History of Houston (Village), Houston County, Minnesota
From: The History of Houston County, Minnesota
Edited by: Franklyn Curtis-Wedge.
H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co.
Winona, Minn. 1919


Houston, the metropolis of northern Houston county is located in the picturesque Root River Valley, not far from where that stream is joined by its south fork. Its railroad service is furnished by the southern Minnesota division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul.

The town is in an unusually flourishing condition, and its business section presents a scene of prosperity and industry. The high school building, the combined village hall and community center, the office of the Houston Signal and the People's Telephone Exchange, the two banks, the Iverson Lumber yard and several new store buildings are all architectural features which contribute greatly to the general air of thrift and success. The residences are also comfortable and commodious, with sightly lawns, well cared for, and furnished with modern conveniences. A live Commercial Club of which A. C. Evanson is president and C. F. Schonlau is secretary keeps well abreast of the times, and does its share toward maintaining the general prosperity.

Houston is noted as the shipping and trading point of as rich an agricultural region as is to be found in southern Minnesota. From up and down the Root River valley, and from the rich valleys leading into it, come the prosperous farmers to do their shopping, their banking and their shipping. The co-operative movement is here represented by the Houston Creamery Co., the Houston Co-operative Elevator Co., and the Farmers' Co-operative Shipping Association. It is also the headquarters of the Mound Prairie Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Houston is the shipping and receiving place for Money Creek and for several smaller hamlets. Its principal exports are dairy products, stock, small fruit and grain. In former days it was the site of several mills, but all that is now left of this enterprise is the mill of the Redding Flour and Feed Co. a mile and a half east of Houston, on the railroad and the south fork of the Root River.

The village has two banks, a newspaper, two elevators, two lumber yards, a village hall, a park, a creamery, two cement sand block establishments, stock yards, waterworks and electricty.

The village of Houston was organized April 7, 1874, in accordance with an act of the legislature of the state, approved Feb. 9, 1874. The first officers elected were: H. Rasmussen, president; A. P. Johnson. E. A, Brown and P. Errikson, trustees; D. F. Case, clerk; O. A. Johnson, marshal; I. Abrahamson, treasurer; E. A. Horner, justice of the peace, and G. C. Turner, assessor. At this election D. C. Dyer was moderator; D. C. Sherman, inspector, and P. Downing, election clerk.

Houston's village hall and community center, which is the pride of the village, and of the whole northern part of the county, is the result of an ideal long cherished by many of the leading citizens. The old village hall, as erected some years ago, was built along the lines usually followed in such a building, and was suitable for the ordinary purposes of such a structure. But as the village grew, and modern ideas were introduced, and the community began to take on a more sightly architectural appearance, many of the citizens felt that the time was ripe for the erection of a building which would be a true community center, furnishing not only a protection for the fire apparatus, a meeting place for the council, and an election place, but also an adequate auditorium, suitable for graduations, musicales, theatrical performances and large public gatherings of all sorts. After the usual agitation, the matter was brought to a vote, May 6, 1912, when by a ballot of 73 for to 63 against, the citizens decided to issue bonds to the amount of $4,500. At that time A. T. Rowland was president of the council; C. J. Swenson, A. P. Omodt and Henry Larson, the trustees; G. L. Schonlau, the clerk; ' and these men were all actively concerned in the progress of the work. The architect was I. G. Iverson, to whose credit stand many of the other artistic buildings of the community, and he gave to the work his personal supervision. Captain Samuel B. McIntire acted as attorney and did much toward bringing the project to a successful conclusion Martin Nelson, of Rushford, was the contractor; A. T. Rowland installed the heating plant; T. E. Trondson & Son did the painting and decorating; D. A. Comstock and his father did the plumbing. The Ladies' Civic Club, the Business Men and the Dramatic Company raised $700 for the scenery, seats and piano. The hall was officially opened with a dramatic production by Houston's best local talent.

The building, which is of steel and cement construction, presents a most artistic appearance, and is truly an ornament to the community. The exterior walls and columns are finished in soft gray tones of rough cast cement plaster, and trimmed with a plain cornice in rich brown. The main room, including the permanent elevated stage is 36 by 90 feet. The stage measures 36 by 20, leaving an auditorium 36 by 70 feet. Over the rear of the hall extends a balcony, 36 by 14 feet. The entrance measures 18 by 10 feet, and the council room 30 by 14 feet. The dressing rooms occupy a space 36 by 6 feet. Underneath the stage and council rooms are located rooms for fire apparatus, furnaces and fuel.

In the earliest days, the people of Houston obtained their water from the natural waterways. In time wells were dug and cisterns built. Later drilled wells were installed, furnishing the people of the village with an excellent supply. The first efforts toward a public supply were taken on April 23, 1904, when the village voted $5,000 bonds for the installation of a system. The system has since been developed. Still further developments are expected in the future. The service now consists of a White compressed air system of distribution, an ample supply of water being obtained from a flowing well. The pump, having a capacity of 200 gallons a minute, is driven by a gasoline engine. The pumping station is a brick structure, adjoining the village hall, with which it corresponds in exterior finish and decoration. The street system consists of 1,100 feet of six inch mains, 2,200 feet of four inch mains, and seven double hydrants.

Electricity for street lighting and business and residential purposes is furnished by the Root River Power & Light Co., with headquarters at Preston. The service reached Houston in 1918, and is being made available to an increasing number of patrons. From 1904 to 1918, the streets were lighted by gas from the gas plant installed at the same time as the waterworks. Still earlier the street lights had been supplied with gasoline and still earlier by kerosene.

The village park, which was platted with the village, occupies a full block. It is a favorite picnic place, and provides an out door assembling place for celebrations and anniversaries. It has some excellent trees and shrubbery and is provided with a grandstand.

Houston has no organized fire department. But it is adequately provided with fire protection. In the basement of the village hall is a hook and ladder truck, and two hose carts, together with 1,000 feet of hose, for which the waterworks system supplies sufficient pressure.

The town hall, a fire proof structure, excellently suited for its needs, is located just east of the village line.

Houston is usually fortunate in its educational equipment, having one of the best school systems in this part of the state. The first school was taught in an old shanty once used by Joel Marsh in the lower town, on the bank of the river near the present bridge. When the village was moved, the school followed the business houses, and in time a two room house was erected on the southern margin of the village. Several years later, the building was doubled and four teachers employed. Later an additional teacher was secured. In 1908, the present beautiful and commodious building was erected. It covers the usual graded and high school studies. In addition to this it has a most excellent Normal department which is turning out some good teachers. Courses are also given in Manual Training and Domestic Science. District No. 16, to the north of village, has consolidated with the local district, the children being brought to school in a bus. Among the many who have labored for the interests of the educational system in Houston, special mention should be made of Captain Samuel B. McIntire, who was a member of the board from 1872 to his death in 1917.

A post office was established as early as 1857, A. Marsh being the first postmaster. In 1866, the post office, like all other business activities of the place, was moved to the newer location, being transferred, building and all, while Mr. Marsh was yet postmaster. His successors were L. A. Tennison, D. F. Case, F. N. Goodrich. In 1871, when Mr. Case was in charge, the office was made a money order office, the first order being issued Aug. 3. The successors of Mr. Goodrich have been Samuel B. McIntire, W. A. Vance, Isaac Goodwin, C. F. Schonlau and G. A. Comstock, who is now serving. There are six rural routes served from this office. No. 1 was established in 1902, M. J. Taylor, carrier; No. 2 was established in 1902, K. P. Field, carrier; No. 3 was established in 1903, K. O. Senness, carrier; No. 4 was established in 1903, Thomas Lane, carrier; No. 5 was established in 1904, John Sanden, carrier; No. 6 was established in 1915, J. M. Kerrigan, carrier.

The Houston Valley Signal was established Aug. 17, 1882, by T. McConnell. April 26, 1883, the son, Charles A. McConnell, was received into partnership and the firm became McConnell & Son. Oct. 11, 1883, C. F. Schonlau bought an interest and the firm became McConnell & Schonlau. March 6, 1884, Mr. Schonlau became the sole owner. In 1910, he received his son, Gerard L. into partnership, and the firm became Schonlau & Son. The paper, the office building and the business methods pursued in the printing department are models of their kind, and have received wide praise. The beautiful fire proof building is one of the architectural ornaments of the village, and is the best newspaper office and printing shop in southeastern Minnesota. A simple, but most effective, filing and cost system, devised by Mr. Schonlau himself, solves the problem of efficiency and easy reference, in a way seldom attained in a journalistic and printing office. The paper itself is newsy, and has always stood for the best interests of the village, the community, and the county at large.

The two banks in Houston are the Security State Bank and the Houston State Bank, in which latter is consolidated the Farmers' and Merchants' State Bank and the Citizens' State Bank. In earlier times, D. L. Buell did a banking business under the name of the Bank of Houston, and D. C. Dyer under the name of the Exchange Bank.

The Security State Bank of Houston opened for business Nov. 21, 1911. The first officers were: John Q. Briggs, president, A. C. Evanson, vice president, A. T. Rowland, C. F. Schonlau and J J Sliter. L. H. Briggs was the cashier and N. E. Forsyth the assistant cashier. These officers still remain in charge of the institution. A beautiful new building which will be one of the finest banking houses in southeastern Minnesota has just been completed. According to the statement at the close of business May 1, 1919, the bank has a capital and surplus of $20,000; undivided profits, $2,836.79; loans and discounts of $197,174.41; total deposits of $381,395.62; and cash assets including moneys due from other banks, of $114,963.19.

The Farmers' & Merchants' State Bank, of Houston, now consolidated with the Houston State Bank, was started July 10, 1905, with a capital of $10,000.00. The incorporators were: Knute T. Thompson, John D. McMillan, Ole P. Gaustad, Solvie S. Vathing, Anton Forsyth, and D. C. Dyer. The first officers were John D. McMillan, president, Anton Forsyth, vice president, and Ole P. Gaustad. At the time of the consolidation with the Citizens' State Bank, in the Houston State Bank, Dec. 28, 1908, the officers were: J. D. McMillan, president, C. J. Swenson, vice president, George Vatting, E. S. Kingsley, Knud Omadt, N. A. Redding and J. F. Anderson. Knute T. Thompson was the cashier and A. P. Omodt the assistant cashier.

The Houston State Bank, with which is consolidated the Farmers' & Merchants' State Bank, was incorporated at the Citizens' State Bank, Dec. 22, 1902, by James C. Kelly, of Yucatan; John Q. Briggs, Thomas Rowland, Jens P. Onstad, De Witt C. Dyer, Adolph E. Johnson and Knute T. Thompson, of Houston; Harvey Chapel, of Money Creek; Herbert C. Garvin and Theodore Wold, of Winona; and William J. Naylor, of Owatonna. The first officers were Theodore Wold, president, John Q. Briggs, vice president, H. C. Garvin, Charles T. Olson, James C. Kelly, Thomas Rowland, and Jens P. Onstad. The bank opened for business, Feb. 16, 1903, with William J. Naylor as cashier, in the building later occupied by the Security State Bank. June 11, 1904, the business had so increased that L. Hollis Briggs was employed as bookkeeper. From the beginning, the directors planned to have a banking house owned by the institution itself. In the summer of 1905, a building was started, and on Nov. 6, of that year, the doors of the present sightly bank were opened. The building has continued to prove itself well adapted to its purpose, with a large banking space, and with several private rooms for consultation and business. The safe and the safe deposit vaults are models of substantial and secure construction. In 1906, another vice president was added in the person of James C. Kelly. In 1907, L. Hollis Briggs was promoted from bookkeeper to assistant cashier. April 29, 1908, Messrs. Garvin, Wold and Olson sold their stock to local interests, and retired from the directorate. At that time James C. Kelly became the president, Mr. Briggs remaining the vice president and Mr. Naylor the cashier. The directors in addition to the president and vice president were: A. C. Evanson, Henry Hanson, A. J. Von Arx, Thomas Rowland and Jens P. Onstad. Dec. 28, 1908, the bank was consolidated with the Farmers' & Merchants' State Bank, and the capital increased to $25,000. Jan. 2, 1909, a new board was elected. Mr. Kelly remained as president and Mr. Briggs as vice president. Knute T. Thompson became cashier and A P. Omadt assistant cashier, L. Hollis Briggs remaining in a similar capacity. The new board, in addition to Mr. Kelly and Mr. Briggs, consisted of A. J. Von Arx, Knud Omodt, N. A. Redding, E. J. Kingsley and C. J. Swenson. At this time the name was changed to the Houston State Bank. April 24, 1909, C. J. Swenson was added to the list of vice presidents. Oct. 28, 1911, John Q. Briggs, vice president, and L. Hollis Briggs, assistant cashier, resigned, and withdrew their interests. Thomas Rowland took Mr. Briggs' place as vice president. July 1, 1912, William McMillan became bookkeeper. In 1916, Mr. Rowland retired as vice president, and in 1917, E. J. Kingsley was elected to that office. April 15, 1919, after the death of Mr. Thompson, A. P. Omodt became cashier. The official force of the bank now consists of James C. Kelly, president; C. J. Swenson, vice president; E. J. Kingsley, vice president; A. P. Omodt, cashier; William McMillan, assistant cashier; Palmer Johnson, bookkeeper. The directors are: James C. Kelly, B. E. Lilly, S. M. Rowland, E. J. Kingsley, N. A. Redding, C. J. Swenson, and A. E. Johnson. According to the report rendered at the close of business May 1, 1919, the bank has a capital of $25,000; surplus and undivided profits, $25,166.87; loans and discounts of $412,493.16; total deposits of $621,019.11; and total cash assets including moneys due from banks of $139,446.46.

Houston has been a dairy center since the early days. Long before creameries were thought of, the thrifty housewives brought to Houston their butter and exchanged it with the storekeepers for merchandise. In fact considerable homemade butter is still shipped from this point. Milk and cream are also still shipped out in large volume. The first creamery in the county was probably started in Houston, when the Polar Creamery Co., Hostvet & Horn, owners, with creameries in Rushford and Lanesboro, opened a branch here in 1884, in charge of Jacob Wold. In 1887, A. Nash was placed in charge, and he has since continued to be connected with the creamery business here, being now a shipper. The creamery of this company was on the hill south of the village and was called the "Side Hill Creamery." The building was so constructed that the ice could be slid into it from the upper side hill. The creamery did a good business, having some twenty men engaged in hauling cream. But various causes prevented its ultimate success, and in 1892 it went out of business. The Houston Creamery Co. was then organized, and a creamery erected at the eastern edge of the village. This creamery with enlargements and improvements is still the Houston Creamery.

Houston was platted by Mons Anderson, a leading La Crosse merchant. He purchased two quarter sections from David Johnson and Lars Johnson. David Johnson's claim was originally taken by W. Webster, who sold it to Mr. Johnson in 1853 for $30. On this tract the present village is located.

The early history of the village has already been related. The village was originally started about a mile east, at what is now known as Old Houston. The first store there was opened in 1854 by Ole Knudson, who brought his goods on a keel boat from La Crosse. Others soon followed, and the place soon became a flourishing hamlet. Some of the old buildings there, now used as sheds or storerooms, still testify to the prosperity that was once found there. But when the railroad was put through, the present location of the village was chosen. The first to move was Andrew Forsyth, in the early fall of 1866. He was followed soon afterward by Isaac Abrahamson, E. A. Homer, A. P. Johnson, D. C. Dyer and others. It is interesting to note that D. C. Dyer still conducts the leading mercantile establishment in the village, while Mr. Abrahamson, though retired, is still one of its most respected citizens.

The moving once begun, it was not long before the old village was entirely deserted, and the efforts of the populace were given over entirely to building up the new settlement.

The village of Houston had a vigorous early growth, three years after its establishment containing about 35 buildings, including three store houses, two shingle factories, turning out from three to five thousand shingles a day, two carpenter shops, a chair factory and cabinet shop, a cooper shop, blacksmith shop, one steam sawmill, a corn mill, a turning lathe and broom factory. Other enterprises were also projected, and the people were getting ready to build a good school house. Timber was then abundant, and land was selling at from $5.00 to $25.00 an acre.

In 1882, sixteen years after the coming of the railroad and the removal of the village to its second and permanent location, it contained about 39 or 40 business enterprises, including three hotels. Among the older merchants, several of whom started in the lower village, were: D. C. Dyer, general store, established 15 years; E. A. Horner, dry goods, boots and shoes, millinery and fancy goods, established 16 years; L. R. Hall, general store, esablished 18 years; A. P. Johnson, general store, established 12 years; Isaac Abrahamson, general store, established 20 years; L. A. Tennison, hardware, tinware, agricultural implements, and undertaking, seven years established. The Cottrell House, opposite the depot, John Cottrell, had been established eleven years. The two other hotels were: the Minnesota Hotel, on Cedar street, T. R. Parish, proprietor; and the Sherman House, Alonzo B. Smith, proprietor. Among the other merchants were: Field & Briggs, general store, in business seven years; C. Rasmussen, general store; F. N. Goodrich crockery, glassware, stationery, notions and toys; E. O. Loken, five and ten cent store, tinware, shoemaking, etc.; Charles Hollengren (lower village), blacksmithing and wagon works; Charles Hanson, wagon works; C. O. Olson, wheelwright; Mikkle N. Berg, watchmaker; John B. Gerard, blacksmith; J. Vincent, lumber; Lafayette Whitehouse, livery stable; W. W. Cargill & Bro., grain and provisions; David L. Buell, warehouse; E. E. Webster, lime; Ever Jacobson, harness; S. D. Drake, harness; Thomas Ryan, and S. S. Wenson, boots and shoes; A. Landergren, tailor; James Haley, meat market and feed store; Whitehouse Bros., restaurant and groceries; Thomas Rowland and James Rowland and Christian Jacobson, saloons with billiard tables; Asbjorn Olson, saloon and cigar store; Chris. Nelson, saloon; Anna Huber, saloon. There were two lawyers, C. D. Ramsdell and Samuel B. McIntire; and two physicians, G. Erdmann, and E. M. Sheldon.

The churches of Houston are the Norwegian Lutheran, the Episcopal the Presbyterian, the Roman Catholic, the Norwegian Lutheran and the Bethany Evangelical Free Churches. Not far away are the Swedish Baptist and the Norwegian Lutheran (Stone) Church. Of these the Swedish Baptist church is the oldest in the community, the first of its kind in the state. It came into existence, Aug. 18, 1853, with a membership of nine, under the leadership of Rev. F. O. Nelson, the members of the congregation being the pioneers of Swede Bottom, who had arrived the previous year. In 1854, a cholera plague swept the community, and this congregation lost five members, Mrs. Ole Benson, Mrs. Lars Johnson, Mrs. Abraham Anderson, Mrs. Johannes Anderson, and a young son of Abraham Anderson.

The Mound Prairie Farmers' Mutual Fire Insurance Co. was incorporated March 1, 1884, and commenced business March 26, 1884, with thirty two original members carrying insurance of $44,700.00. The first officers were Charles Lehmann, president, A. J. Van Arx, secretary, Jacob Klein, treasurer, Fred Burow, J. A. Eberhard, Lorenz Hafner and Andrew Orr. Charles Lehmann remained as president until June 7, 1910, when he resigned and was followed by George H. Onstine. In 1915, Albinus Lilly was president, after which came Mr. Onstine again. In 1917, the present president, O. T. Findreng took office. Jacob Klein remained as treasurer until 1890, when he was followed by J. C. Kelly. A. J. Van Arx was secretary until his death in 1916, when Mr. Kelly took his place, Mr. Kelly being followed as treasurer by W. H. Eberhard. The present officers are: president, A. T. Findreng; vice president, Philip Schwebach; treasurer, W. H. Eberhard; secretary, J. C. Kelly; directors, W. J. Von Arx, E. J. Kingsley, George F. Lampert, H. F. Pagel and H. W. Klein.

A comparison of the various financial reports of the company shows an interesting growth in the business done. At the end of the first year, 1884, there had been issued 64 policies. The premiums received amounted to $350.69, which, after deducting the expenses and losses paid of $155.60, left $291.09 in the treasury. At the end of 1900, there were 1,360 policies in force. At the beginning of that year the company had $1,561.06 on hand. During the year it received $2,800.03 in premiums, and $39.91 in interest, making a total of $4,394.00 out of which the expenses and losses amounted to $4,027.88, leaving a balance of $366.12. At the close of 1910, there were 1,730 policies in force. At the beginning of the year the company had $2,329.32. During the year it received $5,719.83 in premiums and $61.80 in interest, making a total of $8,110.95, out of which $5,502.67 was paid in expenses and losses, leaving a balance of $2,208.28. At the close of 1918, there were 1,858 policies in force. At the beginning of the year the company had $6,116.01. During the year it received $11,057.80 in premiums and $185.17 in interest, making a total of $17,358.98, out of which $6,995.13 was paid in expenses and losses, leaving a balance of $10,363.85.

During its thirty five years of existence the company has levied only five assessments.

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