City of Frogs

On November 12, 2013 · 0 Comments - won't you be the first?

I love statistical clustering. Another moment of weirdness revealed itself on my never-ending family history quest. I’ve oftentimes searched for months without finding anything beyond mundane anecdotes of routine life. The latest one was far better though. It actually tied to geography in a concrete way so bear with me as I provide context, or skip the middle part and catch the last few paragraphs.

Once again the story involved someone who married into my extended family so I don’t have any kind of actual blood relationship with him. My family is boring although they appear to have an unusual ability to attract interesting characters. Sophia Whitney — first cousin of Nancy Whitney who’s husband confronted the body snatchers — married Moses Sherburne (1808-1868).

One of my go-to sources for this family said little more than "resided Saint Paul" Minnesota. That was hardly revelatory so I dug deeper.


Moses G Sherburne (Minnesota Supreme Court)
Justice Moses Sherburne of the Minnesota Supreme Court
via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license

I discovered my first clue when I saw the gentleman’s portrait in Wikimedia Commons, the repository for all media files used by Wikipedia. That implied a status slight higher than some random dude who happened to live in St. Paul a century and a half ago. I’ll say. Check out Moses Sherburne’s greatly condensed résumé:

  • Major General in the Maine Militia
  • Elected to Maine House of Representatives
  • Appointed by various Governors of Maine to statewide judicial positions
  • Friends with Franklin Pierce who became President of the United States in 1853
  • Moved to Territory of Minnesota after appointed by Pres. Pierce as Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court
  • Prominently involved with Minnesota statehood and the drafting of its state constitution

Too bad he dropped dead when he was only sixty years old.


Ready for the geography?



Elk River, seat of Sherburne County, Minnesota

There is a county in Minnesota that honors Moses Sherburne, named Sherburne County appropriately enough. It’s located just northwest of Minneapolis and has nearly 90,000 residents. Regular 12MC readers understand my fascination with U.S. counties so imagine my reaction when I consulted my county-counting map and discovered that I’ve been to Sherburne County. Sherburne contained all sorts of Sherburne things, so by extension they’re all named for him too. That included the Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, a breeding spot for sandhill cranes.

The most fascinating facet had to be that Moses Sherburne lived in Sherburne County during his final few years. Imagine walking around a place and thinking, "Yup, everything here named for me" all day long. That would have been one mighty ego boost. If someone crossed him he could have responded with authority, "well it’s my stinkin’ county so shut up already." Awesome.


I guess I should get to the City of Frogs part.



Sherburne Ave. through Frogtown

It wasn’t just a Minnesota county named for Moses Sherburne. There were other things too, like a road. Sherburne Avenue in St. Paul runs east-west through a portion of the city, with its eastern two-thirds through the heart of Frogtown.

Oddly enough, that wasn’t the first time Frogtown appeared on the pages of Twelve Mile Circle. Reader "David F-H" mentioned this neighborhood after I posted Canadian Ethnic Enclave:

So, my hometown appears to have roughly 15 neighborhoods though some of them officially go by names that I’d never heard of. If you’d ask me to get you to Thomas Dale (no hyphen) I’d have no clue. If you asked for Frogtown, I could send you on your merry way.

The Frogtown Neighborhood Association (which appeared to favor the hyphen between Thomas and Dale) explored the unusual name.

The exact origins of the name Frogtown are difficult to pin down. But this much is certain: the moniker was derived from the prevalence of frogs in what was originally a swampy, sparsely populated section of town. In fact, many of the early homes built in the neighborhood began to sink into the muck. Early German residents of the area called it Froschburg – literally frog city… Frogtown is among the most diverse neighborhoods in St. Paul. According to the 2000 census, nearly 40 percent of Frogtown residents are of Asian descent, with white and black residents each accounting for about a quarter of the area’s population.

Frogtown has long attracted immigrants, first newly-arriving Germans upon its founding, and now Vietnamese and Hmong.

Today’s tale took quite the strange meander, didn’t it? Somehow I connected grave diggers, sandhill cranes, Hmong immigrants, and a U.S. President within the confines of the same article, all connected tenuously through time and geography by the over-achieving Moses Sherburne.

On November 12, 2013 · 0 Comments - won't you be the first?

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