Fond memories of Pleasant Lake
At an age when most girls were playing with dolls or other childhood toys, Dorothy Miller was operating a switchboard for her parents’ telephone exchange in Pleasant Lake.
“We learned to be phone operators as soon as we could write and make out a telephone ticket,” the 92-year-old Rugby resident recalls. “We had the exchange right in our dining room. It was big equipment, but it just had a seat for one. It had a hand ringer.” Dorothy’s three sisters were also part of the family switchboard crew.
Born in Pleasant Lake in 1921, Dorothy was delivered by her father, who, as the son of a country doctor, had driven his father on house calls and observed many medical procedures. She was one of four girls in the Cline family. A younger brother died in infancy.
By the time of Dorothy’s birth, Pleasant Lake had already been on the map for nearly 40 years, having been settled by the Holbrook and Mendenhall families in 1882.
The Cline family phone exchange covered a wide area according to Dorothy.
“As I remember, we had Wolford, Knox, York. We also had a pay phone at the post office and my parents got paid for operating it. We were affiliated with Northwestern Bell in Rugby, and we had lots of people on our phone lines. In those days we had bartering, so if people couldn’t pay their bill, we would get food,” she said with a chuckle.
But Dorothy’s childhood wasn’t all hard work. She remembers rollerskating and dances in the haymow of A.W. Hughes’ large barn, known nowadays as the Moral Shively barn, on the southeast edge of the community.
“I learned to dance when I was a pretty young kid. Some of the Dokkens were good dancers. I think it was Glenn Dokken who taught me to waltz.” Her mother and sisters attended the dances, she said, but her dad could never get away. “Somebody had to stay home and watch the phone.”
Picnics under the towering oaks were a popular summer activity. “The original picnic area was south and east of the Geibel house,” she said. Later another picnic spot was created on the north side of the road. A swimming hole east of the picnic spot was made by damming up one of the many springs that run out of the hills to the north. People came from miles around to enjoy the little oasis on the prairie. The area was especially popular with church groups.
In the 1920s U.S. Highway 2 ran right through Pleasant Lake so there was plenty of activity. The Geibel family operated a grocery store east of their house, and there was also a small restaurant and service station. The bank and post office were on a north-south street on higher ground to the northwest. That’s also where the Cline family lived. Three elevators lined the south side of the Great Northern railroad tracks, and Dorothy remembers the devastating fire in the early-to-mid 1930s that wiped out all three structures. Only the depot was not burned.
“The Shively house has been there ever since I remember,” Dorothy said, “and the Methodist Church has been there forever.”
Some of Dorothy’s favorite times were spent at the two-story, clapboard school, which still stands on the north side of the main road. She can effortlessly rattle off the names of her teachers and the last names of some fellow students-the Kjelstroms, Norbys and Bigelows.
“In the winter we’d sled on the hill west of the school, and we’d have someone stand on the highway to watch for cars. We’d slide right across the highway and down closer to the lake.” She and her sisters always walked the roughty half-a-mile to and from school, as did other students. And in the cold months, her mother would often walk to the schoolhouse, bringing Dorothy and her sisters a hot noon meal so they wouldn’t have to eat cold sandwiches.
She remembers that graduation exercises for rural schools were held in Minnewaukan, the Benson County seat. Later Dorothy attended high school in Rugby.
But now, save for the the magnificent trees, lilacs and caraganas planted by the pioneers, numerous free-flowing springs and a few extraordinary century-old buildings, very little remains of historic Pleasant Lake.
Dorothy’s childhood home was cut into two pieces, half of which was moved to Rugby. The other half was moved elsewhere in Pleasant Lake. Both halves became parts of other homes. The Bigelow house was relocated to Rugby, and the bank is preserved at the Prairie Village Museum. But Dorothy prefers to remember the town as it was in her youth.
“It was a wonderful area in its day,” she says nostalgically. “We had such freedom. We could run up and down the streets without worry. It was quite the town.”
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