Olmsted County, Minnesota


Oronoco Township

 (Township 108 North, Range 14 West)

Leonard B. Hodges, while engaged in southern Minnesota as a deputy United States surveyor, obtained knowledge of the site of Oronoco, with its great advantages for the building of a city, and. with John B. Clark and Ebenezer S. Collins, came from Iowa and located there March 13, 1854. The nearest other settlements were Cannon Falls, thirty-five miles away, and Red Wing and Faribault, forty miles. They built a log cabin and kept bachelors' hall and spent the season in developing the future city, raising a crop and clearing a road through the timber for M. O. Walker's stage line from Dubuque to St. Paul. They platted the village and donated the mill site, the best in the county, to Ezra Odell and James Holliston, who built a saw mill. In 1855 Dorman J. Bascomb, T. A. Olmsted and H. D. Evans built a grist mill and in 1856. Allott & Wilson built a planing and sash mill, which was carried away by the freshet of 1859. Robert K. Whiteley, from St. Louis, and John A. Moore, from New York, were the next settlers. E. C. Stevens moved with his family from Red Wing to the village in 1854, and they were the first family to settle there. A log house was built in 1854 by S. P. Hicks and fed and sheltered from sixty to a hundred men. Reuben Ottman, the first lawyer, came to the village in the winter of 1854-55 and made investments in real estate. Newell Bascomb and Samuel Withrow came to the village in 1855, and Thomas C. Clay, Simeon R. Terwilliger and John McMaster in 1856.

Capt. James George and his brother-in-law, Michael Pierce, J. D. Terry, Lewis L. Herrick, Amasa S. Gary, Alvin Brockway, William B. Webster, Amosa and Sobieski Moulton and Abram M. Moulton, a Mexican war veteran, and Lyman S. Crowell settled on farms in 1855, and George Atkinson, Richard Waterman and Elisha Gorton in 1856.

The first store was opened in 1854 by John B. Clark and John A. Moore, and one the next season by Samuel Withrow and H. D. Evans.

Small parties of Chippewa and Sioux Indians were frequently camped about the village in its earliest days, and Mrs. Hodges remembers a camp of two or three hundred the first season, probably attracted by the good fishing. They were perfectly friendly. J. B. Clark, one of the trio of original town site proprietors, tiring of the loneliness of their bachelor existence and lamenting that there was no woman in the rapidly growing settlement, made it known that he would give a lot to the first woman who would visit Oronoco. A Miss Stevens, living in the neighborhood of Pine Island, came down with her brother, and got the lot. We do not learn that she lived on it. She probably took it as a speculation.

The first birth recorded in the township was of Ida, daughter of J. B. Clark. The first marriage was of James Holliston to Mary Stephenson. The first death was of William McVeigh, a mill wright, who died in May, 1855. The first school was taught by Miss Sarah Pierce.

The first meeting of the board of county commissioners was held at Oronoco in the spring of 1855.

The township was organized in 1858, and L. B. Hodges was elected chairman of supervisors and John McMaster town clerk. W. C. Buttles was elected town treasurer. Times were hard and many settlers very poor, and Mr. Buttles, finding that the office required him to levy on the only cow or other property that the poorest taxpayers could not spare, he gave up the distasteful political job and resigned the office. Though still living, he ought to have a monument.

The population of the township, according to the state census of 1905, was 654.

Oronoco Village

In 1855 and 1856 there was every prospect that Oronoco would be the leading town and the county seat of the county, and it was settled rapidly and prospered.

The first newspaper in the county was the Oronoco Courier, first issued in December, 1856, by a company consisting of Leonard B. Hodges, John B. Clark, Ebenezer S. Collins, Reuben Ottman and E. Allen Power. The printing material was brought from Dubuque. Dr. Hector Galloway, the first physician of the village, was editor in-chief, and E. Allen (Ned) Power, local editor. John R. Flynn, of Dubuque, was foreman of the office. It was issued weekly, and ably edited, and lasted about a year. The financial panic of 1857 killed it.

The Oronoco Journal was published as a personal advertising enterprise by Capt. M. W. McClay, about a year from May, 1880. The Oronoco News was started by E. O. Hickox in 1897. It was published successfully for a few years, after which it changed ownership frequently, and was discontinued in 1907, leaving the town without a paper.

The first church in the village was built by the Disciples in 1865. It was allowed to become useless, and in 1871 a neat edifice was built by the Presbyterians, and has been used also by other denominations. The German Lutherans have within a few years past built a pretty church. The corner-stone of St. John's German Lutheran church was laid in June, 1908.

The most prominent feature of the village is its school house, erected in 1875. It is of brick, two stories in height, and has four ample schoolrooms, and is on a very sightly location. A handsome and substantial iron bridge spans the river on the entrance to the village from the south. It was built in 1866. A camp has been established on the bank of Lake Shady, opposite the village, where for several summers past small colonies of patients from the Insane Hospital at Rochester have enjoyed vacations.

The water power and mill at Oronoco were bought in 1863 by Abraham D. Allis, in partnership with George W. Wirt. Mr. Allis is a native of the state of New York, was a California pioneer in 1849, and moved from there to Waupun, Wisconsin, and engaged in the manufacture of wagons. He bought out the interest of Mr. Wirt in the mill and enlarged and improved it, and in 1873 took A. Gooding and D. S. Hibbard, of Rochester, as partners, and built a large mill with eight run of stones, which did a very successful business till November, 1879, when it was burned down, with 30,000 bushels of wheat, at a loss of $90,000. Mr. Allis since that has conducted the business alone, rebuilding the mill on a smaller scale. He has also developed a summer resort. The mill pond has been named Lake Allis; pavilions and cottages have been built; the lake has been furnished with boats and the grounds, which are very picturesque, are the resort in the warm weather of daily picnic parties from Rochester and other places, and some persons have built cottages and spend the summer there. It has been the summer residence of Drs. W. J. and C. H. Mayo for several years past. Deaths by drowning have been frequent in the waters of the Zumbro near the mills. Edie, a young son of Alfred G. Lawyer, one of the early settlers, was the first victim. A four-year-old son of John Irish was also drowned. John and Alden Hill, young men and brothers, were drowned by breaking through the ice of the pond. Two little children of Arthur Nichols, a boy and a girl, were drowned in October, 1878. A young man named Rose was drowned in May, 1880. In June of the same year Dr. John N. Farrand, the village physician, was capsized in a boat while fishing, and drowned. Michael A. Reid, principal of the village school, was drowned in June, 1900, while swimming with two of his scholars.

Both the Chicago & Northwestern and the Chicago Great Western Railroads, in building from Rochester to St. Paul, avoided Oronoco, running through New Haven township and establishing switches and small depots called Oronoco station, located in New Haven, about three miles west of the village of Oronoco, though of but little value to that place.

The population of the village by the state census of 1905 was 196. The failure to obtain railroad communication with the world has prevented Oronoco village from becoming the city that nature fitted it for. The water power is the best in all this region, and there are within a short distance two other excellent but undeveloped powers. Unless electricity shall be superseded by some as yet undiscovered power (and who knows?), it may someday be an important electrical center. It has great electrical potentiality.

  Olmsted County |Minnesota AHGP 

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


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