Olmsted County History

Olmsted is one of the second tier of counties west of the Mississippi River, and the second north from the Iowa line. It is bounded on the north by Goodhue and Wabasha Counties; on the east by Wabasha and Winona; south by Fillmore and Mower, and west by Dodge County.

Rochester is the county seat, situated on the Zumbro, near the center of the county, which is composed of eighteen townships; each six miles square, except High Forest, which has twelve more sections, giving an area of 422,402 square acres.

It lies several hundred feet above the bed of the Mississippi, in the center of the finest agricultural portion of Minnesota. Its development and growth has been equal to any other in the country, although It has had no shipping facilities in the way of railroads till within the last few years. It already ranks sixth in population, and Goodhue alone excels it in amount of farm products.

The names of the townships are as follows: Quincy, Rock Dell, Cascade, New Haven, Salem, Eyota, Elmira, Oronoco, High Forest, Marion, Farmington, Rochester, Orion, Haverhill, Kalmar, Dover, Pleasant Grove, Viola.

Surface. -Like most of the counties in the interior of the state the surface is a high, rolling prairie, with low, but somewhat precipitous bluffs bordering the most of tile streams. It is thoroughly drained, and there is but a small portion of the land which cannot easily be brought under cultivation. The soil is a very rich and deep black loam-warm and dry-easily cultivated, and remarkably strong and productive. It is rarely necessary to sink more than fifty feet for pure water, and often not more than fifteen or twenty. In this important respect Olmsted possesses advantages over most other counties in the state.

Streams. -While there are no navigable rivers in the county, it is nevertheless well watered, many of the streams affording power for manufacturing purposes. The rivers are the Zumbro, Whitewater and Root. The creeks are the Cascade, Silver and Bear. These are the only ones affording waterpower. There are two branches of the Zumbro running through this county. The waters of the various streams are carried into the Mississippi, through the Zumbro, the mouth of which is a few miles below the City of Wabasha, and the Root, which empties into the Mississippi, opposite LaCrosse. Fish of an excellent quality are found in all of the streams and brooks; in some of them the finest of brook trout are found, but unless millers and others who are damming the streams for manufacturing purposes are compelled to put in "fish-ways," there will soon be a scarcity of fish.

A good supply of wood is found on the banks of the streams, while in the northwestern part of the county there is quite a heavy growth of oak, hickory, maple, etc., from which a full supply for fuel is obtained for present and future use.

Productions. -Wheat is the staple product, being of a very fine quality, the flour made from it commanding the highest price in the market. Most other kinds of grain are raised, and will be a large source of income when they can be transported to the market of the consumer at prices which will pay for their production. Much attention has not yet been paid to stock raising, still there are some fine herds of blooded stock in the county, and farmers each year are giving more attention to it. For grazing. no country in the world has superior advantages, with the exception of the long winters, and even this Is partly compensated for In the amount of hay which can easily be supplied at the lowest price. For dairy purposes, there is no reason why Olmsted should not be fully equal to the most famous counties in New York or Vermont.

Climate. -Like that of the remainder of the state the climate of Olmsted County is both healthy and pleasant. The uniformity of temperature makes it an asylum for those who are afflicted with pulmonic diseases. It is also free from malarial influences, and all things considered, is probably, with the rest of the state, one of the healthiest countries in the world. Situated on the open prairie, it has in summer the full advantage of the refreshing breezes prevalent at this time, and year by year it is more and more becoming the summer resort of those who seek relief from the oppressive heat of a southern or less favored locality.

Settlement. -We are indebted to Professor Mitchell for many of the following facts concerning the early settlement of this county. In the Spring of 1853 the Hon. Hiram Thompson came from Michigan and took a claim in the eastern part of the present Town of Dover, and having built a substantial log house (which is still to be seen), brought his family in the same year to reside therein.

In the following year, quite a number of settlers came In and were quickly followed by others. In the years 1854-5-6, many of the present leading citizens settled in the county. A representation of some of these gentlemen will be found in the portrait department of this work. They have allowed them to be placed there at the earnest solicitation of their friends and the publisher. They also desire to have their much loved county, which their energy, talent and liberality have done so much toward developing, represented in this department of the work.

There is still much unimproved land for new and productive farms, which is held at moderate prices.

The first birth In the county was in September, 1854; the first marriage in August, and the first death in the Autumn of the same year.

County Organization. -The county was established under territorial government In the year 1855, but was not organized into townships until 1858. Rochester was made the county seat, and the following officers chosen:

G. P. Barrows, James George, James Bolan, Commissioners; J. N, McLane, Register of Deeds; Michael Pearce, Assessor; R. H. McReady, Sheriff; Alfred Kinney, Treasurer.

The Board of Commissioners first met August 27, 1855. The records do not show that any business was transacted with the exception of considering the organization of school districts.

Schools. -The first school house In Olmsted County was built in 1856; but a school had been taught in 1855. The school facilities have always kept pace with the progress of the county, the houses being equal to those of many older communities, and accommodations for scholars at alt times have been provided for. The amount appropriated for school purposes in 1873 was $23,128.87.

Churches. -Nearly all denominations are represented in the county by flourishing church societies and commodious buildings. The Methodist was the first church organization, and the first church building was erected in the year 1857.

Railroads. -The only road completed is the Winona and Saint Peter, leased and operated by the Northwestern Railroad Company, the attorney of which resides within this county. The road runs from east to west near the center through the county, and has numerous stations along its line for the accommodation of passengers and shippers. This road has done much to develop the resources of the county, and, by enabling the inhabitants to dispose of their produce at paying prices, has materially added to the wealth of every farmer in the county. The country through which it passes is much of it still new; but the road hastens its settlement.

Newspapers. -The Oronoco Courier was the first newspaper published In the county, and was owned by a stock company. Its first issue was in 1856; but the enterprise did not prove remunerative, and in about a year it was discontinued. Several other attempts were made with a like result. For newspapers of the present time, see City of Rochester.

Military. -Although this county was organized but a few years before the Rebellion broke out, yet. it furnished more than twelve hundred men for the army; and no people could show more patriotism than those settlers of a new country did.

Civil List for 1874. -Wm. B. Mitchel, Circuit Judge; J. W. Fulkerson, Probate Judge; Chas. M. Start, States Attorney; Y. H. Hannon, Clerk of Court; W. P. Clough, Deputy Clerk; J. L. Wright, Treasurer; D. S. Hibbard, Auditor; James A. Allison, Sheriff; L. O. Benjamin, Deputy; George W. Wirt, Michael Kepner, James Tate, Thos. Brooks (Chairman), Board of Commissioners; L. E. Cowdry, Register; J. S. Niles, Supt. of Schools; Milo White, I. N. Westfall, Senators; Fred. T. Olds, M. Dosdell, Chas. T. Shellman, Representatives.

Census. -According to the census of 1870. Olmsted County had 15,364 naturalized citizens, and 4,429 foreign born citizens.

The products of the county were as follows: 1,901,273 bushels of wheat, shipped; corn, 452,068 bushels; oats, 923,978 bushels; barley, 194,297 bushels; potatoes, 161,072 bushels; flaxseed, 20,000 bushels. Acres under cultivation in 1872, 162,157; horses and mules owned in the county, 9,829; head of cattle, 18,179; hogs, 6,608; sheep, 9,640. Value of property in the county, $5,644,755; personal property, $2,351,503. Amount of taxes raised for all purposes, $95,061.05, of which $23,228.87 were for school purposes, and $51,205.32 for state purposes.

Towns - DOVER CENTER is situated in the eastern part of the county, is a thriving place of about 500 inhabitants. It is a station on Winona and St. Peter Railroad; more than 450,000 bushels of wheat, besides large quantities of other produce, were shipped from there in the year 1873.

EYOTA, in the township of the same name, is a village of some 800 people. It is quite extensively engaged in selling agricultural implements, and goods of all kinds; having a large country trade. It is also a railroad station, and snipped about 300,000 bushels of wheat in 1873.

CHESTER is a small place on the railroad, is also doing a good trade, and shipped about 100,000 bushels of wheat in 1873.

BYRON, an incorporated town in the western part of the county, on the railroad, has some 700 or 800 inhabitants. It is doing a good business, and growing fast; 200,000 bushels of wheat were shipped in 1873.

MARION, CHATFIELD (mostly in Fillmore County), Oronoco and several other towns, were platted in an early day, and are steadily growing; but do not improve so fast as the railroad towns.

ROCHESTER is the fourth city in size and importance in the state, and the county seat of Olmsted. It is finely located near the center of the county, surrounded by a beautiful farming country. It has about 5,000 inhabitants, and is growing rapidly. The thrift and enterprise, wealth and hospitality of its citizens are known far and wide. The first settlement was made in the year 1854, by G. T. Cummings and Robert McReady. They were soon followed by others. On the 25th of July, the same year, the city was staked out and became a stage station. In the next year there was an extensive immigration, and prospects were brightening for the pioneers.

The city was incorporated in 1858 and M. W. Fay was elected Mayor.

The first religious organization was the Methodist, in the fall of 1856, followed by the Baptists, in 1857. The Congregational was the next society established, in the year 1858. They have built a fine brick building, costing $9,000. The Presbyterian society was organized in 1861, and the church edifice was built in 1865, at a cost of $8,000, with basement and parsonage adjoining. The Episcopal Church was organized in 1860. They built a small but substantial brick church, which was finished in the early part of 1866. The value of their church property is $4,000. The Universalists are well established in a fine church building; also the Catholics, Lutherans, and others. The Methodists have a large and commodious brick building; and all of the church buildings are an ornament to the city, and the societies are in a prosperous condition.

The first school house was built in 1856, and was used for school, church, and town hall for some years. The present school building cost $75,000, is a model of architectural beauty, and of ample accommodations and every convenience. It occupies a commanding position in the center of an entire block. Under a competent superintendent and faithful corps of teachers, every facility is offered for educational purposes, which can be had outside of university halls.

The county buildings are ample for all purposes, costing some $40,000. They occupy one of the finest locations in the city, with handsome grounds and surroundings,

The Olmsted County Journal, started in 1857, was the first newspaper published in Rochester. It was merged into the Rochester Free Press, in 1858. In the fall of 1857, the Rochester Democrat was started, and about the same time the Weekly News. They were merged into the Rochester City Post, which was published in the fall of 1858, by Blakely & Brother. In November 1865, it became the property of Leonard & Booth, and under their management has become the leading paper in this section of the country. The Union made its appearance in 1866, and the Record in 1871. They were consolidated in 1874, and have a large and increasing circulation.

The Winona and St. Peter Railroad was completed to Rochester in 1864, and J. V. Daniels made the first shipment of freight from the site of the present depot. Rochester has since become one of the great points in the world for the primary shipment of wheat, more than 1,000,000 bushels being here received in the year 1873.

The manufacture of flour is extensively carried on here, and there are four large mills running, three by water-power and one steam-mill. The flour is of the finest quality; twenty thousand barrels were shipped from here in 1873; the shipment will nearly reach 50,000 barrels the present year. A large iron foundry, carriage factory and woolen mill, are doing a heavy business. The Cook House, one of the finest hotels in the state, was built in 1871, by J. R. Cook. It is under the successful proprietorship of Mr. C. A. Merrill, formerly of La Porte, Indiana. There are many other hotels, all doing a thriving business. There are three banking,- houses: The First National, John R. Cook, President; the Union National, J. V. Daniels, President; and the Rochester Bank, by Chadbourn Brothers, which was the first in the city, established in 1860. All of the business houses carry heavy stocks of goods, and have an extensive country trade. The merchants generally buy direct from New York markets twice each year.

There are many beautiful and substantial business blocks and buildings deserving mention, and most of the private residences are tasteful and elegant in the extreme.

In conclusion, we would say, it will be difficult to find another new town with so many attractions within and around It, so kind and hospitable a people, so much that makes home comfortable and life enjoyable, as this little city in the interior of a new state on the frontier of a new country.

From An Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota Published by A.T. Andreas 1874