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By Mikkel Pates, Published April 26 2013

News book explores decline of small towns

By Mikkel Pates

Forum News Service

FARGO – Hiram Drache, the author of several books on the region’s and nation’s agricultural history, has written a “microstory” about the rise and decline of his own hometown in southeast Minnesota.

“Where’s Meriden? The Demise of Small Town U.S.A.” carries forth a longtime theme by Drache of how free-enterprising farming and technology have helped industrialize agriculture but also led to the predictable emptying of the landscape.

Drache, 88, who holds a doctorate in economic history from the University of North Dakota and in 2012 received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the institution, has taught history at Concordia College in Moorhead since in 1952 and became historian in residence in 1991.

He still maintains office hours at the college library. He has written 13 books, including “The Day of the Bonanza,” “The Challenge of the Prairie” and “Beyond the Furrow.” His wife, Ada, remains his “primary editor.”

Drache grew up in Meriden, a village of the same name of a township near Owatonna and Waseca.

His great-great-grandfather, Christopher H. Wilker, arrived in Owatonna in 1855 and his great-grandmother was the first white child born in Meriden Township. His grandfather, Max Drache, came to the area in 1889 at age 16, then went back to Germany to bring back Max’s widowed father and a brother and sister.

His father, Paul Drache, was a businessman who started working in a bank, shifted to the elevator, then trucked cattle to South St. Paul markets and later expanded into other enterprises. His mother was the local postmaster.

Drache says he started thinking about writing the book about Meriden in 1960 and has spent some 2,800 hours working on it.

He says the book draws heavily from his father’s “day book” – things that took place in the community. The book has a large appendix, with lists of who ran which enterprises, among other things and chronicles key happenings – the railroad in 1866, the stores, the elevator in 1910, the stockyard and the bank in 1915.

He also sent 33 letters to people from the township, of which there were only four replies – all from people who had left it and had some nostalgia for it. The township once had more than 1,000 residents and now is home to some 220 people. Today, some 51 farmers operate in the township, but 24 of them live outside of it.

The 320-page hardcover book retails for $29.95 and is published by Hobar Publications, Lakeville, Minn.