Oh Where, oh Where, is Ware?

Over the course of the past eight months I have received a tour of the natural landscape of Minnesota as it appeared over one hundred years ago. The glass plate negatives in the Bell Museum of Natural History records and the Department of Botany botanical photographs have transported me (and the readers of this blog) from the reed-laden waters of Heron Lake, to the remote wilderness of Itasca State Park.

Through these image collections we have also have been introduced to places in Minnesota that are no longer occupied or in operation, such as Holmes Station. I came across one such location just yesterday. The captions on the envelopes for the glass plate negatives pictured below indicate that these images depict a place called Ware in Marshall County, Minnesota in July of 1900.


Frontier log school home near Ware in Marshall County, July 1900


Ware, Marshall County, store and residence, July 1900


Population of Ware, Marshall County, returning from church, July 1900

Oh where, oh where, could Ware be? A simple Google search for “Ware” AND Minnesota produced links to the Nordic Ware factory store outlet, and White Pages listings for individuals with the last name of Ware. Since I wasn’t in need of any baking pans, I consulted additional resources…

I remembered that Thomas Sadler Roberts, creator of the majority of the glass plate negatives, went on a bird collecting trip to Marshall County in 1900 and that Ware might be a locale that he encountered on his trip. The Bell Museum records contain Roberts’s field notebooks and journals from his early collecting days, to include one such journal titled, “Bird Lists & Notes, Warren, Thief Lake, etc., 1900.”

Certainly the field notebook from his trip to Warren and Thief Lake (which are in Marshall County) would provide a description of Ware if he in fact passed through it on his way to photograph Flycatchers and Broad-winged hawks in their nests. The only problem is, Roberts’s journals from this period are hand-written. Why is that a problem? Let’s just say that in-between managing a successful medical career and taking field excursions to photograph the avian life of Minnesota, Roberts had little time to practice his penmanship. Here is an image of the first page of his journal entry for July 1, 1900:


Could you provide a quick translation? Though I have become quite familiar with the nuances of Roberts’s handwriting from the captions and notations written on the envelopes of the glass plate negatives, deciphering long passages of his penmanship is quite the task. Thank heavens for Penelope Krosch, former University Archivist, who transcribed several of Roberts’s notebooks for a book titled Shotgun and Stethoscope: The Journals of Thomas Sadler Roberts (published in 1991). At the top of page 251 in Shotgun and Stethoscope I found Ware in part of the transcription of Roberts’s journal from the July 1, 1900 entry:

“Passing “Ware” a P.O. and tiny provision store kept by a man named Moe (Scandinavians are almost all the inhabitants here) we hurried to our camping place at the spot where the river leaves the lake & reached it at 6:30 just in time to get caught in a drenching rain storm with heavy thunder and lightening… Camp is located on west half Sec. 21. Range 41. Town 158, Thief Lake Township. 3 ½ miles from north line of Marshall County and 16 miles from east line.”*

Eureka! Another clue – “P.O.” The presence of this acronym in connection with Ware meant that the locality was important enough to act as a Post Office, and such locations can be pretty well documented historically. The online encyclopedia Minnesota Place Names, a website derived from a published book of the same name, describes Ware as “a post office, 1896-1908, in Como Township.” The Geographic Names Information System, the national standard for geographical locations and features (such as post offices), has the following official entry for Ware:

  • Name: Ware Post Office (historical)
  • Class: Post Office
  • History: Opened May 12, 1896. Disc. Mar. 15, 1908
  • Citation: Pitera, Alan H. and John S. Gallagher. The Post Offices of Minnesota. Burtonsville, Maryland: The Depot, 1978. 279 pages.
  • Counties: 1 – Marshall
  • Coordinates: Unknown

Como Township is located directly west of Thief Lake Township (the site of Roberts’s camp). Somewhere within that vicinity, a country school, post office, store, and residences existed in a place referred to as “Ware.” Thanks to Thomas Sadler Roberts’s photographs and journal, this is forever where we will remember Ware to be.

*According to the United States Census, 1900, A Thom Moe (birthplace of Norway), wife Ingeborg, and children Otto, Alfred, Jorgen, Emma Clara, and Julia resided in Cedar and Thief Lake Townships, at Range 42, Town 158.