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James Florance: An Early Pioneer


Layne Turner


The name of a town means very little to most people unlessthey have memories or stories to back up the name. Humboldt, Minnesotais a town that many people will remember because of these beautiful memoriesand stories.

An early pioneer by the name of James Florance is a manthat will always be remembered by the people that lived and worked withhim.

James Florance was born on November 5, 1871. His homewas in Collingwood, Ontario. The town of Collingwood was a very prettywooded area on Georgian Bay.

Many times Mr. Florance and his nine brothers and sisterssat along the shore and watched the steamboats and an occasional schoonersail over the horizon. This was a very beautiful scene.

At the age of ten, Mr. Florance came with his family tothe United States by way of Owen Sound. They traveled by boat through thecanal Sioux St. Marie to Port Arthur on Lake Superior. The Florance familythen moved to Duluth, Minnesota and later to St. Vincent, Minnesota.

Mr. Florance's father was a shoemaker by trade and hisstock consisted of shoes of every size for men, women and children. Allshoes were hand made and the stock consisted of shoes for everyday use anddress shoes.

After one year in St. Vincent the Florance family movedacross the Red River to Pembina, North Dakota. They lived in Pembina forthree or four years. At the age of ten, Mr. Florance earned from five centsto ten cents a day. He earned this by following a plow all day or he wouldrun errands and earn no money. Mr. Florance attended school at St. Vincentand Pembina. He finished through the fifth grade and his ambition was toearn a living with the little schooling that he had.

At the age of fifteen, Mr. Florance and his family movedto Grand Forks, North Dakota and he was hired by the Grand Forks Herald.For the first three months he earned no pay and for the next three monthshe earned three dollars a week. His job was setting type by hand on compositions. Later as Mr. Florance became more efficient he received a raise in salarywhich amounted to about twenty cents an hour. Mr. Florance worked at thisjob for several years.

Mr. Florance and his brothers, Jack and Ted, started astore in Northcote, Minnesota. They started a branch of this store in Humboldt,Minnesota. At this time Humboldt was not a very active town. The townconsisted of one empty store building, an elevator, a depot with no agentand a boarding house which was located across the lot from the store. Mr.Florance and his brothers operated a general store in Humboldt from 1898to l949.

In 1902, Mr. Florance moved west. He bought a store andwas postmaster in Cloverland, Washington. He was married to Pearl Schannerin Cloverland, Washington. Edna, his daughter was born near Post Falls,Idaho and Bob, his son was born in Seattle, Wash. They came back to Humboldtin 1911. In 1911, Mr. Florance bought the store back from Nels Finney. At this time Mr. Florance installed a complete line of hardware, groceriesand dry goods. Some of the articles that were sold were fur coats, Stetsonhats, and ladies corsets. This was considered to be the best equipped storein Kittson County.

Mr. Florance opened the store at seven A.M. in the morningand stayed open for business until eleven to twelve o'clock at night. Thiswas the schedule he kept throughout the year.

"We had a booming business because a family livedon every quarter of land." Nobody could ever imagine the crowds thatgathered at the James Florance store on Saturday night. Saturday nightwas the busiest night of the week because all of the farmers came to Humboldtto get their supplies or to just plain visit.

In 1914, Ted Florance, a brother; built a new store buildingwhich was thirty feet by sixty feet. This was the location of the firstmovies in Kittson County and the first basketball hall was in the upstairshalf of the store. The Ladies Aid had free use of the store for all socialsand other meetings. This building is still in use as a store.

Some of the facts Mr. Florance could boast about were thebest equipped store in Kittson County and having the first light plant inKittson County which supplied current for store and village of Humboldt.

Mrs. Florance was the postmistress from 1916 to 1926 whenshe died and he became postmaster.

The building that Mr. Florance's brother built is stillin use at Humboldt as a grocery store. Mr. Florance retired as postmasterin 1943 at the age of seventy-one. He later retired from the store businessin 1949, and sold the store to one of his employees. Mr. Florance's successorin this business was Miss Mayme Jury.

She had previously worked for Mr. Florance in the storefor approximately twenty years.

Since retirement Mr. Florance has done a large amount oftraveling. He finds this an enjoyable way to see the world.

"My most enjoyable memory was the trip from St. Paul,Minnesota to Washington D. C. by a jet." The trip took approximatelytwo hours. He was going to Washington D. C. to attend his grandson's wedding.

In 1939, Mr. Florance sailed across the Atlantic Oceanto England where they loaded their car on the ship so they would have away of traveling once they entered the country. After visiting England,Mr. Florance next ventured into several European countries. He visitedItaly, Belgium, and Holland. While he was in Italy the second world warbroke out and for a short time he was rather concerned whether he wouldbe able to get back to the United States. One reason for his being concernedwas the fact that as soon as he entered Italy he was required to changehis American currency into Italian money. And once the war broke out theItalian government was very reluctant to give back American money. So Mr.Florance was required to send back to the United States for money. If hismoney had not come in time he would have been required to spend years inItaly and the reason for this was that he caught the last ship to sail acrossthe Atlantic Ocean under a neutral flag.

Mr. Florance, in the years since his retirement, has traveledin every state of the Union except Alaska and Hawaii. Every winter Mr.Florance goes out west to Denver, Colorado to visit his son and then endsup in Washington D. C. to visit his daughter. He has spent his wintersthis way for quite a few years.

Mr. Florance has quite a variety of hobbies, they rangefrom reading, to gardening. He also likes to travel and keep up to dateon politics. Some of his favorite authors are H.G. Wells, H.T Monckumand Lincoln Stephens. One of Mr. Florance's favorite subjects to read aboutis ancient history. He is known to many people as a great follower of politics.

Poetry is another section that Mr. Florance excels in. I can quote many poems from memory. At the age of 97 this is quite anaccomplishment to be able to recite poetry from memory. Some of his favoritepoets are Longfellow, Shakespeare, Ingersoll, Wilcox, and Sir Walter Scott.

This man has accomplished more things in his lifetime thanmany people could accomplish in a thousand years. It won't be long untilhe will reach the hundred year plateau in life and certainly he has accomplisheda tremendous amount in this time. There are few men that will live to beas old as Mr. Florance and still have the will to keep going. As Mr. Florancestated, "You know, I think I'm getting rather old and I am losing mymemory."


An Interview with James Florance.

and I am losing mymemory."


An Interview with James Florance.