Arlo Levisen is the President of the Grant County Historical Society. He has extensive knowledge on the history of the area, including: Grant County History, Big Stone Lake History, the History of the Holland Grist Mill, the History of the Milbank Congregational Church and much more! Each week, he answers your questions.
Q: When was the first fireworks display in Milbank and where was it held? – H. J.
A: The concept of fireworks started with the Chinese in the mid-1500’s and their abilities in this area of making things that fly into the sky and explode into a gorgeous display of color remains unexcelled to this day. Although, the Brits and the Americans have certainly tried their hand at the same, with equally quite fabulous results. Given the popularity of “fireworks” over time in this country alone, one might think there would be quite a number of “fireworks museums” available to us, but there aren’t. However, if you ever find yourself in Grantville, Pennsylvania, some day, stop in at the Lotus Fireworks Museum.
Locally, fireworks displays have, pretty much, always been a part of our 4th of July celebrations. The oldest reference I have to such a celebration in Milbank took place on the 4th of July, 1885, at the “Rink”, a physical place that I believe existed just across the Whetstone River and at the north end of Main Street. This general area, back in these times, was the site of a racetrack, a fairgrounds, etc.
On this particular occasion, while the word “fireworks” was not specifically mentioned in the ads, that particular week of celebration included a tightrope walker, a trapeze artist, the play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, unlimited roller-skating and a “grand dance”. All of these events took place in the Rink. We also have a letter written by Bertie Drake just prior to all this in which she mentions a “parade and celebration”. Given the large number of Civil War veterans in Milbank at the time, I have to assume that the word “celebration” included some form of a fireworks display. Certainly the expertise was on hand to either create local concoctions – or the railroads could have easily brought in the products of that day.
Q: In Big Stone City, is there a Big Stone? – D.S.
A: While one can find many big stones around here and Paulette and I have measured stones that weigh well up into the 50,000 pound range, the town of Big Stone City was not named for any specific large rock. Rather, both the Chippawas and the Dakota Sioux Indians had words that related to the many large rocks found in and on the edges of the lake upon which they lived.
It was the French fur trappers, in the mid-1700’s, who took those words and translated them into a term they would know: “Lac de Grand Roche”. The English fur trappers came along in the early 1800’s and changed these words into “Big Stone Lake”. They chose to leave “Lac Qui Parle” alone, though. And they must have liked the Dakota word “Waubay”.
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