Television, magazines and newspapers are all busy listing the Top 10 events of 2020. It certainly was an unprecedented year!
With that theme in mind, this week I thought I would list 10 events that not only changed the course of our little town since its very beginning, but also changed the lives of those who were living here. The events are not listed in order of their importance, but rather they are listed chronologically. Some of these events were great and some — not so good!
1. The Louisiana Purchase by the U.S. from France in 1803, cost $15 million, or about $18 per square mile. That figures out to be $2,880 for our wonderful Leech Lake, which is 160 square miles. Just a foot of lakeshore would cost about $4,000 today!
2. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided any adult citizen 160 acres of surveyed government land. The first local homesteaders to take advantage of the new act were Henry Scovall and George LaBorneau, who both filed on the same day — Aug. 26, 1874.
3. On March 30, 1896, 86 men voted for the incorporation of Walker, with a population of 186 people. Not long after, the Brainerd and Northern Minnesota Railroad rolled into town from the south, and a year later the Great Northern Railroad came from the east. Our little town quickly became open to the entire country!.
4. Tom Walker came to the area and began cutting down all the beautiful pineland in our area. Mayor Pat McGarry named our town after him, hoping he would build a lumber mill here.
Tom’s wife Harriet was a die-hard teetotaler and said if the businessmen would get rid of their booze and brothels, her husband would build the mill. Of course the businessmen were not willing to do that, so in 1902, Tom’s buddy, Healy Akeley, built the mill 10 miles away and it became the largest mill in Minnesota.
5. In 1907, Ah-Gwah-Ching opened as a tuberculosis sanitorium. In 1962, it was converted to a home for geriatrics, and in 2008 it closed. During that century, however, the complex meant much to the economy of our area, as it usually employed about 300 people and usually had about 300 residents.
6. World War I was declared April 6, 1917, and World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, and lives of the residents of Walker changed considerably. During both conflicts, we rationed gas and food, planted victory gardens, and bought savings bonds.
Many of our young people left our little town for the armed services, and some gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
7. The Leech Lake Muskie Rampage was a two-week fishing extravaganza that began July 16, 1955. At least 163 fish from 20 to 42 pounds were recorded at Federal Dam alone, and they were also jumping in boats all over Leech Lake!
From that time on, Walker and our great inland sea became known as the, “Muskie Capital of the World.”
8. In the middle 1950s the little town of Detroit Lakes was very similar to our little town of Walker — about the same size, located on a beautiful lake and most of their incomes depended upon tourism. Both Walker and Detroit Lakes had a chance to bid for a Minnesota State Community and Technical College — an opportunity of which Detroit Lakes took advantage. Today, Detroit Lakes is almost 10,000 people!
9. The many great promotional events, including the Eelpout Festival, Moondance Events, Fourth of July Celebration could be included, but I personally believe the improvement of our infrastructure in 2020, during our short summer with the days of wind, rain and muddy conditions, was an unbelievable undertaking and should be ranked in the Top 10 events that changed our little town.
10. Words cannot describe the devastation the COVID-19 pandemic has caused over the past year. Businesses closed, others are struggling, people testing positive, some sick and a few have even passed away because of the dreadful disease!
The old and the new — the good and the bad — Godspeed for the good old days again!