Becker County, Minnesota

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Detroit Lake History

Duluth, Minnesota
Published December 02, 1871

The New England Military Colony At Detroit Lake Minnesota

We have several times in our paper referred to this Colony: in its first inception when the Committee of Exploration visited Duluth enroute to the Red River country to discover a proper point for settlement and subsequently, at various times, have mentioned its progress. During the past week, we have had a visit from Capt. Wm. C. Roberts, the General Agent of the Colony, residing at present at Detroit Lake, and Capt. Chapin, one of the original exploring committee and one of the most active men of the Colony. Capt. Roberts we found to be a very pleasant gentleman, of evident capacity; and to Mayor Markell he presented a letter of credence, from the Mayor of Boston, showing him to be a member of the Common Council of that city and a reliable man. Capt. R. informed us that the prospects of the town of Detroit Lake and the New England Military Colony settled in its vicinity, and owning the most of Township 139, Range 41, are first-rate in every respect. It seems probable that the Oak Lake town and station on the Northern Pacific R. R., will be abandoned-the most of its nomadic population having already scattered westward. The telegraph office that was at Oak Lake has been moved to Detroit Lake, and the depot house is going up there. Capt. R's immediate business in this direction was in the first place to purchase 200,000 feet of lumber for the Colony, which he effected at $11 up to $17 per thousand feet-most favorable figures indeed, and next to arrange for its transportation westward by the N. P. cars as speedily as possible. At our request Capt. R. sketched off for the Minnesotian a history of the enterprise, and its present condition, as follows:

The Detroit Lake Colony
One of the points of interest to which the attention of Soldiers and other citizens of New England desiring to settle on lands in the west on the N. P. R. R. has been directed, is the Township of Detroit Lake, in Becker County, Minnesota, about 210 miles west of Duluth and 40 miles east of the valley of the Red River of the North; and the lands in that vicinity are now being rapidly settled upon, mostly by New England men, who are taking them up by Pre-emption or under the Homestead Laws.

In the month of May, 1871, an Association was formed by Soldiers of the late war to make available for themselves and families the act passed by Congress giving them 160 acres of the Reserved [or $2.50 acre] lands on the lines of Railroads running through the far western States and Territories. It was organized under the title of the New England Military and Naval Bureau of Migration: President, Col. George H. Johnston; Treasurer, Capt. W. C. Roberts; Secretary, James M. Johnston; with Vice Presidents and a Board of Directors.

A Committee was then appointed consisting of Messrs. Chapin, Sanderson and Day, to visit the west and find a good location for a Colony.

This Committee traveled through the middle and western parts of Minnesota until they reached the Red River-of-the-North; and then they traveled back eastward along the proposed route of the Northern Pacific Road until they struck Detroit Lake.

Here they found a charming country: the soil, water, timber and scenery seemed everything that could be desired; the Township bordering on the belt of timber known as the "Detroit Woods" twelve miles wide and extending as far north as the British line; rolling lands, very fertile, and nearly every quarter section containing upland, meadow, timber and either lake-pond or a stream of running water.

Two of the party remained in this arable paradise and one returned to report to the Association.

There were, when the Committee made the inspection of this Township, a few parties upon it known as "squatters"; who offered to sell their claims or improvements at a very small figure. They found there, also, quite a nice log hotel kept by M. M. Tyler and affording fair accommodations for travelers.

After the Committee had reported at Boston, arrangements were made for passenger fare and freight transportation at low rates; and during the summer and fall about forty or more families came out; experiencing many difficulties, especially those having small children and bringing household goods; the Railroad then not reaching within forty or more miles of the place, (though now trains pass through daily, and the Railroad is nearly completed to the Red River.)

As those thus already located there were so well satisfied with the country, a Company was next formed within the Association, styled the "Western Land Improvement Company of the New England Military and Naval Bureau of Migration": and a contract was made with the Northern Pacific Road to purchase the sections in the Township belonging to them.

Of this Land Improvement Company Col. Geo. H. Johnston of Boston was appointed the Trustee, and Capt. W. C. Roberts the General Agent, to be located at Detroit Lake.

Arrangements have been already made to forward one hundred or more families early in the spring; and the able and efficient Land Company Commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railroad has arranged for their transportation at low rates, and shown a disposition to do all in his power for their comfort and convenience in passing over the Railroad. The resident General Agent for the Company has just purchased a large quantity of lumber at the mill, near Thompson, for the use of the Colony, and preparations are being made to build a church, school house, hotel, stores and other buildings.

Col. Johnston has returned to Boston and is engaged in inducing manufacturers and mechanics-to be married men as far as possible-to come early in the spring and start all branches of business.

Of the rapid growth of this place there is no doubt. With a wide extent of agricultural country for fifty miles around, all of the finest soil, interspersed with rivers, lakes and woods; with the many roads centering at this point-the stage road from Otter Tail to White Earth Reservation; the Railroad to Red River, the junction of the Pembina Branch R. R. and of the 15 mile branch or "switch" from Pelican Rapids [Lord Gordon's Colony;] all constitute reasons for believing that this, eventually, will be one of the largest and most flourishing towns between Duluth and the Red River of the North. When spring opens it is not doubted that we shall see such a tide of emigration coming over the Northern Pacific towards this fertile region and locality such as never before was witnessed in the settling up of our vast country; building up thriving towns and villages on every hand as if by magic.

God speed the day when this Northern Pacific Road shall be completed; for then we shall have a new New England belting its line from Lake Superior to the Pacific Ocean. R.
[Minnesotian-Herald, Duluth, Minnesota - Published December 02, 1871 - Sub. by Cathy Danielson]

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