Jim’s Corner

In the previous tidbit, Farms II, I mentioned that the farmers who owned and operated the Bertram Lakes land were stewards or “trustees” of the land.  As we enter the final stages of the purchase of this land, we must remind ourselves of this stewardship. I recently came across a quote that is very fitting for us.  It reads as follows:


As we enter our own stewardship, let us remind ourselves that we need to preserve, protect, and improve when we can so that future generations can enjoy the land also.


The Farms ~ Part II

The YMCA’s interest in the Bertram Chain of Lakes land first came from donations/purchases by the Lehigh Cement company which owned land on the east side of the lakes, including First Lake.

During the next 15 years (from 1952-1967) neighboring farms were bought up as they began to cease operations.  Most of these farms were small one-family operations of dairy, small grain, sheep and cattle and provided a life for these families for almost 100+ years (from 1850-1950+).

These farms were purchased one at a time until the current land area of the Bertram Chain of Lakes was created.  All together there are nine (9) farmsteads that can be located on the land, several of which have old foundations and other remains to show where they were.

In the future when all of the land has been purchased and the entire natural area of the park is open to the public, these farmsteads will be marked showing the last two farmers/owners of the land.

Several of these farms produced some specialty crops:

  • The corner of Briarwood & 90th Street (horse pasture) was originally a field where sheep were raised for many years.  They produced wool, mutton & chops.
  • Inside the south entrance and just southeast of the parking lot was the site of a very specific crop; this was the site of a mink farm.  The pelts of the mink were used for coats and stoles.  Changing attitudes led to its demise.
  • Rumor has it that there was a celery farm located near Long Lake but the specific location has not been found.
  • Of course,m the YMCA used the land to farm Christmas trees for sale in the cities.  Several of the areas are still in existence today but will be redone in the future.

We must be sure to remember and celebrate these early stewards of the land!

sheep farm

YMCA Detached Worker

jims cornerI first became aware of this phase in the mid 1970’s when a YMCA Detached Worker was assigned to the Monticello area through the Manitou Camp, located on the south end of Bertram Lake.  A worker by the name of Mike M. came to the Monticello High School and introduced himself to be the YMCA person who would be coordinating programs in the schools in conjunction with Camp Manitou.  The YMCA has always been instrumental in the social issues of children and created the Detached Worker Program to help struggling children with school, home and personal issues.  I asked Mike where the “Detached Worker” part came in because I didn’t see him coming “apart” in any way!  We laughed and he explained that he was a YMCA employee but that he had no office or specific role other than to help disadvantaged, neglected and/or forgotten children who needed help, guidance, structure, and a person to care about them.  Since the detached worker was not restricted to hours, he or she could work with children of all ages and at all times ~ especially afternoons and evenings outside of regular school times.



Some of the activities included camping trips, group work, volunteer activities, sports, games, and family referrals. One very popular program the Mini Bike Program.  The YMCA had secured a partnership with Honda to provide some mini bikes to Camp Manitou.  Each year students would learn about the bikes and how to handle and ride them safely. After the basic introduction, they would practice riding them in an oval to help them hone their skills.  The final result was to go on a trail ride throughout the YMCA-Bertram property. In the end they would clean and maintain the bikes for the next trail ride; similar to the book, “Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, except they were mini bikes. This program lasted over 25 years and educated hundreds of children in the Monticello area on mini bike safety.

Cecropia Moth

jims cornerWhen looking at and remembering history, we are too often forced to look at it in human terms but, plants, insects and animals have always had their own influences, in in some instances, very serious impact on human history.  In this case, I had a very interesting and beautiful encounter with an insect in the Bertram Lakes area.

It was the summer of 1990, while supervising some summer youth employment students.  We were engaged in some cleanup near the beach area of Bertram Lake.  A storm had come through and left some of the oak trees with broken branches and scattered leaves.  One of the older trees hacrecropia mothd received a lightning strike that left it in fairly bad shape.  We had decided that it needed to come down and proceeded to trim all the branches away.  As I began using the chainsaw on the upper trunk, I felt little resistance to the saw.  It soon became apparent that the tree was hollow and in fact, very hollow.  After cutting several feet off the upper trunk we could look inside and see that the entire bottom was covered, 3 feet deep, with course sawdust. In looking through the sawdust, I found several (6-10) very large larvae, all about the size of a finger.  They were off-white with a faint green hue and about 3/4 of an inch thick.  They could be nothing less than the larvae of the Cecropia Moth.  The largest of the moth family in North America.  Recognizing this, we stopped cutting, covered the top with branches and leaves and left it alone until the next year.

I can only hope that they all survived.  I was very happy and awed to see how nature compliments itself by providing what is necessary for its components to survive.  Beauty isn’t always in what we can see, but it’s hidden all around us!

jims corner

Apprentice Tailor – George Bertram

After living for 10-12 years on their rented farm in Delhi, the Andrew and Alison Bartram family moved to New York City. Perhaps, this was out of necessity or simply to have better opportunities for their family, but by 1832, they were living in New York City.

With the downturn of the economy in 1833, George, at the age of 13, and with the consent of his father, was bound as an apprentice to serve for seven years under Andrew Little, Tailor.

The certificate of indenture lists George as being 13 years, 11 months, 4 days of age and his term of service to end December 1840.  The contract wording is interesting, for it states, “The Apprentice is to serve his Master faithfully, to keep his secrets, to obey his lawful commands, and neither to gamble, nor drink, nor commit matrimony within the times”.  “In return, the Master agrees to teach the Art, Trade and Mystery of the tailor, to provide sufficient meat, drink, washing, lodging and clothing fitting for an Apprentice” and also to give him two quarters of evening schooling in the term.

At this time in history, apprenticeships were considered very serious business and rewards were often offered for “lost, strayed or stolen” apprentices!

For the first two years of the apprenticeship, George’s tasks would have included: hauling wood and water, sweeping the shop, stocking and putting in order blocks of clothes, picking up pins and needles and other necessary tasks to help the Master.  As time went by, he would have learned the “mysteries” of measuring, cutting, basting, pressing, fitting, sewing and button-holeing.

George persevered and on May 1, 1840, Andrew Little released him from his contract in consideration for his “uniform good conduct, for his honesty, truth, integrity and sobriety”.

George Bertram (new spelling as mentioned in an earlier tidbit) continued as a journeyman tailor for the next several years but little is mentioned as to which shops he may have been employed at.  During this time he met and married Julia Hamilton and began his family.



jims corner

In an earlier tidbit, I noted that I had come across a different spelling of the Name (Bertram). It was the original spelling of George’s parents — Andrew and Alison Bartram — the first “a” not being the “e” that George used later in life.

Andrew and Alison Bartram immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland in 1812 prior to the outbreak of the War of 1812 and settled in Delhi, New York.

Being from Scotland, they spoke English but with a heavy Scottish brogue. In Scottish the first “a” of the Bartram name was pronounce as a stretched out “b­e-a-r” with a slight rolling of the tongue. It’s hard to describe this on paper but if you ever see me, I can pronounce it for you (hopefully). George’s name of Bartram remained this way for many years until he was indentured as an apprentice tailor in 1833. By this time, the Bartram’s had moved back to New York. (I will address the apprenticeship in a later tidbit). While performing his apprenticeship, it was common for local children to come by the shop, see him working, and call out “Good Morning, Mr. B-a-a-artram” with a strong trill on the “r” to mock his Gaelic pronunciation.

Mr. Little, after the completion of the 7 years apprenticeship, released “Mr. George Bertram” from the original contract. It would be the name George Monilaws Bertram would carry for the rest of his life.

Why Monticello and Wright County?

One often wonders why people act the way they do, and in George Bertram’s case, what led him to settle in Monticello and Wright County? By looking into his past, we can find some significant reasons why he did so.

In 1812 George Bertram’s parents, Andrew and Allison, immigrated from Glascow, Scotland to a small town 120 miles NW from Manhattan, NY named Delhi. This town was located along the Delaware River in the county named Otsego. Hmmm

The road from New York City to Delhi was little more than a wagon trail but it passed through the Catskill Mountains with the rolling hills and valleys. Along the road was a larger town of Monticello, New York.

What a coincidence!  But wait – there’s more. Early on in Minnesota’s history there was an attempt at creating a small town along the Mississippi River near Dayton, Minnesota. This town, which eventually disappeared, went by the name of Delhi.

Lastly, what about the county name – Wright? The county was named after a person named Silas Wright from Orange County, New York who happened to be the representative from the same area from where the Bartram’s were living. Wright was an U.S. Representative as well as the Governor of New York from 1845-1846.

So when George and Julia Bertram were looking for a place to call home, they saw Otsego, Monticello, Delhi and Wright all along the beautiful Mississippi River.

*Note: the BARTRAM spelling is correct and will be addressed in a later tidbit.

A Cash Crop at Bertram

Wild Ginseng is a fleshy-rooted herb native to cool and shady hardwood forests of North America – Minnesota to the Atlantic and south through the Appalachian Mountains. It has been harvested extensively over the centuries and now is quite rare. Most ginseng currently is produced through commercial cultivation.

Early settlers of the Monticello and Bertram Lakes area were forced to supplement their income from meager crops by, in essence, “living off the land”. A sudden and extraordinary demand for this product in the 1850’s and 1860’s produced a temporary “boom” for the people of Wright County. In almost every town a “purchasing agent” was employed and cash promptly paid for every pound of ginseng brought in. Whole families would go into the woods and work for days gathering their precious commodity, often abandoning other important work.

Many citizens prospered greatly from this endeavor and turned a near destitute region into one of comparable wealth. It helped improve farms at a time when many pioneer families were struggling – especially during the Civil War when many young men were away fighting.

Eventually the trade dwindled but in the meantime agriculture advanced to a state where the ginseng trade was no longer needed.

The Bertram Lakes areas was important at this time and provided the ginseng necessary for many of the surrounding settlers to survive. The area between Bertram and Long Lakes was a primary location for the growth of Ginseng.

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