Broom factory once located in Spring Valley

By : 
Mary Jo Dathe
Glimpses of Yesteryear

About 1896 the accompanying photo shows the unusual operation being carried out here in Spring Valley.  The men in the picture are threshing out broom corn so that the seedless stalks can be dried and used to make brooms.

According to resources, broom corn is a type of sorghum grown to produce straw for brooms.  It comes in three sizes: Tall, medium and short, the latter used in making whisk brooms.  Broom corn looks like corn growing, but has seed clusters where the tassels would be.  The thin branches supporting the seeds are about 24 inches in length, the kind used in making brooms.  Broom corn stalks are broken off when the seed clusters are immature, and the seeds “threshed off” as seen in the photo. The stalks are then placed in racks in sheds for drying, baled, and sent off for the manufacture of brooms.

In the 1955 centennial edition, Mrs. R.A. Stone wrote to the community with a reminiscence of her father, George Whiting, proprietor of said broom factory.  Her father, Mr. Whiting, enlisted in the Union Army and served for the duration of the war.  He was married, and moved to Spring Valley, being the westward urge was so strong!  Coming to this area when the transportation charges on household commodities were almost prohibitive, he began the production of brooms, a much needed item in those days.  The capacity of the broom factory reached the peak of several hundred brooms each year. The broom factory was located just west of town.   He and his wife were loyal members of the G.A.R., (Grand Army of the Republic), and members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, now an historic 1876 building, our museum. Of interest, Mrs. R.A. Stone (Olive), a teacher, married a Minnesota Supreme Court justice.

We are talking about 1898 — it was one of the thriving enterprises going on.  Fred and Kerry Conley had opened a factory to produce a camera Kerry had invented, later sold in the Sears catalog.  Laura Ingalls Wilder's relatives were newsworthy: brother-in-law Royal Wilder's Variety Store featured clever ads, and Perley Wilder moved to Louisiana where he married and settled down.  In spring, the senior Wilders (James) sold their 90-acre farm and moved to Louisiana to be near several of their children.  The Spanish American War was hot news from April through August.  Company F of the 12th Regiment, headed by our own Capt. Roy Viall, returned from camp in Georgia where 13 men had died of malaria, typhoid fever and pneumonia without ever seeing battle.

Kumm & Hale's farm machinery business was housed in a brand-new two-story brick on the corner of Main and Section; Archie McPhail erected a pressed brick horseshoeing shop on Main Street; and Charlie Sattler moved from his old store on South Broadway to build a cigar factory right next door to McPhail. Ringling Bros. Circus came into town in July via five trains totaling 130 cars to bring 300 performers, 25 elephants, 400 horses, and “canvas pavilions to cover eight acres.” They stayed a week.  The flax fibre mill advertised for flax straw, employing 14 men to handle the product.  It was noted that Henry Plummer of Hamilton, an 1892 graduate, had received his license to practice medicine in Minnesota, and of course he went on to fame and fortune at Rochester's Mayo Clinic. The new telephone exchange listed 22 phones in operation — 14 at residences and eight at businesses.  Mr. T.O. Kilburn was a believer — he had two, one at home and one at the roller mill.. 

Things were hopping in Spring Valley — just as they are today.