‘Company Town’ book about Silver Bay's history releasedGuest column: The book “Company Town: An Oral History about Life in Silver Bay, Minnesota, 1950s-1980s” was released at an event at Carefree Living residence in Silver Bay earlier this month, with more than 100 people in attendance.
By: Kent Kaiser, For the News-Chronicle
The book “Company Town: An Oral History about Life in Silver Bay, Minnesota, 1950s-1980s” was released at an event at Carefree Living residence in Silver Bay earlier this month, with more than 100 people in attendance.
The book, for which I was project manager, is based on interviews with 64 longtime or former residents of Silver Bay and seeks to show how Silver Bay’s former status as a “company town” set it apart from most other small towns across America.
The book is a special project of William M. Kelley High School in Silver Bay and was made possible by two grants (one for $1,860 in 2010 and another for $6,008 in 2011) from Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.
There are many aspects of being a company town that made Silver Bay interesting. For example, the city had to be built out of sheer wilderness in a very short time, and thus it was advantageous to have a single company build the housing, and all the housing was of very similar construction.
A single company administered real estate sales, and the company determined who got the best housing and who got what house. A big workforce was needed in a short time, during a difficult economic time, and thus workers and their families flocked to Silver Bay from across the region; consequently, when the city was new, everyone was young and from ‘someplace else’ — Silver Bay was not ‘home’ for anyone.
The company built the clinic and paid the doctors; it also built the schools, the shopping center, the country club and more. The company was a great provider. The well-being of the company and the town and its people were inextricably connected.
Many people involved in the establishment of the city are still living, but some of the original settlers have died, which made it urgent to record people’s stories.
With our first grant, three Kelley High School students and I recorded interviews with longtime and former Silver Bay residents and had them transcribed. In addition, the Bay Area Historical Society, which had conducted earlier interviews, made its archive available to us. For the sake of readability, we deconstructed the interviews into constituent parts, arranged them under seven broad topics, and cobbled them together in the book to simulate one cohesive conversation.
Rather than presenting a typical history focusing on places, names and dates, this project is meant to convey, from a more sociological perspective, a sense of what life was like in an iron mining ‘company town’ in late 20th century America.
The 64 people whose interviews make up the book are:
Dr. Kent Kaiser, a professor at Northwestern College in Saint Paul and a 1984 graduate of Kelley High School, served as project manager for the book.