We all do it. Even the proudest Bold Northerners are probably guilty of complaining about Minnesota winters.
We say we "cope" with the dark, cold days, even as we're tucked in our heated homes with closets full of down jackets and insulated snow boots.
That's what got Ken Klein thinking. What did "coping" look like for the early European settlers during some of their first Minnesota winters? Another reader wondered something similar — how were homes built and heated in the early years of the Minnesota Territory?
The two turned to Curious Minnesota, our community-driven reporting project fueled by reader questions.
"We complain if we have a long commute on a winter day, but these guys had no heating," Klein said. "And it's not like they could run to Cub for groceries."
Lena Norrman, a senior lecturer in Swedish at the University of Minnesota, said survival for Scandinavian settlers in the mid-19th century meant relying on skills they'd used in the Old Country and improvising solutions. Most built log homes and used moss or clay as insulation.
The main source of heat was a fireplace or stove. If they had them, the families might have hung fur or textiles against the walls as an added layer against the cold and wind. Simple wooden beds were lined with straw, and children often slept two or three to a bed for the benefit of added body heat. Straw also lined the floors.
Even if families had fur pelts in their home country, they were often left behind in favor of more essential items.
"At least in the early days, you could only bring maybe one chest for the family," Norrman said. "You'd bring the Bible and the absolutely necessary things. Maybe they'd bring leather boots if they had them."
Like today, layering clothing was crucial. Still, that depended on using what clothing they had, often wool sweaters and shawls. Inside the cabin, family members preserved food, cooked, mended clothes, told stories and sang together. For water, they melted snow in buckets. Many families also brought smaller animals inside for added heat. Dogs, cats, pigs and chickens would live alongside the homesteaders.
"The better off you were, the more ways you had to keep the heat in," Norrman said.
Mechanical heating systems were around, though not common in private residences. The James J. Hill House in St. Paul, built in 1891, did have a gravity heating system, which cost $25,000 when installed. The contractors guaranteed the house would be heated to 70 degrees even when the outside temperature dipped to minus 40.
Rather than worrying about surviving winter, the Hill family enjoyed ice skating, snowshoeing and attending some of the city's first Winter Carnivals. When riding in carriages, family members often covered up with a wolverine lap robe.
"They had the creature comforts that are much closer to what we have today," said Christine Herbaly, site manager for the James J. Hill and Alexander Ramsey houses. "But they were in the top 1%."