LOOKBACK: Greenhouse owner makes heroic river rescue of girl
Back in 1911, 12-year-old fishing with friends atop downtown dam slipped into Cedar River
More than a century ago in early June 1911, four kids headed down to the Cedar River in Austin for an afternoon of fishing.
The kids were headed to old Water Street’s steel trestle bridge (present-day 4th Ave. N.E.) to the heart of the city, where the Cedar River flowed over what was known at the time as the “Campbell” dam. Campbell’s Peerless Flour operated on the river’s east bank at the dam, utilizing the river for power.
With part of the dam dry, 12-year-old Katie Richardson and three friends worked their way onto its top. Katie, however, chose a wet area on the dam to stand while fishing.
Katie then slipped and, as the Austin Daily Herald described it in 1911, “tobagganed” down the “slide” of the dam into the Cedar River.
The young girl was sent into a pool of water below that was about 15 feet deep, possibly a scour hole commonly formed at the base of dams.
Her three friends stood at the top of the dam helpless, “except for their throats, and they used them to good advantage,” according to the Herald.
Fortunately, A.N. Kinsman and his family heard the children’s cries from their greenhouse and floral business along the river’s west side at the dam. Today, that site is the Riverside Arena parking lot.
Back at that time, the Kinsman Greenhouse was one of the largest greenhouse plants in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities, with A.N. Kinsman and his wife, Mattie, being among Austin’s most-respected citizens. Kinsman started the greenhouse and floral business in the early 1890s before moving and expanding the operation in 1901 near the dam, where it remained for another six decades despite numerous floods.
After hearing the children’s cries that afternoon in 1911, the Kinsman family hurried to a window at their place and saw the girl struggling in the river.
Mr. Kinsman then led the way down to the river, where he plunged into the water and reached the girl as she was sinking under for the third time. The girl grasped onto him.
“It was with the greatest struggle that he swam with her toward the shore,” the Herald article stated.
Kinsman’s son, Calvin, also brought down a plank and placed it into the water to help with the rescue.
The girl, Katie, was “not much hurt by her experience,” according to the Herald. She could walk with assistance and apparently told someone that she would “never go fishing any more.”