Lost photo of Stillwater’s graduating class of 1903 found in Illinois


Ben Peterson

Brent Peterson holds original photo of 1903 graduating class.

Elly Flaherty, business editor

An old photograph of Stillwater’s graduating class of 1903 was found in an antique shop in Boody, Ill. The owners were curious where this piece of history was from, so they messaged Stillwater Area High School on Facebook and were able to determine that it was from here. 

“I received this message on the SAHS Facebook page from Brad Knackmuhs: ‘We own an antique store in Illinois and picked up a class picture from 1903 from a Stillwater High School, but do not have a state listed. Would you be interested in seeing a picture of it and maybe finding out if it was from there?’” marketing coordinator Chris Freichels  said.

The WCHS was missing the class photo from 1903. They were eager to see the newfound photo. 

I wasn’t familiar with the name Sargent, so I reached out to the Washington County Historical Society (WCHS) who said the picture was indeed from our high school. They were very excited to add the Class of 1903 pic to their collection because it was one year they were missing,” Freichels said.

The antique shop sent a photo of their finding. Executive Director Brent Peterson was quickly able to recognize the photographer’s name in the bottom right hand corner.  

“I looked at it right away and I could tell that it was Stillwater Minnesota by the photographer because his name was in the corner, ‘Sargent’. He has several of his photos in our collection here. We know that he was a photographer in Stillwater here from about 1898- 1903,” Peterson said.

The graduating class of 1903 was very small compared to what it is today.  Twenty seven people graduated; 21 of which were women and 6 were men. It also features a local alumni, Chester Wilson, who eventually moved on to create the Department of Natural Resources. 

“He graduated in 1903 and was named a Distinguished Alumni in 1992. He was a local attorney, who drafted the 1931 law that merged all of Minnesota’s conservation agencies into one now called the Department of Natural Resources. He later headed the department, serving as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Conservation for 12 years,” Freichels said.

The original photo was wrapped in mylar and put in storage to preserve it. The WCHS now has the missing piece to their collection.

 “It was fun to get this picture of the class of 1903 because in our collection we have the class photos of 1901, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, and 1908. We didn’t have 1903, so it fit right in,” Peterson said.

Having this photo is significant because it shows how different each graduating class is from the next.”

— Ben Peterson

“Having this photo is significant because it shows how different each graduating class is from the next. It also shows how much Stillwater has grown since 1903. It’s an image of every person that graduated from that year. Each year is different from the next. You’re not like the class before you, and you’re not like the class behind you. You’re very independent. Each class has their own signature. Each class left their own mark of history. Having the class photo of 1903 keeps their history alive, not only from their perspective but for generations to come. That is what WCHS is about, not about the past but it’s about bringing the past to the future,” Peterson said.