Written by Merry Helm
April 19, 2021 - Today is the birthday of Laura Taylor Hughes, who was born in 1903 and was one of North Dakota’s most successful potters. She was a native of Rosemeade Township and learned the ceramics craft at Valley City Normal School under Glen Lukens.
In 1931, Laura Taylor attended UND under the tutelage of Margaret Cable, one of the most successful and influential potters in the country. In addition to being Cable’s student, Taylor also became Cable’s studio assistant.
In 1936, the WPA established a ceramics project in two small rooms of the Woodrow Wilson School at Dickinson, and they hired Laura to supervise. The project employed 11 women. Another employee, the only male, was responsible for finding and digging clay for them within a 20-mile radius of Dickinson. The works were glazed and fired at Dickinson Clay Products for about six months before the project was moved to Mandan.
In 1939, the WPA asked Laura to represent them to demonstrate pottery-making at the New York World’s Fair. It was there that Taylor met Robert Hughes, proprietor of the Globe-Gazette Printing Company in Wahpeton. He was enthusiastic about her work, and in January 1940, they founded the Wahpeton Pottery Company together. Three years later, they married. The clay used by Rosemeade was dug from an enormous bed four miles west of Mandan, trucked to Wahpeton, and piled in the yard for one year prior to use.
The ceramics consisted mainly of figurines and small dishes. Their subjects included dogs, hippos, horses, ducks, pheasants, quail, chickens, robins, bluebirds and other songbirds in perched poses. They also developed a series of fish, sailboats and cats, and decorated many of their vases and dishes with prairie roses and tulips.
Taylor often used photographs in magazines when creating her animal designs. In 1951, National Geographic published an article titled “North Dakota Comes of Age.” Laura was one of two artists featured, including a full-page photo of her at work in her pottery. The caption read, “Laura Taylor Hughes Copies National Geographic Dogs in Rosemeade Pottery.”
Taylor and Hughes had a particularly strong run with their operation. In 1953, they changed the company name to Rosemeade Potteries for better name recognition, and while many other potteries around the country were collapsing, Rosemeade remained successful. Turning out about a thousand pieces a day during the ‘40s and ‘50s, as many as 27 employees worked full time turning out more than 200 different designs.
What sets Rosemeade apart from other ceramics are several qualities not commonly found in figurines of that era. The company developed unusual glazes applied over metal oxides; these partially combined during firing, creating warm lustrous hues specific to Rosemeade. The buff color of the clay also shows through, blending with the glazes in a unique way.
Laura Taylor Hughes died when she was only 56 years old. Two years later, in 1961, the pottery ceased production, and in 1964, the sales room was closed. Since then, Rosemeade pieces, which are quite small, went into a period of relative oblivion before becoming collectible. Recent prices have been ranging from $250 to $600 apiece for good specimens.
Written by Merry Helm
April 20, 2021 - It was on this day in 1997 that Grand Forks was dealing with the immediate aftermath of its dikes breaking, unleashing one of the most worst floods in state history.
Three days earlier, the Red River had crested in Fargo at 39.5 feet, surpassing the 1897 record. When those waters reached Grand Forks, nothing could hold them back, and nearly half of Grand Forks’ population had to be evacuated from their homes while, downtown, buildings surrounded by floodwaters were on fire.
The following year, on April 14, the Grand Forks Herald won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the flood and fire - they had continued to publish their paper from a damaged printing plant.
Floods were nothing new to the state, of course. As long as snow has melted, people have had to deal with rivers overflowing their banks. Exactly 100 years earlier, in fact, rivers all across the state flooded.
In his book, History of North Dakota, Elwyn Robinson wrote, “The winter of 1896-97 saw a very heavy snowfall, and some towns were without train service for a week. When the snow melted in the spring, a great flood spread along the Missouri, James, Sheyenne and Red rivers. It swept away property, drowned many deer, inundated towns, covered 25 blocks of paving in Grand Forks, damaged bridges, and made a lake 30 miles wide and a 150 miles long in the Red River Valley. Families and livestock huddled on the tops of haystacks.”
Two of Minot’s worst recorded floods took place in 1904 and 1969, when the Mouse River overtook the city. Because there were only 11,000 people living in Minot in 1904, that flood was considered less damaging than the one in 1969, which now had a population of 35,000. But if the water coursing down the Mouse in ‘69 had been as heavy as it was in 1904, the latter flood would have been even more catastrophic. Engineers have estimated the peak flow in 1904 was 12,000 cubic feet per second – almost double the peak flow in 1969. One reason Minot’s 1969 flood caused more damage, however, is that a lot of low ground had been filled in and built upon, and the water had nowhere to go.
As in the Red River Valley, floodwaters in Minot take a very long time to recede. Both rivers have a low-water slope of only six inches per mile, so the water forms lakes that last for weeks.
After the 1904 flood, there was much talk in Minot of creating artificial run-off channels for the Mouse River, but not much happened. When drought hit in the 1930s, the threat of flooding was non-existent, and the topic was more or less shelved.
Ironically, an accidental solution came from what is now called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which bought up large, cheap chunks of land – mostly dried-up sloughs that were considered useless. Their goal was to create two waterfowl refuges above and below Minot. When a dam was built 52 miles upstream in 1935, Lake Darling became one of those refuges. For seven years, the lake never got high enough to push over the dam’s spillway. When it did, in 1942, it was shown that waters held back by the dam significantly lowered flood damage downstream.
Many people thought that Lake Darling solved Minot’s flood problems, but in the 1960s, the Corps of Engineers believed that Minot was still vulnerable. A diversion system was being planned, but final decisions were still to be made when the 1969 flood proved the engineers right.
Written by Merry Helm
April 21, 2021 - The post office of Chaffee, ND, was established on this day in 1894, two years after Chester Fritz was born there. The railroad had named a station on the site “Rita,” but in 1894, it was renamed to honor Eben Chaffee, who had promoted the site.
The history of Chaffee is actually shared by two other North Dakota towns, Sharon and Amenia. Eben Chaffee moved to Dakota in 1875 and built a 28,000-acre bonanza-farm near Casselton. It was an operation of the Amenia-Sharon Land Company, named for Chaffee’s hometown of Sharon, Conn., and for partner John Reed’s hometown of Amenia, NY. They bought the land from the Great Northern Railroad, and the town of Amenia served as their headquarters.
Eben’s son, Herbert Chaffee, went to Oberlin College, where he met Carrie Toogood, a fellow student in the Conservatory of Music. They got married in 1887 and moved back to North Dakota to take over the family business. Their first child was born almost exactly nine months after their wedding day.
Herbert turned out to have a gift for management. Under his reign, the Chaffee operation expanded, and at its zenith, included 42,000 acres of farmland, 34 grain elevators, a grain-trading business, dozens of smaller company-owned businesses and three company towns – Amenia, Sharon and Chaffee.
Herbert – or Bert – felt he was only scratching the surface. He bought out the remaining company investors within six years and regularly worked a 72-hour work-week.
Meanwhile, Carrie became a competent manager for their demanding household, which grew to include six children. She became known as a decision maker – one who faced life’s problems head-on. Despite the enormous demands on her time, she also gave voice lessons to area children.
Twenty-five years after they married, Bert and Carrie took a European vacation. It was 1912, and their return voyage began from Southampton – they were traveling first class aboard the Titanic. Three days later, the ship went down and Herbert was lost. If his body was recovered, it was never identified. He was only 46 years old.
Carrie survived and was picked up by the Carpathia on Lifeboat #4. One of her fellow 36 passengers was the newlywed second wife of John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest people in U.S. history. Madeleine Astor was 19, pregnant and, like Carrie, suddenly a widow.
Back in North Dakota, Carrie used the backbone for which she was known to take an active role in managing the Land Company. She also became known for her work with charities and became a charter member of the American-Chinese Education Committee in Canton, China. She died in Amenia on Independence Day, 1931.
Various family members tried to jointly keep the farm going, but there was constant disagreement. Finally, in 1922, the company was dissolved and its assets sold off.
By that point, the town of Chaffee had reached its population high of 126. In 1966, the post office was closed, and the town became a rural branch of Wheatland. Amenia, often misspelled as Armenia, and Sharon, the largest of the three towns, have maintained their post offices.