New series to cover history of New Richmond

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On Friday, Jan. 16, the Friday Memorial Library will play host to Part 1 of the three-part History of New Richmond series hosted by New Richmond Heritage Center curator Mary Sather.

“We thought it would be nice to work with the Heritage Center and what better location than the library for a series like this,” said Friday Memorial Library Adult/Community Services Librarian Sally Cheslock. “We have most of her books here and I think there is an interest in the history of New Richmond. So we can offer this program for free at the library.”

Part 1, “Then & Now,” starts at 1 p.m. on Friday, and will be followed by Part 2, “What Happened in the Cyclone,” on Jan. 23, and finishes up with “Artifacts Show & Tell” on Jan. 30. The final two events will also start at 1 p.m.

“After the idea came to us I called Mary and we started talking about different topics for the program,” Cheslock said. “However, after we were talking for a little while, we decided that we would need to do a series since there is so much information that can be shared. We thought it would be way more interesting if we broke it up rather than to try and fit it all into one day.”

Then & Now

To kick off the series, Sather will give attendees an overview of the history of New Richmond using a variety of visual aids.

“We have a very good powerpoint presentation that we use for the LTI classes every year and that is something we will use for this series,” Sather said. “The first part of the series starts with 1855 when the village was first settled right here in what is now Glover Park and takes it through about 1975.”

Part 1 of the series ends in 1975 because that is when the village council really started to take over from the other citizen groups that had been running the town up until then.
“Before 1975, the town was run by the Kiwanis Club and the businesses of New Richmond,” Sather said. “It was really pretty much citizen run, despite the fact that they did have a real government as well. The village council really took over in 1975 and I thought that would be a good spot to stop for the first part of the series.”

What Happened in the Cyclone

On June 12, 1899, an estimated EF-5 tornado hit New Richmond and changed everything for the village that had been around for less than 50 years. The second part of the History of New Richmond series will focus on the events surrounding the tornado and the rebuilding of the town.

“The cyclone was the most significant event in New Richmond history,” Sather said. “At least it was the most life changing, if not the most important.”

The north and west sides of town escaped with minimal damage, but it wiped out all of downtown and everything on the east side of town.

“There were two books that were written immediately there after...about the tornado from eyewitnesses and I’ll have some selections from them to read during the second session because they are really fascinating,” Sather said. “There were 117 people lost during the tornado and that is from a town of just over 1,000 people, so it was a significant amount. Almost every family lost somebody.”

According to Sather, the New Richmond tornado was rated in the top 10 of the biggest tornadoes in the country, but recently lost one spot to the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., a few years ago.

“Many of the deaths were people who were trapped in their houses by the tornado and then their houses started on fire and they burned to death,” Sather said. “And the town was crowded that day because the circus was in town, so people had just gotten home from the afternoon show. In just six minutes it had destroyed the town and went on back out of town toward Clear Lake.”

Artifacts Show & Tell

Part 3 of the series will feature artifacts from the history of New Richmond that Sather will bring in to show the attendees of the final program.

“I’ll bring a box of stuff from the Heritage Center and show them to everyone, while also giving explanations about what everything is,” Sather said. “Among those, I will bring some of the artifacts that we have been sent by people who had relatives there at the time who picked up some of the stuff from the wreckage.”

One of the things that Sather said will be the most prominent among the artifacts is objects from after the tornado, such as items people looted from the town.

“It is really interesting what people had taken after the tornado and what things we still have from back then,” Sather said. “One lady’s grandfather had picked up a little prayer book from a well known citizen in town. The Methodist church has a key from their new organ that they had played for the first time on Sunday, June 11, the day before the tornado. The only things they found from that organ was two keys.”

Although the tornado hitting the town in 1899 may be one of the worst things to happen to New Richmond, Sather feels that it also had many positives.

“I have always felt that that event (the tornado) had made an impact on the people of the town that has never gone away,” Sather said. “The courage, the fortitude and the get-up-and-go sort of spirit that the citizens displayed to rebuild their town has always energized New Richmond. It has been, to my mind, a fairly unusual small town with people who have always been willing to pick up one idea and go with it.”

For more information on the series, contact the Friday Memorial Library at 715-243-0431 or info@newrichmondlibrary.org.