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The good ol' days in Garvin

June 25, 2011
By Deb Gau , Marshall Independent

GARVIN - For a small town, it's had a lot of names. Before being officially dubbed Garvin back in 1891, the community had gone by Saratoga, Terry, and even "Siding No. 7," highlighting its connection to the railroad. But despite a century and a quarter of change, longtime Garvin residents say there are still plenty of things to celebrate, especially with regards to the community.

Garvin is marking its 125th anniversary this weekend with a three-day festival and reunion.

Garvin's earliest history is tied to the expansion of railroads in southwest Minnesota. Garvin's city history notes that tracks built by the Chicago and Northwestern railroad, heading westward from Tracy, had reached the Garvin area in 1879. Within a few years, a side track and a town site were plotted. Even the town's official identity was linked to the railroad, being named after a travelling freight agent named H.C. Garvin.

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Garvin's location on the rail line created a bustling town. Up through the 1950s and 60s, residents remembered, Garvin's business community included everything from two grain elevators to cafes, stockyards, a bowling alley, a meat locker and Lyon County's first cooperative creamery, founded in 1899.

"They used to print their own butter," remembered Ardys Williams, who grew up in the Garvin area.

The railroad depot tended to be a busy place too, residents said. Passing trains used to pick up sacks of mail left hanging by the tracks, and local residents boarded passenger trains as well. It used to cost 25 cents for a train ride to Tracy, said LaVern "Lefty" Holm, a longtime Garvin resident who now lives in Tracy.

The Dakotah 400 streamliner was the last passenger train to travel through Garvin, in 1960.

Even with all that activity, Garvin was still a very rural community. "I remember one family always came to town in a wagon. They never had a car," Holm said.

Goldie Wilking said her family used to raise horses and sheep at their home on the edge of town.

"We had all the boys in town over at our house," she said, but they had to make themselves useful with chores, too.

The big shopping days used to be on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when stores would be open late, said Wayne Brock and other area residents.

"Our mothers would bring eggs into town to sell, and buy groceries," Ardys Williams said. "Us kids would walk around town and meet friends until it got dark."

After dark, an outdoor movie theater would be set up near one of the town elevators.

On Saturday nights, there would usually be a band playing or a dance to go to.

Music was one way that everyone in town had fun, residents said. If you could play an instrument, you might find yourself in the middle of an impromptu concert as neighbors joined in.

"You don't see that in bigger towns," said longtime resident Dorine Brock.

"It was just a family thing, and people gathered," said Denny Kronke.

Community groups like 4-H, the American Legion and a local women's study club called the Nivrag Dolls ('Nivrag' is 'Garvin' spelled backwards) were all active as well, residents said. At one time the Garvin sportsmen's club had over 300 members, Lefty Holm said.

For children growing up in and around Garvin, school was one focal point of life. The Garvin School was built in 1911, replacing a two-room wooden schoolhouse built ten years earlier. Some teachers would come and go, residents said, but several generations of kids remember having Miss Mabel Dahltorp as an elementary school teacher, said Garvin mayor Jim Julien. Dahltorp would later be honored as the grand marshal of Garvin's centennial parade.

After graduating from eighth grade, Garvin students would go to Tracy for high school. The experience could be fraught with town rivalry, residents said.

"When we got to Tracy, they (the Tracy students) were all friends," Wilking said. It wasn't easy to be part of another group. "It used to be the Currie kids, the Garvin kids and the Tracy kids."

The student body shrank throughout the years, however. The Garvin school district consolidated with Tracy's in 1956, and the school building saw its last class in 1971.

Over the past 25 years, residents said, Garvin has continued to change. The business community in town is not as large as it once was. The old school building has been torn down. But there have been some improvements in infrastructure, said Julien. The city got a municipal water system in 1985, and a sewer system was built about seven years ago.

Most importantly, the people of Garvin are still going strong. The Nivrag Dolls still meet, although members say now it's "more of a social get-together." The Victor Hegge American Legion Post, founded in 1921, and the Legion Auxiliary are still active, with events like annual Memorial Day services at Custer Cemetery between Garvin and Tracy.

It's just part of the small-town atmosphere, they said.

"Everyone always cared about everyone else," Brock said.



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