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Penning pages of the past

Red Wing resident Sharon Nelson has authored two books close to the heart of yester-year having researched both old neighborhood grocery stores and Frontenac Station for almost a decade.

Nelson said that writing her book “Red Wing’s Early Neighborhood Grocery Stores and Meat Markets” began on “a whim — I was so fond of little neighborhood grocery stores.”

After retirement, Nelson noticed a photo of “The Boston” on the front page, one of the periodical photos of early downtown businesses.

“It piqued my curiosity,” she said.

The photo then resulted in her first trip to the Goodhue County Historical Society, which would soon become a familiar place for the next several years.

“I pored through many photo albums of early buildings, businesses and street scenes,” Nelson said. “From then on, I was hooked.”

Nelson’s interest in old neighborhood grocery stores was driven by the location of her home, which “was between Paton’s grocery store on the corner of East Seventh and Centennial Street and Rueben Holmquist’s little grocery store on East Fifth Street.”

She began researching that location and spent the next two years gathering more information about early grocers.

Her research then switched to Frontenac Station after some interest in the history of the area was shown from staff members of the historical society.

“Much had been written about Old Frontenac but very little on the little village, sometimes called ‘New Frontenac,’ located on Highway 61,” Nelson said.

In the next three years, she interviewed several senior citizens of the little village, collected family photos and information from relatives of the early settlers, researched at the Lake City Public Library and joined the Friends of the Florence Town Hall to piece together the history of Frontenac Station.

The book is titled “Frontenac Station, The Early Years” and was sent to Nelson’s editor as she began the status of the grocery store research.

Thus, Nelson quickly picked up where she left off and put to paper the history of both neighborhood grocery stores “located in the various residential areas of Red Wing” and also “more well-known grocers and market men.”

Nelson, while claiming not to be good “book writer,” enjoys researching historical information, finding photos from the early years and sharing this with people who really enjoy reading about the past.

“Which sometimes might bring back fond memories,” she said.

Nelson’s “Red Wing’s Early Neighborhood Grocery Stores and Meat Markets” is available for purchase online through Amazon. The site lists the book with an August 2014 publishing date and as 112 pages in length. Their new-book price is $15.26.

Book signing

Nelson will have a book signing for “Frontenac Station, The Early Years” on Saturday Oct. 11 during the Florence Township’s Autumn History Fair. The history fair is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Florence Town Hall, located at 33923 Highway 61 in Frontenac.

More about the author

Nelson and her family moved from Michigan to Red Wing in 1949. She attended Colvill School and graduated from Red Wing Central High in 1957.

She then worked at the Medical Block Clinic as a receptionist for two years and married Elwood Nelson in 1959.

She and her husband had four children: David, Diana, Dwain and Dean.

Once the children were school-age, Nelson began working at Jostens engraving plagues, trophies, medals and also printing and inspecting diplomas until retiring in 2005.

Nelson’s biological father, Mearl Raygor, was also was a well-known historian and authored “Early Days of Stewartville,” “Rochester Story” and “Indians of Southeastern Minnesota.” He also published “Merchants to Millions,” which depicts the life of Richard Sears, a Stewartville native of Sears, Roebuck & Company.

Project in the works

Following her first trip to the historical society, Nelson began creating a collection of all early Red Wing business, going street-by-street, store-by-store “jotting down the owners of each store over the years, dates and type of business.

“I became a permanent fixture at the Red Wing Public Library for the next four years, going through old newspaper films, printing out ads and information on over 3,000 stores from the 1850s through the 1940s,” she said.

Nelson then donated her gathered information to the Goodhue County Historical Society for public use and to aid individuals in doing ancestry and area research.

“I hope to sometime soon re-do this two volume book of information and have it published,” Nelson said.

If you go:

Who: Sharon Nelson, author of “Frontenac Station, The Early Years” and “Red Wing’s Early Neighborhood Grocery Stores and Meat Markets”

What: Florence Township Autumn History Fair

When: 1-4 p.m. Oct. 11

Where: Florence Town Hall, 33923 Highway 61

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