Caledonia, the county seat of Houston county, is the metropolis of southeastern Minnesota, and is probably the
most sightly village of its size in the State. Its public buildings, including a municipal building erected as
a community center, and the court house and jail, are models of their kind; the two large schools, public and parochial,
are widely famed; the churches are stately and most admirably adapted to their purpose; many of the residences
almost approach the dignity of mansions; the well kept streets and neat lawns give an air of culture and beauty;
the business houses are progressive and modern; and the people are hospitable and wide awake, taking a sincere
interest in everything that pertains to the best interests of their community. Not far away is the County Alms
House and Farm, the building being a model of beauty and utility, while the farm is well tilled and productive.
Such municipal improvements as waterworks, electric lights and sewers add to the comfort of daily life. Surrounding
the village on all sides is a rich agricultural region, dotted with substantial farm houses, schoolhouses and churches,
and the people of the country and village are in perfect accord.
Caledonia is in almost the center of the county, being but a few miles from the actual center. It is on the eastern
edge of Caledonia township, a few of the houses being in Mayville township. It is near the head of Crooked Creek
valley, high and dry on a rolling prairie, 550 feet above the river.
Among the notable features of the village are three strong banks, two good newspapers, two elevators, a feed mill,
a grist mill, a creamery, a public library, a public theater, a moving picture theater, good hotel and restaurant
service, a quota of high minded professional and business men, and excellent trading facilities in the various
stores. There is good telephone and telegraph service, good railroad connections, and excellent shipping accommodations.
The Court House square occupies a convenient location near the business center of the village. The square is beautified
with native trees, flowering shrubs and plants, and is crossed with well kept walks. A picturesque fountain adds
beauty to the surroundings, and artistic cement lamp posts are set at convenient places. Both court house and combined
jail and sheriff's residence are all built of ornamental stone. The court house, the third to occupy the property,
was built in 1883, the combined jail and sheriff's residence was erected in 1875. The beautiful alms house two
miles away was erected in 1893.
The municipal building, owned by the village and constituting the community center, is the result of a dream long
cherished by many leading citizens. Set back from the street, and fronted by a pretty stretch of grass, it is a
model of fire proof, modern construction.
The prime mover in awakening the people to the need of such a building, and one of the most energetic workers in
carrying the project to a successful conclusion, was W. D. Belden, who has been here since the earliest days. It
was he, who, in 1912, knowing the urgent necessity for the present needs and future good of the village, after
thinking much upon the subject and feeling deeply the importance of a building of such a character for a center
of usefulness to the community, first laid the project before the Commercial Club, and from that date until the
building was formally opened he never faltered in his purpose. He has furnished for this book, the following story
of its inception and consummation.
In the early days there were no places of amusement or community center. Until the churches were built, church
services and other public meetings were held in the little old school house. Later, they were held in the old court
house which was built over the county jail and which accommodated more people. Then a second court house was built
which gave a larger seating capacity and it became the public hall. This building was replaced by the present creditable
structure which was the largest public hall in Caledonia and was used for all large public gatherings until 1912
when the city hall was completed.
During the winter of 1911 there had been much talk among the more progressive men of the community of the need
of some sort of social center, some place in which the people could get together under better conditions than those
enjoyed. There were several organizations that needed a better place in which to carry on their work. The old building
used as a city council room, voting room, fireman's hall, and public library, was too small for any of their purposes,
poorly lighted, badly heated, dirty and with no accommodations fit for any of the purposes for which it was used
and, in fact, a disgrace to a town of the size and importance of Caledonia. There was an urgent demand for something
better and more commodious. Deeply feeling all this, W. D. Belden laid the proposition before the executive committee
of the Caledonia Commercial Club, an organization that has always promoted and used its influence for every cause
that has been for the betterment of conditions and to whom one could appeal with confidence if his cause was one
of public benefit and interest. This committee reported favorably upon the proposition and the committee was instructed
to furnish suggestive plans in detail and get an estimate of the cost and to suggest a suitable location.
The committee met and appointed W. D. Belden a committee of one to go to La Crosse and consult an architect and
get an outline plan and an estimate of the probable cost of such a building not to exceed $20,000. This was done
and reported to the club, which approved of the proposition and plans as presented.
But while the Commercial Club could propose such a building the money for its construction would have to be got
by the issue of bonds which would have to be voted for by the people. Whether the people would stand for such a
tax was a serious question and the election of a council favorable to such a proposition was also necessary.
The Commercial Club had become interested in the project and was determined if possible to put it through. To this
end they attended the caucus and placed a majority of candidates on the ticket in favor of the enterprise.
When organized, in the village council there were three in favor of such building as proposed by the Commercial
Club and two in favor of less costly and commodious one.
The question was submitted to the voters as to whether bonds not to exceed $20,000 should be issued for such a
purpose, which proposition prevailed by a small majority. Later the city council submitted a proposition to issue
bonds to the amount of $15,000 for the erection of a city hall, which met much opposition from the non progressive,
selfish portion of the community, but fortunately there were a majority of the citizens who had a vision of the
usefulness and need of such a building and sufficient public spirit to carry the proposition.
With this limited amount and what could be had from the saloon licenses the council went to work to secure the
best possible building with the small amount at their disposal. The council was composed of T. A. Beddow (president),
Wm. Schauls, J. V. Meyer and W. D. Belden. The village clerk, C. S. Trask, also had one vote in the council. J.
E. Mason of Minneapolis was the architect.' This building contains an auditorium with a seating capacity of about
600, with a stage 20x50, fitted with an asbestos curtain and other stage appointments which cost $600. Athletic
equipment is provided for basketball, and many exciting contests are played here.
On the lower floor is a library room 30x48, with toilet and storage closet. It has been furnished with tables and
shelving by the Library Association and public entertainments and now contains a large, well selected lot of books
and current magazines and is well patronized. There is also a council room about 20 by 20 and a general purpose
room 20 by 24 used for a justice court room, meetings of the Commercial Club, fire company and band practice, and
other gatherings not large enough to require the use of the auditorium. There is a basement room 48 by 48 where
the city caucuses and elections are held and banquets served.
This building, exclusive of the stage scenery and seats, was built for about $18,000 and can not be duplicated
for less than $50;000 today. This the council accomplished by devoting a great deal of time to the supervision
of the work and seeing that the village got full value for every dollar put into it.
While the building is not as large as the village may require in a few years, or as the promoters desired, it was
as much as could be had for the money allowed the council, and has demonstrated its usefulness and vindicated the
foresight and vision of those who promoted and put the project of such a building through.
It has proved its worth in every way, it is a most decided asset to the village; it is widely known and highly
praised by strangers, and is more than appreciated by all who have had occasion to avail themselves of its many
and excellent facilities.
Connected with the building are the municipal waterworks, the imposing water tower, topped with a high powered
light, being a conspicuous feature of the landscape. Here also are facilities for electric power, though the municipal
plant is no longer used.
The waterworks were first installed in 1894, and the equipment has been gradually augmented. The plant is now in
charge of Thomas Abbotts, brother of Sheriff William Abbotts, and descended from one of the county's most prominent
pioneers. In the early days the streets were lighted with kerosene and later by gas. The municipal electric plant
was installed in 1903, but in 1916 a contract was made with the Root River Power & Light Co., which now furnishes
electricity for municipal, commercial and residential purposes. The sewer system was inaugurated in 1917, and now
furnishes sanitation for the principal parts of the village.
Caledonia has a volunteer fire department of 45 members, subject to the call of both bell and whistle alarm. The
village has a good hook and ladder truck, and two hose carts, with 1,200 feet of 2 ½ inch cotton jacket
The municipal water supply is adequately furnished from two deep wells, one 8 inch and one 10 inch volume. The
water is pumped by deep well pumps, one of 7,800 gallons and one of 2,500 gallons per hour to a standpipe 110 feet
high and 10 feet in diameter, having a capacity of 2,200 barrels and a gravity pressure of 47 pounds. The pumping
station was also used for power for the electric light plant until the present arrangement was reached by which
the electric power is received from outside.
The street waterworks system includes about three blocks of 8 inch mains, seven blocks of 6 inch mains and fifteen
blocks of 4 inch mains. There are 22 double hydrants and 8 dead ends.
There are seven churches in the village: The Presbyterian, the Norwegian Lutheran, the Methodist Episcopal, the
Episcopal, the Evangelical Lutheran, St. Peter's Roman Catholic and St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic.
Methodist Episcopal services were held as early as 1854 in the log cabin of James J. Belden, half a mile southwest
of town, by Rev. Mr. Wing. A class was soon organized consisting of Lewis Herring, Mr. and Mrs. John Paddock, Mr.
and Mrs. Nelson Haight, Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Phelps, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Cook, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Armstrong and
Lucy Stewart. Soon Rev. Benjamin Christ was appointed to Brownsville and held services at the log house and tavern
of James Hiner in Caledonia. The next year the Caledonia Circuit was organized, consisting of Caledonia, Brownsville
and Hokah, and such appointments as Hackett's Ridge, Pope's Prairie, Winnebago Valley and Portland Prairie were
soon added. Rev. John Hooper was assigned to the circuit. Other pioneer pastors were Rev. J. L. Dyer, Rev. E. Haight,
Rev. J. Cowden, Rev. John Ellingwood, Rev. Isaac Wendell and Rev. Nahum Taintor, all serving before the Civil War.
The first church building was erected in 1866, and the present building erected on the same site in 1896.
The Presbyterian church was organized May 17, 1863, by Rev. James Frothingham, a Princeton graduate, Rev. E. W.
Rice, a missionary, assisting. The meeting was held at the Court House. Peter H. Thomas, Mrs. Frances Thomas, John
Craig, Mrs. Elizabeth Craig and S. Jefferson handed in their letters from other societies. John Craig was organized
as elder June 26, 1863. The next day Emily Pope, Sarah Hazeltine, Elizabeth Smith and Mrs. James Frothingham, all
of Caledonia, were received into membership, with Mrs. J. S. Prentiss and Ruth Prentiss, of Spring Grove, from
the Hokah congregation. Jan. 9, 1864, D. L. Buell and Mrs. Harriett Buell were received into membership. Among
the early pastors before the eighties were Rev. William T. Hendron, Rev. Mr. Radcliffe, Rev. Mr. James and Rev.
William G. Westervelt. The Sunday school for many years in those pioneer times was in charge of William D. Belden,
with David T. Buell in charge of the Bible class and Fannie F. Dunbar as organist. The church was the first Protestant
church in Caledonia, built in 1864, and in 1895 was sold to the German Lutherans, who now occupy it. In 1895 the
present Presbyterian church was erected, and in 1897 the adjoining manse was built.
St. John the Baptist church had its origin with early priests from older communities, who visited the devout in
this region as early as 1855 and said mass in the cabins of the pioneers, also performing marriages and christenings.
Prominent among these was that sturdy pioneer missionary, the Rev. Michael Pendergast, the echo of whose footsteps
is still heard in the religious work of the whole Northwest. A small church was built and in time this gave place
to a larger structure. The present building was erected in 1899. The first pastor was the Rev. Father F. Essing.
St. Peter's church has its early history coincident with the Church of St. John the Baptist. In 1873 the German
speaking members of the parish separated from the older body and formed St. Peter's church. The building was completed
that same year. It is a beautiful building of stone with a lofty spire. The pastoral residence was erected in 1902.
It is a sightly and commodious home, surrounded by thick shrubbery, walks and lawns, beautified by a rustic fountain,
the resting place of native birds of all descriptions. The Sisters' home, housing the Sisters of Notre Dame, is
of chaste and pleasing design, while the parochial school provides every facility for the instruction of the young.
The first pastor was the Rev. Fr. Charles Koeberl.
The German Evangelical Lutheran church had its beginning with services held in the homes of people of that faith.
The church was acquired in 1895 from the Presbyterians. The Norwegian Lutheran church was built in 1895.
The Episcopal church was organized in the home of a few faithful members in the middle sixties. In 1868 the present
church was built under the pastorate of the Rev. William R. Powell.
The Independent School District of Caledonia was originally District 42 in the county system. The first teacher
was Reuben Rollins, who taught in a log cabin on Kingston street, first erected as a store by the pioneer, Samuel
McPhail. The first attempt to build a schoolhouse was in the fall of 1854, when J. J. Belden presented a lot on
Belden's hill and he, with William F. Dunbar and others, put up the walls of a building intended for school purposes.
Mr. McPhail, desiring to secure every advantage for his village of Caledonia, offered to build a schoolhouse on
the edge of the village toward the Dunbar place that would be convenient for both village and country children.
This edifice was accordingly built and opened and the partly constructed cabin abandoned. The enrollment increased
during the next few years and in 1864 there were no less than 110 pupils crowded into the little room. Undaunted
by this, however, the teacher not only gave the pupils the usual graded studies, but also encouraged them in various
patriotic endeavors. But the people realized the need of better accommodations and this year a new schoolhouse
The Independent District took the place of the county district in 1880. In response to a call issued by O. J. Weida,
A. D. Sprague, Daniel Hainz, A. J. Flynn, C. W. Metcalf, D. G. Sprague and W. H. Harries, a meeting was held March
8 of that year, with W. H. Harries as temporary chairman, E. P. Dorival as permanent chairman and A. J. Flynn as
clerk. The final vote on the new organization was 22 in favor of the proposition and 12 against it.
When the new board was organized it consisted of D. L. Buell (president), A. J. Flynn (clerk), W. H. Harries, P.
J. Smalley, J. H. Cooper and E. P. Dorival. April 14, 1880, A. H. Belding was appointed first principal under the
The first schoolhouse, qs mentioned, was built in 1854 and was probably the first in the county. In 1864 it gave
space to a larger building. In 1885 a large building was constructed, at that time the largest and best in the
county. But in time even this was inadequate. In 1904 the present building was completed. It was the finest schoolhouse
built in the state that year. Of beautiful design, with two commanding towers, it embodies all the latest developments
along the line of modern school construction. It houses the graded schools and the high school, and is fully supplied
with every facility for all the instruction usually given in such an institution. The staff is adequate, the school
board is broad minded and progressive, and the young people of Caledonia are being well prepared for the duties
and responsibilities that life is to bring to them.
Prominent in the story of the educational development of Houston county is the Caledonia Academy, where so many
of the men and women of today received their higher education. The Caledonia Academy was authorized by an act of
the legislature approved March 1, 1856. The trustees named in the act were Samuel McPhail, James J. Belden, C.
W. Thompson, J. R. Bennett, John J. Darbor, Alexander Bachelor, J. M. Smith, Charles Metcalf, Stephen Baglay, Samuel
J. Thomas, Hugh Brown, B. W. Barfield, A. D. Sprague, James Cavanaugh and C. Cunningham. It was not, however, until
several years afterward that it was put in operation.
An Academy building was erected in 1869 by Rev. W. R. Powell, rector of the Episcopal church, who conducted a Collegiate
Institute for one year.
His successor in the pastorate abandoned the school for about one year, when, as it did not meet his expectations,
it was again abandoned. In the fall of 1871 and the winter of 1872, E. W. Trask took hold of the enterprise.
In the autumn of 1872, Prof. William D. Belden assumed the management of the institution, and proceeded to reorganize
the institution in accordance with the requirements of the times. Two regular four year courses were prescribed.
One was for those who expected to go no further in school. The other was a classical course for those who expected
to enter a collegiate course, particularly reference being had to the State University, the classical department
of the academy being designed as a connecting link between the common school and the university, which at that
time was unprovided for by the State. The school went on with considerable success until 1875, when the building
was thoroughly repaired and improved at an expense of about $1,000. In the equipment was included a telescope of
sufficient power to show the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, and the mountains on the moon. Many of the
graduates of the academy taught school in the county and elsewhere, while several went to the State University.
The attendance was satisfactory, the number in 1878 being fifty five. The first commencement was held in 1877,
when the following class graduated with honor: H. F. Arnold and H. P. Shumway, Wilmington; Eva S. Belden and Hellen
B. Coe, Caledonia; and M. J. Taylor, Mayville. The class of 1878 was: Frances V. Burns, Evangeline P. Burns, and
Hattie H. Dunbar, Caledonia; Fannie P. Lapham, Winnebago; M. T. McGinnis and Samantha L. Wright, Wilmington.
In the class of 1879 were Charles E. Heath, Fred A. Wright, and Fred R. Williams. In the class of 1880 were
Jennie Gibbs and Gilbert Drowley. At this time, there being public schools intermediate between the district school
and the university, the academy was discontinued, and was later converted into a public school.
During the time the academy was under the charge of Professor Belden, the following named assistant teachers were
employed for longer or shorter periods: Larkie Lapham, Mrs. White, Kate Randolph, and Eva S. Belden. The members
of the learned professions in town, and the leading citizens, were interested in its success. Dr. Castle, W. H.
Harris, P. J. Smalley, and others, delivered addresses in connection with the commencement exercises on the various
occasions. This collegiate institute, while it remained in active operation, was an honor to its founders and to
its principal, a matter of pride to the citizens, and an Alma Mater the memory of which is cherished with pride
by all who had the advantages of passing through its doors as students in the days of their youth.
W. D. Belden, who was at one time a student in the Caledonia public schools, then became a prominent educator,
and has since continued his interest in the proper instruction of the coming generation. In regard to the foregoing
facts, he has the following to say of events which came under his personal observation.
The first attempt to establish a school was made in the fall of 1854, my father, James J. Belden, having donated
the ground for same on his claim in the western part of the present village on the Belden Hill. The neighbors had
joined and got the logs laid up ready for the roof when Mr. McPhail, proprietor of the town site, wanted the building
located within the town plat and a compromise was made and a small frame building was erected on the southwest
corner of the block now occupied by St. John's parochial school. This building is now owned by Mrs. John Boltz,
and is situated opposite the post office just west of the Argus office.
This building was used for ten years when the number of pupils had increased to an enrollment of 110. In the winter
term when the attendance was the largest, two teachers were employed, but in the spring term one teacher took care
of them all. We scholars, for the writer was one of them, had to sit three in a seat with a row all around the
building without any desk in front of them. Of course, we were not supposed to whisper. In the warm weather we
were allowed to go out doors to 'study' but sometimes we forgot the rule. We had a good time anyway, even though
we did not progress very fast in our books.
In 1864 the conditions had become so intolerable that the district was forced to erect a new building, consisting
of two rooms. The more advanced scholars were sent upstairs and the primary and lower grade scholars went in the
lower room and two teachers took care of the whole number of scholars, which was no snap as the writer knows from
personal experience, having been principal for some four successive terms. This building is now owned by Edward
Houlihan, who bought it and moved it to its present site on North Kingston street.
After a few years a third building providing for several departments was erected. This building was on the present
site of St. John's parochial school, and was torn down to make room for it.
In 1881 there were only four departments: grammar, first and second intermediate and primary. The salaries paid
the primary and first intermediate teachers were $35, second intermediate $40, and the grammar $45 a month."
In the sixties teachers were not plentiful and the requirements were not very exacting. At first no certificates
were required, any one who chose to do so could teach provided some school board would hire. Then a law was enacted
creating the office of county superintendent of schools, and requiring any one wishing to teach to hold a certificate
of examination by him. The writer took such an examination which was oral and lasted about fifteen minutes, and
passed successfully. Most any one who could read and write and know the multiplication table could pass. Of course,
the wages were small, many teaching for only $15 and $20 per month.
Before the public school became a high school there were several private schools which furnished some advanced
studies, the most notable of these were:
1. A private school conducted by Professor Emmons, a graduate of Yale and at that time considered one of the best
educators in the State, who did much for those who were fortunate enough to get the benefit of his most excellent
training. But he gave up the work on account of his poor health after a year or so.
2. The Caledonia Collegiate Institute, an Episcopal parochial school, was started in 1869 by Rev. W. R. Powell,
which was an excellent school while it lasted, but for want of sufficient patronage and financial backing it also
was given up.
3, The Caledonia Academy was, at the urgent request of many of the leading citizens, established by W. D. Belden
in the fall of 1872. This school furnished a four year course similar to the present high school course, so that
its graduates could enter the State University. This school was conducted until 1880 when the State high school
course was introduced and the demand for such a school was supplied by the public schooL
The post office was established in Caledonia in 1854. Before that the people received their mail at Brownsville,
and it was brought to Caledonia by anyone who happened to be making the journey. When the post office was established
regular mail routes were organized, and in the early sixties the people were receiving mail three times a week.
The office became a money order office on Sept. 9, 1867. The list of early postmasters until the eighties is somewhat
obscure, but probably the postmasters have been: Samuel McPhail, William McKee, Peter H. Thomas, A. S. Lindsey,
R. S. Williams, C. G. Ward, J. C. Prentiss, H. K. Belding, John Dorsch, Wells F. Dunbar, O. G. Wall, James Wertz,
John B. Neff, Otis E. Comstock, E. P. Dorival, William Calleran, A. J. Flynn, Moses Emery, E. C. Hellickson and
W. W. Belden who is now in office.
The three banking houses in Caledonia are the Sprague State Bank, the First National Bank and the Caledonia State
The Sprague State Bank is the oldest institution of its kind in the county. In the early days, several of the merchants
accepted deposits and issued checks on La Crosse banks. But for the most part, money which was sent out of the
town was forwarded by means of postal orders. June 1, 1875, A. D. Sprague and J. E. Easton established the bank
of Caledonia, a private institution. In 1908 the bank was incorporated as the Sprague State Bank, with Ellsworth
A. Sprague as president, Arthur D. Sprague as vice president and Robert D. Sprague as cashier.
The farmers co-operative movement is represented in Caledonia by the Farmers Co-operative Creamery, the Farmers
Co-operative Co. (operating a general store), and the Caledonia Co-operative Stock and Grain Company. The latter
company has an elevator and stock yards. Not many miles away is the Wilmington Co-operative Creamery, which has
Caledonia for a shipping point. The other Caledonia elevator, aside from that mentioned, is one owned by E. A.
and R. D. Sprague. Fred Kruger has a feed mill and the Graf grist mill does considerable business. There are no
extensive manufactories, though wagon making, iron working, and the manufacture of cement block and brick is at
times carried on to some extent.
The two newspapers in Caledonia are the Caledonia Journal and the Caledonia Argus. The field in previous years
has also been occupied by other papers.
The Houston County Journal had its inception in the month of November, 1865, the editors and proprietors being
James G. McGrew and Sam Wall, who issued it until May 1, 1866. It was then purchased by the Journal Printing Company,
composed of John Craig, Thomas Abbotts, James Smith, George T. Patten, A. D. Sprague, C. A. Coe, Eugene P. Dorival,
and J W. Cook. On December 4, 1866, the names of Smith and Wall were run up as editors. A. F. Booth took charge
as editor on November 18, 1873. In February, 1878, the paper was sold by Mr. Booth to O. E. Comstock. On August
3, 1881, J. Ostrander came into the firm and the paper was published under the firm name of Comstock and Ostrander.
P. A. Kroshus acquired the paper in March, 1883, and three years later changed the name to the Caledonia Journal.
May 1, 1890, he sold to Blexrud & Solburg, with E: K. Roverud as editor. A few years later Mr. Roverud bought
out Blexrud and Solburg, and has since been both editor and publisher. The Caledonia Journal has always been Republican
in politics, although its support of President William H. Taft, in 1912, after its editor had been a Roosevelt
delegate at large in the Chicago Convention, was almost negligible. The Journal is now stronger than ever in its
political faith, and has been espedaily strong in its fight against pernicious socialism and the Non Partisan League.
The Caledonia Courier was started in Caledonia, April 8, 1877, by George B. Winship, who, as elsewhere stated,
had learned his trade in the office of the short lived "La Crescent Plaindealer." It was a seven column
folio, published at $2.00 a year, and was a really good paper, well edited and well printed. After conducting it
for a little more than two years, Mr. Winship, finding the field restricted, and with no immediate prospects of
improvement, went to Dakota and began the publication of the "Grand Forks Herald," a first class daily.
The Houston County Argus. In the middle and later seventies a young man named Edward S. Kilbourne was publishing
at New Albin a little paper called the Spectator. The paper suspended publication about the beginning of the summer
of 1879. The proprietor then went to the Red River valley looking for a location but found that conditions were
not yet favorable. So he returned to this region, and in August, 1879, established the Houston County Argus. He
continued it until May 12, 1880, when it was sold to H. D. Smalley & Co., by whom it was published until November
4, the same year. H. D. Smalley then withdrew, leaving it in the hands of P. J. Smalley, who conducted it on independent
Republican principles. It was a seven column folio, printed and conducted in a highly creditable manner, and had
a circulation of about 600, about sixty of its subscribers living outside the county. P. J. Smalley was succeeded
by W. D. Belden, in December, 1890. December 1, 1897, P. V. Ryan and W. E. Krick bought the paper. December 1,
1901, Mr. Ryan bought out Mr. Krick, and is still the efficient editor and publisher.
The early history of the village of Caledonia is coincident with the history of the township already given. Ralph
L. Young came with his family in 1851 and settled in the southern part of the township. In 1852, Anthony Huyck
and Peter L. Swartout settled a mile and a half from the village. They were jolly bachelors and many an amusing
tradition centers about their actions. They were big souled men of unfailing courage, well fitted to meet the rigors
of pioneer life. In 1852, Samuel Armstring and Joseph Pendleton took claims. The same year came William F. Dunbar,
who looked over the land with the idea of bringing out a colony from Massachusetts.
The real founder of the village was Samuel McPhail, who came to Brownsville in 1851 and to Caledonia in 1853, where
he platted the village. The advance guard of the Massachusetts colony came that year. They landed at Brownsville,
and then made their way to Caledonia. They were soon followed by many others.
Among the prominent settlers of 1853 and the next few years may be mentioned Edwin H. Steward, John Dunbar, Henry
Parmalee, Henry Burnett, Hugh Brown, James Hiner, L. W. Paddock, Nelson Haight, Eugene Marshall, J. W. Finn, Jacob
Webster, Daniel Herring, Hiram Abbey, James Wing, John Burns, Thomas Burns, Michael Mead, Charles Metcalf, J. J.
Belden, A. D. Sprague, Daniel Kerr, Jedediah Pope, Milton B. Metcalf, Oliver Dunbar, Wells E. Dunbar, Patrick Jennings,
Reuben Rollins, Henry M. Rollins, Robert Lewis, Amasa Mason, Daniel Hainz, Elkana Huyck, Jesse Scofield, William
H. Bunce, and others.
When Samuel McPhail settled here in June, 1853, he erected a log store and a log dwelling. He opened a small store
in the store building but in 1854 was succeeded by Ara D. Sprague, who for many years, on the present site of the
Sprague State Bank, conducted the only mercantile business in town. The business grew rapidly as the county settled
up. "The Log Cabin" situated back of the present site of the Caledonia House was a large log building
owned by James Hiner, and was for many years the only hotel in the village. Afterward Oliver Dunbar opened a hotel
on the present site of the Williams House. The village was platted in the spring of 1854 for Samuel McPhail by
Eugene Marshall, first county surveyor, and afterwards cashier of the Sprague Easton Bank. The first school was
taught in 1854 by Reuben Wells. The first preaching was held that year at the home of James J. Belden.
The pioneers have many interesting stories. to tell of life in those distant times. Many of the settlers had been
neighbors in New England. They lived here almost as one family. Confronted though they were by all the hardships,
living in crude homes, with little literature except what they had brought with them, with no outside entertainment,
they nevertheless managed to mingle sociability and enjoyment with their strenuous endeavors. They had their dances
and their candy pulls, their singing schools and spelling schools, their straw rides and sewing bees, and paid
due attention to church and school affairs.
Wild game was abundant, and some of the pioneers were skilled hunters. Deer, elk and bear added to the family larder.
A few Winnebago Indians still lingered in the neighborhood. Among the best known were Porter and Lightfoot and
his son, Little Priest.
The nearest grist mill at first was on Canoe Creek in Iowa. In 1855 a sawmill was built in the northern part of
the township, and a few years later a grist equipment was added to it.
The nearest market was at Brownsville. The settlers often had to go as far as Lansing, Iowa, however, to obtain
what they needed. Grain was hauled to Lansing and to points as far as Winona.
One of the greatest difficulties was the lack of an adequate water supply. Some families had to walk long distances
to get a jug of water for drinking purposes, and cattle had sometimes to be driven miles to be watered. A common
method was to cart hogsheads from a creek by means of oxen. Many amusing stories are told of these trips. Sometimes
in an emergency housewives were compelled to melt snow for household purposes. A little later cisterns were provided,
and many times dams were built to hold flood waters. Now, however, wells give the farmers a more than adequate
W. D. Belden, who came here as a boy, has many interesting memories of those far distant days. He has been a constant
resident of the village since it had three or four buildings and has been an active factor in its growth since.
In speaking of the early days he has said:
"It is interesting to the younger generation to know that the early settlers lived in log houses, the chinks
and openings between the logs being filled in with narrow strips of wood held in place and plastered up with clay
at first, but soon after with lime mortar. Lime kilns soon were made, in which the lime rocks found near by were
burned, and with sand also available, good mortar was to be had.
"The log cabin situated back of the present site of the Caledonia House was a large log building and was the
first and only hotel the village had for a few years, and was owned by James Hines.
"At that time the only outlet for shipment of products out and merchandise in was by way of the Mississippi
River, either at Brownsville or La Crosse, all freight having to be handled from one of these two points by team
over unworked roads. Brownsville was then the most important and flourishing town in the county. There was practically
no home market for farm produce such as vegetables, butter, eggs or milk, as nearly every one had a garden and
raised their own vegetables, kept some chickens, a cow and a few hogs for their own consumption. Eggs were sold
at 3 cents a dozen, butter at 10 to 12 cents a pound, dressed hogs at 5 to 6 cents a pound, and oats at 15 cents
a bushel. Not until the railroad came here in 1879 were hogs marketed alive as now.
"The first few years most of the farm work was done with oxen. For many years cattle were permitted to run
at large, even in the streets of Caledonia. At first the farms were enclosed with rails piled up in a zigzag way,
called a 'Virginia worm fence;' then by 'post and rail fence,' and a little later with post and boards, lumber
being so cheap at that time as to make a four board fence quite economical. Later this style of fencing gave way
to wire fencing, which is now generally used.
"Before the Civil War and for some time after, the principal products of the farms were wheat and oats, with
a small acreage of corn for home consumption. Later the wheat seldom yielded sufficient to make it a profitable
crop and farming became more diversified, with the result that the farmers in this county are among the most prosperous
in the country."
By reason of its position Caledonia early became a great thoroughfare for traffic from the Mississippi River to
points west. Thousands of early settlers bound for southern Minnesota landed at Brownsville and made their way
through Caledonia to their chosen locations. Many also came up across the prairies from Iowa. There were times
when the village presented the sight of two almost continuous caravans of ox teams, one stream bound from Brownsville
to western settlements, and the other stream consisting of people hauling produce or going after supplies to Brownsville.
Many of these travelers stayed over night at Caledonia, and it therefore early became a business point of importance.
The town continued to prosper through the fifties, sixties and seventies. The railroad through here was opened
for business Oct. 1, 1879.
The year after that found Caledonia a still more active business center. In that year there were three lumber concerns
in Caledonia, which also sold general building material. These were the firms of Trask & Blair, C. Clark and
Edwards & Osborne. The last mentioned was a La Crosse firm, John Tarr having charge of the yard at Caledonia.
There were seven general stores, kept respectively by Sprague Brothers, M. Carpstein, Jacob Bouquet, John Boltz,
John P. Lommen, E. P. Dorival and Nicholas Koob. W. D. Belden, Mrs. Julia O'Connor and F. & M. W. Bacon sold
drugs and notions; A. H. Belding sold books, stationery, sewing machines and notions; A. D. Sprague and A. J. Flynn
were hardware dealers; Mrs. E. Spettle kept a bakery; Fred Mersch and Charles Brickman were wagon makers and repairers;
A. B. Clark and John Gavin were blacksmiths; Mike Schmidt was a horseshoer and general jobber; Hudson Wheaton was
a carpenter and builder; Daniel Hainz and Thomas Ryan were shoemakers, both keeping stores; J. J. Belden handled
stoves and tinware; Peter Roberts was a harnessmaker, and Joseph Eden a tailor; Mrs. P. M. Hainz and Mrs. E. B.
West were milliners; O. J. Weida kept a meat market; Mary Keegan and Maggie Zenner were dressmakers; Peter Steenstrup
was a jeweler; Anton Zimmerhoke kept a barber shop, and Peter Mead a restaurant and confectionery; Christian Klein
was a jobber and builder; Peter Arnoldy was proprietor of the brewery started in 1873 by Peter Wagner, which he
purchased in 1880. He brewed about 400 barrels of lager the first year. There were three physicians in the village,
Dr. H. D. B. Dustin, Dr. William McKenna and Dr. George Nye. The attorneys were James O'Brien, H. W. Harries, P.
J. Smalley and C. S. Trask. Wells E. Dunbar and E. P. Dorival were insurance agents. There were thirteen saloons,
some of which kept pool and billiard tables, and were with hotel facilities for transient guests. The regular hotels
were the Barnes House, an old institution kept by Spafford Williams; the De Soto House, kept by J. T. Hurd; the
New York House, established in 1875, of which Peter Styer was the proprietor, and the Northwestern Hotel, established
six years and kept by John Krane. There were saloons in connection with the two last mentioned hotels. In addition
to the above mentioned enterprises there were in the village the usual proportion of carpenters, painters, glaziers,
paperhangers and other artizans.
Since then the village has enjoyed a settled prosperity and the prospects for the future are of the brightest.
The farm land in this vicinity is constantly increasing in value, new methods are constantly being introduced,
and as the prosperity of the village and country are one, the friends of the village are looking forward to its
continued growth and prosperity.
Caledonia was organized as a village in accordance with an act of the state legislature, approved Feb. 25, 1870;
and the first election was held on Monday, May 2, the same year. M. M. Wooden and Thomas Abbotts were judges of
election. N. H. Kemp was chosen moderator, and Nicholas Koob was appointed clerk. Forty five votes were cast and
each of the following persons received a unanimous vote for their respective offices: Trustees, D. L. Buell, Thomas
Abbotts and Nicholas Koob; justice of the peace, M. M. Wooden; treasurer, T. W. Burns. The trustee appointed Nicholas
Murphy as village clerk. Michael Lally was appointed surveyor of highways. D. L. Buell was appointed president
of the board of trustees. The first ordinance was in relation to drunkenness and disorderly conduct, fixing the
penalty between five and twenty five dollars. The second ordinance related to licenses, fixing the fee at $40.
The third related to the obstruction of streets. The fourth to the hitching of horses, oxen or other draft animals
to trees, gates or fences. The fifth provided a pound, and the sixth regulated the laying down of sidewalks.
The town of Caledonia, whose interests center in the village dates its organization back to May 11, 1858. The original
meeting was called to order by Samuel McPhail. Nelson Haight was chosen moderator, and Eugene Marshall clerk. The
whole number of votes cast at that election was 126. The officers elected were: Supervisors, Stephen Bugbee, chairman,
John Dorsch and Oliver Dunbar; town clerk, Truman B. Neff; assessor, William McGinnis; justices of the peace, Thomas
Abbotts and J. Webster; collector, William W. Willis; overseers of the poor, Samuel Armstrong and Jedediah Pope;
road supervisors, James H. Williams and Peter L. Swartout.