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Thomas Walden Hart, ca. 1903

Thomas Walden Hart ca. 1903

 “I think your father is the finest person I ever met in my life,” Joe said one night. He has the finest character and philosophy, he is the happiest. I’ve been trying to decide what makes him so happy. I believe it’s because he never thinks of himself. He is always thinking about doing something for somebody else…you, or Margaret, or your mother…or Anna, or the shoemaker who works for him, or some poor widow across the slough with a house full of kids.”  ~ Betsy and Joe ~

Today America celebrates the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania just four months after the Battle of Gettysburg.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Thomas Walden Hart was born at Decorah, Iowa, on the day of Lincoln’s memorable speech. He was the son of James A. and Arosamond Hart and grew up in a large family, with nine brothers and sisters. His father was a farmer and his mother a teacher who came to Iowa from Canada. Tom’s mother impressed upon her children the importance of education, and there were always books in their little farmhouse.

Tom came to Mankato in 1883 and worked at various jobs, including as a salesman for nursery stock, supplying seedling trees to homesteaders across western Minnesota and South Dakota. Eventually he went into the grocery business with A.H. Beebe, who had a store at 510 South Front Street.

Tom met Stella Palmer through her brother, Frank, who had been Tom’s roommate. Stella was living in Mankato while she was studying at the Normal School to become a teacher. The daughter of Solomon and Albertine Palmer, she was born August 21, 1866, in Indiana. Her family had moved to Winnebago, Minnesota, where her father, a Civil War veteran, died when she was a young girl. Her mother later married Chauncey Austin, and the family moved to Madison Lake, where Tom and Stella were married October 15, 1887.

Tom left the grocery business in 1888 when he joined the business of his father-in-law at C.H. Austin & Son. He worked as a traveling salesman selling shoes until establishing his own shoe store in 1894.

In the fall of 1904 Tom made a successful run for Blue Earth County treasurer. Wanting to devote his energy to public service, he sold his shoe store to Lee Wood and Warner Baker. He served as county treasurer from 1905-1910, but lost the election in November 1910. Tom was active in other civic affairs including president of the Street Fair Association in 1899, the committee for Mankato’s semi-centennial celebration in 1902, and as a member of the Knights of Pythias.

Tom eventually decided to return to the wholesale shoe business, and the Harts moved to Minneapolis on March 29, 1911. Since Kathleen was teaching at the MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis, Maud would be returning to the University of Minnesota, and Helen hadn’t started high school yet, a move at that time was appropriate. Tom got a job representing the Foot-Schultz Company of St. Paul and later worked as a traveling representative for Jacobs and Company of New York. His employee, Floyd Smith, did the driving because Tom never learned to do so.

Tom Hart died at home on January 6, 1936 and was buried in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

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