Burnsville author tackles Savage history
Huddleston edited Savage Pacer
Folks with a cursory knowledge of Savage, Minn., might have heard of Marion W. Savage, the wealthy entrepreneur and landowner for whom the city is named, and his record-setting horse, the legendary pacer Dan Patch.
They may not know that Savage was a ship-building town during World War II, or that the Cargill company came to Savage not to ship grain as it does today but to build Navy vessels.
A new Savage history book by author Nancy Huddleston features on its cover a photo of the
Cargill-built USS Nemasket, one of 18 gasoline tankers built in and launched from Savage during the war.
“I think a lot of people think Savage is only about Dan Patch and Mr. Savage, and it’s not,” said Huddleston, a Burnsville resident and former editor of the Savage Pacer newspaper. “An example of that is the cover shot of that boat being launched into the Minnesota River.”
Huddleston’s book, “Savage,” is a comprehensive history of the period from 1852, when the community began as Hamilton landing, a small trading post at the confluence of the Credit and Minnesota rivers, to 1965, when dikes were built to contain the “flood of the century.”
Community institutions such as St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, the old Riley’s Store and the Savage Depot get their due alongside chapters on the most famous residents of Hamilton, as the town was once known.
“I knew before I could even write a word I would have two chapters for sure: One would be about Dan Patch and one would be about Mr. Savage,” said Huddleston, 53. “Those could almost write themselves.”
“Savage,” a 128-page softcover book full of photos, was released in May by Arcadia Publishing, a South Carolina-based local and regional history book publisher.
Huddleston took the project on after Arcadia sent an email to the Pacer seeking a local author for a book about Savage as part of its “Images of America” series.
Huddleston said Savage Mayor Janet Williams encouraged her to take the project, which Williams had turned down a couple of years earlier because she was too busy.
Huddleston was Pacer editor from 1996 to July 2011, when she left to pursue freelance work, including the Savage history book.
She bought a scanner for photo reproduction and dove into the Dan Patch Historical Society collection of photos and other materials housed at the Scott County library in Savage.
Huddleston credits the Savage historical society — including Secretary Williams and President Jens Bohn, the mayor’s brother and a Savage barbershop owner — as an invaluable resource.
“I could not have done this book without the Dan Patch Historical Society,” Huddleston said.
It helped that Huddleston had worked on a weekly photo feature called “Remember When” during her years at the Pacer.
The book’s 200-plus photos include images dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
A photo of an old plat map shows how the one square mile of Hamilton — the traditional downtown area — was in the northeast corner of the 17-square-mile Glendale Township. Modern-day Savage includes Hamilton and Glendale.
St. John’s Church started in Byrnesville (now Burnsville) in 1853. The original log church was built a year later for a congregation of 10 families. The congregation built a new church in 1866 near the corner of what are now Williams Drive and Judicial Road.
Two fires and some 37 years later, a new worship center was built in Hamilton, on the site the congregation still occupies.
“The two communities were very close,” Huddleston said of Burnsville and Savage. “And one of the things that made them close was St. John the Baptist. … That church really had a lot to do with helping form those two communities.”
Marion W. Savage came to Hamilton in 1902, Huddleston writes, purchasing 400 acres and choosing the river town as the place to build his International Stock Food Farm. The ex-farmer and horse lover from Iowa, who developed his own brand of livestock food and invented the slogan “Three Feeds for One Cent,” bought a promising young pacer named Dan Patch the year he came to Hamilton. The price was an unheard-of $60,000.
Dan lived in Savage’s opulent barn, which had stalls for 130 horses. Dan’s had window shades and monogrammed woolen blankets.
Savage, whose business empire included the Dan Patch Electric Railroad, lived on the Valley View estate in Bloomington, which offered a view of his International Stock Food Farm on the other side of the Minnesota River.
He boasted, Huddleston writes, that Dan would set a world record in an exhibition at the 1906 Minnesota State Fair. Dan was up to the challenge, pacing the mile in 1:55 over a mile track.
Some of the Marion W. Savage land (originally owned by early settler Ed Hanson) was later sold to Cargill as eras changed hands.
“There was a succession there,” Huddleston said.
World War II brought not only shipbuilding, but also Camp Savage, a military school designed to improve the foreign language skills of Japanese-American soldiers and train them in military intelligence, Huddleston writes. The war years also brought the Savage Tool Co., which made machine tools and precision gauges for the war and continues today as Continental Machines.
The book is arranged in eight chapters, each with a written introduction followed by pages of photos with detailed captions. The last chapter is about the 1965 floods.
The Minnesota River “never reached that high again,” Huddleston said. “That was a significant event in the Twin Cities.”
Huddleston, who’s lived in Burnsville’s South River Hills neighborhood since 1993, praised her neighboring city and the downtown redevelopment that has updated it for another era.
“I know I’m prejudiced because I worked for the Pacer and got to cover a lot of those things, but it really has blossomed since we’ve lived here, and in a very nice way,” said Huddleston, who has two grown sons with her husband, Michael, a colonel in the Minnesota National Guard and its Army aviation officer. “I was always proud to work there. Even though I lived in Burnsville, because of my job at the newspaper, I always knew more about Savage.”
Huddleston will sign copies of the book Saturday, June 23, from 1 to 4 p.m. during the annual Dan Patch Days festival in Savage.
The book is on the shelves at the Barnes and Noble store in Burnsville.