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


Town Histories

Houston township lies on the northern tier of townships, being the third from the Missisippi River. On the north lies Winona county, while on the east is Mound Prairie township, on the south Sheldon and Yucatan, and on the west Money Creek and Yucatan. It is made up of parts of three government townships. On the southwest its outline is irregular, owing to a considerable tract, containing five whole sections and parts of three other sections, that projects out to the westward like a somewhat blunt wedge driven between the townships of Money Creek and Yucatan. Aside from this parallelogram with its greatest length running from north to south. Its arrangement is such that it takes in the valleys of the water courses consisting of the Root River and its South Fork, and Silver Creek, a branch coming down from the north to unite with Root River near the eastern boundary of the town. The navigation of the river was cut off at an early date by the erection of mills and bridges, and later by the diminishing of the water supply. The new drainage ditch, however, has deepened the channel, making a pleasant route for launches, row boats and canoes.

The projecting sections on the west, give Houston township in its southern part a width of eight miles, while its width above the two southern tiers is four miles, and its length from north to south seven miles. The river enters the township in its most western section, and flows easterly through the southern part, passing just to the north of Houston village. Its valley takes the name of the river, while that of Silver Creek is known as Looney Valley, being thus named after one of the early settlers. The South Fork of Root River enters the main stream in section 34, just east of Houston village, coming from Sheldon township. The valley of the South Fork is known as Swede Bottom, as most if not all of its early settlers were natives of Sweden. Along these principal valleys there are roads leading to the village, which is thus rendered easy of access from all parts of the township.

The soil In the valleys is of a peculiar richness, consisting of a dark, clayey loam, and as the surface is usually level or slightly rolling, these valley lands furnish many ideal locations for farms, which have been long established, especially near the upper part of the streams where the best soil is found. A little way back from the streams the land frequently rises into considerable bluffs, which form the boundaries of elevated plateaus reaching back to the next valley. The ascent is usually abrupt and continues for several hundred feet, while the ridges are usually too narrow for successful cultivation, though here and there some good farms are found on them. On the river bottoms there was formerly in many places a large growth of good timber, such as oak, elm and walnut, and though it has since been greatly reduced in quantity there are many good groves and the hillsides are for the most part well wooded.

When the first white settlers arrived they found a band of Winnebago Indians living in a score or two of rude habitations situated on a bend in the river near the lower village.

The first white settler in Houston township is supposed to have been W. G. McSpadden, who arrived June 14, 1852, having tramped up the valley from La Crosse. He staked out eighty acres on the eastern part of the southeast quarter of section 33, just above the confluence of the South Fork of the Root River with the main stream, which was then easily fordable from the Mississippi. Having secured this choice location, he returned to La Crosse, where he operated a ferry, doing all he could to persuade passing immigrants to locate in the Root River settlement. For two years he came and went, dividing his time between the two places, and then took up his permanent residence here, though not on his original claim. On his second visit he brought with him a Norwegian named Ole Knudson, who took a claim of 160 acres adjoining Mr. McSpadden's on the east and erected a shanty which was afterwards found to be in section 34 on Mr. McSpaddens' land, and which in time developed into a store.

A number of other settlers came in 1852, including Walter Webster, who settled on the southwestern part of section 33, but sold out the next year to David Johnson. The latter made improvements and built a blockhouse, but later left the county. Lars Johnson, a Swede, in 1853 bought 160 acres of David Johnson, to the west of the latter's place. E. K. Dwyer, Charles Case and William Webster were early settlers, Mr. Case selling out to T. H. Conniff. A few others secured locations in the valley, and the place became known as "The Forks."

In Looney valley the earliest settler was Henry Hyatt, who arrived in 1852, and located on the eastern branch of Silver Creek. He expected to secure other lands for his sons and relations, but as they did not arrive, he soon left. While he was still here John S. Looney arrived with three Sons and put up a shanty on section 27. He was an energetic man who had been to the lead mines of Galena and also spent some time at La Crosse; but after remaining here six years he left for Dübuque, whence he went to Illinois. His sons all secured land in the vicinity, but James left about the same time as his father. Abraham and Corydon spent most of their time on the Mississippi River, Abraham finally settling in Winona, and Corydon going to the Pacific coast. This family gave the name to the valley.

Charles Gainer came with the Looneys, taking land in section 23, where he remained until the others had left. A. B. Hunt, Isaac Thompson and Adam Coon became permanent residents. Mr. McSpadden established a valuable water power on Silver Creek. In 1853 Samuel Cushon located on section 25 in the western part of the township. Near his place stands a high solitary peak, fdrmerly a landmark for travelers, which was named Cushon Peak. This settler, however, left in 1854, selling his land to Mr. Hendrickson.

In section 31 is an Indian mound where in former days the remains of an Indian chief of some distinction was buried. The body was found by the early settlers sitting on this elevation, supported by some stakes driven into the ground and a wolf-proof pen built over him. For years the Indians were accustomed to visit the spot and show their respect by leaving offerings of tobacco or some other present supposed to be acceptable to the deceased. The tomb was finally demolished, the chief's skull coming into possession of an ethnologist, who found that it. indicated a good mental development. William Butterfield, who had taken a claim in section 31, and who died in July, 1854, was buried on the spot. A few years later, during the war, a Fourth of July celebration was held there and a liberty pole planted.

In 1853 a Swedish settlement was started on the east bank of the South Fork of Root River, from which the place derived the name of Swede Bottom. The pioneers of this movement were John and Abraham Anderson, Ole Benson, his son, C. A. Benson, Lars Redding and others. While still in their native land they had seen an account of the Root River valley which was published in a Swedish paper and which had caused their emigration to the locality.

During the same year many others located near the "Forks," among the early arrivals being John Moore, Thomas Hogarty, Lawrence Lynch, Harvey McAdams, Albert Olson, H. T. Strafford and Morris Farmin.

As nearly as can be ascertained the first birth in the township was that of Jennie, daughter of David and Johanna Johnson, and took place in January or February, 1854. She died when ten or twelve years old near Red Wing, this State.

The first death, it is said, was that of Abraham Anderson, who passed away in August, 1853, soon after his arrival here. He was an old man of 73 years, and was buried in a mound in section three. Other deaths were those of Mr. Butterfield, previously mentioned, and of Augusta Johnson, a sister of David Johnson, an unmarried girl of twenty years, who was accidentally shot in her brother's house in 1854.

The earliest marriage of which any record has been found was that of Ole Benson and Mrs. Sarah Anderson, who were united at the house of Lars Johnson on the western part of Houston village.

The first business of the pioneers was to produce something to eat for themselves and families, and it was several years before they had sufficient land cultivated to raise anything for the outside market.' The first crop 'they raised for sale was wheat, the land producing thirty or more bushels to the acre. But in time the crop grew less and more attention was paid to corn and other products, with satisfactory results.

A ferry across the Root River was established in 1858, on section 30. It was a rope ferry with a self propeller, consisting of a lateral wing so arranged that the current would carry it over in whatever direction the boat was headed. This contrivance was later abandoned and muscular power resorted to as a substitute. Still later a bridge was erected.

The earliest manufacturing enterprise in the township was undoubtedly a sawmill, which was built in 1855 by W. G. McSpadden on the south ball of the southeast quarter of section 23. It stood on the bank of Silver Creek, at a point where there was a fine undeveloped water-power of twelve feet head, an advantage Mr. McSpadden had previously noticed. By 1856 he had the mill in operation. It was furnished with an old fashioned vertical-frame saw, driven directly by a crank connection with a flutter wheel, and could run through 1,000 feet of inch boards in a day. Eli Baker bought an interest 'in the mill, but soon resold to Mr. McSpadden, who ran it alone for a time. It was afterwards operated by different persons up to the close of the war, when it was finally shut down as a sawmill.

In 1865-66 Mr. McSpadden put up a flouring mill at the old saw mill dam, securing about 17 feet fall. This mill was 30 by 40 feet, two stories high, with a basement, and was provided with a turbine wheel. It did good work until 1874, when it was swept away by a flood. With characteristic enterprise, Mr. McSpadden at once put up another and a superior mill of the same dimensions, providing it with three run of stones, with an oat meal attachment. It was driven by an improved turbine wheel under a 20-feet head, and had a capacity of 50 barrels a day. This mill was finally destroyed by fire in December, 1878. It was known as the Wakefield Flouring Mill.

About 1867 a sawmill was started about one mile east of Houston village, on the South Fork of Root River in section 34, and was completed two years later by E. W. and Charles Hoyt. In 1871 the property was bought by N. A. Redding, who improved it. The mill had a circular saw and could turn out about 3,000 feet a day. In 1875 Mr. Redding commenced the erection of a flouring mill adjoining the sawmill. The new structure was 30 by 40 feet, two stories in height, and had two run of stones, with a capacity of 30 barrels a day. It had a head of six feet, the power being transmitted by a turbine wheel. In 1879 a run of feed stones was put in, and the establishment was run as a custom mill, under the name of the Redding Flouring and Saw Mill.

Another early industrial enterprise was established in 1867 or 1868, a shop being put up on the farm of Charles Smith on section 36, in the western part of the town. It was furnished as a blacksmith shop, but after a while an engine and turning-lathe were put in, converting the establishment into a machine shop, which was conducted by Simeon Todd. In 1872 Mr. Todd and Mr. Smith erected a saw mill, with a good sized steam-engine for power, which operated a reciprocating saw. After two years the enterprise was abandoned and some of the machinery sold, the rest being left along the roadside to take care of itself.

Another enterprise started by W. G. McSpadden was an amber cane syrup manufactory. For this purpose he procured a plantation cane crusher, with a capacity of 200 gallons of syrup a day, and this was connected with an overshot waterwheel, utilizing the old dam. He also put in a large Cook evaporator.

About four or five years after the earliest settlers had staked out their claims, the impulse of speculation caused the laying out of a number of town sites, of which much was expected. Not only was the original village of Houston started, but also a number of other hamlets.

One was in Looney Valley. A townsite company was organized by Messrs. Looney, Hunt and Wilson, and a tract of forty acres was set aside, 8urveyed and platted by Isaac Thompson in 1857. A postoffice, called Looneyville had been established in 1855, with D. D. Wilson as postmaster. The proposed village was located at the cross roads in the center of the west half of the northwest of section 26, and the east half of the northeast of section 27, twenty acres lying north of the east and west road and ten acres on either side of the north and south road.

In 1855 a store had been opened by Corydon Looney, with about a wheelbarrow full of goods. P. D. Wilson, who soon succeeded to the proprietorship of this mercantile emporium, materially increased the stock, and in 1856 erected a large log building. He later put up a frame building which served the double purpose of store and residence. In 1858 the business was closed opt and Mr. Wilson went to Money Creek. He was an enterprising and public spirited citizen, and afterwards served his fellow citizens as state representative.

As for the village itself, the only evidence of it in after years were the corner lot stakes which the mowing machines occasionally encountered. The postoffice was discontinued in 1858.

Soon after Looneyville had been mapped out, another town site company sprang into existence, among the projectors of which were Messrs. Snow, Looney, Riley, Polleys, and Harvey Gillett. The site selected was south of Looneyville, on the southeast of section 27, and the northeast of 34. Its founders were satisfied that the railroad, which had already been projected, would pass through it on that side of the river, but it was finally built on the other side. The city was duly platted and recorded under the name of St. Lawrence, and for a long time the land was assessed as city property.

Houston Village had its beginning in 1856, when W. G. McSpadden platted a townsite on his farm which he called Winfield, in honor of Gen. Winfield Scott. It was located on the east eighty of the southwest quarter of section 33.

A practical beginning was made by the establishment of a blacksmith shop by Henry Wilson. A place of refreshment was also opened. In the same section, west of this plat, an effort was made to start a hamlet known as Crookston.

The west half of the southwest quarter of section 34 was owned by Ole Knudson, together with a small strip on section 33. West of this there was a tract of 160 acres taken by David Johnson, a Swede, in 1853, and west of this, 160 acres was taken by Lars Johnson. Both subsequently sold to Mons Anderson of La Crosse. David Johnson's claim was originally taken by William Webster, who sold it in 1853 for $30. On this tract grew up the village of Houston.

When the Southern Minnesota Railroad was laid through here, Mr. Anderson gave 70 acres of land, and thus secured the station, which caused the removal of the village to the new location. This removal began early in the autumn of 1866, being started by Andrew Forsyth. The original village "Old Houston," or "Lower Houston," was soon practically deserted, so far as business interests were concerned.

The first regular store in Houston was opened by Ole Knudson in 1854. He brought his goods up from La Crosse on a keel boat, which he owned, and with which he also did a transportation business. In 1858 Mr. Brown started a second store, which he operated for a year. Isaac Abrahamson also opened a store in 1858, which he stocked with about $500 worth of goods, purchased from Mons Anderson, for whom he had worked 'in La Crosse. A blacksmith shop was started by Peter Erickson in 1856. In the following year Mr. Hoyt opened a hotel, and in 1858 another hotel was started by Lawrence Lynch. At one time a ship yard was in active operation near the bridge, and quite a number of steamers were built.

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