or “From Scratch.” He also is the author of “Keep Them Rolling” (Company 314) (A World War II Story 1941-1945).

Here is a description of Albertville written by Lillian Flesberg in her portion of the book:

The village of Albertville in the Town of Wheaton, Chippewa County, State of Wisconsin, was the scene of much bustling activity in those very early years [late 1800s].

The General Merchandise stores sold a variety of articles from flour and sugar to family footwear, yard goods, boys’ and men’s work clothes to hammers.

Wheat flour was sold in fifty-pound cloth bags. Graham flour came in twenty-five pound paper bags. Vinegar, syrup and molasses were stored in huge wooden barrels. These foods were dispensed into jugs (brought from home) by means of a spigot in the side of the barrel. Likewise, kerosene was carried home in one-gallon or five-gallon cans supplied by the customer.

And, of course, there was candy. There were several kinds of stick candy at 1 cent per stick. Five cents worth of candy would be quite a nice sized bag-full. This candy might be white chocolate coated or perhaps it would be peppermints, wintergreens, bean candy or gumdrops. There was no choice of candy bars as there was only one kind, which was the peanut candy bar.

Quite a variety of gum was on the market. It included Blackjack and Spruce gum. Spruce gum was something special. It had a sort of a pine flavor and came in a red and white wrapper. A very small piece would be the right size for a good “cud.”

There was footwear for every member of the family; wool yarn for stockings and mittens; men’s and boys’ caps, overalls, leather gloves and mittens, yard-goods, thread, needles, pins, tape measurer.

In addition, a variety of hardware could be purchased such as: axe handles, pliers, hammers, saws, nails and screws just to name a few.

Purchases were made by bartering with eggs or homemade butter and the balance in cash.

Erickson Hotel

The Erickson Hotel accommodated the cross country traveler who might stop for a lunch for himself and his horse would be cared for in the livery stable. Or perhaps, he would stop for a warm meal and a bed for the night. It was also used by the traveler who came by train. The train traveler would be able to rent a horse from the stable to take him out into the country.

Blacksmith shop

The blacksmith shop was the property of Abel Hanson. This kind old gentleman would remind a person of the honorable “smith” in Longfellow’s poem, “The Village Blacksmith.”

In Hanson’s shop, a person could see the flaming forge, hear the bellows blow, see the sparks “which flew like chaff from the threshing floor,” hear and see the heavy sledge “with measured beat and slow” as it struck the red-hot iron on the anvil.

This is where blades were ground or sharpened, tools and machinery were repaired. It was wonderful for farmers and villagers alike. Gone now is the Smithery and so is the Smith.

Cheese factory

The cheese factory was located a short distance beyond the village limits. If memory serves correctly, it was on a part of the Wilbur Craig place, now known as the Ives place.

The farmers, some from quite a distance, would deliver the milk to the cheese factory by means of a horse-drawn wagon, buggy or cart.

The whey left from the manufacturing of cheese would be given to the farmers. This whey made good animal food.

Warehouses

Albertville had two warehouses. One warehouse was for storing, buying and selling potatoes. The Chicago buyers or merchants were the ones who really “set the tone” for the season.

If there was a small crop, the buying could be brisk and short. If there was a good big crop, their buying would be slow, even at a standstill.

The farmers would receive 18 cents, 20 cents or 30 cents a bushel. On some occasions, they could even receive 40 cents or 50 cents a bushel. Heating the warehouse through the winter, so there would be no frost damage to the potatoes in storage, posed quite a problem.

The fall of 1911 was a rainy one. The snow came early that year. Anton Solberg had visited his mother in Norway that fall. Needless to say all of the work was not completed when winter set in. Several rows of his potato field were left.

The following spring, in April, Anton’s plow turned more than five bushels of beautiful potatoes. He promptly delivered the potatoes to market in Albertville. He told the buyer that these potatoes had just come out of the ground.

He said, “I want to tell you this myself.”

The buyer said, “You tell the people that, they won’t believe me.”

That was the only time Anton was paid $3 per bushel for his potatoes.

The second warehouse was for storage, buying and selling of such things as baled hay, baled straw, corn and various kinds of grain. This warehouse did not pose the problem of heat as did the potato warehouse. Here heat was nil.

The fact that the hay, straw and grains were under cover was a relief to the farmers even if they had to be kept all winter. It could happen that the farmers would receive a better price in the spring.

[More stories from “Old Albertville: The Town That Refused to Grow” will be published in the Colfax Messenger’s Christmas edition on December 25.]