On with the show

England Prairie Show Days is scheduled annually for the third weekend in August. This popular pioneer days re-enactment had a bit of a set back a few weeks ago when strong winds toppled trees and downed power lines causing damage to buildings and...

England Prairie's iconic windmill was damaged in the storm.
England Prairie's iconic windmill was damaged in the storm.

England Prairie Show Days is scheduled annually for the third weekend in August.

This popular pioneer days re-enactment had a bit of a set back a few weeks ago when strong winds toppled trees and downed power lines causing damage to buildings and farm crops. The England Prairie Pioneer Grounds was right in the path of the storm and the damage was extensive. Right away Pioneer Club members held a meeting to decide what to do and the decision, not surprisingly, was "On with the show."

After all, these people are descendants, either in fact or in spirit, of the early pioneers. In the late 1800s, a colony of farmers from England settled the area which was how it got the name England Prairie. And those people had more than a summer storm to contend with.

The first pioneers had consequences far greater than anything most people nowadays can imagine.

Take communication, for example. It might take months to send a message about your situation to someone who could help. If the weather destroyed your crops, you couldn't go to the supermarket and get replacements. If you lost your tools, it might be a long time before anyone came this way with replacements. Sure, pioneer living was hard work, but the really hard part about it was how risky it was. Many of the improvements of modern civilization have been designed to make life easier and in the process they have made it a great deal safer. Imagine how safe you'd feel living without phones, paved roads, or prescription medicines and you get an idea of how the pioneers lived.


The England Prairie Pioneer Club was incorporated in 1981 with a mission to preserve the history and heritage of the farming industry in this area and to share that knowledge with others. That same year the club purchased a 60 acre site in Section 26 of Wadena Township in Wadena County. Members of the club were people for whom farming was a way of life.

Even in the 1940s and 50s, farm life in rural Minnesota was still close to the way the early pioneers lived. Electricity had just arrived in rural communities. Roads were being paved and many homes had telephones and radios. But most farmers could still remember what it was like before those modern conveniences.

Elaine and Don Schmitz are the oldest living members of the England Prairie Pioneer Club.

"We wanted to keep this history alive and we wanted kids to understand how different things were then," said Elaine in a recent interview. "Sometimes I can't wrap my head around it. It's such a different world."

The people who formed the England Prairie Pioneer Club wanted to make sure that history would be remembered. Over the years they have acquired, maintained and exhibited historical farm machinery and artifacts from the early days of farming.

The 10 acre building site where activities are held on show days each year is a beautiful, rolling area with many stately oak trees. The buildings are a mix of utility buildings built in the 1980s and some historic buildings that had been moved onto the site.

The current exhibit building was formerly an 'ice-house' located on the railroad property in Staples. To move it, the building was cut in half lengthwise, and then crosswise, in order to fit on trailers for transportation. One half of the building was first used as a saloon but after it was decided to have no liquor on the grounds, it became the exhibit building. The other half became a small engine shed.

Another historic building is an original depot from the town of Philbrook, which was once located east of Staples. In all, the site included more than 20 buildings plus a windmill.


The agricultural acreage of the England Prairie site is farmed and an area is set aside for demonstrating the threshing machine and silo filler. When available, there are demonstrations of horse-drawn machinery.

This year, because of the storm damage, not all of those buildings will be accessible. The depot went through the storm without damage but the machinery building, the sawmill shed and the horse barn were completely demolished. Half of the roof of the exhibit building was torn off.

There will be no shingle making this year but according to president, Jay Veronen, they are still hoping to have thrashing and sawmill demonstration. The weekend festival has been compressed, with most of the activities happening on Saturday, Aug. 22. There will be no admission charge this year.

"It's a free will donation," Veronen said. "And we would welcome donations to help with the repairs."

England Prairie Show Days schedule

Friday, Aug. 21

3 p.m. - Blind tractor race and barrel race

5-7 p.m. - Supper available - BBQ ribs


6:45 p.m. - Coronation of the 17th England Prairie Royalty

7 p.m. - Country music: Barb Cline and Daryl Larson

Saturday, Aug.22

7:30 to 11 a.m. - Old fashioned breakfast featuring Phyllis' famous buttermilk pancakes

All day - Free barrel train rides for the kids, model farm display, demonstrations, exhibits

demonstrations and hands-on exhibits courtesy of the Wadena County Historical Society

11:30 a.m. - Antique tractor pull - 50 years and older tractors

11:30 a.m. - Kiddie coin hunt, ages 3-12


11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. - Cafeteria-style lunch with hamburgers, hot dogs, and BBQ turkey sandwiches

2 to 4 p.m. - Bingo

4 p.m. - Raffle drawing

7 p.m. Gospel music by Jim Ackerson and Rosalie Fearing

7 p.m. Kitchen closes - refreshments available

Sunday, Aug. 23

9 a.m. Worship Service with Pastor Al Jeske

Camping is available for show attendees. The camping area has a playground and modern restrooms and shower facilities. 2015 England Prairie Pioneer Day souvenir buttons are available for $1.


Lina Belar is Interim Executive Director of the Wadena County Historical Society.

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