By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Horst Hanneken, who in 2010 wrote a book on the history of his hometown, Buckman, has done it again. His current book, “Hillman, Its Beginnings, Its Growth, Its Glory,” is a step back in history.
“I stumbled into this project,” he said. “My wife, Janet, is from Hillman and her mother and sister still live there. During Easter weekend 2013, we took them out to eat at the Hillman Bar and Grill.”
While there, old pictures on the establishment’s walls caught Hanneken’s interest. He learned the bar was once a hardware store.
“Why don’t you do a book on Hillman?” said Sally, Janet’s sister.
“Someone must have overheard that conversation, because several people came up to me later and told me they had heard I was writing a book on Hillman,” said Hanneken. “So I thought, why not?”
Since he knew very little about Hillman, Hanneken began his research at the Weyerhaeuser Museum in Little Falls that has archived all the newspapers written in the county.
“While doing that, two names kept coming up: Kay Keehr and Mel Buesseler, both local historians,” said Hanneken. “When we finally met, their enthusiasm for my project kept me going.”
Keehr had a hand-drawn map of Hillman from the 1940s and Hanneken was able to study another map from the 1930s which belonged to Clarence Brausen. Buesseler gave Hanneken some articles about Hillman’s history and all that set the framework for the book.
What surprised Hanneken during his research was how the Lutherans and the Catholics in Hillman helped each other during times of need.
“The Lutherans helped rebuild the Catholic church when it burned down,” said Hanneken.
Another surprise for Hanneken was that Hillman once had more than 250 residents and up to 16 businesses in its heyday around the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.
“Today it has one business and 35 people,” he said.
Hillman was the last settled part of Morrison County. It traces its origins back to 1908 when the Soo Line tracks were laid. The crews that maintained the lines were housed in the town which sprang up virtually overnight.
“With the advent of the automobile and good roads, things changed,” said Hanneken. “Passenger service (on the trains) declined and with only local trade to sustain the many businesses, the town faded.”
The people of Hillman built a new school in 1917 and again in 1920. That was a surprise to Hanneken until he learned that the population of Hillman tripled during those three years and a new school was necessary.
Another fact that Hanneken noticed about Hill-man was it seemed to have more fires which destroyed both homes and businesses than other towns.
“This book is a tribute to a courageous group of early settlers and a strong, faith-based community which remains to this day,” he said.
Hanneken was born in Germany and with his family, immigrated to the United States in 1950. He taught junior high English and high school German for 30 years at the Pierz Schools.
Hanneken married Janet Larson in 1971 and they have three children.
“Hillman” may be purchased at the Hillman Fourth of July celebration, Farmers and Merchants Bank in Pierz or directly from Hanneken. He may be reached at (320) 745-2641.