The staff of the Redwood Gazette likes when Roger Breckenridge stops by on Thursday mornings to look through our old back issues.
Partly it’s because we appreciate his personal project to document the town’s history.
But also, it’s because he brings doughnuts.
In a back room at the Gazette you can find copies of nearly every issue in the newspaper’s history going back to the 1870s.
Town historian Breckenridge stops by to page through the issues to investigate whatever interests him most at the moment. It’s his hobby.
“Today, I’m looking for an ad for the old Skelly station at the corner of Bridge St. and Washington, but I keep finding all sorts of other neat little goodies,” he said earlier this month, looking over copies of the Gazette from July, 1931.
Breckenridge’s “system” (if you want to call it that) is simple. When he heading around town and thinks of a subject that looks interesting, he notes it down in a small notebook of possible topics to investigate later.
Then on Thursday, he picks up his digital camera, buys a box of doughnuts to share, and heads for the Gazette for a few hours.
“I have to page through the issues page-by-page, and find a lot of gold nuggets,” he said.
On a typical Thursday morning, Breckenridge walks away with up to 200 photos of articles, photos, and advertisements that strike his fancy.
Several years ago, Breckenridge found an old letter to Santa Claus written by an 11 year old girl. He couldn’t resist — he sent a copy of the letter to the girl’s family, history of their now 85-year old mother.
A previous project was looking for references to the “Redwood House”, an old boarding house that stood on Mill Street near what is now the “Y’” intersection.
“It was also called the Baldwin, and was still standing in 1912,” he said.
Breckenridge takes a photo of the article or photo from the old Gazette, content to mull over it later.
Once he gets home, Breckenridge titles the photos and stores them on his home computer, cross-referenced so he can find them later.
Breckenridge’s interest in the history of Redwood Falls started when he was born here and grew up in a house near the intersection of W. Flinn Street and Minnesota Street.
He witnessed all sorts of people and structures that aren’t around any more. In part, Breckenridge’s interest in exploring the town’s history is also about exploring his own.
Page 2 of 2 - “When I was a little kid in 1940, I used to walk to the auto dairy to get milk,” he said. “As I’d walk, people would tell me there used to be an old grocery store on that corner, or a gas station on that one.”
Breckenridge eventually left Redwood Falls to become a math and physics teacher, and later a programmer for UNISYS corporation in Eagan.
After moving back to Redwood, Breckenridge was asked by Mayor Gary Revier to help out in a project to find graves of the town’s Civil War veterans.
“I built a spreadsheet of all those guys,” he said. The other history projects went from there.
What does Breckenridge plan to do with all his archives someday?
“My wife asked me, ‘What should I do with all this when you die?’ I said, ‘Throw it in the dumpster. No one else cares about this stuff.’ I’ve never found anyone interested in sharing it with.”
We doubt that. For more information, contact Roger at the Gazette on Thursday mornings.
You can even bring coffee if you want.