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Blackduck: The way we were

Mary Joy holds some of the pictures sent to the History Center by Gayle Ensign of Ely, NV, who found them in a old trailer abandoned in a storage lot. Pictures, most of them dating from the 1900 era, show early homes and other scenes of Blackduck as it then existed. One of the pictures she's holding shows a group of nine hunters and their bag of 14 deer.1 / 2
American columnist Jack Swenson was surprised when this picture was found among those in the collection. The man is Blackduck's first milkman, William Higbee. He and his wife, Naomi, were Swenson's great-grandparents.2 / 2

A Nevada woman with an interest in old camping trailers has provided the Blackduck Area History Center with a carton of rare photographs.

Many were taken by Louis H. Halverson, whose Pioneer Studio imprint shows on pictures of the many local hotels and saloons, the parades and the homes, the early church structures and other buildings. There are also dozens of portraits of early residents, and of other persons, still waiting to be identified.

Gayle Ensign lives in Ely, NV, a city of about 5,000 at an elevation of 6,500 feet. A large open pit copper pine is the main employer, and abundant herds of elk are the main attraction to outsiders. Hunters need housing, and Ensign has made providing it a project. She buys old camping trailers and reconditions them for hunting camps.

Several months ago, Ensign attended an auction where a trailer was being sold to make up for unpaid rent at a storage lot. She bought it, then unloaded the bags and boxes stored inside.

"Most of it was trash," she said, "but when I saw these pictures of Blackduck, I got on the Internet to see if anyone might want them." Also, she says, to find out where Blackduck was and something about the town. Her grandparents lived in Duluth as did others in her family, though now "it's mostly just aunts and uncles in Hoyt Lakes and Saginaw and International Falls."

In Blackduck, Mary Joy was doing some research at the library when Ensign's offer arrived. She promptly got in touch with the Nevada woman and after a quick exchange of email messages, Ensign shipped the photographs which are now in the hands of Joy and the History Center.

How the collection went from Blackduck to Nevada is still uncertain. The trailer had last been registered to a Pamela Ogilvy, also an Ely resident. Because much of the group includes pictures of members of the Taylor family, it's felt that E. J. Taylor's family may be related. Taylor founded Blackduck's first newspaper, the Blackduck Times, which predated The American by about a year.

Taylor brought the first printing press to Blackduck from Moorhead, partly by train and then from Bemidji by wagon. He had published papers at other towns including Barnesville, and later The Independent in Kelliher.

Several Kelliher pictures were found in the collection, including one of the O'Kelliher Mercantile Company store that once did a flourishing business there.

Some photographs were from studios in other cities, and one from Fargo shows what remained of the city when a 1893 fire destroyed much of the city. Another fire picture, taken by photographer J. J. Brindos, shows the destruction of the hotel in Kelliher in 1914, taken at night with the scene brilliantly illuminated by the flames.

Another early picture shows a group of men in front of two horse-drawn carts. One of those who has viewed that picture, Ted Balko, quickly spotted the ladders on one of the carts and identified it as fire fighting equipment, with the men in front probably an early volunteer fire department force.

Several scenes of early logging camp structures include one showing teams of horses in front of a stable, with perhaps two to three dozen horses in all. One of the camps was operated by C. W. Conway.

The people shown in the individual pictures are not all identified, and in many cases with such notations as "Dad's sister Nana" or "Gertrude and sister." Family names, along with several Taylors include Nearling, Fuller, Conway and others.

One of the other photographs was quickly identified by this writer. It's a picture of his great-grandparents, William Higbee and his wife, Naomi. Higbee in 1900 was the first person to make home deliveries of milk in Blackduck. Later he settled on a farm north of Hines.

While renovation work is being done inside the History Center this month, plans for photo identification and display are also being discussed. Details will be announced as the sorting and archival work continues.