Saratoga township embraces township 105, range 10. This township lies in the extreme southwestern corner of
Winona county, having Olmsted county on the west and Fillmore county on the south. Though the face of the country
is somewhat broken along its western front, it contains some fine farming land. The soil upon the prairie is a
deep vegetable loam, with a clay subsoil; but in the oak openings it is of a lighter character, a sandy loam intermixed
with gravel. This latter is a quicker, warmer soil All the valuable farming lands of the township may be included
under one or the other of these classes of soil. The western portion of the township is well watered.
First Arrivals. In the spring of 1852, E. B. Drew, C. R. Coryell and W. H. Coryell, of the Minnesota City colony
reached Saratoga and selected claims in what is now known as the Blair settlement. They never, however, located
thereon. The permanent settlers began to arrive later.
Land Office Records. The first claims to land in Saratoga township were filed in 1855. Those who filed that year
were as follows, the section being given first, the name of the claimant next, and the date of filing last. In
case the settler had land in more than one section, only one section is given.
One, John L. Blair, July 10; 2, Chas. L. Blair, July 10; Luke Blair, July 10; 3, Hiram Harding, May 22; Silas H.
Phelps, May 28; Henry Omey, May 22; John Emerson, April 10; Chas. Gerrish, August 7; 4, Lysander Kately, October
2; Ebenezer S. Harvey, April 13; 8, Ara Candee, October 2; 9, Benj. H. Wood, September 29; 10, Allen Whipple, October
12; 11, Jno. W. Sturgis, November 7; 15, Ambrose Johnson, December 31; 17, James Walker, August 21; 18, Alvin F.
Durham, October 12; 28, Nelson Canfield, October 12; 31, Thomas Doland, November 7.
Early Events. The first white child born in the township was George N. Blair, son of Geo. W. Blair, born July 20,
1855. Following him was a son of Gilman French, born in the year 1855, Geo. D. French, son of John S. French, born
February 6, 1856; John M. Blair, son of John T. Blair, born in 1856; Otto Phelps, born some time in the fall of
The first death in the township was that of a non resident, Rev. Angel Wright, who, following some horse thieves
into this section from Iowa, was taken sick and died in Saratoga village, some time in the summer of 1855. The
first death of an actual resident was that of Justen Braddock, early in August, 1856. Harriet Warren died April
29, 1857; an infant son of George Blair's, July 1, 1857; a child of Henry Olney's about the same time, and Kate
Flannigan in the following September. These last four were buried in what is known as Worth cemetery, the others
in Saratoga cemetery, but all within the bounds of the township.
On the night before Christmas, 1856, a brother of Mrs. William Reeves, traveling from High Forest, Olmsted county,
passed through Saratoga village, warmed himself at the hotel of Moulton &. Dixon, and notwithstanding the warning
of Mr. Dixon, concluded to try and reach his sister's house, five miles distant, despite the severe storm and cold.
This man was found frozen to death on section 9, by Charles Gerrish, on Christmas morning, one half a mile from
his house, one and one fourth miles from Mr. Reeves'. Mr. Gerrish took charge of the body without waiting for a
coroner, and took him to Saratoga for identification.
The first marriage celebrated within the township was that of Lester Becker and Shnah Littlefield, December 25,
1855. The' marriage of William Smith and Jane Fullerton, residents of the township, was performed at Chatfield
at least ten months earlier, about the middle of February, 1855. Following these was the marriage of Allen Whipple
and Lois Harding, November 8, 1865, and that of Samuel Burns and Jane Flemming, at probably an earlier date than
the fall of 1856, but nothing positive can be ascertained in relation thereto.
The first frame farm buildings in Saratoga township were erected on the claim of Luke Blair, on the northwest quarter
of section 2. These were a frame barn, 16 by 24 feet, with fourteen foot posts, and a frame dwelling 16 by 24,
with eight foot posts. These buildings were erected in the spring of 1855. The frame dwelling of H. G. Cox, built
of oak plank, was erected in 1857. The first sawmill was built in the winter of 1856-57 by H. G. Cox and Vincent
Hix for George Hayes and Lewis Smith. It was situated about one and one half miles southeast from the village of
Troy, on Trout run. The first gristmill was built in 1857, by Joseph and Samuel Musser, who brought their millwrights
with them from Pennsylvania. The first crop of grain grown in the township, as nearly as now known, was on the
Wheeler claim, the northwest quarter of section 5.
As early as 1854-55, Harvey & Broughton, and the following year Broughton & Andrews, kept small stocks
of goods, groceries and supplies on the ridge on the north line of the township. In the fall of 1856, H. M. Clark
brought in a small stock of groceries and crockeryware, and started business in Saratoga village. This stock was
sold the following spring to Dixon & Moulton and merged into the general store established by them in the spring
Rev. Gardner K. Clark was the first minister to settle in the township. He came in the fall of 1866 (with his son
H. M.) and the first church service (Congregational) was held in Gates' log house. In 1857 the church was built.
The first hotel in the township was built and kept by Thomas P. Dixon, and J. P. Moulton, who at a later date represented
Olinsted county in the state legislature, and for six years was receiver of the land office at Wellington, Minn.
The first postoffice was established at Saratoga in the fall of 1856. Thomas P. Dixon was commissioned postmaster,
and, with the exception of two years during the latter part of Buchanan's adminstration, held the office until
he resigned in April, 1882, the date of his removal from Saratoga to St. Charles. His removal from the office in
1858 and the appointment of John O'Leary as his successor, was effected on political grounds and mainly through
the influence of the Chatfield land office.
The first physician who located in the township was John C. Dixon, who taught school in the little settlement
of Saratoga village during the winter of 1856-57, commencing practice as a physician in the spring of the latter
The first schoolhouse in the township was built by voluntary subscription in the summer of 1856, on the town plat
of Saratoga, near the church, and was first occupied that fall, when Dr. Dixon was employed as teacher. The first
school taught in the township was opened in Charles Gerrish's house, on section 9. This was a double log house,
and in one of these rooms, the south one, the school was opened in the summer of 1856 for a term of three months.
The teacher's name was Helen Hewitt, and there were twenty seven pupils on her school register.
Organization. The formal organization of the township was effected under the new state government, May 11, 1858,
at Troy, a small village and postoffice in the southwestern part of the township, at which time the usual officers
were elected. Luke Blair and Thomas P. Dixon were appointed judges of election, and J. P. Moulton and E. W. Day,
clerks. The whole number of ballots cast was 146. Luke Blair, James Walker and Robert Nesbit were elected supervisors;
J. C. Dixon, town clerk; E. S. Harvey, assessor; D. Durham, collector of taxes; Thos. P. Dixon and Oscar Kately,
justices of the peace; Phelps and Alvin Durham, constables; Geo. W. Crane, overseer of the poor, and L. B. Smith,
overseer of roads. The township was named Saratoga, on account of the beautiful natural springs in its western
section. The names of Clyde and Afton were also proposed.
Claim Troubles. The members of the land claim society whose operations in St. Charles have been noted, were also
active in Saratoga. In after years S. B. Dickson told of a pathetic case. Mr. Dickson was in Winona, in November,
1855, at the time of the land sales. There was there at that time an old gentleman who had made a claim of a quarter
section of land in Saratoga, and a bona fide settler on the same and entitled to bid it off; another person bid
$1.25 per acre, and cried "settle." The old gentleman then raised the bid five cents and cried "settle,"
upon which one of the club society told him if he did not withdraw his bid, he would put him into the river. The
old gentleman refused to do so. The ruffians seized him and were dragging him toward the river when he drew a revolver
and shot one of them, wounding him in the thigh. Another man was wounded in the groin. In the affray the old gentleman
had his thumb shot off. He was trodden down by the gang and severly injured in the breast. He finally succeeded
in getting up and taking refuge in the land office, where the mob tried to get hold of him, but was prevented by
the officers. In about two weeks he died.
Blair Reminiscences. John T. Blair has many interesting stories to tell of the early days. Mr. Blair arrived in
Saratoga township, April 8, 1855. At that time there were only eight settlers in the town, but that summer quite
a few people came in and took farms. Most of them were from the eastern states; some were of Scotch blood. The
winter of 1855-56 was very severe. There was no thawing weather for ninty days. The postoffice was Winona until
1856 when Worth postoffice was established with Mr. Blair as postmaster. He held the position twenty nine years.
The nearest trading point was Winona. The cost of provisions was high. Flour sold for $5.00 per hundred pounds;
salt pork for 18 cents a pound; sugar, 12 1/2 cents a pound; calico from 25 to 40 cents a yard. Interest was from
24 to 60 per cent. annually. The first caucus in the town was held on the open prairie, on the southwest quarter
of section 10. Judd Colton was elected chairman and Thomas P. Dixson, secretary. P. H. Thurber was the first settler
in Saratoga village and gave it its name from a large spring at that place. When Minnesota was admitted as a state,
the question arose as to what the township should be called. One party, headed by S. S. Beman desired to call it
Clyde. Another party headed by Seth Blair and James Walker desired to call it Saratoga. At that time John O'Leary
kept a hotel and sold intoxicants in the village. He agreed to give up the sale of liquor if the town were named
Saratoga, and he kept his promise The first board of supervisors consisted of Luke Blair, Robert Walker and Robert
Nesbit. Jury service was an important event in the early days. Mr. Blair was drawn on a jury with a man named Caine
from Fremont, and another man from Warren. They had to walk through the snow to Winona in March. Their combined
funds amounted to 25 cents. They were to receive $1.00 a day and mileage for jury duty. On their arrival they had
considerable difficulty in finding a place to stay. Finally the man who took them in made them turn over to him
their county orders for mileage and jury service. The orders were worth Only about 70 cents on the dollar, the
county being nearly bankrupt. Mr. Blair states that in those days he never saw a juryman under the influence of
alcohol although whiskey at that time cost only 25 cents a gallon. The first fair in the county was held in the
eastern part of Saratoga by the people of Fremont and Saratoga. J. T. Blair was president of the organization and
John Currie, secretary.
Fruit Raising. C. L. Blair is a pioneer in fruit raising in the western part of the county. In the spring of 1855
he and his father, Luke Blair, set out apple trees on the Blair farm. For this purpose they chose the hardiest
New England apples. The Rhode Island Greening, the Strawberry Greening, the Early Harvest and several russet varieties
were selected. Four different varieties of pears, some cherries, and some cultivated plums were also set out. N.
M. Cross was another early grower in Saratoga township. Some of the hardiest of the trees that the Blairs planted
started bearing in 1862. About 1867 or 1868, C. L. Blair set out a thousand trees, including the Duchess, the Oldenberg
and the Ben Davis varieties. In 1872 there came a very severe winter. About this time the mice and the rabbits
also became troublesome. To guard against this latter trouble, Mr. Blair made tree protectors about two feet high
constructed of lath and wire. In 1880, Mr. Blair began to ship apples to the north and west. In 1896 he set out
1,000 trees of the Peerless variety. Mr. Blair states that the first nursery in his part of the county was the
McHenry nursery started shortly after the Civil War.