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

LA CRESCENT TOWNSHIP AND VILLAGE

La Crescent is the most northeasterly township in Houston County, and contains about 27 sections. It is bounded on the north by Winona County, on the east by the Mississippi River, on the south by Hokah township, and on the west by Mound Prairie township. Just across the river lies the flourishing city and busy railroad center of La Crosse. From the Mississippi the bottom lands extend well back into the township. Pine Creek flows diagonally through a characteristic valley from the northwest corner, and empties into Target Lake, a body of water in the southeast corner, about three quarters of a mile long and half as wide. The stream is fed almost exclusively by springs from the hillsides. In the southwestern part of the township there is a high ridge extending from Pine Creek Valley to that of Root River, but with ravines penetrating it at various points. The best farming land is in the valleys, which are exceptionally healthful. The ridges were settled later by German immigrants who found the strong clay soil capable of producing good crops.

The civilization of the township began with the coming of Peter Cameron in 1851. He was a native of New York who had come west at an early age, and had become a fur trader, for a time making his headquarters at Chicago, and later operating on the Mississippi. In 1842 he settled at La Crosse, where he did some lumbering and improving. Crossing the river in the spring of 1851, he built a large double log house in section 10, also acquiring 240 acres of land, and 300 acres more along the river. He did what he could to promote the building of a village, and in the spring of 1854 he and D. Richardson started a store in the Cameron house, putting in several hundred dollars' worth of goods, Mr. Richardson attending to the customers. In 1855 Mr. Cameron returned to La Crosse, where he died July 30, 1855, while erecting a saw mill. Mr. Cameron was a man of restless energy and vast conceptions, but had so many different interests that sortie of them perforce were left uncompleted at the time of his death. Among other things, it was his ambition to establish a city on the western bank of the river that should rival La Crosse, and even pass it in the race for supremacy, and to that end he began the construction of a canal from the river to the land available for a site. This canal began at the river in the lower part of section 13 and terminated near the center of section 14, at a point in Pine Creek where a fragmentary lake or slough makes well up to the first terrace. Though the lake is quite shoal in places, the bottom is soft, and it was thought that the passage of the steamers would deepen and preserve a channel. One steamer, 150 feet in length, was built in La Crosse, and launched, but owing to Mr. Cameron's death, the machinery was never put in, and the enterprise was abandoned.

In 1852, the year after Mr. Cameron's arrival, Thor Halverson, a Norwegian, made his appearance and settled in section 3. Though working away from home most of the time, at wood chopping and other occupations, he maintained his residence here until 1881, from time to time selling land, some of which was in the village.

In the same year, 1852, some immigrants started what was known as the Pine Creek Settlement, on Pine Creek, in the northwestern part of the township. Among them was Samuel Hooper, whose cabin was built on the county line, so that one half of it was in Winona County. He stayed, however, but two years, and his place passed into other hands.

In October, 1852, William Meyers started to improve a claim in section 6, but in the next year moved farther north in the same section, where he established a farm on which he died in 1873.

Another settler that year in the same section was F. Duren, who began improvements, but left in 1855 for Winona County. It is said that to escape the draft during the. Civil War, he returned to his native Germany.

Henry Wetgen also came in the summer of 1852 and started a farm in section 6, on which he lived for nearly twenty years. In October, 1853, he and his wife, Margaret Anna, had a daughter born to them, whom they named Christiana, and who afterwards became the wife of G. Baden, of Hokah. It is thought that this birth may have been the first in the township; it was, in any case, one of the earliest. Mr. Wetgen died in 1871, leaving his wife and two children, who kept up the property.

Section 6 received another in July, 1853, Johannes Tuininga, a native of Holland, locating in the southwestern corner. He proved a permanent settler and was still living there in the early eighties. At an early day, when physicians were scarce on the west side of the river, his wife was bitten by a rattlesnake. Having no money, he supposed it impossible to procure a physician, and so, in considerable agitation, he proceeded to apply the only domestic remedy of which he had heard. With a ton and a half of hay he had bought four fowls, and had raised twenty four chickens. These he killed one after another, and laying them open, applied them in turn to the bitten part, but without any alleviation of the symptoms. While the family were in despair, a stranger was seen coming up the road. He was informed of the emergency and asked if he were not a physician, though Mr. Tuininga, honestly enough, told him beforehand that he had no money to pay one. The gentleman, who was H. M. Rice, of St. Paul, was not a physician, but he gave Mr. Tuininga $10 and told him to go for one at once. The doctor arrived and Mrs. Tuininga recovered. Mr. Tuininga never forgot this act of kindness, and when, years afterwards, he saw Mr. Rice's name on a ticket at the polls for Governor, he voted the straight ticket of that party for the only time in his life.

Martin Cody, an Irishman, staked a claim in section 8, in 1853, arriving in the township July 30, the day after Mr. Tuininga. After living there a few years, he removed to the village, where he remained, being still a resident some thirty years later, and then one of the oldest men in the township. After the arrival of these settlers, others came more rapidly, most of them remaining and establishing permanent homes.

The earliest death of which there is any record was that of Catharine, the two year old daughter of Detrich Day, in the fall of 1854. The hardships of pioneer life were felt particularly by the young children of the early settlers, and the severity of the seasons, frequent lack of sufficient or suitable food, and difficulty of obtaining medical aid, caused many to perish in their early years. Those who survived infancy, however, usually grew up strong and hardy, their vigor being due, after a good heriditary, to a life spent mostly in the open air with abundant exercise.

On May 11, 1858, a meeting was called to perfect the organization of the township. On motion of A. J. Anderson, O. T. Gilman was called to the chair as temporary chairman, and A. H. Brayton moved that J. C. Pennington be the moderator, which prevailed. On motion of G. F. Potter, O. T. Gilman was appointed clerk. At 10 o'clock the polls were opened, and when they closed at 5 p. m. it was found that 140 votes had been cast and the following officers elected: Supervisors, D. Cameron (chairman) S. Day and P. S. Taft; clerk, M. W. Wilcox; assessor, William R. Mercer; collector, C. F. Adams; justices of the peace, George F. Potter and J. Stewart; constables, S. K. Clow and John Anderson; overseer of the poor, Thomas Minshall; road overseers, D. Cameron, Fred Welch and M. Van Sickle.

During the latter part of the Civil War the township, in common with other communities, voted bounties to volunteer soldiers, a meeting being held March 30, 1864, at which the following resolution was presented by G. F. Potter:

"Resolved: That the supervisors and the town clerk of La Crescent be, and they are hereby instructed and required to issue township orders to the amount of $200 for each volunteer who shall be duly accredited to the township of La Crescent, to and for a sufficient number of volunteers to fill the quota of said town, on the present and all future calls that may be made by the President of the United States for volunteers."

On the motion being put it was declared carried, with 59 in the affirmative and one in the negative. On the motion of George F. Potter, it was unanimously resolved that a special tax be levied to meet the obligations just incurred. Another special meeting of the board was called on Feb. 20, 1865, to confirm the action already taken, as a question had arisen as to whether the bounty would apply to subsequent calls. It was resolved to continue the bounty.

In 1863 an organization was effected called the "La Crescent Relief Club," to secure funds to pay enlisted men, that there might be no necessity for the dreaded draft. The sum of $4,800 was raised and paid out in bounties at the rate of $200 each to enlisted men. The amount, however, was returned by the township, so as to make an equitable burden upon the property holders.

A number of industrial enterprises secured an early start in various portions of the township. One of the earlier ones was a saw mill commenced in 1856 by Groff & Co. It was located on Pine Creek, in section 3, the power being secured by a dam thrown across the stream. The mill was 18 by 44 feet and two stories high, with a vertical saw propelled by a turbine wheel. It was completed and put into operation May 13, 1857, and developed a capacity of 1,000 feet of lumber a day. It was kept in more or less regular operation until about 1872, when it was sold to T. Casper. The building itself went to Hokah township, and the machinery beyond St. Cloud. The power was subsequently used by Groff & Co. to drive their flouring mill.

The Linganore flouring mill was built in 1859 not far from the old saw mill. As originally constructed it was 30 by 40 feet in ground dimensions, with an attic above the second story. It had at first a single run of stones turned by a reaction wheel made by the owners of the mill, Groff & Co.

The Burton sawmill was constructed in 1857 on the southwest quarter of section 6, by D. Burton, and was furnished with two sash saws and had plenty of water from Pine Creek. At times it had too much and was finally almost destroyed. An attempt was made to move it to a more favorable location eighty rods down the stream, but the reverses had so nearly broken up the proprietor that the project was abandoned.

About the time that the Burton mill was erected, another saw mill was put up by Samuel Michael on a branch of the creek in section 1. It had a single saw set in motion by an overshot wheel. This mill also was frequently damaged by freshets, and almost as frequently changed hands, each new proprietor hoping for better luck than his predecessor; but in 1866 a greater flood than usual put it completely out of business.

The La Crescent flouring mill was built early in the seventies by D. J. Cameron on his farm in section 9, on Pine Creek. It was a two story frame building, with four run of stones. A dam was constructed to secure a head of seven feet, but it was discovered that in order to maintain that amount the water was backed up to the race of the Toledo mill, and after a legal contest it was decided that the dam must be lowered two feet. The project was then abandoned.

The Toledo Woolen Mills started in 1865 when Thomas Fletcher and J. and N. Webster erected on Pine Creek, in the southeast quarter of section 6, a fine stone structure, three stories high, with a good basement, for the manufacture of yarns, flannels, blankets and kerseymeres. The machinery cost about $8,000, and included one set of cards 48 inches in width, six looms, a jack with 264 spindles, with shearing, fulling, and other appliances. In 1878 M. Webster bought out Mr. Fletcher and his brother and became sole proprietor. The local trade was supplied in a retail way, and three men with teams were kept on the road to dispose of the goods manufactured.

In 1860 C. J. Laugenbach put up a flouring mill, with two run of stone, near where the woolen mill was subsequently erected. It did good work until the fall of 1864, when it was destroyed by fire and the woolen mill occupied the power.

The village of La Crescent came into being largely as the result of the great natural advantages afforded by its site. Just north of its location the river bluffs sweep back in a wide curve, approaching the river again about a mile to the south, thus forming a crescent shaped basin, on the front of which lies the river bottom. Behind this is a terrace or bench, a pretty stretch of table land, and back of this another bench, of which the bluffs form the western boundary.

With such advantages, it became the haunt of man. The Mound Builders here left the curious earthworks which proclaim their one time presence.

Excavations have revealed the presence of ashes, bones, shells, broken pottery and other debris. The more modern Indians also found here a favorite camping place.

It was here that Peper Cameron, as already mentioned, built, in 1851, the double log house in which, in 1854, D. Richardson started a store.

Among the settlers who were attracted here who became conspicuous in the early history of the village were the members of the Gillett family. This family consisted of Mrs. Mary Gillett, a widow, her four sons, the two eldest of whom were named Harvey and William, and a daughter. They had come to La Crosse from Ohio, and having caught the small pox, and in some way lost their money, they found themselves in the pest house, entirely destitute. On arriving here they took the northeast quarter of section 10, the claim being entered in the mother's name, as the sons were unmarried. The two brothers took the first steps towards the platting of the village site, the first plat consisting of about forty acres on the southwest of the northeast of section 10. Having procured some oxen, during the following winter the Gilletts got out logs and cord wood, and afterwards broke up some land. The place was called Manton, and this part of the village still bears this name on the records. After the first plat had been made the sale of lots commenced, all the promoters being thoroughly imbued with the belief that their activities were the first steps in the founding of a great city.

In the fall of the same year, 1855, Col. William R. Mercer, of La Crosse, came over and built a hotel, the site chosen being that subsequently occupied by the La Crescent hotel, on the crest of the bench on Mississippi avenue. It was run by him for about two years. A general store was soon after started by John A. Anderson from Ohio, who erected a building, and in the same year Charles Sperry opened a blacksmith's shop. The Gilletts did a good business in selling lots until the spring of 1856, when, or soon after, they sold out, and retired in good circumstances to La Crosse, from there going to Hastings, where they made a permanent home.

The next promoters of the townsite of La Crescent were the members of the Kentucky Company. This company was organized in the spring of 1856 at Louisville, Ky., the principal original members being Jared Boyle, J. M. Bryant, Charles S. Waller, Thomas McRoberts and E. Randolph Smith.

The object of this company was to establish a city in the upper Mississippi valley. Making a thorough survey of the situation, they came to the conclusion that circumstances were favorable for the growth of a great city on the west bank of the Mississippi, near the southeast corner of what was then the Territory of Minnesota.

The townsite of La Crescent appeared to them to be ideal. Therefore they purchased the Gillett interests and thus became the possessors of all the site except the lots already sold or reserved. The whole tract was then laid out into lots and placed on the market, the corner lots being reserved for future use.

Backed by prominent men, and widely heralded throughout the country at a time when prices were inflated and townsites a popular speculation, the lots found a ready sale, many prominent men, especially in Kentucky, becoming heavy holders. Such men as George D. Prentiss, of the Louisville Courier; Will Bross of the Chicago Tribune; Gen. John C. Breckenridge; George B. McGoffin, afterward war governor of Kentucky; Henry Walter, of Chicago; John G. Allen, St. Louis; Col. A. G. Hodges, Louisville, Ky.; A. H. Bowman, Lexington, Ky.; G. A. Rockwell, and many others, purchased lots and were enthusiastic friends of the scheme.

In June of the year of organization, 1856, the principal stockholders visited the site of their new village. At a meeting held at the Tremont House, in La Crosse, these stockholders decided upon the present name.

In the days of Peter Cameron the place was known simply as Cameron's. The Gilletts had christened their village Manton. The Kentucky Company desired a name more characteristic and individual. In naming the village there was probably a combination of two ideas. One was the shape of the bluffs back of the village. The other was an association of thought with La Crosse across the river, the crescent of the Turks and the cross of crusaders having been rivals through the centuries. As a matter of fact, however, the name La Crosse has no connection whatever with the English word, cross, but was the French name of an Indian game, often played on the prairie now occupied by that city.

After this meeting, Thomas McRoberts remained in La Crescent as active agent and began selling lots on the spot. These lots, brought from $250 to $600 each. So intense was the spirit of speculation that an offer of $1,100 owned by a non resident was refused.

In 1857 a double and single store, and twelve dwelling houses were erected. Strangers were constantly arriving, there was talk of a great railroad of which La Crescent was to be the eastern terminus, and everything seemed favorable to the growth of a city.

But various causes were working to prevent the realization of these hopes. Except in high water, the village had not immediate steamboat landing. The company attempted to build a causeway from the bank of the river to the site of their village, but the work was damaged by the high water. A ferry was, however, put in, bringing to the village passengers who landed from the steamboat at La Crosse. Another cause which kept the village from growing was the policy of the promoters. As already stated, no corner lots were sold and the company retained all the most desirable locations for future use or sale. Few actual settlers could afford the price asked for the lots, the men of wealth living in various parts of the country who acquired the lots as a speculation did nothing to have the land occupied or improved.

However, it was some time before the hopes of the promoters were abandoned. The place recovered quickly from the panic of 1857, and the grading of the Southern Minnesota railroad brought men and traffic here. But the terminus of the road when the rails were laid was established some distance south of La Crescent, and the village languished.

When the railroad bridge to La Crosse was completed, advantage was taken of the new impetus to business thus promised, and many more lots were sold, one company platting an addition on the edge of the lake and marsh, which at seasons was under water, and another platting one on the hills and sides of the bluff.

In the early days two different private schools were started at La Crescent, but neither flourished long. The Carr Academy, a select school, was opened in 1857 by Elder Spencer Carr, a Baptist minister. A building was erected, and was so constructed as to be easily capable of enlargement should it become necessary. The higher branches were taught and some pupils from out of town were secured, which, with those in town, made up the total number of about eighteen. The school, however, was not a success, and the proprietor soon turned it into a drug store, and after a while moved to Wisconsin and later to Kansas. The La Crescent Female Seminary was an educational institution opened in 1861, Mrs. Rice and Mrs. Anderson being the teachers, assisted by Edwin Rice, a son of Mrs. Rice. A building erected by Charles Waller, of Chicago, was first occupied, and boarding accommodations for the twenty or thirty pupils were found in the old La Crescent Hotel. After the first year the entire establishment was moved to the hotel, the whole building being occupied, and additional pupils secured, there being thirty or forty boarders, with some day scholars from the village. At the end of two years they moved to Rochester and later the family went to California.

In the early eighties La Crescent village contained one general store kept by P. Ferguson, a small drug and confectionary store conducted by Thomas Minshall, the postmaster; a hotel, of which Mr. Sawyer was the proprietor; two blacksmith and wagon shops, and a shoe shop, a number of empty stores, and the railroad station, with its agent, express office and telegraph.


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