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The Black family and Black's Grove from the writings of Robert C. Zosel

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Lina Belar, Wadena County Historical Society

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"Captain John Black was a Captain in the British Merchant Marine and captained a British clipper ship named "The City of Glasgow. In those times it was proper for a Captain to take his wife and family with him. He did this, taking his wife and two older children with him on one voyage. In all he sailed around the world four times. After suffering a heat stroke on one of his voyages on the advice of his doctor he quit the sea. He then wrote to a cousin, a member of the Furness Colony which had settled in Compton township, Otter Tail County in 1873, namely William Anderson, who advised that a farm adjacent to his was for sale. John Black bought the farm, in section two and three of Compton township, sight unseen and he and his son Jack arrived at Wadena in early 1888, the year of the big blizzard to find snow to the top of the fence posts. Mrs. Black and the other five children arrived later that year. The Blacks had eight children, two dying in infancy, the other six were Isa, John (Jack), Effie, Lillias, Mina and Angus. The family settled in section two and three of Compton township. It is doubtful that John Black was much of a farmer but evidently he did quite well. However, he suffered from Bright's disease (a staph infection of the kidneys) which in those times was incurable. Evidently this was a very painful affliction and in 1891 he took his own live.

After John Black Sr.'s death Annie continued to live on the farm until her death in 1933. From the beginning, the Black family allowed families to picnic in the grove which was an ideal setting with the creek running through it and big pine trees and oaks. The Black family spent considerable time cleaning up debris and making the park a delightful place. It was used as a picnic area as early as 1900. Mrs. Black was noted for her hospitality and gracious demeanor.

A 1913 Wadena Pioneer Journal contained an article that stated that for those in favor of picnicking at Black's Grove there would be a five cent charge for any person entering the Grove over 16 years of age. There will be found a small box attached to the entrance gate and it is hoped that no one will forget to drop in their nickel. All money collected in this way will go towards purchasing books for the public library.

In the winter of 1917, a group of Wadena's young men who were outdoor enthusiasts erected a huge slide at the Grove at considerable expense and announced that it was ready for use. Due to the expense of construction they concluded to lease the slide and all equipment to parties wishing to use it on the payment of $3 per night. The charge was the same regardless of the size of the party. The slide is described as a huge scaffolding at the head of the hill which has been iced all the way, making it possible for the party to shoot down the long incline, across the bottom and partway up the slide at the other end, several blocks away. Arrangements for the use of the slide may be made with John or Angus Black.

In the fall of 1919, the newspaper reported that last week was one of the rarest gifts in weather ever seen, never a cloud, even the mosquitoes were missing. Everybody seemed to be happy and the spirit of good cheer prevailed throughout. It is estimated that 300 people were in attendance during afternoon and evening. A goodly group sat down to dinner in the shadow of the pines and poplars. The homemade sandwiches, homemade beans and grove made coffee, cake and fruit could never have tasted so good from a daintily set table at home.

In 1923, the newspaper announced that the staff and patients from Fair Oaks Lodge Sanitorium held an outing at Black's Grove with Rev. Lillico of the Methodist Church conducting the regular weekly vesper services under the trees at the Grove after which the entire party enjoyed a splendid picnic dinner.

In 1926 Jack and Angus Black were guests of honor of the Lions Club at its regular meeting and in introducing them called attention to the fact that it was through their cordiality and liberality that Wadena people had been permitted to enjoy the beauties and pleasures of "Black's Grove." In accepting the club's written invitation to be present the Blacks replied in the following humorous vein: "Anything free appeals to a Scotchman and we'll surely be there." Jack and Angus disclaimed any claim to oratorical ability and modestly thanked the club for the invitation.

In years gone by, some of the largest camp meetings ever held in this community were held in the grove, people bringing their own tents and camping for a week or more on the grounds while the meetings were in session.

Jack Black died in 1939 followed by Angus in 1941. Angus spent his last years living in the cabin in the Grove. In 1947, the only descendants of the original family, Lily Davidson, living in Iowa and Frank Davis, living in California, deeded the Grove, 60 acres to the city of Wadena with the express purpose of the Grove being developed to benefit the Boy Scouts. A planning committee consisting of two councilmen and two Scout executives were to form a supervisory board, charged with perpetuating and improving the Grove.

In 1997, there was a severe wind storm which downed many of the big white pine trees. The city determined that these logs should be used to build a log shelter south of the parking area.

In the late 1990's Clayton White, a Homecrest employee and skiing enthusiast, along with others, laid out the ski trail. The Homecrest company built a tracking machine to lay the ski trails and a ski club was formed. They purchased a snowmobile to pull the tracking machine and everything worked beautifully. In laying out the ski trail they have been granted use of Arnold Theisen's land and Gordon Dykhoff's land to round out the trail and give it much variety.

In 2005 Mike Peters created a memorial garden on the bank of the creek in memory of Pete Resch, a law enforcement officer who died in the line of duty.

Over the years volunteers have planted several hundred Norway, white pine, white cedar and assorted hardwood trees, primarily in the south portion of the Grove. Take time to enjoy Black's Grove. It is a wondrous place and offers something for everyone."

Compiled by Robert C. Zosel from research materials of the Pioneer Journal and the Wadena County Historical Society. Lina Belar is the interim executive director of the Wadena County Historical Society.

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