A quaint green space with a granite monument poised in its center has arisen from what was once a site of great commerce in the city of Wadena.
That park area lies on the grounds of the former Peterson-Biddick plant and stands in memory of the business and the families involved that helped make Wadena what it is today. Over the last few years, the area went from a gravel lot, to a green space fit with an irrigation system, trees, a pathway, metal benches, parking area and most recently, a granite monument, which tells of the history of the company. The site is located off First Street SE, across from Oma's Bread.
Seeing the park come to completion was gratifying for Wadena resident Luther Nervig, who knew J. Harold Peterson, the son of the original owner of the company. Nervig also serves on the Park Foundation board and worked extensively on the concept and design of the green space.
"It's a great way to recognize a company which was an economic giant in this town for many years," Nervig said. He recognizes that many people don't even know much about the history of this spot, but this at least offers a short summary.
The Wadena Parks Foundation was established in 1997 thanks to a $200,000 donation from former Peterson-Biddick president J. Harold Peterson. Peterson also established the $400,000 J. Harold and Edythe Peterson Family Foundation, which supplied much of the funds to create this public space. Nervig explained that funds also came from the Wadena Development Authority to pay for an asphalt parking area and black dirt. The Browne Family Foundation also made a significant donation to complete the project, including the irrigation that keeps the site green.
"It was a great example of cooperation within a small town," Nervig said. "We had government entities and a couple private foundations and we got the job done."
This park project was also pushed forward by community members like Toby Pierce, who reminded various groups that the funding to demolish the Peterson-Biddick building in 2011 came from Minnesota's Department of Employment and Economic Development with the condition that one third of the property was to be developed into a public space not to be used for commercial development.
Pierce echoed Nervig's statement in that the groups worked together to preserve a space that improves the looks of the community. Pierce's one contention is that the parking area, in his opinion, was a waste. He said they had an offer to have the entire area irrigated and he wishes that would have happened.
The hope is that the remaining part of the lot, now a temporary location for recycling, will be used for commercial development.
"Hopefully some company down the road will put a business in there," Nervig said.
The Peterson-Biddick Company began in 1910 and its main plant was established along the Burlington Northern Railway in 1916 by John F. Peterson and Daniel Biddick. That wholesale and retail business played a giant part of Wadena's formative years selling produce, potatoes, eggs, poultry, feed and eventually Funks G hybrid seed out of a nearly 300-foot building, according to excerpts from the Wadena Pioneer Journal and the Wadena County Historical Society records.
John H. Peterson managed the business from 1943 to 1973, and the business operated until 1986. Alvin Wensman became sole proprietor of the company in 1981 and eventually changed the name of the company to Wensman Seed Company.
The Peterson-Biddick business went far beyond Wadena, with plants in Crookston, Thief River Falls, Detroit Lakes, Jamestown, ND., and Carroll, Iowa. Potatoes from this area were said to have been shipped from here to the Canadian border.
Well known for turkey production, the company owned 12 turkey farms in Wadena County and raised 750,000 turkeys each year. It's said that train car loads of live turkeys were shipped to New York from Wadena in those early years. To make the feat possible, someone had to accompany the turkeys, keeping them fed and watered. That man was Les Nyberg, who later owned and operated the Wadena Hatchery, according to the Wadena Pioneer Journal archives.
In the years before its demolition, the building site had become an eyesore and the city dealt with several bouts of rat infestations. Demolition moved quickly, with bids for demolition due the end of December 2010 and demolition was to be complete less than one month later.