Olmsted County, Minnesota


Dover Township

 (Township 106 North, Range 11 West)

Leonard Knapp was the first settler in this township, coming from Wisconsin in 1854. Hiram Thompson came the same season. Other settlers that year were Simeon Harding, Mr. Waller, George C. Sheeks, Joseph Drake, Robert Robertson, J. P. Crippen and Edwin F. Ketchum.

In 1855 settlements were made by William J. Rank, William Merry, Elmer L. Fowler, Simpson Smith, Jerome C. Ketchum, Thomas Stevenson, John Stevenson, Uriah L. Carpenter, John Fraser, Chester Phelps, John C. Lasher, William H. Hatfield and Calvin Hitt. J. S. Niles came from Indiana in 1855, moved to Rochester in 1857, to Eyota township in 1861, to the village in 1865, and, later, moved to Hector, Minnesota.

Settlements were made in 1856 by Richard L. Catterell, Emery H. Dewey, Isaac M. Childs, G. A. Kimber, German T. Wilsie, A. P. Stearns, C. M. and F. N. Heery.

In 1857 the Denton family and A. P. Stearns came. Among the pioneers the date of whose location we have not ascertained, were George Kendall, Hiram Cross, George Bortel, Alanson Richards and Messrs. Bolt and Purdy.

The first birth in the township was that of Rodolphus, son of G. A. Kimber, in 1855. The first marriage was of Ward Smith and Adelia Waller, the same year. The first death was of Milton Purdy, also in 1855.

The first frame dwelling was built by William Merry in the fall of 1855.

Miss Eliza Sheeks taught the first school in the winter of 1855 and 1856 in Mr. Harding's house, which was also a tavern. A log school house was built in the spring of 1856. The first township officers, elected in 1859, were, supervisors, Nelson Baker, chairman; Henry Johnson, Elias Bedal; clerk, Samuel Johnson: assessor, Simpson Smith; collector, William R. Thompson; justices, Joshua Martin and Nelson Baker; constables, N. E. Mason, W. R. Thompson.

The township was first known as Whitewater, but on its organization the name was changed on motion of William Merry to Dover Township. There was already a Whitewater township in Winona County.

Zion German Methodist church, about a mile and a half south of Dover village, was organized in 1875. The population of the township, according to the state census of 1905, was 854.

A Murder. A murder of great brutality was perpetrated in the township on the night of October 29, 1867. Frederick Ableitner and his wife, an inoffensive old German couple, lived on a farm about two miles west of St. Charles. Though apparently poor they were believed to have money received from Germany. John Whitman, a man with a family, living at St. Charles, had seen Ableitner, in paying some harvest hands, exhibit a sum of money and conceived the idea of robbing him. He took into partnership in the job two young men transient harvest hands, Charles Edwards and George W. Staley. On the night of the murder the trio filled up with whisky in a St. Charles saloon. Staley had a revolver and on the way to the farm they each cut a club. Whitman claimed that Edwards suggested that "dead men tell no tales." Arriving at the house, Edwards knocked at the door and told Ableitner that they had lost their way and inquired the road to Chatfield. On Ableitner opening the door Edwards knocked him down with his club, and on his trying to rise, Staley shot him. It is believed that three shots were fired at him. Edwards lighted a paper by which they saw the old man walking about the room, holding his hand to his side and groaning. These facts are gathered from a confession by Staley, Ableitner died in a few hours. He stated that there was only $15 in the house. The murderers were driven away by Mrs. Ableitner.

A few days later Staley was arrested and examined by Justice Thomas Stevenson, who discharged him on the ground of insufficient evidence, but the citizens held an indignation meeting and took means to employ a detective. Edwards disappeared immediately after the murder and Whitman and Staley left a few days after Staley's discharge. It is an interesting fact that Staley was put in charge of Whitman during the preliminary examination, he not being suspected at that time. About the time of their disappearance D. J. Page, a Chicago detective came to St. Charles to ferret the case. He traced Whitman through Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania to Runnelsville, New York, where he had left his family. He found and arrested him in the Michigan pineries and brought him to the Rochester jail. Whitman pleaded guilty to murder in the third degree and was sentenced by Judge Barber to eight years imprisonment in the state penitentiary. His health broke down in prison and Governor Austin pardoned him after he had served about two years and a half of the term.

Eight days after the arrest of Whitman, Staley was arrested in a lumber camp in the Wisconsin pineries. He was tried at Rochester on a charge of murder. County Attorney Start and Attorney General F. R. E. Corull prosecuted and R. A. Jones, of Rochester, and Benjamin Franklin, of Winona, defended him. He was found guilty by the jury and was sentenced by Judge Barber to be hanged. The sentence of death was commuted by Governor Marshall to life imprisonment, and after serving six years and a half he was pardoned by Governor Davis.

The legislature of 1868 appropriated $500 for the apprehension of Edwards, who was believed to be the most guilty of the three men, and Detective Page went to Texas in pursuit of him, but he was never found. He was reported to have been a Texas Ranger and a soldier in the Southern army in the rebellion.

Village of Dover

The Winona & St. Peter Railroad Company established a station in the spring of 1869, and gave it the appropriate name of Dover Center, it being in almost the exact geographical center of the township, on the crossing of the wagon road from Chatfield to Plainview, on the farms of George C. Sheeks and Charles Gerrish. J. Fairfield Smith, who was killed on the railroad in 1874, built an elevator and established a lumber yard and Samuel G. Hyde, of St. Charles, built an elevator; Charles Williams and J. G. Weeks opened general stores; Calvin Hitt, a veteran of the Mexican war, started a blacksmith shop, and the village grew. Forty loads of wheat a day were taken in at Smith's elevator in 1870. The suffix Center has fallen into disuse and the village is now known as simply Dover.

One of the first businesses was a drug store kept by Dyar & Ingham. They sold in the early seventies, to Avery K. and John G. Bush. Avery K. moved to Minneapolis and John C. is still carrying on the business as a general store. A. K., J. G., Frederick C. and Charles Bush are sons of Harvey F. Bush, a pioneer settler of Quincy Township. They became identified with the business of Dover soon after it was started.

Lebbens W. Ingham came to Dover in 1876 and became a business leader of the village. He was engaged several years in grain buying and later, also conducted the Bank of Dover, part of the time in partnership with E. D. Dyar and Dr. A. W. Stinchfield. He retired from business in 1899 and died greatly respected in July, 1903.

The village has but one church. The founder of the community raised the money to build a church with the agreement that when built it should be decided what its denomination should be. When it was finished the Methodists and Congregationalists were contestants for its ownership and the Methodists were the most numerous, and won, and there has ever since been but the one church. A good sized and pretty frame building was erected in 1876. Rev. O. McNiff was the first minister, the present one is Rev. Irwin B. Wood.

Soon after the church was built a first class public school house was erected. It is a large two-story brick building, located on a sightly elevation and standing out as a testimonial of the intelligence of the community. The school includes a high school and eight graded schools and has four teachers.

Captain Charles H. Hawley was appointed Postmaster of Dover in 1878, having located there in 1875. He was a son of Charles G. Hawley, one of the earliest settlers of Chatfield. He served in the Fifth Minnesota Regiment in the Sioux campaign and afterwards, in Colorado, raised a company of cavalry, and again engaged in fighting the Indians. He kept as a souvenir the head of an Indian arrow with which he was wounded in the arm. He removed from Dover to Chicago and is believed to be still living.

The First State Bank, which occupies a pretty one-story brick building, was started in 1877, by Dyar, Ingham & Stinchfield, and has been part of the time a national bank, and now a private institution. Elmer E. Rank is the cashier. He is a son of William J. Rank, one of the earliest settlers of the township and was born on the farm. He has been in the bank twenty-five years.

The village has the advantage of two railroads, the Winona & Southwestern road having established a station there and directed its course to a southwesterly direction to Stewartsville. The brick residence of John Ellsbury was converted into a passenger depot. In 1891 Ernst Eckles, a son of George Eckles, an early settler of Eyota Township, and Elmer W. Haack, started the first newspaper, the Dover Independent, a monthly publication. It lived a year. In 1905 Mr. Eckles established a weekly paper of the same name, which is still living and doing a business not to be expected in so small a town.

One day in September, 1898, a company of returned volunteers of the Spanish war passed through Dover on a special train from New Ulm to Spring Valley, where they were to disband. As they were delayed there about three hours, Dover extemporized a reception. They were welcomed in a speech by Rev. O. H. P. Smith and taken to a hall and treated to a banquet, and during the rest of their stay treated as guests of the village. They left cheering lustily for Dover.

The Dover Creamery, a farmers' co-operation company, was started in 1900, and has been prosperous, doing much for the village. It has 150 patrons and is supplied by 1,000 cows.

The Dover Bank was burglarized one night in the last of May, 1900. The safe was blown open and $4, 500 in cash taken.

Early in June one of the burglars, Thomas O'Neil, known to the fraternity as Omaha Kid, a notorious safe breaker, was arrested by Pinkerton detectives at Chicago and brought to Rochester by Sheriff Vine for trial. It developed that there were four engaged in the robbery: O'Neil, Lefty Fitzgerald, Daddy Flynn and Toronto Jimmy. Fitzgerald and Flynn were not brought to Olmsted County, being turned over to the United States authorities.

Two indictments were found against O'Neil, for burglary, one in the first and one in the second degree. He was tried on the first indictment at the June term of the district court. He was prosecuted by County Attorney Thomas Fraser and defended by Burt W. Eaton, Callahan and Granger. He was acquitted by the jury.

He was tried on the second indictment in August. At this trial County Attorney Fraser was assisted in the prosecution by W. W. Irwin, a distinguished lawyer of St. Paul, whose previous experience had been in defending criminals. The defense was by Messrs. Eaton, Callaghan and Granger. This trial, as well as the previous one, was thoroughly contested, and the result was different, O'Neil being convicted. He was sentenced to four years and six months' imprisonment in the penitentiary.

In January, 1901, word was received that James Sawyer, alias Toronto Jimmy, had been arrested at Juno, Wisconsin, together with Daddy Flynn. It developed in the trial of O'Neil, that Toronto Jimmy had at the time of the robbery secured a bag of gold and one of silver and carried them to Wisconsin, where, while drunk, he engaged a driver to take him to a railroad station and on the way threw the bags into the brush, but was induced by the driver to recover them.

Toronto Jimmy was brought from Morris, Illinois, by Deputy Sheriff Harlow Brown, the first week in January, 1903. He was arraigned in the district court, pleaded not guilty and was remanded to jail to await trial. He gave his real name as James Johnson. He employed as counsel Burt W. Eaton, Callaghan and Granger. His trial was set for the June term of court and in default of $6,000 bail, he went back to jail to board till that time. On Sunday morning before the spring of the June term it was discovered that Jimmie had fled the jail in the night, and that a lesser criminal, Charles Reynolds, held for burglarizing a hardware store in Stewartville, had also fled. It was believed that confederates had got into an outside window and with drills had cut the steel bolts and bars, and the prisoners had got out of the windows. Jimmy vanished and has not since been found, though rewards have been offered and thorough search made for him. Whether the detectives of the Bank Insurance Company, who are said to never give up the search for a robber, will ever catch him remains to be seen. Unlike his accomplice, O'Neil, previously sent to the penitentiary who looked like a vulgar thief. Jimmy was a good looking, well dressed and gentle manly looking young fellow of about thirty years. He looked the professional man that he was, thoroughly qualified in his profession of safe breaking. Since the above was written Jimmie has been overtaken by his fate, which he had been dodging for five years. He was captured by a bank insurance detective at Cincinnati, in October, 1908, and taken to Williamstown, Kentucky, where he is held to answer to two bank robberies in that county.

Forest Henry, a farmer of the township, but a resident of the village for six years past, has had an extensive experience as a lecturer, for ten years, at Farmers' institutes, and other agricultural assemblies. He has not only been a regular lecturer at the Minnesota institutes on the subjects of corn, clover, swine and dairying, but has also lectured before such bodies in New York and New England. He is a son of John R. Henry, who came to the township in 1857 and he was at that time a year old. He conducts a model farm in the township and is associate editor of the North western Agriculturist of Minneapolis.

The secret and insurance societies are the Modern Woodmen, Royal Arcanum, Good Templars and Beavers. The Woodmen hall is a commodious frame store building that is used for all public purposes.

The population of the village is estimated to be about 250 and there are seventy-five houses.

  Olmsted County |Minnesota AHGP 

Source: History of Olmsted County Minnesota, by Hon. Joseph A. Leonard, Chicago, Goodspeed Historical Association, 1910.


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