The Grit Club’s effort to clean the local lakes

Published 8:44 am Friday, January 22, 2010

There was a lingering question based on my Tribune columns published on Jan. 1 and 8. Just as a refresher, those columns were based on a local committee advocating the clean up of Albert Lea Lake, changing its name, and even extending Ulstad Avenue to the south across the lake’s east end as past of a dredging project. Just what was the name of the group or committee involved with those suggestions?

Part of the answer was furnished by local historical researcher Kevin Savick. He found a Tribune news article from the Feb. 24, 1957, issue about a local organization called the Grit Club.

At first I thought this Grit Club was responsible for the letter presented to the Albert Lea City Council in January 1957. However, it became apparent that this club evolved the following month from the committee that was responsible for the letter regarding Albert Lea Lake.

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I was vaguely aware of this Grit Club after seeing their rather odd emblem several years ago. This is the one with the crow-like bird poking its head out of a hanging cage. Yet I wasn’t able to find out more abut this particular club until Kevin provided the 1957 news article.

One of the people involved with the Grit Club was William J. “Bill” Larson, the secretary. He was also identified as the co-chairman of the committee that submitted the letter to the City Council in January 1957 regarding all those proposed changes to Albert Lea Lake. (The name of the other co-chairman of the committee is still a mystery.)

The Feb. 24, 1957, article explained the purpose of the Grit Club with these comments:

“At present it is an idea sponsored by the Albert Lea Tribune and supported enthusiastically by many Freeborn County citizens that will be translated during the next 60 days into a non-profit corporation to permanently fight pollution of lake and underground waters, and to assist existing government agencies, federal, state, county, city, township and village, in cleaning up existing sources of pollution and development of our lakes and streams throughout Freeborn County.”

It’s obvious that this Grit Club had a future concept of going beyond just Albert Lea Lake in a campaign to solve water pollution problems all over the county.

This news article cited nine specific locations within and outside Albert Lea’s city limits with alleged pollution/sewage problems. It would be a waste of space to mention those locations, except for one.

Here’s what was cited for number nine. “Raw sewage runs in the gutter along the Germania tract southwest of the Rock Island tracks.”

Now I’m familiar with the word Germania. It’s the name once used for the former Rock Island Railroad branch line that once ran from Albert Lea to Conger, Walters, Bricelyn and on to Estherville, Iowa. What I’m not aware of is exactly where this Germania part of Albert Lea was located. As a public service, we’ll pass along this information in a future column if someone comes up with an answer.

With that digression taken care of, let’s get back to the topic of the Grit Club and their campaign to clean up the county’s lakes and streams.

In reality, the Grit Club and their unusual emblem lasted less than a year. By November 1957 this group had been replaced by a newer organization. On Dec. 23, 1957, Freeborn County Clean Waters Inc. was officially recognized by the state as a nonprofit educational association. At this point the newer organization had 333 members, according to the Tribune.

Ed Shannon’s column has been appearing in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.