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


Town Histories

This township coincides with the government survey, and is the second from the Mississippi on the southern boundary of the county and state. It has Mayville on the north, Jefferson on the east, Allamkee County, Iowa, on the south, and Wilmington on the west. The town is drained by Winnebago Creek, which, with the township, gets its name from the Winnebago Indians who used to frequent this region. The main branch of this. stream rises near the northwest corner, and running south of east, leaves. the town about two and a half miles from the southern boundary on the east side. The valley of the river makes well up into the town and there is. the usual hill and dale so characteristic of the west bank of the Mississippi in this vicinity. Away from the creek there is the table land which makes. good farms.

The first man to stake out a claim in Winnebago Township was Freeman Graves, a native of Underhill, Vt., who, however, was. reared on a farm in New York state. In 1846 he came west as far as Columbia County,. Wisconsin, from which locality he started on foot in the early spring of 1851 for the new territory of Minnesota. Crossing the Mississippi at McGregor, he pursued his course to the north through Clayton and Allamakee counties, Iowa, until he found a place which filled his requirements for a home, and at once stuck his stakes for a claim of 200 acres on what afterwards proved to be a part of section 34, in Winnebago Township, and the rest in the state of Iowa. There this solitary pioneer put up a shanty on the south half of the southwest quarter of section 34, and after making some improvements returned to Wisconsin and induced some of his neighbors to accompany him back, which they did in October of the same year, prepared to remain through the winter. When the lines were run his friends were found to be in Iowa. In the winter of 1851-52 he returned to Wisconsin for his family, and Mrs. Graves thus became the first white woman in this region.

Another early settler was Asa Benson, from Pennsylvania, who at first selected some land on section 30, but soon after went over into the valley and located on section 22. His claim, as first located, was among the first on Portland Prairie.

In 1854 Asa Sherman, a native of Rhode Island, arrived in company with S. C. Perry, and together they pre-emptied quite a large amount of land. Mr. Sherman was afterwards drowned in the Mississippi River, as was believed at the time, while Mr. Perry left after living here several years.

David Salisbury, from Rhode Island, arrived in the fall of 1854, remained for some time with Mr. Sherman and finally bought him out.

Soon after this the German element began to arrive on the prairie, among the first to appear being F. Monk, William Schapper, F. Rhug, and Herman Carston. In the north part of the town John and Jacob Meyus came about 1855, and in time they established good farms. In the fall of 1854 Thomas Barry, a brother-in-law of Patrick Walsh, bought the northeast section 25, and remained, while Walsh moved to Jefferson after the war.

Michael Sheehan and Timothy McCarthy, who came in the spring of 1854, and took claims in sections 6, 7 and 16, were also permanent settlers. The Tippery brothers must have arrived in 1853, and put up a shanty a little south of that of Thomas Barry. E. D. Eaton made a claim on section 23, which included the site of Barber's mill. During the season Oscar Boomer became a partner with Eaton, and the two laid out a town and called it Watertown. In the spring of 1855 the property was purchased by Wyman Trask, except about three blocks, which were reserved. In the fall of 1855 Charles A. Coe came from Norway, Herkimer County, New York, and bought out the Tippery brothers. W. W. Doty also put in an appearance about the same time and formed a partnership with Coe to build a sawmill at Watertown. Coe and Doty went to New York state to procure the machinery. Trask got a large number of logs together in anticipation of the mill. In the spring of 1856, the mill machinery was shipped to Brownsville, but, some disagreement arising, the mill was never set up here, but finally went to Rochester. Trask had to turn his timber into rails and firewood.

At an early day the Hanson brothers, five of them, arrived from Norway, and secured claims on section 18.

The first birth in the township, of which there is any record was that of Patrick Sheehan, a son of Michael Sheehan, and occurred early in May, 1854. Louella Melvin, daughter of Joseph and Cordelia Melvin, was born on section 32, near Eitzen Village, on Feb. 7, 1857. She was a granddaughter of Eliakim and Elvira Laflin, and became the wife of Frank Willis, of Caledonia. The first death was that of old Mr. Spangler, in 1855, and he was buried on the bluff between the upper and lower mills. The first marriage was that of Albert Leach and Mrs. Martha McDonald, and was solemnized at the house of E. D. Eaton, a justice of the peace of the first precinct of the county, in the fall of 1854 or 1855.

It is supposed that the first log house put up in the valley was by Joseph Tippery and his brother William, which was in 1853. It was placed near the upper mill on section 23, where the cemetery now is, and near where there was at the time a ford across the creek. It was sold, as above mentioned, to Mr. Coe. In the spring of 1858 Peter McDonald lived in the house. He had two children, a son and a daughter, and that season the little boy was drowned in the spring branch near the house. This house was a source of considerable trouble afterwards as it was sold to I. C. Calkins, who moved it to the prairie, a quarter of a mile east of Eitzen, and placed it across the road south of J. A. Melvin's. Of course it made Melvin indignant to have his communications thus cut off, and the vendetta began in a modified Corsican style. Calkins proceeded to build a barn, which was burned on May 9, 1864. Melvin was arrested as an incendiary and held to bail to answer before the grand jury, but this tribunal found no bill against him. Melvin then proceeded against Calkins in a legal way and secured the arrest of him and his family, and he, securing a postponement of the case, took himself beyond the jurisdiction of the court, in May, 1865, and this practically ended the local war.

The first blacksmith's shop in town was started by Thomas Biggs, a practical workman, who built shop on the farm of J. A. Melvin on section 32, in 1862, near Eitzen, and was carried on by him for several years. T. H. Templeton, in 1862 or 1863, built a shop on section 25, but his fire only continued to burn about a year. The next man to erect a forge was B. J. Smith, in 1867, near the upper mill, who after hammering away a while sold to Mr. Kemp. About the year 1870 Charles Vorpole started a shop at Eitzen.

The first mill in the valley was the "Upper Mill," which was built of stone in the years 1860 and. 1861 by Ensign McDonald, but he sold it to McMillen & Rose before any machinery had been introduced. The new firm began to put in machinery, but sold to Sevin & Lindburg about the year 1865, who finally got it into operation. The next year Sevin sold his share to Charles Johhson, and then, Lindburg dying, his widow sold her share to McMillan & Clark, and the firm became Johnson, McMillan & Clark. During the summer of 1877 the firm razed the old mill to the ground, and enlarging the basement, placed a two-story frame building upon it, put in new and improved machinery, and in the fall of that year were again in operation.

The "Lower Mill" a stone structure, was built in 1865 by Alexander and Davis Beck and George Cooper, the latter being a practical miller.

The first store in Winnebago Township was located in the mill building on section 22, and was kept by Ensign McDonald.

The next stock of merchandise to be opened up was in Semfer's building at Eitzen, the proprietor being Mr. Hilbert. About 1866 C. Bunge started a store in a log house. In 1873 H. F. Bucholz opened a store near Eitzen, but he was financially submerged in 1878, after a five years' struggle. Previous to this, however, in 1866 or 1867, W. R. Balloe built a store near the upper Winnebago Mills, and rented it to Oleson & Co., who ran a grocery and dry goods store for two years, when they failed. T. B. Barber in 1874 erected a two-story building near the lower mill, on section 23, to be used for store purposes. In the spring of 1881 C. Bunge commenced the manufacture of brick, and during the season burned two kilns containing in the aggregate 150,000 brick.

The first town meeting was held May 11, 1858, at the house of E. Laflin, on section 32. Mr. Laflin took the chair, and Freeman Graves, the senior resident, was elected moderator, and Asa P. Beman, clerk. A motion to proceed to the election of town officers prevailed. The polls were kept open from 9:50 a. m. to 5:00 p. m., the result of the balloting being as follows: Supervisors: Joseph A. Melvin, chairman, Fred Kolhmeier, and Edward Lynch; clerk, Lovel Hougton; assessor, Lark E. Laflin; collector, Harvey E. Jones; overseer of the poor, John Tourtelotte; justices of the peace, Asa P. Beman and Herman Carston; constables, Frederick Ruhe and James H. Templeton; overseer of roads, Freeman Graves. There must have been 28 persons present, as nearly all the, candidates had 27 votes each. A motion to have the next town meeting at Lovel Houghton's was carried. Soon after this three road districts were arranged by the town officers, and the following overseers appointed: Wyman Trask, Michael Sheehan, and Freeman Graves.

Eitzen is a flourishing village on the state border. Conrad Laufer had a farm house in 1865 and occasionally kept travelers. In 1867 he opened a saloon and arranged to accommodate, in a more suitable way, his increasing trade. That same year Charles Hilbert, of La Crosse, put in a small stock of general merchandise, but before long he failed and his goods were sold at auction in Caledonia.

About the same time C. Bunge, Jr., procured a small stccck of goods and displayed them in an old log cabin, it being the place in which the first town meeting was held. His success was such that he purchased a larger building from Laufer, moved it across the street, put in a larger stock, and continued to enjoy a large and increasing trade.

In 1871 Mr. Laufer erected a commodious hotel at a prime cost of $3,000 besides the furniture. In 1871 W. B. Johnson erected a hotel near the lower mill.

In 1868, on Aug. 28, C. Bunge, Jr., received the appointment of postmaster at Eitzen. The office was first in the old log cabin, but was transferred into the new store on his removal into it.

In 1858 an office was established on section 22, called Winnebago Valley. James Langmuir was appointed postmaster. The mail was due once a week. Mr. Langmuir held the office until in 1874, Edward Stevens was appointed, who kept it at his farm house for a few months. Then T. B. Barber became assistant, and the office was removed to the store at the lower Winnebago mill.

Wilmington post office was established at an early date, probably about 1855. Alex Batchellor was appointed postmaster and David Salisbury, deputy. The office was at a farm house in section 80. In about a year Mr. Salisbury moved away and was succeeded by Mr. Sherman as deputy, who attended to the business under Mr. Batchellor until J. G. Cook was regularly appointed, when the office was moved to his residence on section 25, Wilmington Township, and during this time the name was changed from Portland Prairie to Wilmington. In 1863 R. E. Shumway received an appointment as postmaster, and the office went to his residence on section 36. There he remained four years, then went to section 25, and in 1868 to section 30 in the township of Winnebago.

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