History of Lake Mills, Winnebago County, IA
From: History of Winnebago County and Hancock County, Iowa
A Record of Settlement, Organization,
Progress and Achievement.
The Pioneer Publishing Company
Chicago 1917


The plat of the town of Lake Mills, Winnebago County, was filed at the county recorder's office December 31, 1869 by Charles D. and Janet Smith, proprietors. The town itself was laid out on the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter and the south half of the northeast quarter of the norwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 2 in Township 99, Range 23 West of the Fifth Principal Meridian.

The first settler in the vicinity of Lake Mills was Joshua Thomas, who came here with his family in 1855 and located on what was known later as the Thomas farm, a part of which is now included in the corporation of Lake Mills. John Anderson came next in 1856 and located on Section 2, and the original town plat of fifteen acres was a part of this farm.


In 1864 there was constructed a grist mill at Lake Mills, or Slaunchville, as the town was then called. In 1862 and 1863 the settlers of the surrounding country demanded a grist mill which could be used the entire year, as about all the water mills were either dry or frozen up almost every winter, obliging the people to carry their grain about forty miles to get it transformed into flower. Some advanced the idea of having a steam mill built at Bristol, Worth County. In the summer of 1863 S. D. Wadsworth proposed to undertake the task, provided the citizens in and about Bristol would give the sum of $1,000 and help get the timber on the ground for the construction. This proposition was not accepted by the town of Bristol, the residents of that place believing that Wadsworth should supply the funds himself for his own business. In the early part of 1864 a delegation of men from Slaunchville (Lake Mills) called on Wadsworth at Bristol and offered him double the amount of money and work. Wadsworth willingly accepted this offer and a contract was made. C. D. Smith then took a quarter interest and the work of getting the material on the ground and of building began. The saw mill was put into operation about the first of September of the same year. The mill for grinding first commenced doing custom work in the making of flour about the first of February, 1865.

Then the business of the country for miles around began to come to Slaunchville and it was not long before the community felt sufficiently prosperous to demand a postoffice. Slaunchville was not altogether agreeable as a name, so Dewell Martin suggested the name of Lake Mills, the derivation being evident. The mill which had made the fortunes of the town was burned in 1871, the year of the Chicago fire, but was immediately rebuilt. The firm of Wadsworth & Smith shortly afterwards transferred the business to Winslow & Conley.

C. D. Smith purchased the original town plat of fifteen acres of E. D. Hinman and had B. K. Walker lay out the town into lots, blocks, streets and alleys.

The first building erected on the town site was a store by E. D. Hinman, although the town had not then been surveyed and platted. After the survey was made the store was found to be partly in the street and was accordingly moved back. L. E. Crowell was the first merchant to sell goods in this store. Most of the merchandise then delivered over the counter to buyers had to be hauled from Austin, Owatonna and McGregor.

In 1866 S. D. Wadsworth opened a general store in an old log school house which had been constructed several years before. He continued the business here until 1867, then moved it to his dwelling, selling out after four years to W. B. Todd. The latter closed out the business three years later.

The next general store was opened in 1868 by Lewis Crowell. He continued the business about one year, then sold out to Lemuel Stilson, who sold in about a year to Abel. Porter. One year later Mr. Porter disposed of the stock and quit the business.

In 1869 Larson & Company, from Osage, Iowa, opened a general store in Lake Mills. After two years they erected a building. Ole Scar was a partner in this concern, but withdrew after ten years and purchased the business of Wadsworth & Company, which he ran alone until 1883, then formed a partnership with his brother in law, N. I. Nelson, under the firm name of Scar & Nelson.

The next general stock was opened in 1873 by E. L. Johnson, in the building vacated by Larson & Company. Mr. Johnson continued in the business about one year, then sold out to K. H. Knudson, who closed out the stock six months later.

In the early days nearly all of the stores carried limited stocks of hardware, and it was not until 1872 that an exclusive hardware store was established. In that year Lemuel Stilson engaged in that trade at Lake Mills, but shortly moved to Forest City.

The first grocery store was opened in 1875 by K. H. Knudson. He afterward merged his stock in the firm of Wadsworth & Knudson, which, as mentioned before, was purchased by Ole Scar.

The first furniture store was established in 1878 by Abel Porter. In 1879 William Wilson became proprietor of the business, and in turn sold out to J. B. Wilson.

Lake Mills postoffice was established in 1864, with S. D. Wadsworth as postmaster.

The first Scandinavians in Lake Mills were the members of nine families who came to the vicinity about 1856. Among them were Oliver Peterson, Colburn Larson, John Johnson, H. J. Knudson, John Iverson, Ch. Anderson and Louis Nelson.

The first death in the town was that of Joshua Thomas in 1858. The first birth was that of a daughter of Rev. J. B. Hill in 1859, her death occurring the same year. The first couple married were Thomas Blair and Lovica Anderson in 1860.


In 1880, the town of Lake Mills, having attained a population of 408 inhabitants, thought seriously of forming itself into a body corporate. The necessary proceedings were had and on June 7, 1880 an election was held at the Lake Mills school house upon the question of incorporating the town. J. M. Hull, H. A. Rowland and C. D. Smith were the judges of the election; and John F. Kean and W. A. Chapman, clerks. There were forty nine votes cast in favor of the incorporation of the town and only four polled against it..

The petition for incorporation which was presented to the court described the incorporated portion as follows: "Commencing at the northeast corner of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 2, thence one mile west to the northeast corner of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 3, thence one mile south to the northeast corner of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 10, thence one mile east to the northeast corner of the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter of Section 11, thence one mile north to the place of beginning, all in Township 99, Range 23."

The petition for incorporation was signed by the following named citizens: J. M. Hull, E. D. Hinman, C. D. Smith, S. D. Wadsworth, K. H. Knudson, A. Anderson, John F. Kean, F. B. Southwick; L. L. Olson, L. S. Anderson, L. B. Nerby, W. H. Douglas, E. F. Thompson, Cahel Martin, A. N. Hill, H. A. Camp, Ed. Henderson, L. R. Hutchinson, William Smith, O. J. Conklin, K. T. Johnson, O. L. Brunsoold, a H. Corser, William Larson, O. S. Olson, Chr. J. B. Hirsch, O. Osmundson, J. M. Henderson, H. S. Peterson, John J. Merrill and H. W. Rowland.


Until the year 1895 the people of Lake Mills were without adequate protection from fire by an established system of water supply. In that year, however, the people decided by ballot to erect a waterworks system, the city council bought the site, and the contract for laying the mains and constructing the plant was let. In 1896 the firm of Winslow & Conley dug the first well.

About the same time provision was made for the installation of an electric lighting plant in Lake Mills. The same firm of Winslow & Conley was granted a twenty year franchise, and they awarded the contract for the erection of a complete electric light plant to C. G. Edwards, of Albert Lea, Minnesota. The first plant was a two wire, direct current system and had a capacity of 400 sixteen candle power incandescent lamps.


The early history of banking in the city of Lake Mills is chiefly concerned with the history of two banks. A bank known as the Lake Mills Exchange Bank was established in 1880. In 1891 a brick block was erected by the bank. The other institution of finance was the Lake Mills Bank. The organization of this bank took place in July, 1886, when Secors, Law & Plummer, the well known banking firm of Forest City, formed a partnership with P. M. Joice, under the firm name of P. M. Joice & Company. They at once began the erection of a solid brick building, which was the first of its kind in Lake Mills. The bank opened its doors for business October 7, 1886. Prior to coming to Lake Mills, Mr. Joice had for seven years been employed in the Winnebago County Bank at Forest City. On September 1, 1890, Mr. Joice purchased the interests of David Secor and B. A. Plummer.

The present Farmers State Bank of Lake Mills was organized March 5, 1898, with the following first officers: J. B. Lloyd, president; J. B. Keeler, vice president; John R. Larson, cashier. Articles of incorporation were filed February 8, 1898, signed by the above, also Alfred Burdick and C. D. Smith. The first and present capital stock of the bank is $25,000. The deposits average about $425,000. The present officers are: S. H. Larson, president; Ole Hovie, vice president; T. S. Tweed, cashier; and C. W. Streeter, assistant cashier.

The First National Bank of Lake Mills was organized in February, 1898, with the following officers; J. C. Williams, president; G. S. Gilbertson, vice president; B. H. Thomas, cashier; and S. H. Larson, assistant cashier. On August 1, 1898 the new home of the institution on Main Street was opened for business. The present officers are: C. E. Paulson, president; O. V. Eckert, vice president; J. M. Tapager, cashier; and T. J. Severson, assistant cashier. The capital stock is $50,000; and the deposits amount to about $300,000.

The Farmers State Bank was the successor of the Lake Mills Exchange Bank.


The first meeting in Lake Mills of the Masonic fraternity as a lodge was held on the evening of April 4, 1887. Petition had been made by sixteen members of the fraternity to form a lodge and a dispensation had been granted under date of March 18, 1887. Regular and special meetings were held and quite a number of additions were made to the roll of members during the probational period. On June 5, 1888, Anion Lodge, No. 488, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, was regularly instituted by a charter from the grand lodge of Iowa.

Sully Post, No. 180, Grand Army of the Republic, was installed by the acting adjutant general of the Iowa Department on June 18, 1893, starting out with twenty charter members.

Aurora Lodge, No. 412, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was instituted July 22, 1880. M. E. C. Miller acted as the installing officer. The charter members of this lodge were: Charles J. B. Hirsch, John T. Kean, O. J. Conklin, L. L. Olson, and A. Anderson. At the first meeting the following candidates were voted upon favorably: J. M. Hull, Joseph Tennis and F. B. Southwick. At a meeting held September 2, 1880, Ole Scar, K. H. Knudson, C. D. Smith and W. A. Chapman were balloted for favorably.


General merchants - Ole Scar, Southwick & Nelson, William Larson and Oliver Nelson.
Drug stores - Levi B. Nerby and Keeler & Parker.
Grocery - Perry Brown.
Hardware - Henderson Brothers and F. C. Hall.
Bank - Pickering, Hartley & Hardwood.
Newspaper - Independent Herald, W. K. Gregg.
Attorneys - W. A. Chapman and E. F. Thompson.
Physicians - J. M. Hull, C. E .Keeler and W. H. Gundlach.
Jewelry stores - N. A. Smith and Ole Bergland.
Furniture - J. B. Wilson.
Photographer - T. J. Helgeson.
Millinery - Mrs. Emma Wescott.
Hotels - Barnett House, J. O. Barnett; Scandinavian Hotel, Mrs.
L. Myhre.
Restaurant - Andrew Simmons.
Saloons - E. & O. Olson, H. T. Johnson, P. H. Garvey and Ole Ssmundson.
Livery stable - H. J. Rowland.
Wagon shop - D. W. Cook.
Butcher - John Burgeson.
Barber - George Rowland.
Blacksmith shops - D. W. Cook, S. L. Tone, Allen Smart and E. Christiansen.
Agricultural implements - Eckert & Williams and Twito & Tweed.
Grain merchants - Eckert & Williams, E. D. Hinman and H. Rowell.
Building contractors - David Adams, F. Stull and B. Johnson.
Painter - W. F. Brown.
Mills - Lake Mills flouring mill, Winslow & Conley; carding mill,
D. N. Hill.
Churches - Methodist Episcopal and Christian.


Not a little of the success of the city of Lake Mills must be attributed to the coming of the railroads. When the steel rails were laid trade with other markets was made easy and the business of the town began to grow. The Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad was built in the year 1879. The object in extending the road through this region of the country was to connect the coal fields to the south with the business interests of the north. W. D. Washburn, of Minneapolis, came here and consulted with the business men of the county. Something of the organization of an independent railroad company at Forest City and the relation of it to the M. & St. L. is described in the chapter on Forest City. The road was put through to Forest City in the fall of the year 1879 and the first passenger train went through on December 3d.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railroad constructed their line through the city of Lake Mills in 1899. The construction train first reached this point March 1st.


To the original plat of Lake Mills many additions have been made, surveyed, recorded and all because of the growth of the population and the necessity for extension of the city limits. Among the more important of these additions are: Hinman's Addition, June 29, 1896; Nelson & Hylbak's Addition, June 12, 1913; and the Irving Place Addition, March 13, 1914.

The Lake Mills Club, an organization for "charitable, educational, social and recreative" purposes, was incorporated August 13, 1898. P. A. Helgeson was the first president.

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