The Origins of Dundas and Groveland
The Town of Dundas The Groveland Cemetery opened in the mid 1860s, following the end of the civil war and the very beginning of the Cannon River Valley’s period of milling expansion. The town of Dundas where it is located was founded in 1852. Groveland still serves the community today, but with the decline of the milling industry and Dundas’ transition towards a more decentralized town it fell off in usage (source 5). We know that the first mill was opened in 1857 by brothers James and George Archibald and was later closed in 1896 due to a devastating fire that the mill never fully recovered from. However we can see from the direct impact of the milling industry on the use of Groveland cemetery that this is a prime candidate for examining to determine trends in how milling affected the region.
The Population of Dundas
The first census taken of Dundas was in 1880, with the establishing population being 580. The following decade saw a drop to 554 people, or a 4.5% decrease. By 1900 the population had dropped 11% to 493, and by 1910 it had dropped 27.6% to 357 (source 5). We can deduce that between its founding in 1852 by James Irish, the first settler of Dundas (source 5), and the first census in 1880, the population had skyrocketed. In 28 years Dundas had gone from being a one man and his family settlement to a bustling hub of the milling industry of 580 people. While an average mill would only directly employ 30 people at a time (source 1), this does not factor in the many other jobs that would have a been indirectly created because of the mill. Restaurants might open, jobs transporting the grain processed in the mill would become necessary, schools would open and hire teachers to educate the children of the mill workers and other connected households. So once we start examining the impact 30 steady jobs can have on a small town, it becomes clear how and why Dundas was able to explode in population like it did. However, we can see that starting from 1880, the population of the town of Dundas began a rapidly accelerating decline. This decline in population coincides almost perfectly with the decline of the milling industry of the region (source 6). As new milling techniques began to outdate the grain processing techniques of the Cannon river valley mills, gradually they declined as they lost suppliers and customers to more efficient and productive mills in Minneapolis. And having established the crucial role that the mill filled in providing enough stable jobs to build a local economy around, it becomes clear why these drops coincided. Without the security and stability provided by the mill people began to drift away to other towns while no one came to replace them.
The Expansion of Groveland cemetery
The effect of the decreasing productivity of the mill is reflected in the number of graves added to the Groveland cemetery by year. Both the graphs showing population data, and number of graves added per year seem to roughly line up, following the peak in the 1880s of the milling industry, both graphs begin to incline downwards, accelerating in the 1890s after the devastating fire that destroyed the mill. It is unfortunate that we don’t have more grave data from earlier in the town’s life, but it does make sense. Dundas at the time would have been an industrial town where people moved to work, it was unlikely that many elderly people who were close to death would be moving around following work. This means that as a working town, Dundas would have had a disproportionately small number of senior citizens, as most residents likely being working aged. It seems unlikely that many senior citizens would have been moving to a town like Dundas during the milling period, as there seems to be very little reason to move to any of the milling boomtowns unless you are planning to work at the mill or in some other capacity related to the mills.
The Austin Family
The most noticeable gravestone was that of the Austin family, whose headstone appears to be an elaborate floral pattern on granite. The Gravestone marks the father Caleb, his wife Elizabeth, and their two sons Robert and John. Robert died at 28 years old, and little John unfortunately never reached his second birthday. Elizabeth Austin lived longer than her husband and both sons, so it appears that she left instructions for the Austin family to all be commemorated by the same headstone after she passed in 1905. The headstone also bears intricate floral patterns across the left side and around up to the top of the headstone. All other headstones in the Groveland cemetery were made with slate or granite before the 1880s. The unique and impressive nature of this headstone is perhaps due to the fact that it is intended to serve as an entire family’s grave marker, meaning that the family as a whole had more money to spend on the one gravestone rather than on four separate ones.
The Rise of the Milling Industry and its Effects
During the milling industry’s peak, there was a surge in increasingly elaborate and complicated designs. Many more gravestones had curved edges mounted on a flat base. Many of these headstones appear to resemble a church or steepled building when looking straight on at them, which is an interesting development. This shifting style is contemporary with the heyday of the milling industry, which suggests that the increased wealth of the area from milling brought in other services like the construction of more elaborate headstones. Between 1876-1885 there was a significant increase in variety of the stones’ design. The materials are still primarily slate and granite (with the one marble exception), but the interesting part is how the headstones from this decade seem to be shifting away from simple rectangular slabs to more unique shapes and sizes. This makes sense when put into the context of the mill’s effect on the local economy, at the peak of when the mill was most productive and was bringing in the most cash, it makes sense that people who depended on the mill either directly or indirectly would have more money to spend on things like gravestones during their period of greatest success.
The Decline of the Milling Industry and its Effects
Following the heyday of the milling period, we see some serious changes in the style of graves. During the years 1881-1910, there is a serious shift in the style and material used for the gravestones. Five of the headstones show a return to a simpler, upright rectangle, which was first present in the 1860s at the beginning of the milling period. Six continue with the later tradition of rounded edges and the headstone mounted on a base. The interesting part is that all of the remaining headstones seem to have gotten simpler in the same vein as those depicted above. These headstones are just small rectangular blocks laid flat on their back, no larger that a foot across in both directions. Perhaps this reflects that as the mills closed and folks lost their jobs that had been directly or indirectly tied to the milling industry, they had less money to invest in a headstone and so a simpler (and more affordable) style became the norm again. Once the mills started closing, people who had businesses which relied on the mill staying open would have lost money. A bar owner might have been able to make a decent living while the mill was active, and there was a steady stream of men working at the mill, working the trains bringing in grain for the mill, and a multitude of other jobs that would have relied on the mill indirectly. But as soon as the mill closed up, those direct employees got laid off, and shortly afterwards the men working trains or barges transporting the grain would have been forced to leave or lose their job as there would be no need of their transported grain anymore.
Ultimately, we can see the rise and fall of the Milling industry in Dundas and the rest of the Cannon River Valley by tracing the evolution of the graveyards in the adjacent towns. Through examining them and looking for evidence of the economic welfare of those interred there by viewing the complexity and material used on their headstones, we can begin to uncover how dramatically the milling industry affected local economies and everyday life.
- History of Dakota County and the City of Hastings, by Edward D. Neill, North Star Publishing Co. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1882, transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman.
- Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 01 June 2019).
- Baugher, Veit, Nassaney, Veit, Richard F., and Nassaney, Michael S. The Archaeology of American Cemeteries and Gravemarkers. American Experience in Archaeological Perspective. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2014.
- Deetz, James. In Small Things Forgotten : The Archaeology of Early American Life. 1st ed. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977.
- Fossum, Paul R. “Early Milling in the Cannon River Valley.” Minnesota History, Minnesota Historical Society.