History of Askov
The City of Askov, Minnesota with a population of less than 400, is located in Pine County which is in East Central Minnesota. Askov is located just 8 miles east of I-35 half way between Duluth and St. Paul which makes for easy access to either city. Askov is has a rich Danish history which is evident even today with the Danish street names and many strong traditions.
Askov is situated in an area that originally was forested with white and Norway pine. Partridge Township was largely unsettled until the Great Northern tracks from Hinckley to Superior were laid through the township in 1888.
The Town of Partridge
The Town of Partridge, as Askov was then called, grew up along the railroad. By 1894, it contained lumber companies, a hotel and a depot along with a few homes and stores. Logging was the economic mainstay of the small community. Population numbered approximately 50.
The Great Hinckley Fire
On September 1, 1894, the Great Hinckley Fire swept into town from the southwest, and the entire town was destroyed but no lives were lost. Although tragic, the fire resulted in an increase in farming in the burned-over area as the land was now considered more desirable for farming. German and Swedish settlers homesteaded in Partridge Township, and the Town of Partridge was rebuilt.
The Town was Renamed Askov
In 1906 a decision was made that resulted in far-reaching changes to Partridge. The Danish People’s Society (Danskfolkesamfund) chose Partridge as the site for a colony of Danish-speaking people. They purchased the Partridge town site and 20,000 acres of land. Over the next ten years, several hundred Danish settlers immigrated to the area. In 1908, the town was renamed Askov – the name of a famous folk high school and town in Denmark – in order to better reflect the ideals of the Danish People’s Society and the Danish-speaking settlers.
A Mutual Fire Insurance Company
The first ten years of rapid growth produced serious problems of insufficient roads and school facilities for the expanding population. However, in solving these early problems, the people of Askov displayed a cooperative spirit that would characterize their later history. Fire insurance rates for farmers in the burned-over area were high, so the early settlers organized a mutual fire insurance company. It was the first of many cooperative ventures in Askov, which produced state and national leaders in the cooperative movement and in fraternal organizations.
In order to provide better municipal services, the village of Askov was incorporated in 1918. A volunteer fire department was organized two years later.
Preserving Danish Heritage
Although residents and newcomers of other ethnic backgrounds have been readily accepted into the community, the people of Askov from the beginning have shown a desire to preserve their Danish heritage. For the pioneer generation, this meant keeping the Danish language in use in the schools, in the church and at home. The Lutheran Church did not start conducting regular services in English until 1930. Also, Danish-American fraternal organizations such as the Danish Brotherhood and Danish Sisterhood were formed early in the town’s history. For the present generation, the effort to preserve the Danish heritage is evidenced by the street signs in Danish, which were erected into place for the country’s Bicentennial, Æbleskiver at the Rutabaga Festival and a still-active Danish Brotherhood Society.
The Askov American Newspaper
As the home of Hjalmar Petersen, Askov played an important role in Minnesota’s political life during the 1930s and 1940s. Hjalmar Petersen was a leader in the Farmer-Labor party who served a brief term as governor and later ran three times as a candidate for governor. Hjalmar was the founder and editor of the local newspaper, the Askov American, in which he expressed his political philosophy and which, for a time, had the largest circulation in the country for a newspaper published in a community of its size. The newspaper has never missed an issue since 1914 and is the most widely read newspaper in northern Pine County. The newspaper continues to play an important part in Askov’s economic and cultural life.
For many years, Askov’s primary economic role had been as a service center for farmers of the surrounding area. The primary farming activity in the area was dairy farming. Askov’s farm Implement dealers and feed store were well-equipped for this role. Although the farming industry has shrunk considerably in recent years, a tractor sales and repair continue to serve area farmers.
For many years, as towns to the northeast along Highway 23 lost many of their businesses, Askov’s service area expanded. In the early 1960s, when Interstate Highway 35 was being constructed, there were fears that the Interstate would isolate Askov, and cause it to decline. However, since Askov had not developed businesses solely dependent on tourist trade, this did not happen.
Until 1978, Askov was the home of a large rutabaga industry that provided fulltime and, especially, seasonal employment. At one time, 300 to 700 train car loads of rutabagas were shipped out each year. The loss of this business due to the 1978 fire had an adverse impact on the community. Another fire in 1988 impacted the City’s economy when it destroyed two businesses and the Senior Center on Kobmagergade.
Pine County Museum
Another loss to the community happened in fall of 2004 when the new East Central K-12 School opened west of town on Highway 23, and the school in town closed. Gradual consolidation had been going on for many years, and the cumulative effects of this had been felt. In 2012, the Pine County Historical Society bought the school and started renovating it into an extensive museum of not only Askov but also northern Pine County.