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History of Mountain Lake

by John P. Jungas
(written around 1970)

Uncle John in his Mt. Lake home

Mountain Lake, Minnesota

In 1853 a man by the name of William Mason came to Wisconsin from Utica, New York. Since he was a trapper and hunter, he kept on moving westward. A few years later, he came to Winnebago, MN. He kept on moving to the west and in the early 1860's, he came to a large shallow lake with an island in it. This shallow lake was rich in fur-bearing animals such as otters, mink, fox, wolves, elk, deer and numerous others. This proved to be so successful to him that in 1865 he built a log cabin on the island and brought his wife here to live. Within the next three years, the first white child of the area was born to them, a daughter. Mason named the lake Mountain Lake and the island Mountain Island. There were two smaller islands that he called "Big Bug" and "Little Bug." (Editor's note: It seems as though Uncle John told me a few years ago that this lake no longer exists and that the area had been drained for farmland.)

Soon other settlers came and the need for supplies resulted in the establishment of three business places at the present Mountain Lake site: S. J. Soule, J. Lynch, and Paul Seeger. Seeger was also the first postmaster. Settling was slow since there was no railroad, but by June of 1871, Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha had their rails laid as far west as Windom. The exact midway point between St. Paul and Sioux City was directly north of the shallow lake so the railroad wanted to start a town here and call it Midway. Upon Mason's insistence, the railway consented to build the station at the present Mountain Lake site and Mason named the village Mountain Lake. In 1870, the town was platted and officially named Mountain Lake.

Mt. Lake Train Station at the time John and Anna Hiebert left for India

Then the settlers came. By 1880, mainly Russian immigrants (Dutch-German Mennonites from South Russia who were mostly farmers) took most of the tillable land. The best land sold for around $13 per acre.

In 1890, a group of German Lutheran Russians came and formed a nucleus called Dreispitz (triangle). The colony from which they came was a portion of land of the same shape called Alte Kolonis. Most of these were not farmers but industrial people. Their trades were mostly carpenters, painters, interior and exterior decorators, tilers, show repair, and other day labor. Heinitz, Steinly, Schriok, and Meir were the most common names.

The population of Mountain Lake in 1896 was 595 people. It rose to 607 by 1900, and then in 1920 it was 658. A. A. Penner was the first Mennonite child born in Mountain Lake.

Frank Balzer Sr. started the lumber business in 1886 that was later operated by Dave and Frank. Central Lumber Company bought this in 1954 and a few years later Sam Heddins took it over. Abraham Penner built what is now Franz store in 1890 and sold it to Balzer and Hiebert in 1889. In 1929, it was the Hiebert and Franz store. In 1942, this became Franz & Son and later Franz Store.

In 1872, a large building was built across the street north from the present Heddins lumber. Soule and John Janzen opened a large general store. They sold almost everything including groceries, nails, rope, and cordwood. They operated this until 1880 when John Janzen took over. He did business until 1897. This is the place where my dad, John Jungas Sr., got his first selling experience.

Edward Rupp came in 1882. He started in business with $12 capital in his mother's home. In 1892, he built the Rupp General Store across thestreet from the northwest corner of the park. He operated this for forty-one years and made deliveries with a two-wheel pushcart. Emil later changed this to a new and second-hand furniture store.

The railroad donated the city park to Mountain Lake with the provision that it be used only as such. No business places were allowed in this square.

Mt. Lake Grandstand in the city park

One of our first carpenters was Jacob Heier, who also started a furniture business in 1878. He operated this until 1910.

In 1889, the first bank was started in Mountain Lake. It was the Bank of Mountain Lake with $28,000 capital and $3,350 surplus. It was located where the telephone office now stands. In 1902, State Bank was incorporated. The building is still standing across from Jack & Jill. In 1907, these two banks consolidated and called First State Bank of Mountain Lake. In 1908, the First National Bank was chartered and in 1919, Farmers State Bank had its beginning; so in 1930, we had three banks in Mountain Lake. In 1931, the depression came. The First National Bank closed and the other two banks were consolidated with the name of Farmers State Bank.

In 1890, Sam Balzer bought the drug business from J. Kane. This building is still standing just south of Franz store. Uncle Sam, as we called him was always jolly and humming. He got the reputation as a doctor and dentist through his services. It is said that he pulled many a tooth for fifteen cents.

John Schroeder ran another drug store. It was in the same building that Ben Dick now has the shoe repair business. His mother owned the house just north of this site. This was later removed and the clothing store was built. Mr. Densmore, who was a barber, owned another house just north of Mrs. Schroeder. In the 1920 fire, his house burned. Epp and Harder purchased this land and a new business place was built. Later, Jake Epp bought out John Harder and it was known as Epp's Store. Loren now occupies this building.

Main business street in Mt. Lake

The so-called Glass Block was a large building owned and operated by David Ewert. It was located where the Co-op Oil station now stands. It had large glass windows on both the north and west fronts. It had a boardwalk on both fronts with hitching posts on both sides for horses. This was a general store. At first, the Ewert family lived in a house next to this store, but later Ewert built the Ewert Mansion that was later sold to Dr. Basinger. The Laker Apartments are now standing on this spot.

The Mountain Lake Milling Company built a large three-story building with a one-story addition to house the steam engine plant. This was located just south of the railroad tracks southeast of the depot. David Hiebert built this in the early 1870's. Mr. Hiebert came from South Russia where he had operated a mill of this type. It was a roller mill and he manufactured flour. His first grade was called "White Rose" and his second grade was named "Snow Flake." I believe some of the foundation is still remaining.

In 1896, four elevators were doing business in Mountain Lake. Peavey Company was the first, followed by H. P. Goertz, Hubbard & Palmer, and Hiebert Brothers. Between 1897 and 1899, three elevators ended up in flames. An attempt to burn the new Hubbard & Palmer elevator was also made, but it was unsuccessful. In 1901, The Farmers Co-op Elevator Association was formed.

Leonard Schroeder's building has served many businesses. I believe at first A. E. Woodruff had a general store, then came Geyermann and Finebergs. Later L. A. Schroeder had a furniture store that he sold to J. W. Nickel and is now known as The Booknook and Furniture Mart.

We used to have two meat markets. One was called Butch Derksen's Meat Market, located just north of the Corner Cafe which was torn down to make room for more parking. Glassman operated the other one. Later this building was leased to the gas company and is now part of the clinic pharmacy. Both sold only meat.

Henry Klein and Mins Hanson each had a harness shop. Hanson's was located in the old Diemer building. Tony Morey had a beer parlor in this building for a number of years and then he gave way to Harry Paskey, who started a restaurant here without the sale of beer. Later Harry moved into the building now occupied by Bonnie. The Diemer building was then torn down and the location now has Harder's barbershop and Doug's office. Bonnie's building was built by G. A. Feil. He financed an IGA grocery store. Later Martin Schendell took over the store. His sons still come to Mountain Lake once in a while for short visits. Harry Paskety then operated a restaurant here for quite a few years and after his death, Bonnie took over. A. B. Neufeld had a harness shop before Feil built the building.

In the early 1900's, C. J. Brown had a photo studio in town. It was located where the hotel or Good Samaritan home is located (Editor's note: Good Sam is now in another part of town). When Dr. Basinger bought the lot to build his hotel, the building was moved to its present location, just across the street east of Texaco.

We used to have two livery stables to take care of all the horses. One was located just south of the Henry J. Brown house and the other was across from Stoesz Ford, the old Ewert McDonald location. The first car in Mountain Lake was in 1906.

In the early 1900's, a women's hat shop was started in a building where Jack & Jill is now located. The Hiebert sisters bought this and later moved the business across the street from the park. Later Helen Hiebert became the sole owner. She is still living. This is Nick Hiebert's sister.

In 1908, the Farmers Cooperative Creamery was formed. A new building was built and this is still there today but it is now an apartment house. In 1916, it was pronounced the best and most completely equipped in the county. In 1921, this group joined with Land O' Lakes Association. After a very steady growth, larger quarters were needed so they purchased the John Janzen property and built a new creamery building. After this was up, they decided to go into feeds, poultry and eggs so the addition to the east was added. Then in 1957, this association was dissolved and the new Land O' Lakes milk drying plant with butter-making was built on the east edge of town.

The first weekly newspaper published in town was named the Mountain Lake View. It was started in 1894. "Der Berichterstatter" town's letter preceded it in 1879. Only one of these papers still exists, so it is not known if more issues were printed. Eugene Lane was the first publisher, and in 1901, it was sold to I. I. Bargen. He used an English-German format until 1915 when he sold it to W. J. Toews. Frank (Stub) Bargen was the associate editor. In 1925, Stub decided to go on his own, so they were competitors until 1930 when Toews decided to suspend his publication. Stub's place of business was in part of what is now the Eifert Funeral Home. Later, Stub sold to Ken Larson and moved to Huchinson, MN. After some years, the paper was sold to Leonard Wetmore and then to Larry Paulson. After Larry's death, Bill took over.

Gus Buche, David Lehart and J. C. Koehn were early real estate agents. None ever got wealthy. They worked on a very small commission.

In the early years, school was taught in homes. John J. Becker taught in his home for sixteen years. The first two-room school was built in the 1880's where the hospital is now located (Editor's note: now apartments for senior citizens as the hospital has been closed). I. I. Bargen and J. J. Balzer conducted school with sixteen pupils attending. In 1908, the center part of the public school was erected.

Early Mt. Lake School

The German School was built in 1901. J. J. Balzer was the principal. This also included a Bible study. New additions were added in 1951 and 1968. The first year, they had seventy students between the ages of six and twenty.

Students in German School; Uncle Lando-3rd from left, Uncle Waldo-7th from left

Teachers and Students in German School, including Grandpa N. N. Hiebert

A brick building on the corner off the Penner Heating & Plumbing location used to house a restaurant run by Jacob Voth (Peeva's dad). Later this became our post office. When A. J. Penner bought the building, the post office was moved into the space now occupied by Tib's bakery.

At one time, Mountain Lake had five doctors: Dr. Piper, Dr. Basinger, Dr. Schultz, Dr. Pankratz and Dr. Gering. Dr. Wenberg, Sr. and Dr. Penner were also in business at the same time in dentistry.

John C. Hiebert built the first filling station in town. Soon his two sons, Nic and John, took over. In 1936, an explosion killed John. Nic rebuilt the station. This site was a roller skating rink before the station was built.

Early gas station in Mt. Lake

My father came to Mountain Lake from Germany in 1892. He started working for John Janzen, as I stated earlier. After a few years, he started selling and repairing bicycles. In 1897, he started a hardware store that was destroyed in the 1920 fire. The fire started with an overheated furnace in the Heppner & Dick building. Since the water hydrant at the park corner was frozen, no water could be had to put out the fire. Overnight, Dad bought the hotel annex and within a few days, he had a large shoe sale. The shoes were the only things rescued from the fire. Since Dad had cancelled his insurance recently, the money to start over had to come from this sale and it did. Heppner & Dick rebuilt in 1921 and our present store building was built in 1927. My mother operated the Hotel for six years.

Jungas Hardware Store

Grandpa and Grandma Jungas in later years

In 1931, Al Jungas and I bought the hardware store from Dad. We were partners for thirty-one years. In 1962, I purchased Al's half of the store. We then formed a corporation with Lee, Jack and myself as owners. After a few years, Jack bought Lee's stock and on January 1, 1975, I sold the balance of my stock to Jack. Now I am retired. (Editor's note: Don't believe it! Uncle John, now age 90, still goes over to help out at the store on a regular basis.)

Uncle John and Uncle Al celebrate 25 years as partners of Jungas Hardware