Olmsted County, Minnesota


Viola Township

(Township 107 North, Range 12 West)

In an exploration in search of a claim, in the summer of 1853, George Whitman, from Iowa, discovered the large spring in this township that was afterward the locality of the Morse Creamery. He returned to Iowa and in the spring of 1854 came back, with Carl H. Bierbaum and Michael Mark, a blacksmith. Whitman and Bierbaum made claims beside the spring and Mark opened a blacksmith shop. Luke Oaks and Zenas Swan also settled in 1854. In the fall of 1855 Abram and Lewis Harkins, brothers, and Jacob Ostrander came, and Whitman sold his interests to them and moved away. Mrs. Harkins was the first woman to settle in the township. John Robertson and George F. Evans came the same season. In 1856 Joseph Calvert, Robert Cunningham, C. Schmidt, John Shea, Caleb Sawyer, David F. Mack and John Morrow located.

Bierbaum and Whitman raised thirty acres of oats and fifty acres of corn in 1855 and sold it the next winter, at the farm, for 75 cents a bushel for each kind of grain.

The first birth was of a daughter to Abram Harkins, in May, 1856. The first death was in the same family, in August, 1855. The first marriage was at the home of Jacob Ostrander, between Jeremiah Sweeney and Miss Ophelia Kitchell, a stepdaughter of Mr. Ostrander, in January, 1857.

The township was organized in May, 1858, at a meeting held at the home of Jacob Ostrander, and the officers elected were: Super visors, Abram Harkins, chairman; Jacob Ostrander, Rufus M. Cordill; clerk, Robert F. Cunningham; assessor, Abner Whiton; collector and overseer of poor, Thomas S. Rutledge; justices, John J. Lovelace, Jeremiah Sweeney.

The township, which had been known as Washington, was re named Viola, at the suggestion, it has been said, of Irwin N. Wetmore.

The first school in the township was taught in 1858 by Mrs. Doty, wife of E. A. Doty, at their home. She taught two seasons, when a public school house was built, a log school house, in the Morrow neighborhood. There are two German Lutheran churches in the township, both in the southeastern portion.

Ludwig Friday was the first merchant, opening a small store in the southeast part of the township in 1860. He was the first and last seller of liquor in the township.

In a blizzard about the middle of February, 1866, Robert Bray, a young school teacher, was frozen to death on the road, while going on foot from Viola to his home in Elgin. Such deaths, which were very few, have not occurred since the country has been well settled.

A commodious town hall was built near the center of the town ship in 1874. Since its erection the village of Viola has grown up less than two miles away, and efforts have been made to move the hall into the village, but they have been voted down.

Gopher Count Picnic

The Gopher Count is an institution peculiar to Viola. The ravages of those pests led to the offering, about 1870, of prizes for the destruction, to boys of from twelve to sixteen years. The tails were gathered and counted once a year, and the occasion grew to be a great picnic celebration, which is still kept up and held the third or fourth Saturday in June. The age limitation has been removed, and sports of various kinds are provided for, with prizes ranging from $10 to $1. The gophers are diminishing in numbers, but the holiday is losing none of its popularity.

Viola Anti Horse Thief Society

The Viola Anti Horse Thief Society was organized in December, 1874, with twenty-four members and the following officers: President, Z. T. Newsham; secretary, Levi Ketchum; treasurer, C. A. Butterfield; chief, H. Stanchfield; riders, Robert Richardson, William Seamans, John Mulholland, William Woolley, Levi Ketchum and John Williams. It became a very efficient organization and its existence, comprising most of the best men of the township, pledged to pursue any thief, kept the town from such depredations for years, and it is still in existence and holds an annual supper in the early winter.

The North Viola post office was established in the northwest of the township in 1875, with John F. Pratt postmaster. The name was changed in 1880 to Corra and Orange T. Dickerman was post master. The office died with the birth of the rural free delivery system.

Mr. Dickerman was from Vermont, coming to Viola at the close of the War of the Rebellion, after service in a Vermont regiment. He was president of the Olmsted County Agricultural Society and vice president of the State Agricultural Society and commander of Custer Post. Grand Army of the Republic.

John Nevins, a farmer living on the west edge of the township, was killed by Frank Bulen, September 18, 1880. Nevins, when under the influence of liquor, was very abusive of his wife and her children by a former marriage. He came home from Rochester that afternoon and after putting his horses in the stable began cursing his wife, who was nearby, and threatening to kick her. John Burk, a hired man, interfered for the woman's protection, and Nevins struck him in the face. The men grappled and had each other by the throat in a desperate struggle. One of the Coud girls, Nevins' stepdaughters, ran to the house and called to Bulen that Nevins was trying to kill Burk. Bulen ran out and told Nevins to let go of Burk or he would shoot him, but Nevins took no heed of the warning, which was repeated, and Bulen fired twice with a revolver, the first shot penetrating Nevins' right lung and killing him, the other going wild. He staggered, fell to the ground and in ten minutes was dead. Bulen ran away and was searched for that night, but not found. He spent the night in a stable on the adjoining farm of John English, across the line in Haverhill, and surrendered himself to Mr. English early the next morning.

Bulen was about twenty-two years old, of ordinary intelligence, and of an amiable disposition. He had worked for Nevins about two years and had been frequently abused by him. He was indicted for murder, pleaded guilty of murder in the second degree, and was sentenced by Judge Mitchell to four years' imprisonment in the penitentiary.

W. J. Boynton, a farmer of this township, prominent as a breeder of high grade sheep, was elected president of the Sheep Breeders' Association in 1905.

A more than centenarian, Mrs. Lydia Vine, died at the home of her son, William Vine, in this township, March 29, 1908, at the remarkable age of one hundred and four years, six months and thirteen days. She was a widow and a native of the state of New York, born in 1802. She came to Viola in 1864. She was the mother of Wandell and William Vine, farmers of Viola, and grandmother of Sheriff Elbert H. Vine.

The population of the township is given in the state census of 1905 as 808.

Village of Viola

When the railroad from Eyota to Plainview was built through Viola Township, a station was established with a grain elevator and the village of Viola was platted in September, 1878. It is located in a beautiful valley surrounded by rich farms and is a thriving little village. The population of the village comprises about fifteen families.

Simeon Ford opened the first permanent store in 1878, and was postmaster. Plank & Watts were also early storekeepers. There are now two stores in the village, one a general store by George Toogood, built about 1888, and a hardware and drug store by M. L. Sawyer, which he has kept a number of years. Mr. Sawyer is a son of Caleb Sawyer, one of the pioneer settlers.

There are two churches in the village, the Methodist Episcopal, which was the first built, in 1866, and the United Brethren, built soon after, in 1867.

There is a camp of the Modern Woodmen of America and a lodge of the Modern Brotherhood of America. There is a creamery, which was started about 1903.

  Olmsted County |Minnesota AHGP 

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


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