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Doug's Diggings: Sometimes we forget historic contributions

J. Sherman Peterson

Sometimes historical facts are forgotten because none of us take the time to bring information forward through the years. That thought popped into my head last week as I read the obituary of J. Sherman Peterson, 86, who died Nov. 29.

As I read the obit, I didn't see any reference to his time on the St. Croix County Board. His service had a lot to do with keeping Hudson the county seat of St. Croix County; it had a lot to do with purchasing the property where the government center now sits. As I see it, these are monumental contributions made in a person's life!

Sherm, who served on the county board for around 13 years, was chair of the County Finance Committee back in the early 1980s when the county was trying to figure out how to expand. More room was needed than what was available in the old court house (now the Hudson Municipal Building) at 911 Fourth St.

The committee looked at adding on to the court house and purchasing space in other buildings around town, including the old Nor-Lake warehouse on First Street. Among the items discussed was building a new court house. Eventually, that was the direction the county turned.

Then came another "situation." Several county board members decided it would be good idea to move the county seat to New Richmond or Hammond. In fact, someone in Hammond said they would donate land to the county if it would build a new courthouse in that city.

Sherm Peterson was a strong advocate for keeping the county seat in Hudson and with his position as finance chair, he had the power to do something about it. I was covering county board meetings in those days and remember his persuasive remarks at county committee and county board meetings.

Eventually Sherm and the Finance Committee directed County DA and Corporation Council Eric Lundell and Finance Director James Steel to go make an offer on a piece of property that sat just east of the Hudson city limits in early 1985.

"The property was owned by Ed and Nel Boody, and Sherm recommended the purchase of the land" Lundell said. "We were instructed to make an offer of about $220,000 for 99.7 acres and $40,000 or $50,000 for the Boody house that sat on the property."

Of course, it's ironic how things develop. The settled price was $262,500.

At the time of the sale in March 1985 the Star-Observer quoted the late Bernard Kinney, then-county board member and town of Hudson chair, who said the offer was a "little over the assessed valuation."

As it turned out, the county purchased the property for about $2,200 an acre and the house was tossed in for about $42,500.

"You can quote me on this," Lundell said. "It's the best deal St. Croix County has ever made! The land is probably worth $100,000 an acre now."

Jim Steel said the same thing.

"I think some of us recognized that this was going to be valuable property right from the start," Steel said. "I told the county board - 'even if you never put a brick on it, the property is a great investment.'"

So St. Croix County, under the heavy influence of Sherm Peterson, now owned a great piece of property. The purchase was approved by the county board on a vote of 24-7. That did not mean, however, that a government center would be built there. There was support from some of the "anti-Hudson" supervisors to still build the court house somewhere else.

There was also a stipulation on the Boody property that the Boody's could live in the house until they died. Unfortunately, Ed Boody died just months after the sale and his wife died less than three years later.

Other than a good location, other things that made the Hudson property attractive included the fact that sewer and water were adjacent to the property.

"The water tower wasn't in yet," Lundell said. "But, the utilities were right up to the edge of the property."

Sherm had quite a fight on his hands, however. Even by 1989, there was still no consensus about building a new courthouse and Sherm became so frustrated with the process that he resigned.

In May of 1989, some board members wanted to go back and re-study expansion options at the old court house - options that had already been explored years earlier. Peterson accused some board members of "playing games." When asked who was spearheading the move to re-examine covered ground, Peterson said it was mostly members "who were around during the original study."We've had 21 new board members in the past four years, but most of the new members respect the work that's already been done."

Because the county now owned the land, however, the "die was cast" in many ways - making the decision to stay in Hudson much easier. Finally in November 1991 supervisors approved construction of a new government center and bonding for $11.5 million. The motion passed with a 22-8 vote - interestingly, a couple of the dissenting votes were Hudson area supervisors. The new government center opened June 14, 1993. The old court house at 911 Fourth St. was sold to the city of Hudson for $400,000 and it became home of the Hudson Library.

"Sherm always had a voice of reason when looking at these important decisions," Lundell said. He used his construction background to offer input on construction issues and always used common sense."

The bottom line is that if it were not for Sherm, the county may have never purchased the Boody property, a new government center may never have been built in Hudson and the county seat may have been moved to a different location. Those are contributions that should be noted in history.