There was money a-plenty in the 70's and people were happy!
Lyman P. White, November 18, 1896, wrote "Girls as fresh as roses, and the elderly ladies full of hilarity; ladies' parties without gentlemen." Old Brainerd, like new Brainerd, sought recreation in many ways.
In 1872, the number of the fair sex was somewhat limited, so were society items. But the next year, "the boys and girls had big times -- dances galore." Bly's Hall was the scene of dances, church suppers, and sociables.
Another favorite place was the Colonists' Reception House in West Brainerd, built by the Northern Pacific for prospective settlers and later turned into a hospital.
When the Ahren Brothers lived at the place, hundreds came to their picnic parties and to dance a jig, sing a song, or tell a story. In 1873, the more ambitious organized a literary society, and large numbers attended the weekly programs of music, readings, and lectures at Bly's Hall. "The Young Men of Brainerd" was organized on April 28, 1874, to provide reading rooms, a gymnasium, and social activities to offset the influence of the saloons.
The social center for most of the transients, railroad workers and lumberjacks was the saloon. Here they gambled and drank. It was not uncommon for lumberjacks just back from the woods, to be robbed of winter wages.
Several men were killed in saloons, often as the result of gambling arguments. The town, like other frontier railroad towns, was wide open. From the very first, however, temperance agitation was heard.
The W. C. T. U., Anti-Saloon League, and Prohibition Party preached temperance and distributed abstinence pledges, and also endorsed "dry" political candidates. The city council revoked nine liquor licenses in one day, upon evidence of violation of the provisions.
Such acts marked an official; "change of attitude". The liquor license fee at first $50, increased gradually to $500 and finally to $1,000 per year.
One of the most spectacular eVents in the history of prohibition was the visit of Indian Agent, "Pussyfoot" Johnson in 1911. He pounced upon the city, closed the 26 saloons, dumped liquor into the sewers, and served notice that he would rigidly enforce an unknown Indian treaty of 1855. The treaty decreed against any and all traffic in liquor within the Indian territory, unless the treaty was modified or abrogated by Congress.
In the courts, the liquor side won the first skirmish, and the saloons were reopened. However, in 1914, the United States Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court and declared the treaty still to be operative. The lid was clamped on once more.
Brainerd's vote under a local option law, the Indian treaty of 1855, the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act created a veritable desert in Northern Minnesota with federal, state and local prohibition enforcing officers.
But there were still some who "knew how to get it." At any rate, the saloon was no longer the "poor man's club."
Games and sports have always flourished in Brainerd.
The first baseball club was organized in 1873. The team played mostly soldiers at the Fort with other trips to Fargo. Football in an unorganized fashion was played as early as 1872, with a crowd of men gathered in the streets and kicked a large round ball high above the trees.
Oldtimers recall many sleigh rides, toboggan slides, and homemade speeder skates, and roller skate races. An ice skating rink was advertised in 1872. The "high wheel" bicycle, the steed of many exciting 1800 races, is now a museum piece.
The lakes in and around Brainerd have always provided good times -- fishing, swimming, boating, canoeing, sailing.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).