HISTORY IS HER BUSINESS
When Helen McCann White was a young girl, she moved around a lot to small towns accompanied her father, a Methodist minister, assigned to various churches. Edward McCann served the St. Croix Falls, Eureka, and Wolf Creek Methodist Churches between 1941and1944. She didn’t know anyone in the new towns she moved to. But, that didn’t last long.
“What I would do is get acquainted with people,” said White. “I would see them on their porches and I’d just start talking to them. I’d ask them, ‘How long have you lived here?’ ‘Where did you come from?” It was my way of adjusting to a new environment and also, I suppose, the beginning in my interest in history.”
That interest has lasted a lifetime, and has led White into the world of history in a big way. She has written books, published newspapers, done a radio show and restored buildings, including the Taylors Fall’s jail.
White graduated form Hamline University, working her last two years in the manuscripts department of the Minnesota Historical Society before enrolling at the University of Minnesota, studying American history and literature. There she met her husband, Dr. Henry Gilbert White, a resources economist with the university and later with the government.
During the next twenty his career led them from Utah and Colorado to Japan, the Philippines, and France. Helen followed with their three children and her trunk full of manuscripts. Characteristically she engaged in a variety of other jobs along the way. In 1961 they settled in Washington D.C., where she completed research for her first book, Hot for the Gold Fields: Northern Overland Wagon Trains of the 1860’s, an account of wagon train emigrants, who traveled from Minnesota to the gold fields of Montana.
With retirement in 1965, the Whites came back to Minnesota and bought a farm in the St. Croix Valley north of Taylors Falls. Henry White died in 1967. A short time later White moved to Taylors Falls, restoring and living in the Schottmuller building. Other restoration projects of hers include the 1850’s Taylors Falls jail, which opened 1981 as a Historical Bed and Breakfast.
In 1969 she started the annual newspaper, The Dalles Visitor, which features historical accounts of the towns along the St. Croix Valley. The first paper was 16 pages long and 10,000 copies were distributed. The 1984 edition was 32 pages long with 23,000 copies distributed.
White remained responsible for most of the editorial content of the Visitor, but she had various helpers over the years, including her son, Bruce and his wife.
White’s most ambitious project, The Tales of a Comet and Other Stories, published in 1984, is a collection of stories about obscure, compelling Minnesotans of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Each of the eight stories in the book took at least a year to research. The book is available on line in its entirety. <google.com>
Helen M. [White] Edward [Ned] Phyllis A. [Caine]
Elizabeth (Rogers) Rev. Edward Rosemary [Banta]