Summer in Minnesota means the hum of mosquitoes and boat motors. Community festivals with historic connections are nearly as ubiquitous.
Of all the nostalgic celebrations coming up across the state, here are two coming up this week worth your while: Hopkins’ Raspberry Festival and Waverly’s 150th anniversary bash. About 35 miles separate the two communities west of Minneapolis. And while the prominence of both might have slipped over the years, the passion of their history keepers has not.
A new exhibit extolling Hopkins’ fruity past — “Raspberries, Parades, and Royalty” — opens Friday on the eve of the 85th Raspberry Festival. Showcasing a collection of artifacts and photos, the exhibit will be staged in a converted Masonic Lodge, now serving as the Hopkins History Center. Details at: tinyurl.com/Hopkinsexhibit.
Visitors will learn how Bohemian immigrants turned commercial raspberry production into a cash crop that covered 800 acres of Hopkins in the 1920s. By 1934, 125,000 crates of Hopkins raspberries were shipped to markets on 86 railroad cars. The next year, as the Depression worsened, boosters organized the Raspberry Festival and attracted 25,000. In 1937, a crate of 24 boxes was flown to President Franklin Roosevelt.
But the Depression, along with a 1931 drought and a 1940s fungus — were among factors that diminished Hopkins’ status as the raspberry capital.
Farmers switched crops to tomatoes, corn and peppers — waiting for the fungus to die out. By the time it did, houses had sprouted up where raspberry patches once flourished.
A few Czech names live on from the early days of Hopkins’ raspberries, tracing back to Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). In 1880, John Empenger and his younger brother, Joe, received as gifts some of the first raspberry plants. John Feltl, a Bohemian born in 1866, popularized a method of plowing furrows along raspberry rows — offering winter protection on his Minnehaha Creek farm in Hopkins in the 1880s.
“Our exhibit will help remind people of the importance of the Empengers, John Feltl and others to Hopkins’ raspberry growing industry,” said Mary Romportl, one of the volunteers behind the exhibit.
Over in Waverly, another small-town Minnesota history volunteer, Karen Fadden, was researching the 148 men and one woman from Waverly who served in World War I.
Fadden stumbled upon a 1916 clipping from the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, which published a map under the headline: “The One-Day Trip to Waverly Has Proved Popular With Minnesota Motorists.” Detailing the 43-mile route through Wayzata, Maple Plain and Delano, the story said: “The roads to Waverly are usually in good shape … [but] heavy rains are apt to hamper the road from Long Lake on, however.”
Fadden shared the clip with fellow history buff and Waverly native Eileen Smith, a co-chairwoman of the community’s 150th birthday party.
“Today, for most people, it’s just one more place on Highway 12 that you have to slow down to drive through,” Smith said. “But in 1916, when cars were still on the new side, it’s pretty cool that a drive to Waverly was the recommended thing to do for a day trip.”
Smith, 56, lives in Minneapolis, but her parents — Don and Gerry Smith — still live in Waverly. “I’m co-chairing the 150th celebration because my 85-year old mother didn’t have the energy,” Smith said. “She promised to stay out of it and not try to run the show, but she’s failing miserably.”
With a nod to that 1916 day-trip to Waverly, an antique car show on Saturday is among events planned to celebrate the community’s sesquicentennial. Food trucks, a history exhibit at the Village Hall, Friday fireworks and a parade are all part of the festivities. Details at: waverlymn.org.
Waverly is mostly known as the home of Hubert Humphrey, who purchased a lakefront house there in 1958 when he was in the U.S. Senate. The former Minneapolis mayor and U.S. vice president died in Waverly at 66 in 1978. But Waverly long predates HHH.
European settlers moved into the Big Woods of oak, maple, basswood and hickory in the 1850s in what became Wright County. A dam and mills on Little Waverly Lake went up in 1856, two years before Minnesota statehood.
Surviving grasshopper plagues and financial crises in its early days, Waverly was officially organized in 1869 when the railroad came through.
“Celebrating this 150th anniversary is a great way to bring people back to the community,” said Wanda Tussing, who manages Waverly’s municipal liquor store.
The community bowling alley, built by a veteran returning from World War I, was demolished this year. “My 85-year-old Mom shed a tear and said, ‘I doubt there is anyone alive who served more beer — or drank more beer — in that place than your mother,’ ” Eileen Smith said.
Curt Brown’s tales about Minnesota’s history appear each Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.