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The village of Almena had its beginning in 1887. In that year Theodore Hamm of St. Paul, who was contemplating opening in this region, persuaded his relatives, Albert H. Koehler and S. W. Sparlin, to spy out the land and clear up a townsite. The two men alighted from the "Soo" train at a spur where Almena is now located, on July 17, 1887. Mr. Sparlin says: "The only families that we found dwelling within a radius of about six miles were those of Sever Christensen, John and Chris Retrum and J. E. Mays. Henry Southhall, a colored man, was occupying one of the Knapp, Stout & Co.'s logging camps at Scott's pond.
Messrs. Sparlin and Koehler wandered about for three days. Then they decided to wait for a while before starting work, and accordingly secured John Retrum to guide them through the woods and up Upper Turtle Lake to Perley, where they could take the train back to St. Paul.
At Perley they found a busy hamlet, with a large sawmill and monster piles of lumber. This changed their plans. They purchased two cars of lumber and ordered it sent back to the spur at what is now Almena.
On Aug. 1 Mr. Sparlin and John Retrum started clearing the land at Almena, using axes and saws. A little hamlet was soon established. The post office was opened and the place was named that fall. Of this Mr. Sparlin says: In September, 1887, we applied to the post office department asking for the establishment of a post office. He proposed the name of Lightning City, from Lightning Creek close by. But the department suggested that we eliminate the 'city'. Mr. Koehler and I therefore suggested a new name. His first name of Albert was shortened to 'Al', and his wife's name, Wilhelmina we shortened to "Mena," the names by which both were commonly called. Putting the two contractions together gave us Almena, a truly distinctive name.
The village was platted Nov. 23, 1891, by Homer E. Hoyt and George A. Plummer. The location of the village is on the south half of the northeast quarter and the north half of the southeast quarter of Section 24, Township 34 North, Range 14 West, the township and range corresponding to what is now known as Almena Township.
The surrounding country is rolling, well watered and diversified with small timber, the ancient forests of larger growth having been removed for the most part by the lumbermen.
Less than three miles to the west is Upper Turtle Lake, and about the same distance to the southwest is Lower Turtle Lake, the former with a length of about two miles and the latter of about a mile and a half, whose shores less than forty years ago were dotted with Indian wigwams. These lakes are now favorite resorts of summer visitors and sportsmen. Stock raising, dairying and general farming are extensively followed throughout the neighborhood.
S. W. Sparlin, previously mentioned as one of the founders of the village, established the first general store here and was also the first postmaster. His successor as postmaster was George Panian, who was also a store keeper. Mr. Panian had charge of the mails until June, 1908, when he was succeeded by Jos. Kurchenmeister, who has remained postmaster ever since. The Almena post office was elevated to the third class July 1, 1920. It has one rural route connected with it.
When Mr. Kurchenmeister first came here in 1899, the village contained two general stores, operated respectively by George Panian and Theodore Meyer, and a hardware store, the proprietor of which was John Nimmerfroh.
With the increase of population and the growing importance of the village as a supply center, new enterprises of various kinds made their appearance, some of which had but a brief existence, but others have justified the faith of their founders. There are now in Almena about twenty business places, including a bank, special and general stores, garages, hotel, restaurant, billiard hall, blacksmith shop, lumber yard, fur and hide buying house, creamery and cheese factory, feed mill, grain elevator and several potato warehouses. The population is about 450.
A Farmers Co-operative store was started in the village in 1905, and most of the surrounding farmers became interested in it, but not being properly managed, it failed after an existence of about three years.
The water supply of the village is derived directly from wells. There are no waterworks. There is a voluntary fire department, the apparatus consisting of a chemical engine and a hook and ladder.
A private creamery was started in Almena about 25 years ago, and was operated for two years, or until it burned down in 1898. In 1900 Charles Kaemmer established another institution of the same kind, under the name of the Almena Creamery, which was located across the tracks northeast of the railway depot. This he operated for sixteen years, or until Feb. 1, 1916, when he sold it to Richard Becker. The latter carried it on until the fall of 1917, when, like its predecessor, it was destroyed by fire. Its place was taken by the present building, which stands on the same site, just north of the railroad station, and which was built in 1918 by Herman A. Curt, who is operating it as a creamery and cheese factory. The creamery department has a cream pasteurizing vat with a capacity of 400 gallons, a power churn and butter workers with a capacity of 600 pounds, and other conveniences. The cheese department has two vats with a combined capacity of 10,000 pounds, a separator with a capacity of 4,000 pounds, cheese presses and the like, while the curing room has a capacity of 3,000 pounds. The plant is operated by electricity and steam. The daily intake in the busy season is about 11,000 pounds of milk for cheese, and about 3,000 pounds of butterfat. The butter, which is of high grade, is put up in prints and in tubs, the prints being sold mostly in this and neighboring villages, and the tubs principally in the New York markets. The cheese, which is of the brick variety exclusively, is shipped to supply the wholesale and retail trade in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Mr. Curt has had long experience in the dairy products line and employs skilled helpers. His cheese and butter have won a high reputation.
Almena State Bank was organized Oct. 19, 1908, by C. C. Coe, M. C. Howard, George Panian and Charles Kaemmer. The capital was $10,000 and the first officers were: C. C. Coe, president; Charles Kaemmer, vice president; Henry Peterson, cashier, and 0. I. Hanson, assistant cashier. The directors were M. C. Howard, George Panian, C. C. Coe, Charles Kaemmer, P. L. Olcott, C. H. Stuck and Henry Peterson. The officers today (Dec. 1, 1921) are the same as at the beginning, except that Math. Dold is assistant cashier instead of Mr. Hanson. The present directors are M. C. Howard, C. C. Coe, Charles Kaemmer and Henry Peterson. The capital has been increased to $20,000, the surplus and profits amounting to $10,000. The building occupied is the bank's property and was built at the time of its organization.
The Almena Farmers' Telephone Co. was first established about 1905 by Julius Soltau, J. E. Mays, W. D. Moore and Henry Weise, who started business with five lines and about 100 phones. Later they became connected with the Barron Telephone Co. 0n May 12, 1909, they reorganized on the cooperative plan, and were incorporated under the state law, with a capital stock of $8,000. The incorporators were G. R. Wolter, Aug. D. Miller, Amund Moen, S. W. Sparlin, Jos. Ross, John Lueck and Math. Zitzelberger. There are now about 350 stockholders. The territory covered extends in all directions nine or ten miles from Almena Village. Connections are made with the Bell long distance lines, and there are free connections with Cumberland, Arland, Hillsdale, Prairie Farm, Turtle Lake, Dallas, Sand Creek, Colfax, Ridgeland and Chetek. The officers of the company in December, 1921, were: Knut Knutson, president; Matt Mathys, vice president; W. A. Gearhart, secretary and treasurer, and Julius Soltau, general manager. The first general manager after the incorporation was W. D. Moore, who served three years in that capacity, since which time Mr. Soltau has held the position.
About 1917 Will Caswell built a small feed mill a short distance southeast of the railway station. After operating it during two winters, he sold it in the fall of 1919 to W. Hollerud, the present proprietor, who is doing a general feed grinding business.
The public schoolhouse now used in Almena village, a tasteful brick building of two rooms, was built in 1912, the total cost with lot amounting to over $6,000. It is an eight grade school, employing two teachers, and having an average attendance of about 60 pupils. This comparatively small number for a village the size of Almena is owing to the fact that a large number of pupils attend the two parochial schools in the village, the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran. Before the erection of the present building, the building now used for a parochial schoolhouse by the Lutherans was the public schoolhouse of the village.
The Evangelical Lutheran Matthews Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other states, commonly known as the Missouri Synod, had its beginning in 1896, when on Dec. 7, it was organized and incorporated under Rev. George P. A. Kirschke, with Albert Curt, Reinhold Matthes, Rudolf Mueller, Hans Wohlk, John Kiefer, Thomas Entner, Adolf Miller, Adam Kiefer, Martin Harke and Nels Swansen. The Rev. Mr. Kirschke and his successors, the Rev. Messrs. Thormaehlen, Nammacher and Kleinhaus, came from near-by towns to serve this congregation. In 1900, the congregation, together with Immanuel's Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Silver Creek called Rev. Otto Steffen as their pastor. He served until 1908 when he was called to St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Detroit, Michigan, where he is still pastor. After several unsuccessful efforts to obtain a pastor, a call was extended to Rev. E. Pludemann, who filled the pastorate until early in 1917, when he resigned from the ministry and moved to Shawano, his home town. He was succeeded by Rev. Fred Kersten, who was installed, June 24, 1917, and is still serving. The congregation's property consists of the church, school, parsonage, and an acre of real estate located at the southeast corner of the village. At the end of the year, 1921, the statistics of the congregation showed 470 souls; 260 communicant members, 69 voting members; parochial school enrollment, 51; Sunday school enrollment, 35; confirmation class enrollment, 25. Divine services are held every Sunday forenoon in the German language and every two weeks in the evening in the English language. The teacher in the parochial school is Harold Dueker.
The Sacred Heart Congregation has been an important factor in the life of Almena for over thirty years past. The first services were held in 1890, in the private house owned by Wm. Maryon, north of Almena. Later services were held in the private house owned by Julius Welde, located on Lot 2, Block 2. At that time there were about twelve families and the services were given by Rev. Father Becker from Rice Lake. In the fall of 1892 John Nimerfroh donated several lots upon which was erected the frame church building. In years following services were held by Rev. Father Stolz, Rev. Father Dickopf and Rev. Father Vater, all resident priests of Cumberland. In the fall of 1897 Rev. S. A. Leinfelder came to Cumberland and to him was given charge of the little mission at Almena. In the following years new settlers arrived and it came to a point where the old church building was too small. The settlers, being poverty stricken, it was a hard task, but with Rev. Leinfelder as leader, in 1901, it was decided to start excavating for a new brick building 48 by 96 feet. In 1903 the beautiful church was completed and this building stands today as one of the finest in the county. A large credit for this undertaking rests with Father Leinfelder, who, through his untiring efforts and inspiring words, was successful completing this undertaking. Rev. S. A. Leinfelder left in October, 1905, and was succeeded by Rev. Father Berg, who was here for five months when he left for Germany. In the year 1906 the congregation bought the frame building on Lot 17, Block 5, which was remodeled into a parsonage. In August, 1906, Rev. Father Francis Bourg arrived and took charge of the congregation. The second Sunday after his arrival he took up the matter of remodeling the old church building into a parochial school and Sisters' dwelling. This was done. The Sisters started school on Nov. 15, 1906. In March, 1907, the congregation decided to build a new parsonage. It was completed the same year. In the summer of 1909 it was found that the school was too small so an addition was built to the present building. Both school and church are all furnished and electrically lighted. Through the faithful and untiring work of the Rev. Father Bourg, the present pastor, during the past fifteen years the Sacred Heart congregation of Almena stands today free and clear from debt. The present membership is 105 families.
A camp of Modern Woodmen of America was organized in Almena in 1900, the charter members being Frank Beecroft, Thomas Beecroft, Jr., Alva P. Cammack, Frank E. Dille, John C. Harris, Edward Johnson, Rheinhold Matther, Ira B. Mays, Charles Quist, Martin Radigan, George Taylor, James Sampair, S. W. Sparlin and D. H. Von Bottger. The camp purchased a goodsized frame building, with lot, the former of which they have since twice remodeled. In it they hold their meetings and it is also used for town meetings, dances and other entertainments, answering the purpose of a public hall. The camp has now about 87 members.
The Finnish settlement
and church of Arland and surrounding townships, are important factors in
the life and growth of the southwestern part of the county. The sturdy
Finnish people began to settle in that locality in the early nineties.
Among the leaders may be mentioned Sam Johnson and
Matt Mykkanen, who came in December, 1892;
and Herman Lolite,
in January, Thomas Nissila
in May, Leanter Koski
in June, and Jacob Juttila
in July, all in 1893. All brought families. Others joined them until there
was quite a settlement. The people were for the most part people of devout
faith, and felt the need of religious consolation. To them came Rev.
Kustaa Sahlberg, a missionary pastor from
Minneapolis, who held services in private homes. As the result of these
meetings, Rev. Sahlberg
helped the people to organize a congregation. Thus the Finnish Lutheran
Congregation of the town of Arland, county of Barron, came into being on
April 23, 1901, under the official name of the Uusi Waasa Congregation
of the Suomi Synod, of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. The congregation
at that time consisted of nine men and their families: Leanter
Koski, Jacob Wisti, John Loija, Nick Lake, Nels Tyni, William Wuorenmaa,
John Tuttila, A. W. Anderson and
H. Kivisto. At a meeting held Jan. 1, 1913,
this small but thriving congregation, then consisting of ten families,
decided to erect a church. A quarter of an acre of land was purchased in
Section 7, Arland Township, for $20, from Henry
Raitanen. The church was completed and dedicated
on June 18, 1916. In 1904 a cemetery was started, the first burial being
that of the infant child of John Tuttila, on November, 1904. The Sunday
school has been in existence since 1904. A.
W, Anderson, the first superintendent, is
still serving, and his devotion to the work has been an important factor
in his success in guiding the younger generation in the right paths. Mr.
Anderson has also served for thirteen years as president of the congregation,
and has done good work in other capacities as well. He has the welfare
of the church and community deeply at heart, and has given much of his
time especially during the building of the church, regardless of how pressing
his personal duties might be, being first and last always ready to lend
a helping hand. For some seasons past an excellent summer school has been
conducted one month of each year. Seven of the good wives, on Dec. 8, 1904,
organized a Ladies' Aid Society, which has taken an important part in the
affairs of the church laboring hand in hand with the other members of the
congregation toward the building of the church, and continuing its active
work toward its support. A Christian Young People's Society was organized
March 19, 1911, with a membership of 21, and is also helping with the church
work and life in many important ways. The present officers of the church
are K. Jarvi,
president; A. Mickelson,
secretary; and A. W. Anderson, treasurer. The pastors of the church have
been: the Rev. Messrs. Kuusetaa Sahlberg,
H. Sarvela, P. Keranen, J. Mantta, A. Riippa, M. Pesonen, D. A. Samanen,
A. Immonen, N. Saastamoinen and
D. A. Samanen. The last named pastor is now
serving from Minneapolis.
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