Heron Lake, MN Timeline

1901 - On December 31, 1901 fire destroyed the old public school building. The building had been erected in 1896 at a cost of $18,447. Of brick construction it was three stories tall and considered one of the finest buildings in all southwestern Minnesota.  For several months school was held in various churches and other buildings in the community until a new school could be put up in 1902. An addition to the auditorium was put on in 1936.

1903 - Heron Lake was the first Jackson County community to have a hospital. It was built in 1903 by Dr. A.J. Moe and was operated as a private business. Dr. Moe chose Heron Lake because of the rail service available there. Patients from the northeast and southwest could come to Heron Lake on the passenger trains of the Omaha line while those from the east and west could come on the Milwaukee disembarking at the Miloma depot where they were met by horse-drawn carriages to be transported to the hospital in town.

Passenger train service was so good that it was possible for patients to come into Heron Lake from any direction in the morning, visit the doctor and pharmacy and return home on afternoon trains. The Moe hospital was an institution of 50 beds operated in a wood frame building offering surgical and post-operative care of all sorts.

In addition to the hospital Dr. Moe and his wife also ran a school of nursing. It graduated about five students a year and operated from 1909 until 1918.

1907 - Brick laying became a major industry in Heron Lake not long after initial settlement settlers discovered certain clay deposits in and around Heron Lake were ideal for use as a raw material for building blocks and bricks. When properly mixed and formed into blocks usable bricks could be fashioned and baked by the heat of the summer sun. In 1907 the Heron Lake Brick and Tile Company's modern plant was opened. For the next decade the plant was a busy place with peak employment as high as 50 men and an average of about 40.

As employment increased the company arranged for numerous houses to be built in town using the company's tile as the basic building material. At peak production the plant turned out about three carloads of tile a day and products of the plant were used in the construction of the Foshay Tower, Nicollet Hotel and the Minneapolis Auditorium in the Twin Cities. The plant closed in 1929 with the depression being felt by the owners who finally gave up and closed down operation.

1910 - Heron Lake had a population of 803 in 1910. The population of Jackson County was 14,491. Average farm size was 215.8 acres, a size dictated by the limits of what a farmer, his wife and three or four sons or daughters of various ages could physically accomplish with no more power than their own muscles and a team or two of horses. Principle crops were corn, oats, wheat, hay and various grains. Wheat, once the predominant crop, had diminished in importance. Purebred cattle were the pride of stock farms while hogs paid the mortgages.

Electric service had come to the towns by 1910 but it was used almost exclusively for lighting. Electric refrigeration and most household appliances were still in the future.

Railroading was a major industry for every county town located on a line. The rails were the transportation link with the rest of the world while the telegraph lines paralleling the rails were the communication links. Jackson county was touched by three lines, the Milwaukee running from east to west through Jackson, Lakefield and Miloma crossing; the Rock Island cutting from southeast to northwest across the extreme southwestern corner of the county touching Round Lake; and the "Omaha" (Chicago and Northwestern) cutting from southwest to northeast through Heron Lake and Wilder. Virtually all intercommunity travel was by train with connections so good that one could go up the line in the morning and catch another train back home later in the day. Miloma crossing south of Heron Lake where the Milwaukee and Omaha tracks crossed was the major connection point for persons heading for the Twin Cities or southwestward toward Sioux City and Omaha.

The mode of life hadn't changed noticeably for generations but as 1910 faded from the calendar it was about to do so. In the years before World War I broke out, automobiles stared showing up in considerable numbers.

1920 - The population of Heron Lake was 922.

1929 - Heron Lake Duck Decoy Factory - The making of duck decoys was a cherished hobby of Heron Lake men. It not only filled the need for more blocks during hunting season but also helped to keep alive marsh memories during the off season. Most were made for private use but sometimes the better makers found a ready market for all they could turn out.

In 1929 one of the best decoy makers, Albert Olson, was commissioned to make 24 Bluebill decoys of read cedar and white pine for C.T. Jaffray of Minneapolis who was president of the Soo Line Railroad Company. Olson fashioned the decoys by hand using a wood rasp, hand axe and jack knife as his basic tools. Once they were carved Olson then painted them in colors closely reminiscent of the birds themselves.

The two dozen for Jaffray occupied much of Olson's time in 1929. He apparently got the order as a result of his work on 60 Bluebill decoys in 1928 for John P. Upham of Minneapolis, a prominent businessman of the day. In later years decoy collectors bid handsome prices at local auctions whenever any of these early handmade decoys showed up at sales. What was created for the utilitarian purpose of decoying waterfowl to the hunter's gun became in later years a highly prized art form.

1930 - Heron Lake had a population of 786.

1931 - Wilbur Hartburg of Heron Lake won the Jackson County fair top award with his purebred heifer and took the Shorthorn on to the state fair where he also took the grand championship.

1937 - For several years in the 1930's and 1940's Heron Lake citizens cooperatively worked to improve reading opportunity for one another. There was at the time no public library facility in the city. In 1937 those interested in improved access to books met and set up a circulating library system.

Under it each member pledged to buy at least one book for the library each year. The Heron Lake News arranged to get the books at cost and to provide shelf space on which they could be kept. Members could then check out any of the books to read. At the end of one year the member could take ownership of the book he or she had purchased.

The system worked very well and membership grew from about 20 the first year to 54 by 1940. It was one way of meeting the literary needs of the community during a time when public operation of a library was not possible.

1939 - Heron Lake was struck by its worst flood. Rain totaling 4.7 inches fell during one night, washing out stretches of roads and some bridges. The Heron Lake creek was over its banks and crossed the Heron Lake and Okabena road. Many crops were ruined as a result of the flood.

1940 - The population of Heron Lake was 852. November 1940 - Armistice Day of 1940 will long be remembered by the people of Heron Lake and vicinity, as well as those of the entire northwest for that day was marked by the worst November blizzard in history and probably as severe a one day blizzard as has ever swept down on this territory at any time of the winter in any year.

1950 - Heron Lake had a population of 837.

1960 - By 1960 the population of Heron Lake was 852.

1970 - Heron Lake had a population of 777.

1958 - Kindergarten classes were started at Heron Lake.

1967 - Second school fire December 21, 1967 - A major fire, running into many thousands of dollars and which threatened to engulf Heron Lake's school building Tuesday evening
was quickly brought under control by firemen, but not before the flash fire had gutted the stage area of the school auditorium. Total damage was in excess of $15,000. It was believed that the blaze was due to an accidental electric breakdown. Much smoke damage also resulted throughout the entire building. 

1968 - September 1968 - Disastrous fire at the elevator - Black Friday the 13th was a disastrous day for the Heron Lake Elevator Co., when fire wiped out their No. 2 elevator and contents, with a lost of $115,000.00. It was the seventh elevator fire in the history of Heron Lake.

October 1968 - Bids totaling $717,721 for a new elementary school were awarded.

1974 - Senator Hubert Humphrey was the speaker and ribbon cutter at the ribbon cutting and dedication of the Southwest Grain Terminal on June 1.

1977 - July 6, 1977 - William L. Stearns was offered and accepted the combined superintendancy of the Heron Lake and Okabena schools in the second joint school board meeting. A committee was named to study the possibility of reorganization between Heron Lake and Okabena.

1978 - April 5, 1978 - Heron Lake and Okabena boards pass resolution to consolidate.

1979 - The first graduating class of the Heron Lake-Okabena school received diplomas on May 25, 1979.

1981 - Heron Lake-Okabena won the Minnesota State High School League Class "A" Girls Basketball Championship. The girls basketball team capped a perfect "dream" season by going undefeated (28-0) and winning Southern Start Conference, District Seven and Region Two Championships before thrilling HL-O fans with exciting victories over Bagel, Austin Pacelli and Moose Lake (62-46) at the Met Sports Center in Bloomington. Heron Lake-Oaken High School also won the coveted Sportsmanship Award. The team averaged 59.2 points per game, with a high of 88 points, and only allowed opponents 32.6 points per game with a low of 12 points. Les Knutson was head coach and was assisted by Wayne Rasche. (From Heron Lake, Minnesota Centennial + 5 1988, page 182.)

1982 - HL-O Scarlet Knights 3rd in Class A State Volleyball Tournament.

1988 - Heron Lake-Okabena and Lakefield begin first year of pairing of their schools. The high school will be located in Lakefield, the junior high in Okabena and each district will keep their present elementary schools. The mascot will be the "Silver Bullets." The school name will be Heron Lake-Okabena-Lakefield (HLOL). Each school district will maintain their own separate school board members for each district.

1996 - June 18 - Milestone resolution passes – HL-O Board votes to operate own K-12 school in 1997-1998. The Kindergarten through sixth grade elementary school will remain as present in the Heron Lake building. The Okabena building will contain the 7-12 junior and senior high schools. (Tri-County News – 6/26/96)

1996 - It’s official. The name will be Southwest Star Concept School. The name and design was presented, by Jean Ferguson, to the HLO Board of Education at its recent regular meeting.

"Southwest" was chosen to be more inclusive as a community based school. It defines a broader range of communities in southwest Minnesota, that could include students from areas other than the towns of Heron Lake and Okabena. The "Star" lends a bit of history. HLO once belonged to the Southern Star Conference. A "Star" is also symbolic of the lofty goals set for the school and its students. "Concept school" defines our purpose to make education a hands-on or applied learning experience for students.

The HLO School Board approved the name and name design. The board also authorized the Extracurricular Committee to determine the school mascot, colors, and school song. (From Part II in a continuing series regarding the future of the HLO School District by Cindy Scheevel, group member. This Part II series was taken from the Worthington Globe published on Dec. 5, 1996.)

1997 - Quasars all aglow for future (by Doug Wolter from the Worthington Daily Globe 1/2/97) - At a public meeting Monday night residents from the towns of Heron Lake & Okabena decided on the most unique of the offerings for mascot. The name chosen was "Quasars." What is a Quasar? It’s a huge group of stars that are 10 to 100-times brighter than any other stars in the universe. The school’s colors chosen were black, blue and silver.

(Tri-County News 8/27/97 by Robyn Gunther, Tri-County News Staff Writer)
SSC Grand Opening took place on August 23, 1997 and approximately 600 community members attended the celebration.

(Tri-County News 9/24/97)
SSC School Board resolves to go ahead with a bond referendum for remodeling and additions to the Okabena building.

(Tri-County News 11/5/97– Center for School Change Director Joe Nathan)
Humphrey Institute backs Southwest Star Concept School - Why has our organization committed thousands of dollars to help create the Southwest Star Concept School? Why do I urge local residents to vote "Yes" in the upcoming election! Because we are impressed! We are impressed with the strong commitment and talent of educators at the Southwest Star Concept School; with the remarkable collaboration between Southwest Star educators, parents and the broader community; with the research showing enormous value of small schools for students.

(Tri-County News 11/26/97 by Carol Schreiber, Tri-County News Editor)
Voters in the Southwest Star Concept School District gave a thumbs up to the bond referendum which will mean remodeling of and an addition to the Okabena Junior/Senior High School building for classroom space, a media center, science labs and a remodeled gymnasium, among other things. The bond referendum passed by a 69% approval.

This Heron Lake, MN history timeline will be updated soon!

(The History of the city of Heron Lake was obtained from the following sources:  1883-1983 Heron Lake 100 Years of Good Living, Consultation and Composition by Gary Richter, a Project of the Heron Lake Centennial Book Committee;  Heron Lake, Minnesota - Centennial +5 1988; Consultation and Composition by Gary Richter, A project of the Heron Lake Centennial-Committee; and An Illustrated History of Jackson County Minnesota, Vol. I and II by Arthur P Rose and the Tri-County News.)