Forgotten Postmarks ~ Jesse Lake

2.5.2023 [archived ~ originally published 2.10.2018]

Jesse Lake Post Office ~ Courtesy of Itasca County Historical Society

Which came first, the naming of the lake or the naming of the post office?  The answer is explained in the April 10, 1909, issue of the Itasca News.

“The woods of the north is of later years becoming well sprinkled with post offices.  The latest is at the north end of Jessie Lake and is called Jesse Lake (note the spelling.)  Peter Peterson is the postmaster, and service begins as soon as Mr. Peterson arranges for the carrying of the mail, which must be done at his own expense until he can induce the government to do so.  This will make the eighth star route office to be supplied by the Deer River office.”

According to the document Journey into the Past, “Lake Jessie Township – as well as the name of the lake probably commemorate the wife or daughter of one of the early lumbermen.” [pg 11.  Journey into the Past – An Initial Inventory of Itasca County, Minnesota Historic Sites and Treasures; July 1966]

Postmaster Peterson 1909-1912

Peter Peterson immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden at the age of 26 and worked on the railroad in Warren, Minnesota.  Later he and Anna, his wife lived in Superior, and in 1903 they bought land at the north end of Jessie Lake. The family household goods were shipped by railroad to Spring Lake, hauled by horse and dray to Jessie Lake and transported by boat to the homestead. 

There were a few homesteaders before the Petersons, including Louis and Julia Sjolund, and Olaf Lind, who was here before the township organized in 1901.  Others that arrived at about the same time were the Alzens, Ingstads, Mortensons, Nelsons, Sandbergs, and Westerlunds.  The first school, called Sjolunds, opened in the fall of 1903 with Alice Poupore as the teacher of seven students.

By 1909, when the application for a post office for the community was granted, the township was platted, the Minneapolis & Rainy River railroad had established a station, a new school had been built. In addition to dispensing the mail and freight, Mr. Peterson maintained the records for the Greenwood Cemetery, and Mrs. Peterson served as midwife to the local families.

Peterson ran the Jesse Lake post office until October 1912, when his son-in-law Henry Johnson was appointed.

Postmaster Johnson 1912-1954

Henry was two years old when his parents brought the family to Wisconsin from Norway.  His father worked on the ore boats in Superior. It was probably here that Henry made his acquaintance with the Petersons and their daughter, Anna.

The 1910 census states they had been married four years and had two sons.  Johnson operated a small grocery store in their home. With the store established, it made sense to have the post office in the same location.  By 1920, the store had expanded to include other items of convenience for the growing community.  When telephone lines linked Jesse Lake to other areas, Mrs. Johnson operated the switchboard from their home as well.

The Johnson’s were fun-loving family and enjoyed the camaraderie of others.  Olga (Lindgren) Wise grew up in Jesse Lake during the 1930s and 1940s and recalls.  “Henry Johnson ran the PO and the telephone switchboard.  He was also the local Santa.  He had a neat suit and used to come on Christmas Eve and peek in our window.  He was a very good ice skater and as soon as he tested the ice on Jesse it was safe for all of the young kids to skate.  Many a Saturday were spent cleaning off the snow to have skating on Sunday.  Johnson furnished the hockey sticks and pucks.  Usually by Christmas there was too much snow, so we would go sledding.

Jesse Lake community fair.  It was held in the depot and Henry was the Chairman.  After the judging he and others packed up the best produce and hauled it to the county fair in Grand Rapids.  He would stay all week and so mom ran the Post Office and store.” Wise’s mother was Martha (Edwardson) Lindgren

In later years Wise wrote From Jessie Lake the First Fifty Years, compiling her memories and those of others. A letter shared by the Benson family is especially interesting, because the writer, Omrah “William” Benson expounds on the virtues of plentiful food in the Jesse Lake area.  Benson was born in Iowa and later moved to Missouri.  The large family moved to northern Minnesota in the spring of 1917.

This excerpt, written to Benson’s mother back in Iowa, is dated December 3, 1918.

“We think Minn. the garden spot of the earth.  Of course, we can’t raise everything here and neither can you any place else that I have ever heard of.  But we can raise all the potatoes and other roots.  We had 175 bu potatoes, 30 bu rutabagas & turnips, 15 bu parsnips, 10 bu carrots, 5 bu onions, some beets and 100 head of cabbage.  We canned 75 qt green beans, about 20 qt peas, 60 qt raspberries, about 15 qt strawberries; all total 220 qt.

In May the black suckers come up in the creek to spawn and so plentiful that the girls caught them with their hands. Verlan and Donald caught 61 one day with pitchforks. We want to fix a smokehouse and smoke 1000 pounds so we can have fish anytime.  They are one of the kind we can ship out of state, if we can get barrels. I can catch them (with spear) faster than a man can clean them.  They are fine wither smoked or baked.  Smoke them 24 hours with birchwood and they will keep for a year, it both cooks and cures them.  We like baked fish better than fried & bake them all day and then the bones are soft, and you can eat even the backbone.

Jesse Lake has a post office, 2 stores, 5 or 6 families and a sawmill.  Mack has a PO, store and one family – both four miles. Marcell, 5 miles away, has a PO, store hotel, and 5 or 6 families.  They have Memorial & 4th of July programs and that is about all.  Deer River is 20 miles south.  We trade there some by mail.  I have not been there since coming here.”

The book, From Jessie Lake the First Fifty Years is available for review in the research center at the Itasca County Historical Society.  I tracked down the author, who goes by “Lindy” in Florida. She told me “My brother lives in Grand Rapids and am related to the Kongsjords in Talmoon, Snells in Marcell and Lindgrens in Jessie Lake” and that “the books will be available as long as I am around!” 

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