We were in a staff meeting at the museum recently and I tossed out the question, “What should I write about for my column this time?” And one of our staff replied, “How about George Peoples’ store?”
Now here is where I have to break for a bit and tell you a bit about me. Some people LOVE history with a passion -- they have brains full of dates, stats, facts and all manner of trivia related to historical people, places, events and things. I am not those people.
Now, don’t get wrong; I am what I call “fascinated” by history. I love reading about these things and imagining all the interconnections and contrasting and comparing to now. If you want help making systems that preserve and make that kind of info searchable, I’m your guy! If you think I’m going to remember it next week, you will be disappointed.
So back to the meeting… I say, “Who is George Peoples?” And so began the mockery from all the true history-lovers in the room around me. And I can see why now -- turns out, George was a well-known early entrepreneur in Detroit Lakes. He was also a man I began to feel a kinship with as I read more about him.
George Wesley Peoples lived from 1859 to 1939 and spent the bulk of those years in the Minnesota city of Detroit (Detroit Lakes as it’s known today, of course). He moved here in 1883 after some time in Wisconsin and other places.
George held office as a judge and an alderman and had many business ideas. He started out working in flour mills, and quickly moved on to many other things. He was a member of the local Rotary Club and quite a few other civic organizations.
As I read and look at pictures of his ventures, I find myself relating quite a bit. He was quoted as saying he found Detroit to be “a tough town.” He tried his hand at success many times, running multiple businesses including an automotive garage and stationary store, among other shops, managing some theatres and even starting a sound service. He found the most success with the Peoples Store, a department and general store in downtown Detroit Lakes.
George had left home to go to work at age 13, so he got an early and ambitious start on his career -- which gave him the time to explore all those ideas of his. When he passed away at the age of 80, he left five children behind, along with countless memories.
With that, I’ll leave you to ponder George and all of his great contributions to the growth of Detroit Lakes. If you find his story interesting, stop by the museum and check out the information and pictures we have. There are quite a few here.
The Becker County Museum is located at 714 Summit Avenue in Detroit Lakes. For more information visit beckercountyhistory.org or the museum’s Facebook page.
This column is a regular feature of the Tribune's monthly History page. Kevin Mitchell may be reached at the Becker County Museum by calling 847-2938.