E.L. Peterson delivering the Pelican Rapids Press as it appears in the 1958 Diamond Jubilee book. The date is unknown, but the Press office was built in 1909.

Newspapers from 1882 to early 1900s now ‘digital’ and online

By Paul Gubrud, Special Correspondent

It has been a few weeks since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted our lives.

Many of us have turned to our computers for entertainment and social interaction. The coronavirus jokes on Facebook will likely have become monotonous, and the political bantering tiresome by now.

There is an alternative that you may find interesting, especially if you are
interested in local history like me.

It is the archives of the Pelican Rapids newspapers from the early years
of our community.

They are found on the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub of the Minnesota
Historical Society at http://www.mnhs.org/newspapers/hub.

Pelican Rapids Times published 1882-1885
On the website, you will find most of the various Pelican Rapids newspapers dating back to before Pelican Rapids was incorporated
as a village. The paper, Pelican Rapids Times, started operation only 12 years after the first settlers came to the area. Their first issue was published
on May 31, 1882. It survived for only a few years under different owners,
and the Pelican Rapids Times ceased operations on December 13, 1885.

A week later, the Fergus Falls Journal reported, “Pelican Rapids is without
a newspaper. The Times breathed its last benedictions on this community
and gave up the ghost of meager existence after one year under its late management last Friday the 12th. Rest in Peace!”

For a time, local citizens got their news from the Fergus Falls Journal,
where the Pelican correspondent was given extra column space.

1886 Pelican paper became woman-run operation

A new newspaper calling itself the Park Region Pioneer set up their printing press in 1886. The editor was K. E. Rathbun, with his wife assisting. By the next summer, Mr. and Mrs. Rathbun’s marriage dissolved with Mr. Rathbun leaving the paper in the hands of his wife.

Her choice was to either close the paper or continue publishing. She chose the latter. Along with three or four other ladies, she kept the presses rolling. Other publishers admired the ladies’ courage, and they became affectionately known as “The Pioneer Ladies.” Mrs. Rathbun kept the presses rolling until May 28, 1891, when due to her poor health, the Park Region Pioneer suspended publication for good.

Six months later, another attempt to start a newspaper was made by a man named G. F. Peterson. His Pelican Rapids Blade was considerably livelier than that of Mrs. Rathbun’s, but he found the townspeople unwilling to subscribe and the local businessmen unwilling to advertise. By August of 1892, Mr. Peterson had had enough.

In 1894 a man by the name of A.C. Lawrence tried the newspaper business in Pelican Rapids. His paper was called the Pelican Rapids Sentinel and had an even shorter life than the Blade. The Sentinel lasted less than a year.

The first issue of the Pelican Rapids Press is dated April 9, 1897. It also had a rocky start, changing ownership several times over the next several years.

First edition of Peterson’s Pelican Press was published 1906
Finally, E.L. Peterson, for whom one of our city parks is named, bought the Press in 1906. On December 6, without much fanfare, the first Pelican Rapids Press, as we know it today appeared on the streets with the name Peterson on it.

In his first editorial on January 17, 1907, Peterson wrote, “I wish to say that I am here to stay and that I shall use my best efforts to give the people of Pelican Rapids a paper that they will feel like supporting. It shall not be my policy to knock any business or enterprise, but I shall take a special pleasure in doing what I can to further the interests of the village and community.”

E.L. Peterson was a man of his word. He had indeed come to stay, and in due time, the people began to support him and his paper. The Pelican Rapids Press has been in operation ever since and is the oldest business operating under the same name in Pelican Rapids.

Donation from Carlson family launched digital newspaper project by Pelican library

Digitizing the Pelican Rapids newspapers has been a goal of the Pelican Rapids Library for many years, but can only be done through private contributions.

The majority of the earliest Pelican Rapids newspapers in the archives have only recently become available thanks to a generous donation from Howard and Theora (Teddi) Carlson and the Carlson family and the Pelican Rapids Library. The Carlsons were strong advocates of establishing the library in Pelican Rapids.

So, if you get bored when you are sequestered at home, visit the Pelican Rapids newspaper archives on the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub. I am sure you will find the old newspapers interesting.

Editor’s note: The writer, Paul Gubrud, grew up in Dawson, MN, a small town very much like Pelican Rapids. He attended the University of Minnesota-Morris, graduating with degrees in chemistry and biology in 1976. He moved to Pelican Rapids in 1986 to work for West Central Turkeys, Inc. where he eventually became the director of quality assurance. In 1997, he accepted a similar position at Barrel O’ Fun Snack Foods in Perham. He worked in the food industry for most of his career.

Now retired, Gubrud has taken time to pursue his interest in history, and has been a regular contributor to the Pelican Rapids Press. Much of Gubrud’s work is geared toward local and area history, and how the lakes area’s past intersects with the present.

Paul Gubrud is pictured here