Once a city of factory whistles, church bells and mill grinding, Chaska today stands as a growth and development-driven suburb.
While Chaska’s priorities in 1923 of work and family aren’t too different in 2023, many other aspects of life have changed in 100 years.
(Editor’s note: The following information and accounts were sourced from “Chaska: A Minnesota River City, Prehistory to 1950” by LaVonne E. Barac, “Chaskalphabet: A Brief Introduction to Chaska’s History” by Lisa Oberski, “View from a Bench in City Square” by Jim Faber and the City of Chaska Historic Context Study.)
The Chaska Herald in 1923 was known as the Weekly Valley Herald and was printed every Thursday morning by F.E. Du Toit & Son. The paper was a main source of advertisements, national and international happenings and provided small snapshots into the lives of Chaskans.
The 1920 census indicated that Chaska’s population was 1,966, a 5.3% decrease from the 1910 census. It remained around 2,000 until the 1960 Census when the population rose to 2,501 people, and made a 74% jump by the 1970 census with 4,352 people.
Today, over 28,000 call Chaska home, according to the 2020 census.
Homes in 1923 were likely built in the gabled-ell cottage, colonial revival cottage, Italian Renaissance revival and craftsman bungalow styles. Many examples of this stand today in what was once the hub of the city, Downtown Chaska.
While on the back end of the 1918 influenza pandemic, Chaskans still faced daily fears around their health.
A Herald Quip compiled by the Chaska Historical Society from March 22, 1923, notes, “There has been more sickness in this city and the surrounding territory during the past month than at any time since the fatal ‘Flu’ epidemic of 1918. The general opinion prevails that the changeable weather has been the cause. Be that as it may, we have surely had some kind of an epidemic and the end is not yet.”
Prohibition, the abrupt death of Warren G. Harding, president of the United States from 1921-1923, and rising gas prices were also strains at this time.
Jim Faber, a Chaska Herald columnist and historian, noted in one of his columns that, “Drivers were deeply concerned about the high price of gasoline in 1923. There were gas wars and public outcry that Standard Oil was price-fixing. The price per gallon was 16 cents. Gas stations were also beginning to pop up all over Chaska as more and more people took to the roads.”
Chaskans could turn to their new local chiropractor, Dr. J.P. Sorenson, who opened up his practice in Chaska in March 1923, to relieve some of the bodily tension caused by these stressors.
Church was quite important for this deeply German community, with Guardian Angels Catholic Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church and Chaska Moravian Church being fixtures of the community. It’s assumed that smaller religious groups congregated in homes.
A headline in the July 12 edition of the Herald in 1923 stated that “tremendous crowds gather for the impressive and solemn services” at the dedication of St. John’s Lutheran Church on July 8. The congregation’s former church and school was destroyed by a fire in August 1921.
In 1923, young people were attending classes at Park School (1885-1931) and Chaska High School, which was housed in what was known as the Fourth Street School (1904-1966).
“The class of ’23 comprising fifteen fine young men and women, who have completed the prescribed high school course, will receive their diplomas of graduation tomorrow evening — Friday evening, June 1st, the commencement exercises taking place at the Guardian Angels Auditorium at eight o’clock. The class of ’23 is one of the largest ever to graduate by the Chaska High School,” according to a Herald Quip from May 31, 1923, compiled by the Chaska Historical Society.
At this ceremony, C.H. Klein, president of the Board of Education, presented the graduates with their diplomas.
Guardian Angels High School opened in 1922, but was quite small, with only two students graduating in the first two years, according to the Chaska Historic Context Study. The school remained open through 1973.
The American Crystal Sugar Company, the Gedney Pickle Factory, the Chaska Flour Mill, the Sugar City Cooperative Creamery and the Chaska Canning Company were all industries that reflected Chaska’s agricultural focus.
“For much of the twentieth century, Chaska remained a small town just outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Though certainly affected by world events, especially by its residents’ service in WWI and WWII, in general the city kept to itself. The brickyards and mills stayed active, and the sugar industry rose to prominence, giving the town the nickname ‘Sugar City,’” states the Chaska Historic Context Study.
The Chaska Brick industry, acquired by the Klein family in 1904, was beginning to dwindle by this time. Faber cited “price competition, newer building materials and growing competition for day laborers” as the reason for its decline in the ‘20s and ‘30s in a 1994 column.
While the brick industry began to decrease, the Minnesota Sugar Company hit its peak during the 1920s, according to the Context Study. It was built in 1905 as the Carver County Sugar Factory and was renamed in 1911. Sugar beets proved to be a reliable crop for Chaska’s farmsteads, and also brought in migrant workers.
The original Gedney Pickle Factory in Chaska was booming around this time as well, producing an abundance of pickles and sauerkraut. The plant would later move to Chanhassen in 1958.
Two prominent former mayors died in 1923. W.C. Odell, a Chaska resident, former mayor and attorney in Carver County, died in the fall at 74 years old. George DuToit, who was best known for his founding of the Carver County State Bank, died in late February.
DuToit’s death was so important that Mayor Peter Simons had a proclamation included in the Feb. 22 Weekly Valley Herald Herald requesting that every business in the city close during the hours of his funeral.
The mayoral seat switched over from Simons (1919-1923) to William Oberstein (1923-1925) in a 1923 election, and city changes only continued from there.
A Herald Quip from the Chaska Historical Society states that on Nov. 1, 1923, “Chaska City Council awarded a sewer contract for $582.70. The sewer will run on Second Street from Pine to Chestnut Street. Council decided to leave the connecting of the sewer to the individual property owners.”
Improvements around the city continued with the opening of the Chaska library in 1923 by the Chaska Civic League. It was located on the second floor former classroom in the Park School building at the northeast corner of Fourth and Chestnut streets. Emma Klammer, “The Mother of Chaska Library,” was the volunteer head librarian. Donations and fundraisers were a necessity in order to fill the shelves with books.
It wasn’t until 1939 that Grace Gibson became the first paid librarian there.
Another important woman in the community was Nellie Baxter, who was the first woman to run for Chaska City Council. In her life, she was also the chairwoman of the Carver County Republican Party, a member of the Women’s Civic League and founder of the League of Women Voters.
Other advancements were soon on the horizon for Chaska, such as the purchase of a six-cylinder Studebaker Chassis with a 500-gallon water tank was purchased in 1926 for $4,850. But in 1923, the volunteer firefighters were still using a hand-drawn pumper, ladder wagon and two-wheeled hose.
When not at work/school or church, Chaskans kept busy by engaging with the arts and city organizations.
A Herald Quip from Nov. 29, 1923 reads, “The great Happ Auditorium, formerly known as the Schnitzelbank Auditorium, will be the scene of a Great Thanksgiving Dance this (Thursday) evening. The musical program this evening will be furnished by the Jazzland Orchestra of Minneapolis. Refreshments will be served in the auditorium dining room.”
The Schnitzelbank Club, a group built around the German Schnitzelbank song, was disbanded in 1923. The organization was about more than a song though; it presented Christmas trees to the city, sponsored dances, picnics and built a pavilion for events.
Schram Haus Brewery has revived a new version of the Schnitzelbank Club at their business.
Breweries were once in abundance and of great importance to the distinctly German community, but Prohibition permanently altered Chaska’s brewery landscape. Leivermann Brewery and Iltis Brewery were no more by 1923, with Leivermann Brewery being razed in 1922 to make way for the construction of Highway 12 (212 today), according to a 1994 column from Faber.
Beyrer Brewery was one of the few original breweries to reappear after prohibition.
“In Germany the Beyrer family had been in the brewery business for more than 200 years,” Faber wrote.
Since drinking was not possible — at least not legally — live theater, the cinema and dances were a common way to have a good time. For the Chaska Opera House, located at West First Street, 1923 was its last year of operation before it was torn down in 1924.
A Herald Quip from Feb. 9, 1923, details that “the annual masquerade ball will be held at the opera house next Monday evening. The affair is being given by the Chaska Post of the American Legion and the boys promise one of the very greatest costume balls ever staged in the city.”
Construction on the Highway 41/61 project through downtown Chaska will begin "as soon as weather allows" and could run through November, according to a project update.
In a meeting with business leaders Feb. 10, construction company Bolton & Menk, which is overseeing the project, provided updates on what is being built, the construction timeline, what to expect during construction, how to stay informed and what’s coming next.
“Highway 41 is going to be reconstructed from Walnut Court through the River Bridge, along with Highway 61,” said Nicole Krause, the project’s communications manager with Bolton & Menk. “The goal here is really to improve traffic safety and efficiency. Apart from the traffic benefits, we also are aiming to elevate the downtown presence.”
The stretch of road is expected to be under construction from as early as March 15 through November.
When Brandy Dressen, co-owner of Carver Junk Company, questioned the end date switch from October to November, Krause responded that “we’re preparing the public for November, and when we finish in October, everyone’s happy.”
Bolton & Menk’s contract on the project is through October, according to Krause.
Dressen urged reconsideration of the messaging to the public so as to not deter anyone from visiting downtown businesses for an extended period of time.
“That’s an excellent point,” Krause said. “...We can look at tweaking some of those materials.”
Walnut Street to the river bridge will be closed for approximately two months with local access routes to cross Highway 41 at the 4th Street and 2nd Street intersections.
During this time, Highway 41 will be altered from having two lanes each way to a one-way road with designated turn lanes, a pedestrian tunnel, improved off-street public parking and gathering spaces.
“Part of what makes the construction schedule take longer is the underground utilities,” Krause said. “They’re going to be replacing water mains, sewer, etcetera and that does require digging deep into the roadway and replacing those pipe networks.”
Additionally, Chaska Boulevard will be reconstructed as a four-lane divided roadway with turn lanes and upgraded utilities, and a pedestrian crossing will be added at Walnut Court just north of the Curling Center.
Tree removal began during the week of Feb. 6 in downtown. The Bolton & Menk website indicates that the replacements “will be installed toward the end of construction.”
“We will be replacing those trees with new plantings,” Krause said. “I know they’re not going to be the big oak trees right away, but the intent is that we will be replanting those.”
Bolton & Menk indicated that working days for construction will be Monday through Friday/Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“Specifically in the design phase, we’ve been really trying to be intentional with engaging with the community and providing opportunities to learn about where we’re at in the process and provide feedback,” Krause said, citing 39 emails and over 45 Facebook posts that have been put out sharing updates.