Col. Joseph Askew, part 1

Joseph Askew, my great-great-great-grandfather, was one of the first people I focused on when starting my family history work over 35 years ago. My grandmother Harriet (Askew) Prettyman (Joseph’s great-granddaughter) spoke about him and the hotels he built and ran, even though he died over a decade before she was born. My great-great-uncle Gordy Askew (Joseph’s grandson) sent me photocopies of newspaper articles and a couple of published biographical sketches of Joseph. Joseph Askew was a man who left a large print on the world around him, and was (and is) known to many people who never had the occasion to meet him personally.

While I have focused on Joseph Askew for decades, I realized only recently that I’ve been primarily focusing on his ancestry, bypassing much of the history of the man himself once I had gathered the basic biographical facts on him. It’s about time that I look more deeply into his life, learning about who he was and what he was like. This post won’t go too much in that direction; rather, this will be more of an appetizer, presenting a couple of photos of Joseph that I recently scanned and a few details of his early life.

Joseph Askew was born in Gosforth, England, on April 11, 1840, as the sixth child (in a family that would grow to ten children) of Joseph Askew and Ann (Turner) Askew. He grew up in the Gosforth area, and when he was 17, he went to Glasgow, Scotland, and helped build the Dumbarton water works system. Afterwards, he worked in Newcastle upon Tyne and in London on their water and sewer systems. He also went to France to work on railroad tunnels south of Paris.

He returned home and married Jane Eilbeck on August 25, 1862. He worked as a store keeper for a year after his marriage, and then got into the iron mining business in Frizington, where we worked for 14 years, finishing as sinker and shaftsman. In 1875, he and Jane and their first six children (they would eventually have thirteen children) sailed from Liverpool aboard the ship “City of Montreal,” arriving in New York City on March 20, 1875. Joseph and his family went directly to Wadena County, via Duluth, and settled on a homestead about five miles east of the village of Wadena.

To keep this first Joseph Askew post short, I’ll save further details of his life for another post. For now, I’ll leave you with this surreal and as yet unexplained photograph of Joseph and an unidentified man in a young peddler’s cart.

To be continued….

6 thoughts on “Col. Joseph Askew, part 1

  1. The following was published in the Review Messenger.
    Unfortunately, the copy in the newspaper files does not bear the date of the publication.

    Col. Joseph Askew was an early pioneer and respected citizen of Menahga and Wadena. He was born in Gosford, England on April 11, 1840. At the age of 21 he married Jane Ellbeck and settled in the same general area where he was raised as a child. For several years he worked as a storekeeper and also as a miner in the iron mines in England. It was customary in those days to award the honorary title of Colonel to a highly respected citizen of good moral character and a prominent leader in the community.

    In 1875 when Col. Askew was 35 years old, he came to America and settled on a farmstead five miles east of Wadena where he lived for 16 years. The Northern Pacific Railroad was instrumental in bringing many English settlers to Minnesota by advertising cheap fertile land through the land offices in England. It’s noteworthy that Col. Askew settled here in the farming area instead of the iron mining region of Minnesota since his last job in England had been with the mines. Rich iron ore deposits were being discovered on the Mesabi Range at that time and many immigrants found employment there.

    Col. Askew, fortunately, moved to Menahga in 1891 and began building a hotel which was called “The Menahga House” or The Arlington. This historic building which currently is owned by NAPA Auto Parts is a proud reminder of Col. Askew’s fine work. During the years that he lived here, Col. Askew became Menahga’s first mayor. He also was a candidate for probate judge and served on the board of commissioners for a period of time.

    In 1901 Col. Askew again moved back to Wadena after successfully operating The Arlington Hotel for 10 years. He bought to Commercial Hotel in Wadena and operated it for seven years. In 1908 he sold the hotel and bought a farm in Mapleton, North Dakota, dividing his time between Wadena and his farm in North Dakota.

    He was interested in helping people and was a civic-minded person. In England Col. Askew had been prominent in church work, and in American he became active in politics, was affiliated with the Farmers Alliance and later with the Populist movement.

    Col. Askew’s busy life came to an end when he was fatally injured in a horse and buggy accident on his way home from the farm in North Dakota. He left a legacy of community leadership and concern for humankind.

    Thank you to Mrs. Clarence Seehusen of San Leandro, California for donating a framed copy of a picture and newspaper article about Col. Joseph Askew, who is her great-grandfather. Locally, Mrs. Ed (Pat) Maki is also related to Col. Askew. Right now we don’t have the details of that information on hand.

    It is interesting to do research on the lives of the many early settlers who contributed so much to the development of the Menahga area.

    (A photo was published with the article of Col. Askew that I do not see on your website/blog.)

    The Wadena Pioneer Journal 50th Anniversary Edition,
    December 15, 1927, also has a different photo of Col. Askew and this following tidbit of information:

    “The site of the present Commercial Hotel was utilized for hotel purposes at a very early date. The Central House stood there and the first proprietor was W. Shaulis. Anton Aller was proprietor later and owned the hotel when it burned. Wm. King built the Commercial Hotel, disposing it to G.M. Migge and later Joseph Askew became the owner. Col. Askew disposed of the property but he bought it back and it has been in the Askew family for many year.”

    Other tidbits in the anniversary edition: “Joseph Askew took the first threshing rig to the Shell Prairies in 1878 and threshed the first grain there for Mr. Wright. A horse and a steer were used to run the machine. On the return trip the machine was stuck on one mud hole for two days.”

    “The railroad was built through Menahga in the summer of 1891. Joseph Askew built a hotel, the Arlington, before the coming of the railroad. ”


    “From the time Verndale was organized strong rivalry sprung up between that village and Wadena, and the contest for supremacy culminated in the bitter county seat fight of 1886.

    “As early as 1879 the fight had, as a matter of fact, been started, for we note in the files of the P.J. of that year items similiar to this: ‘E.E. Luce went to Verndale and, considering that he is a Wadena man, it is surprising that he was not entirely chawed up before he got out of that burg.’

    “The fight waged hotter and hotter. Verndale built a court house and presented it to the county free, on condition that within one year after its acceptance, the county seat should be removed to Verndale. The board did not accept the gift of the Verndale court house.

    “Wadena also built the present court house and presented it to the county and the board accepted the tender.

    “The election to determine the matter came on in the fall of 1886. Both villages hired men to remain in their respective voting precincts 30 days prior to election. These outside ‘voters’ practically ran both villages for 30 days and it was considered unsafe for women to go upon the streets. Fighting and carousing was the order of the day and the night.

    “The election was held in November, 1886, and Wadena won out by a majority of 474. The following county officers were elected that year: F.C. Field, auditor; John Knight, treasurer; C.M. Kingsley, sheriff; John Dower, clerk of court; W.F. Markus, register of deeds; A.G. Broker, county attorney; Mrs. Ida E. Rick, supt. of schools; E.W. Thorp, judge of probate; Dr. Babcock, coroner; Dell Davenport, surveyor, and JOSEPH ASKEW, Linn Compton and Harrison Lyons, commissioners for the First, Second and Third districts, respectively.

    “Verndale carried the fight to the supreme court and a decision favorable to Wadena was handed down in August, 1887. So the matter was settled and the victory added greatly to Wadena’s growing prestige.”

    If you would send me an e-mail address, I can send you the two photos. The quality will not be the best for the images are taken from an old PMT and from news print. But if you would like to see them, I would be glad to email them.

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