Morgan publishes book of history explorations

by Dennis Dalman –

When Bill Morgan looks out the window of his home to watch the birds and hear their happy chatter at the bird feeder, he can also sometimes almost hear the snuffling, neighing and grunting sounds of cattle, horses and hogs.

Morgan, after all, is a historian. Throughout his life, he has developed a knack for seeing “through time” so he can see in his mind’s eye what’s here now, what was here before and what was there even before that.

For example, the Sartell patio home of Morgan and his wife, Judy, sits on what used to be – in the late 19th Century – a cattle farm owned by fearless Minnesota pioneer Nehemiah P. Clarke. The site was then called Meadow Lawn Farm. The Morgans’ home is located in Meadowlawn Village, named in honor of Clarke’s farm.

The story of Nehemiah P. Clarke and Meadow Lawn Farm is just one of 66 explorations of central Minnesota’s past in Morgan’s just-published book, “Earth, Wood, Stone: Volume II.” The first volume was published in 2008. Both books are compilations of Morgan’s history columns written for the St. Cloud Times, a job he began in 1998.

The newest book, of large format and 166 pages, is brimming with old photographs, many dating back to the very advent of photography, as well as some color photos of a more recent vintage. Morgan’s book explores fascinating tidbits of history concerning many of the cities and townships of mainly Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties. Morgan concentrates on natural landmarks (such as Peace Rock above the river near Sartell), interesting people (such as Ann Petrich of St. Stephen), unique historic buildings (such as the Davidson Opera House in St. Cloud) and special topics (such as when the circus came to town in 1895).

“Earth, Wood, Stone: Volume II” reads like a leisurely stroll from place to place, so many of them familiar at first sight and yet unfamiliar, too, until Morgan excavates the past for the readers and helps them see through time, far beneath the glancing familiarity.

Born in Pipestone, Morgan earned a bachelor’s degree from Macalaster College, then a master’s degree and doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota. He taught American Studies at St. Cloud State University from 1978 to 2000 and then taught as an adjunct professor at SCSU from 2001 until 2009.

Morgan is the author of four books, all dealing with some form of history. He still writes a monthly history column for the St. Cloud Times.

Bill and Judy Morgan, who are very active in the Sartell Senior Connection, have lived in Sartell for 13 years.

The following are samplings of some of the chapters that deal with the Sartell-St. Stephen area in Morgan’s latest book:


As noted above, the Morgans live on land that once was a vast farm founded by Nehemiah P. Clarke, a human dynamo who blew into Minnesota from Massachusetts in the mid-1800s.

In 1856, he and a friend, John Proctor, decided to walk to St. Cloud from Minneapolis. By the time they reached Monticello, the exhausted friend begged Clarke to stop and wait for a stagecoach.

“Rather than wait for a coach,” Morgan wrote, “Clarke hoisted Proctor on his back and carried him the rest of the way.”

At the time, St. Cloud was just a scruffy sprawl of houses along the river, which caused the minds of Clarke and Proctor to go into high gear. They erected a building from which they sold hardware and farming implements.

Later, Clarke was awarded a government grant to develop a state route from St. Cloud all the way to the Black Hills. Mules and oxen carried goods to government posts throughout the Dakota territory.

There seemed to be no end to Clarke’s ambition and entrepreneurial ways. He was a farmer, a banker, an animal-stock breeder, a lumberman and a corporate director for several Red River railroads.

Clarke was nationally known as a breeder of Clydesdale and Hambletonian horses, shorthorn and Galloway cattle, Berkshire hogs and Cotswold sheep. He would sail to England now and then to select “the choicest animals, regardless of cost, for the Stearns County farms,” said historian William Bell Mitchell. Clarke’s name for his shorthorns was “Meadow Lawn,” and one of them (Dorothea II) won more than two dozen championships.

Clarke’s prized animals were raised and bred on 3,800 acres located in sections 16 and 17 in LeSauk Township, and the acreage was divided into three farms that Clarke named Nether Hall, Clyde Mains and Meadow Lawn, on which now sits the patio home occupied by Bill and Judy Morgan.

Clarke and a partner, T.C. McClure, owned lumber mills in St. Cloud, Minneapolis, Perham and Manitoba, Canada.

In 1892, Clarke hired a prominent architect to design a home for his wife, Caroline, and their three children. The stately, three-story mansion, which still stands at 356 3rd Ave. S. in St. Cloud, is considered one of the finest Victorian-style mansions in the entire area.

Morgan closes his column on Clarke this way: “As I look out my window today, I see a row of patio homes called Meadowlawn Village, where the chirping of birds on my feeder have replaced the sounds of cattle, horses and hogs.”


Morgan’s book is dedicated to two inspiring women, both now deceased – Sister Justina Bieganek, who was brought to Minnesota on one of the “orphan trains” in the early 20th Century; and Anna Poglajen Petrich, a resourceful woman who lived as an old-fashioned “pioneer” in a log house near St. Stephen.

Morgan’s column on Petrich is a virtual valentine to a one-of-a-kind woman.

He begins his column with these words: “Although she died in 1994 at age 99, I still think about Anna Petrich almost every day. I met Anna and her husband, John, in 1980 when they were living in the log house that Anna’s father built near St. Stephen, Minnesota in 1883.”

Born in St. Stephen in 1895, Anna was the daughter of immigrants from Slovenia in eastern Europe. They arrived in the St. Stephen area in 1883. Before moving, they had read about the area in an article written by Father Francis Xavier Pierz, which was published in a Cincinnati newspaper. Pierz, who also hailed from Slovenia, lived in central Minnesota and befriended immigrants and many Native Americans. He was instrumental in convincing many in Eastern states to move to central Minnesota – especially Slovenians in the Cincinnati area. As a result of Pierz’s efforts, St. Stephen became the first Slovenian settlement in the nation.

Anna’s husband, John Petrich, was also born in Slovenia, just a few miles from Anna’s parents’ farm, as strange coincidence would have it. John’s family emigrated to Minnesota’s Iron Range. His father owned land near St. Stephen and young John often accompanied him to that area when he had business there. That is how John met Anna, whom he married when she was 17.

They lived in Northome for seven years where John worked in the iron mines for 14 cents an hour, 10 hours a day.

In 1918, the couple moved to St. Stephen and moved into the same log house where Anna had been born.

Even when she was in her 80s, Anna still grew a large garden, raising vegetables as well as flowers, including gladioli that were used to decorate the altar in the Church of St. Stephen. For several years, she wrote the church’s newsletter, read widely to keep up with current events and tended to John’s needs after he suffered a massive stroke.

During the last years of their lives, John and Anna lived in the Country Manor nursing home in Sartell.

“Anna told me,” Morgan wrote, “how much she appreciated running water and a flushing toilet, but missed driving her old Chevy.”

In the following paragraph, Morgan gives a vividly detailed description that evokes Anna’s pioneer way of life.

“The kitchen was the family hearth. It contained a wood-fed Monarch range from which Anna baked delicious cookies, pastries and breads made from Slovenian recipes that had been passed down through the generations. The range was also used to heat old-fashioned flatirons, light was produced by kerosene lamp, and the kitchen sink filled by water drawn from an outdoor well. In the parlor a potbellied stove provided heat for a downstairs bedroom and for a sleeping loft above.”

How to get the book

The best way to get a copy of “Earth, Wood, Stone: Volume II” is to call Morgan at 253-6412. The Morgans can mail the books, autographed, to customers. Morgan can also be emailed at:

The book is also available at the historical societies in Benton and Stearns counties, Walgreen’s on Division Street in St. Cloud, Books Revisited in downtown St. Cloud (and the one in Crossroads), the Paramount Theater bookstore and Cold Spring Bakery.

[/media-credit] Nehemiah P. Clarke

Dennis Dalman

Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
Dennis Dalman
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