The following is a complete W.P.A. biography, given by Mrs. Marie Gross Ruth in July of 1937. Some of Mrs. Ruth’s statements may be offensive to our readers, but they were included to show the atmosphere and ideology of the time period. Despite this, her biography gives a fascinating account of the town and time period in which she lived.
Marie Gross was born in Little Falls, Minnesota. She is the daughter of Philip Gross and Mary Gross.
Philip Gross was born in Germany in 1847. He was an “only child of parents in comfortable circumstances.” When fourteen years old he decided to come to America. This he did, in 1861, going directly to Troy, Indiana, where an uncle of his was teaching in a Catholic school.
Philip attended this school for a time and learned the English language. Later he was a cigar maker. After staying three years in Indiana he came to St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he followed the same trade for two years. While in St. Cloud he was married and in 1866 took up a homestead where the village of Bowlus is. The brick house he built on the homestead still stands. “In the Catholic Church at Bowlus are two windows placed there in memory of Mr. Gross.”
About 1880 Mr. Gross moved to Little Falls and bought land on Broadway opposite the Court house, where he built and operated a hotel, known as the Little Falls House, an Opera House, a feed store, a general store, and a harness shop.
Later Mr. Gross built the house at 200 S.E. 4th St. (now in 1937) known as the Randall apartments. This was the first modern house in Little Falls and created quite a sensation. He moved the feed store from across from the Court house to where it stands now back of the Randall apartments. After moving it Mr. Gross fixed the upstairs into quarters for the hired man. This building is now known as the Randall Annex Apartments. Mr. Gross was also interested in establishing a gas plant to furnish illuminating gas. This did not prove a profitable venture and was abandoned.
The Gross Gas house at 412 1st Ave. S.E. was recently (1937) purchased by Mark Gunderson and made into a modern home.
About 1898 Mr. Gross sold his property in Little Falls and moved to Los Angeles, California where he died in 1910. Mrs. Gross died there in 1924.
Marie Gross Ruth attended school in the frame school house located where the Washington School now is (1937). The frame building burned down and was replaced by the present structure.
Mr. Sunderland was Superintendent of Schools at the time Marie attended that school. Among her teachers were Miss Sadie Fuller, Miss Clara Kingsley (Mrs. Fuller), Miss Carrie Brown (Mrs. Victor Schallern), and Miss Pedley. Later Marie went to the Sacred Heart Convent in Minneapolis.
On May 15, 1904 Marie Gross married Francis Ganzaga Ruth in Little Falls. They were married by Father Lamothe.
At the time of their marriage Mr. Ruth was cashier at the old East side station of the Northern Pacific Railroad in Little Falls. Soon after their marriage they moved to St. Paul where Mr. Ruth was cashier for the Northern Pacific railway.
About 1900 they moved to California for Mr. Ruth’s health. They were there a year, then returned to St. Paul and lived there until 1905 when Mr. Ruth came back to Little Falls as agent for the Northern Pacific Railway Co. During the World War he was transferred to Stillwater. He was agent for the three roads running in there. After the war he resumed his work as agent for the Northern Pacific Railway in Little Falls.
Mr. and Mrs. Ruth have two daughters:
A-1 Elaine Marie Ruth Crawley, born in Little Falls, married C. Thomas Crawley, May 26, 1927 in Los Angeles. They have one son, Thomas Francis Carter Crawley, born May 14, 1928. They reside in Los Angeles.
A-2 Alvira Kathryn Holmes was born in Little Falls. Married Charles Denton Holmes in Los Angeles, May 26, 1927. They have two children: Charles Denton Holmes III, born Oct. 20, 1929; and Kathryn Ruth Holmes, born August 6, 1936. They reside in Los Angeles.
Speaking of her childhood days in Little Falls Mrs. Ruth told of how when they first came there were two burial lots fenced in at the corner of Broadway and Second Street just west of the Little Falls Hotel.
The rest of the land there was covered with pine trees. In the early days before the cemeteries were laid out when a member of the family died it was customary for the family to select a pretty spot, fence it in, and use it for their burying ground. The Sturgis and Kidder families, following this custom, each selected a place among the pines at the corner of Broadway and Second street and fenced in the plots. There were three graves in the two lots. Later the bodies were removed and buried in Oakland Cemetery. One of Mrs. Ruth’s brothers, would not go out after dark for fear of ghosts in the old burial plot.
“One day,” said Mrs. Ruth, “when I was running across the bridge over the ravine going to the meat market, some one took hold of my hand. Looking up I saw a black man, the first one I had ever seen. Rather frightened I rushed into the market and exclaimed, ‘A nigger took my hand.’ Mr. Smith, the proprietor, told me not to be afraid and added, ‘I’ll take you home,’ which he did. The negro was a transient as we had no colored people in Little Falls at that time.”
“The Indians came to Little Falls at pay day. They would have quite a celebration, walk around town and buy up all the lemon extract there was. It was against the law to sell liquor to the Indians, but by night fall they would have secured enough lemon extract to feel happy and would have a pow wow at the corner of Broadway and First Street. The old boys would set around there, smoke and drum while the squaws danced. Believe me, they wore all kinds of beads and Indian embroidery. The squaws had articles to sell.”
Mrs. Ruth has a very beautiful beaded belt that was once worn by an Indian warrior. It is about 34 inches long and 5 inches wide with leaves and flowers beautifully worked in beads extending through the center which is of white beads.
A tragic story associated with a Catholic burying plot was alluded to by Mrs. Ruth but she could not remember the details save as they affected the lives of the Gross family. Mrs. LeBeau of 607 N.E. 4th St., who is eighty-four years old and has lived in Little Falls for fifty-five years, told the story as follows:
“Before the Catholic Cemetery was laid out, John Roy, who was a policeman here in the early days, selected a burying spot north of the old Catholic church between the present church and the parish house and buried his father and baby there. After Mr. Felix Bastien gave the land for the Catholic Cemetery, the remains of the old gentleman were taken first. When the grave of the baby was opened the clothes were found but otherwise the casket was empty. The body of the baby had been stolen. The mother of the baby, who was standing near, began to scream and ‘blocks away,'” said Mrs. LeBeau, “‘I heard the cries and wondered what could be the matter.’ The baby had never been normal. It had a very large head and the general belief was that the body was taken by some one who wanted to investigate the cause of the child’s death in the interest of medical Science.”
Be that as it may, the incident so alarmed Mrs. Gross, mother of Mrs. Ruth, that when a little later her two little girls died within three days of each other, she would not permit them to be buried in Little Falls and the family twice made the trip of about fourteen miles to bury the children in the cemetery at the Catholic Church in North Prairie. There was no bridge across the Mississippi River at that time. The family crossed the river on the ferry at Green’s Crossing. On one trip, when they were crossing the river there was a strong wind blowing and Marie (Mrs. Ruth) who was wearing a new hat with a daisy wreath, remembers that she “worried far more for fear of the loss of her new hat than she did on account of the death of her sister.”
At that time they did not have service every Sunday in the Catholic Church at Little Falls. When there was no service there Mr. Gross would drive his family the fourteen miles to church at North Prairie; when it was bitter cold he would wear “a big buffalo overcoat” and then drive bare handed. His small daughter, Marie, could not understand how he could do that when her fingers were freezing in mittens.
Many fine entertainments were given in the old Opera House. Sousa’s Band played to a crowded house. Madame Mojeska was one of the noted actresses who played there. This entertainment, while an artistic success entailed a loss of four hundred dollars, which Madame Mojeska graciously shared with Mr. Gross.
Many years later after he moved to California to live, Mr. Gross met Madame Mojeska who owned a fruit ranch there and they had a good laugh over their loss.
On May 10, 1887 Little Falls was a lively town. The dream of many years seemed about to be realized for on that day ground was broken for the new dam and there was great rejoicing. Anticipating the large crowd which would come to the celebration, Mr. Gross built an extension to the balcony at the Opera House. Unfortunately it was not built strong enough. The crowd was so great it collapsed, blocking the main entrance and the audience had to go out the side door. There was much excitement. A few were injured, Mrs. Ruth recalls the fact that her father had to pay damages to one man who broke his leg.
In about 1898 when Mr. Gross sold his property in Little Falls and moved to Los Angeles, California, the original Opera House and skating rink were moved to lower Broadway where it forms the East side of the Golden Rule. The old stage was moved and made over into Jetka’s East Side Warehouse. The scenery and chairs from the Opera House went to Pierz.
For over twenty-five years Mrs. Ruth did Social Service work for the Civic League, having started the work before the Civic League was organized. At that time there was no paid nurse or social worker in either town or county. Later the Civic League, with the help of the School Board, employed a city nurse. Miss Augusta Mettle was the first nurse so employed.
During the World War Mrs. Ruth was appointed County Welfare Worker by the Governor, and worked with Miss Mettle and Miss Hough, the Home Demonstration Agent. Her work in the county brought her many unique experiences. One she likes to recall is the difficulties they experienced in learning to eat watermelon with a knife. When tragedy lurked in every corner one needed something to laugh at. Mrs. Ruth was also one of the inspectors for the surgical dressing department of the Morrison County Chapter American Red Cross.
In about 1922 she was appointed a member of the Morrison County Child Welfare Board.
Mrs. Ruth was one of the early members of the Musical Art Club, organized in 1911. Her two daughters gave freely of their talents, (Elaine sang and Alvira was a reader), to help make the club a success.
This WPA biography was published in 1996 in the Morrison County Historical Society’s newsletter.