CROSBY -- A few years back when Berger Aulie looked up the Cuyuna Range area in Minnesota history books, the former mining community's history was barely noted in a single paragraph.
So Aulie, along with a dedicated group of retired Crosby area residents, set out to document the rich history of the Cuyuna Range.
They formed a Heritage Preservation Committee at the Jessie F. Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby. The committee received a $15,000 grant and personal files of J. Wilbur Van Evera, a well known mining engineer, mining and management consultant and superintendent of mines on the Cuyuna Range, from his family and his foundation to write a book about the Milford Mine disaster, which Aulie finished in 1994.
The Milford Mine disaster on Feb. 5, 1924, took the lives of 41 Crosby miners, and is Minnesota's worst mining disaster.
The first ore shipped out of Crosby was recorded in this 1913 photo.
The Milford Mine book, which was so successful that it quickly sold out, spurred the heritage committee to use the proceeds from the book to further document the history of the Cuyuna Range and publish more books.
The library heritage committee became the Cuyuna Country Heritage Preservation Society, a non-profit organization where volunteer board members collected personal historical information from area residents, including more than 400 oral histories they recorded on audiotape. They soon outgrew their space at the library and moved into the basement of the First National Bank of Crosby, planning the first of several other historical books about the Crosby area.
"It just grew like topseed," said Aulie.
So far heritage society board members have published "Cuyuna Country, A People's History," Volume 1, the first in a planned three-part history of the Cuyuna Range. The first book, released in 2000, records the development from prehistory and American Indians to the early homesteaders of the late 1800s to the early 1900s.
"Everybody was surprised at how good it was," said Beverly Mindrum Johnson, a retired journalist who spent 30 years with the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch before she retired as copy editor in 1996 and moved to Crosby. She serves as associate publications editor for Cuyuna Country.
Volume II of the series is expected to be released this week. The book covers the time period from the early 1900s to roughly when immigrants came to the Crosby area during the iron mining era.
The Red Cross was a major presence in this victory parade in Crosby that marked the end of World War I. The timeline of the second volume of Cuyuna Country Heritage histories of the Cuyuna Range extends from roughly 1900 to the end of World War II.
The third book in the series, which will document Cuyuna history from the end of World War II to the present, is in the planning stages. Board members want the third book to become a community effort with every organization and business in the community submitting their own histories during the past 50 years.
The group also published a nearly 500-page ethnic cookbook last fall called, "Gourmet Grub: Cuyuna Range Roots and Recipes."
Members of the heritage society's board will be on hand to autograph copies of the second volume and the cookbook at a book-signing party planned 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the Hallett Library in Crosby.
While most board members have no publishing experience, their varying expertise made them invaluable to the project.
Clem LaVictoire, 86, Deerwood, was a miner for 48 years. Thirty-three of those years were spent mining in the Crosby area. He said he could curse in five different languages before he reached third grade in Crosby. Immigrants came to Crosby to work in the iron mines, bringing with them their own cultures and ethnic foods to the Cuyuna Range.
Lansin Hamilton was born and raised on the Cuyuna Range. He spent 40 years as a forester and helped document the timber industry in the historical book series.
Steam-powered drills played a major role in the difficult job of turning the iron ore of the Cuyuna Range into a marketable product. This photo is from 1912.
Aulie served as senior publications editor for the group and spent 31 years as an English teacher at Crosby-Ironton High School. His wife, Maryon Cizek Aulie, spent her working years as a nurse so she became the society's medical historian.
Dick Gillman spent 42 years working for the Soo Line Railroad and lent his railroading expertise to the book.
Other volunteer authors and contributors included Kaye Gillman, Albert L. Knieff, K. Sutton, Dale Thorpe, Barb Grove, Steve Blanich, Virginia Cook, Evelyn Sheets, Elsie Mooers, Jeanette Smith, Ray Nelson, Sharon Wasserzieher and Amy Sharpe.
"We've become like a family," said Kaye Gillman. "We fight like a family, we work together like a family and we love each other like a family."
"We've grown to be really good friends through the process," added Berger Aulie.
All the books published by Cuyuna Country sell for $29.95 plus tax. The organization also has a quarterly "Digging Into The Past" magazine and publishes "Update" newsletters for its 400 members.
Johnson said she hopes other communities will publish their own histories, despite all the hard work it takes.
"I think if more people saw what we did they'd feel inspired to do the same in their own communities," said Johnson.
Berger Aulie said the heritage preservation society needs more younger people to continue their work.
"When we're gone, who's going to write the history?" he asked.
To find out more about Cuyuna Country Heritage, visit the Web site at www.cuyunaheritage.org.
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