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Dakota County Minnesota 
Genealogy and History

Nininger Township Dakota County, Minnesota

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NOTE: The following history is from an 1882 publication, the term "town" is sometimes used when referring to the township.


This township as designated by the county commissioners, April 6th, 1858, comprised all of township 115, range 18, and sections 18, 19, 30 and 31, of township 115, range 17. September 18th, 1858, the west half of township 115, range 18, was detached from Nininger, and made a part of Inver Grove. It remained as such until 1871, when by act of legislature it was attached to Rosemount, and still remains a part of that town.

At a meeting of the county commissioners, held September 4th, 1861, a petition was presented praying that the west half of sections 17 and 20, township 115, range 17, might be taken from the town of Hastings, and attached to Nininger. By a vote this petition was defeated, but the board reconsidered its action, and on the 9th of September, granted the petition.

The town of Nininger now contains thirteen full sections, and six fractional sections. Its northern boundary is formed by the Mississippi river; the town of Hastings on the east, Marshan and Vermillion on the south, and Rosemount on the west. Commencing at a point near the intersection of the eastern town line, with the river, is Freeborn island, which extends up the river over two miles in length. It is a heavily timbered tract, and has been invaluable to the early settlers of this and Washington counties for their supply of fuel. The island contains about one thousand acres, and is a part of Cottage Grove township, Washington county.

Further up the river and belonging to the town of Nininger is Belanger island, a timbered tract, containing about six hundred acres. Along the river the land is bluffy and was originally covered with a growth of scrub oak; the greatest altitude is probably reached at about one mile back from the river. The southern portion of the town is nearly all prairie, the remainder interspersed with timber, and stretches of open land. The entire surface of the town is rolling. The soil along the river inclined to clay, while in the interior it is a dark, sandy loam, easily tilled and productive. The whole surface is underlaid with limestone, and the water taken from the wells is very hard. There is only one running stream in the town, the one known as Spring Lake creek, which runs through sections 23 and 14, emptying into what is called Spring lake, the water dividing Belanger's island from the main land.


As near as can be ascertained, the first white man who lived within the present town of Nininger, was a French Canadian, named Belanger, who was found here by the settlers of 1851-'52. His cabin was located on the banks of Spring lake, on section 23. D. B. Truax bought his claim in 1853, paying for it $300. Belanger came to a tragic end; he committed suicide while confined in the jail at St. Paul, on a charge of perjury, about 1854.

In the winter preceding, or early spring of 1852, Peter M. and Henry Caleff and Silas Poor, came and staked out claims. The Caleffs were from New Brunswick and located on what is now section 18. Poor came from Ohio, and was joined in May, 1852, by his nephew, William Poor; they both located on section 20, where the latter still resides. His settlement in Nininger ante-dates that of any person now living in the town, the others having removed from the town or died. The Caleffs in company with the Poors, engaged in the manufacture of shingles by the steaming and cutting process. Their rude factory stood in the big ravine afterwards comprised in the city of Nininger, about twenty rods from the river. The cutting machine was operated by ox-power, and the lumber was hauled from the St. Paul booms. These four men were all unmarried. The Caleffs are now in California.

The same spring, John Bassett carne from New Hampshire, and located his claim on section 18. He sold his farm to the proprietors of the townsite of Nininger, in 1855. He had lived in New Hampshire, Michigan, Missouri, Illinois and Minnesota, and previous to 1862, had never seen a railroad. He had always kept ahead of the railroads. In 1862 he went to see the cars running on the road between St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 1858, Mr. Bassett removed to Long Prairie, Todd county, where he now lives.

Following him, in June, E. D. Stone, a native of New York, arrived from Wisconsin, and also located a claim on section 18. In the spring of 1853, D. W. and D. B. Truax and John Blakeley came and settled on sections 13, 14 and 23.

The first dwelling, aside from the cabin of the Frenchman, was put up by the Caleffs in 1852, and the first breaking was done by them in the fall of that year. The following spring, D. W. Truax and John Blakeley broke some land on their claims and raised a small crop. After 1854, settlers came in rapidly, and soon all the more desirable claims for farming were taken up, and the country began to assume the appearance of an old settled community.

The first marriage in the township was that of Peter M. Caleff to Elizabeth Truax, in February, 1854, and the first birth was a daughter, Hortense, born to them late in 1854. The first burial was that of a soldier who was drowned at Fort Snelling, and whose body was discovered in the river by D. W. Truax, and by him buried. The first cemetery was located on the farm of A. C. Poor.

It is a matter of some doubt as to who taught the first school in the township. The honor lies between Warren Carle and James Long. The former opened a school at Nininger city, in 1856, and about the same time. Long began teaching at the present site of the Spring Lake Methodist church, in the south-east corner of section 23, using a small building now standing in the farmyard of P. F. Countryman. These schools were both sustained by subscription, being before the organization of public schools in that vicinity. Carle taught his school in a room, the rear part of the old Handyside, or National hotel, and is remembered as a very good educator. He afterward married Miss Matherson, who taught the first public school in 1858. They removed to Colorado some years ago.

As early as 1854, a religious society was formed and Rev. Mr. Kidder held services in the settlement on Christmas day, 1855. Rev. T. Wilcoxson, residing at Hastings, held funeral services over the body of Miss McCauley, who died near the present residence of Ignatius Donnelly. Rev. E. W. Cressey came in 1856. The first mill was constructed on Spring Lake creek by D. W. Truax and John Blakeley in 1854 and '55.


As the history of the settlement and Development of the country now embraced in the town of Nininger, occurred previous to the formation of the civil organization of the township, it is proper to here give the history of the village which sprang into existence almost at the beginning of the settlement of this portion of the town.

In the early spring of 1856, John Nininger, of Pennsylvania, a brother-in-law of Governor Ramsey, purchased the claims of Peter M. and Henry Caleff, John Bassett and E. D. Stone and mother, and in May, of that year, had C. L. Emerson, now an alderman of the third ward in St. Paul, survey and plat the "City of Nininger." The original survey included lot 2, the north-east quarter of south-west quarter, and the west half of south-east quarter, and lots 3 and 1, and northwest quarter of south-west quarter of section 18; lot 4, and the east half of south-east quarter of section 13, all in township 115, range 18. August 2d, following, the village plat was regularly recorded by John Nininger, of St. Paul, for whom the village was named. In August, 1856, Smith, Hancock and Thomas' addition to the city of Nininger was laid out, and opened for settlement, Smith and Carleton of St. Paul, surveyors. January, 1857, John Nininger laid out an addition to his original town plat, followed in July, 1857, by Donnelly, Case, Burns and Goldsmith's addition; M. A. Miller, surveyor. March, 1858, Joseph C. Kerr, of Philadelphia, laid out Kerr and Stone's addition, Gates A. Johnson, surveyor.

From the date of its founding in 1856, the village rapidly advanced in population and importance, impelled by the connection with its interests of such prominent men in the political history of Minnesota territory, as Alex. Ramsey, Ignatius Donnelly and H. B. Hancock, brother of Gen. W. S. Hancock. The interests of these men in the "future great" city, attracted the attention of politicians and capitalists in different parts of the union, and they sought investment in the new-born city, that was to outstrip all competitors in the race for prominence. Such men as Gov. James L. Orr, of South Carolina, afterwards minister to Russia, under President Grant, and who died about 1873; George B. Clitheral, of Mobile, Alabama; Winston, of New York; A. J. Jones, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and many other prominent public men, all owned "corner lots" in Nininger City. A. J. Jones, referred to above, invested $34,000 in village real estate. George O. Robertson, a capitalist of New York, met Donnelly and Nininger in that city, and being convinced of the value of the investment, "laid down" $40,000 for himself and friends; how much they "took up" is not recorded.

The city of Nininger reached the height of its progress in 1858. During the winter of 1857-8, an act of incorporation was passed by the legislature, and the first city organization was effected, Ignatius Donnelly was elected president of the council, Charles E. Clarke, recorder. A. H. Cheney was appointed city marshal. One of the first acts of the embryo city was to issue scrip for its indebtedness, some of which was never redeemed, and as many of the citizens held it in large sums, they lost heavily when the bubble burst.

In the spring of 1858, the city numbered nearly, if not quite, 1,000 inhabitants, and cast a vote of over 200. There were seven or eight mercantile houses, three or four blacksmith and wagon-shops, one plow factory, one sash and door manufactory, six saloons, several lawyers and real estate agents, one practicing physician, one drug store, three hotels and other establishments requisite to make a full-fledged young city. The first building constructed after the village was started was put up by Anthony Reed, and the second by Charles Yeager; the latter was afterwards enlarged and used as a hotel. The first store was built and opened by Louis Laiver in August, 1856.

The first hotel was opened in the fall of 1856 by Charles Yeager, and was known as the "Western" house. The building was one and one-half stories high and furnished accommodations for twenty-five guests. This hotel was run by Yeager until 1868, when he removed to Hastings. The same building stands on the original site, and is occupied by R. L. Peak as residence and post-office.

The "National," or as it was familiarly known, the "Handyside" house, was a structure of two and one-half stories, with room for about fifty people. It was built in 1857, and run by W. Gibson. About the year 1865, it was moved to Hastings, where it is now in use by the Sisters of Charity as a school.

The Clinton house, John K. Freer, proprietor, was erected about 1858. It was a two and one half story building, with room for twenty-five people. It was moved to Hastings. Kemp and Wheeler constructed a large public hall in 1857. This building was afterwards sold to a masonic society in Cottage Grove and removed to that town where it now stands.


During the winter of 1856-'7, Blakeley and Lewis put up a steam saw-mill in the west end of the village. It was furnished with one circular saw and one lath saw. In June, 1867, D. W. Truax bought an interest in the mill and subsequently purchased Blakeley's interest and run the mill until the fall of 1862, when he demolished it and sold the machinery. Logs for the mill were obtained from the St. Paul booms. The enterprise, unlike many others in this place, was successful.

The Eagle steam saw-mill was built in 1857 by James R. Case, and contained one muley saw and two circular sash saws. The mill was operated two or three years, then work was suspended and the machinery sold.

The Nininger City steam flouring mill, was built in 1858, by S. S. Eaton. The building was two and one-half stories. About three years after it was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt, as the enterprise was never a financial success.


The Emigrant Aid Journal was a weekly publication, established in 1857 under the auspices of Donnelly and Nininger, with no less a journalist and managing editor than A. W. McDonald of the "Scientific American." For two years the citizens of Nininger contributed a purse of $1,000 annually for its advancement and support. It flourished for something more than two years and at its death Mr. Lindergreen was manager.


Nininger city never had a building dedicated solely to religious exercises, but services were held in the council chamber, school-house, and other places. The first regularly located preacher was Rev. J. B. Hilton, of the Congregationalist society, and probably the only clergyman ever located here. Other preachers came occasionally and labored zealously, but no church was ever established.

The first, and so far as ascertained, the only practicing physician in the city was Dr. Robert Blakeley, brother of John Blakeley, and a man of rare attainments.

Charles E. Clarke was the principal real estate dealer and agent.

The first birth in Nininger city was a son of John S. Maley, born in 1856, and named Ignatius Donnelly Maley.

The post-office of Nininger was established in 1856, with Louis Favier as postmaster. In early days, it was an important office, with frequent arrivals of mail by steamboat. It is now reduced to an office of the fourth class, with semi-weekly mail from Hastings. Nearly all the inhabitants of the surrounding country receive their mail at Hastings.

Until 1859, the city of Nininger gave promise of becoming an established town of large proportions. Business was all that could be asked, new arrivals were constantly coming in, and a railroad was confidently looked for at an early day. But, in 1859, the dream of a railroad was dispelled, the newspaper collapsed, people began to lose confidence in the future prospects of the city, and one after another, they moved away until, in 1863, but few were left. Various causes were assigned for its decay. The buildings were all moved away, and now all that remains of this once busy town is a few farm houses. The town plat, however, has never been vacated, and town lots are still owned by some of the original proprietors.


The first meeting for the election of town officers was held at the National hotel, in the village, May 11th, 1858, with the following result:

Mathew A. Miller, Charles Yeager and William J. Oliver, supervisors; Charles It. Knight, town clerk; Joseph Hawes, collector; Henry Hand, assessor; L. W. Gavett, overseer of roads; Daniel Purcell, justice of the peace; William Felton, overseer of poor; J. R. White, constable.

Supervisors and clerks for ensuing years:
* 1859-Ignatius Donnelly, Charles Yeager, J. Oliver; O. H. Corwin, clerk.
* 1860-A. Reed, W. J. Oliver, S. W. Truax; O. H. Corwin, clerk.
* 1861-Same board re-elected; Samuel Caleff, clerk.
* 1862-A. Reed, Fred Myers, S. W. Truax; George Wheeler, clerk.
* 1863-D. B. Truax. W. J. Oliver, John Callahan; George P. Fish, clerk.
* 1864-A. C. Poor, John Callahan, Hugh Moore; George P. Fish, clerk.
* 1865-A. Reed, Virgil Dyer, Stephen Cobb; J. A. Case, clerk.
* 1866-Stephen Cobb, Albert H. Truax, William Jones; J. A. Case, clerk.
* 1867-Stephen Cobb, W. M. Poor, J. M. Bowler; J. A. Case, clerk.
* 1868-A. C. Poor, Edwin Poor, William Felton; J. M. Bowler, clerk.
* 1869-S. Cobb, William Felton, Edwin Poor; J. M. Bowler, clerk.
* 1870-J. A. Case, Edwin Poor, William Felton; J. M. Bowler, clerk.
* 1871-J. A. Case, P. F. Countryman, William Felton; J. M. Bowler, clerk.
* 1872-J. A. Case, H. D. Countryman, William Felton; P. F. Countryman, clerk.
* 1873-J. A. Case, William Felton, E. D. Stone; P. F. Countryman, clerk.
* 1874-J. A. Case, E. D. Stone, George E. Dennis; George H. Mowry, clerk.
* 1875-6-Same board and clerk re-elected.
* 1878-J. A. Case, George E. Dennis, Edwin Poor; George H. Mowry, clerk.
* 1879-E. W. Felton, Jerome Hanna, R. G. Henion; George H. Mowry clerk.
* 1880-Robert Brownell, William Chamberlan, Austin Knapp; George H. Mowry, clerk.
* 1881-E. W. Felton, L. B. McCarriel, P. F. Countryman; George H. Mowry, clerk; R. G. Henion, assessor.

During the membership of Ignatius Donnelly as chairman of the town board of supervisors, in 1859, he resigned in order to accept the position of lieutenant-governor of the state. At a called meeting of the supervisors March, 9th, 1859, the town was laid off into three road districts and trustees appointed, March 22d, 1878, the present town hall, located on the north-east corner of section 24, with one acre of land, was purchased of Samuel Caleff, at a cost of $250.

Proceedings of board of supervisors during the war. March 12th, 1864, seventeen subscribers presented a petition for a special town meeting for the purpose of authorizing the supervisors to issue bonds for defraying the expense incurred in filling the quota of the town under the draft then existing. The meeting convened at the schoolhouse, but as the citizens came forward promptly and subscribed the amount of money required, the subject of issuing bonds was not called up. August 16th, same year, a petition was issued, calling for a special town meeting August 27th. The meeting was held, and by a vote, authorized the board of supervisors to issue bonds for eighteen and thirty month's time, bearing interest at ten per cent, in such sum as was would be required, for recruits to fill the quota of the town under the draft of September 5th. Another meeting was held March 4th, 1865, at which $2,000 bonds were authorized, to run one year at ten per cent interest. Of this amount, only $1,334.75 was issued, this sum being sufficient to purchase the required number of recruits.


In conformity with a call issued by the chairman of the board of supervisors, the citizens met at Good Templar's hall in Nininger city, October 30th, 1858, and organized school district number 44. A. Reed, A. C. Poor and George H. Mowry were elected trustees; J. H. Owen, clerk. This district included sections 18, 19, 30, 31, 13 and part of 24. Fifty dollars was voted for incidental expenses; the first term was taught in the city council room by Miss Matherson. April 12th, 1859, on motion of Ignatius Donnelly, the district purchased the building known as Good Templars' hall, for a school-house, paying for it $200. October, 1860, the district was reduced in area, and changed to number 1. In October, 1862, the number was again changed to 37, the present number. The officers now are: H. Brownell, director; George H. Mowry, clerk; John Ahern, treasurer. This was once a large school; there are now about twenty scholars enrolled.

District number 24, school-house located on section 26, was organized October 2d, 1864, as sub-district number 3. A meeting was held at the house of Henry Sprague, and the following officers elected: Henry Sprague, William Hanna and A. Laidlow, trustees; P. F. Countryman, clerk. At an adjourned meeting held October 31st, $225, was voted to build a school-house. The same structure is still in use. Miss Rebecca Harris taught the first term of school. The present officers are: A. R. Knapp, director; L. B. McArriel, treasurer; W. H. Burt, clerk. The number of scholars enrolled is nineteen.

School district number 25, house located on the northern line of section 25, was organized in the fall of 1860, as sub-district number 2, under the direction of Levi N. Countryman, one of the five commissioners appointed by the authorities of the county, to examine and re-organize the public school districts of the county. As the early records of the district are lost, it is difficult to ascertain with certainty who were the first officers. Mr. Countryman, however, remembers that Mary Wheeler, now of Northfield, was the first teacher employed. The officers serving in 1881 were: Edwin Poor, clerk; William Chamberlain, director; Edway Cobb, treasurer. This district has a limited number of pupils.

The town of Nininger has three entire and two joint districts. Of the latter, number 32 is joint district with Marshan, the building located in that town, and number 35, joint with the town of Vermillion, school-house in the latter town.


The Spring Lake Methodist church, the only one in the town of Nininger, is located on the south-east corner of section 23, at the intersection of the wagon-roads leading westward from Hastings and Nininger. The church society was organized about 1857 by Samuel W. Truax, Henry and P. F. Countryman, P. N. Fitch and a few other resident communicants of the Methodist church. The building now in use was moved in 1860 from the "city" where it had been erected for other purposes. The society held service regularly until 1880, when the membership, having decreased to a small number on account of removals, the organization was virtually abandoned, and now only occasional services are held by itinerant evangelists. There is a small cemetery near the place, used as a general burial ground by the community.


The only mill now in existence in the town of Nininger, is the Spring Lake mill, located on Spring Lake creek in section 14. It was constructed for a saw-mill by D. W. Truax and John Blakeley. They began work in the fall of 1854, and had the mill in operation the following March. The mill contained one muley saw, and was run by water-power. Logs were obtained from the booms at St. Paul. In 1856, the mill was purchased by Foote and Greenfield; in a short time, Foote sold his interest. The property next came into the possession of A. R. Knapp, who converted it into a flouring and grist mill. Knapp sold to L. B. McCarriel, the present owner. The mill is furnished with two run of stone, and does a limited local business.


The total valuation of real and personal property in the town of Nininger in 1860, was $111,390; in 1870, $95,961; in 1880, $134,034. The population of the township is 239, as shown by the returns of the last census.
[History of Dakota County and the City of Hastings, by Edward D. Neill, North Star Publishing Co. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1882, transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman] Return to top of page

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