Freeborn County, MN

Remembering 14 Communities That Were Founded, Flourished And Are No Longer

Albert Lea Tribune
Sunday, July 4, 1976
Pg 14 & 15
Transcribed and Submitted by Michael Nelson


The Good Samaritan Center north of Albert Lea is on the site of the village of Bancroft, which started in 1856.

William S. Freeborn, namesake of the county, was among a group of speculators who picked the village site with the hopes it would become the county seat. It was reported that Bancroft, in fact, was named the county seat in the legislative bill organizing the county, although the clause was later repealed.

The promoters attempted to attract community growth by describing the village in glowing details. One of those who became interested was David Blakely, a newspaperman from the East who met a representative of the St. Paul Land Co. who was in Chicago to purchase printing equipment.

Blakely came in 1857 and was surprised. All he found was a shanty and a Sawmill. He turned out the "Bancroft Pioneer" for a few months and quit. He later became editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

During its heyday, Bancroft was comprised of a sawmill, store, saloon, newspaper office, post office, hotel and blacksmith shop, They village prospered for a brief period but by 1860 the county seat had been established in Albert Lea and several of Bancroft's buildings were moved to the village of Itasca. The remaining structures gradually disappeared.

Thirty years later, in 1890, Bancroft was resurrected when a creamery was built on the south side of Bancroft Creek. The township hall was built north of the creamery and next to it, on the west side, was a grocery store.

The new village of Bancroft continued until 1965.


There are still many people in Freeborn County who remember the village of Bath at a crossroad north of Albert Lea. The village, started in 1857, existed until 1963.

On the southeast corner of the crossroad, the tall, white steeple of St. Aiden's Catholic Church, built in 1857, could be seen rising above the evergreens, which surrounded the church and cemetery.

Across the road to the north, was the Foresters Hall, used for community gatherings and meetings. On the northwest corner a creamery was built in 1891. Nearby was a combination country store and post office. Also in the vicinity was the District 103 schoolhouse built in 1876.

The first past Office at Bath was located in a section of Bath Township in 1876 at the home of L. P. Carlson. Later the office was transferred to the home of James St John, who owned the property where the creamery and store were located. The post office was closed in 1907.

The creamery was originally called the "North Star" and was later changed to "Poplar Grove. M. H. Graham was the first butter maker. In the fall of the first year the creamery operated, a feed mill also went into business.

The creamery shut down in 1957 and later the store folded but both buildings may still be seen on the west side of the road. The school building is gone and the church was destroyed about 1958. The cemetery remains.


The village of Clover, also known as Clover Valley, was formed in 1890 after a newly organized creamery association chose the site to bui1d a modern separator creamery.

Also in 1890, a two story wooden store was built and operated by William P. Pickle. He also became the postmaster and handled the mail at his store. The post office was initially known as Adair but was later changed to Clover, because of the resemblance of Aidair to Adrian.

The village in Pickerel Lake Township ceased to exist after 1915 when the creamery stopped operation. The creamery building was used as a machine shed until it blew down in 1962.

The store building was moved to Conger where it was rebuilt and used as a home. There were two other buildings at the site, a butter maker's home and barn for farmers’ horses.

The Clover storekeeper, Pete Flesch, is said to have promoted a July 4th celebration among a grove of cottonwood trees in the village. There was a large crowd, a lot of beer was drunk and people danced.

Deer Creek

Deer Creek is not a familiar village to some, but the eastern Freeborn County town on the Minnesota-Iowa border still exists.

Settlers came to the area prior to 1875 on prairie schooners. Many were also said to have walked with their animals.

As more settlers came, homes were used for church and school. As the need arose, the pioneers built schools which they also used for public meetings and church services. Iver Hendrickson had the first post office at Deer Creek.

In 1890 the London-Deer Creek Cemetery started. A cemetery committee agreed that whoever died first would be the first buried in the cemetery and a pastor would dedicate the cemetery at that time. Unexpectedly, a passing tramp died and was the first buried. However, the residents waited until Julia Borshiem died in May 1890 to dedicate the cemetery.

The London Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church was built in 1894 across from the cemetery. Later, in 1895 the North Deer Creek Church was constructed. The churches later merged and only the north church was used.

The Deer Creek store was built in 1895 and in 1961 the first creamery building was erected. In 1908, the creamery burned and a new one was built. John Tykeson became the butter maker at the new operation with "old man Hefta", his assistant. In later years the village had a cheese factory.

The village also had a harness and shoe repair shop and a blacksmith shop.

Deer Creek received its title from the creek that flows past it, but the 1911 Mitchell County
Plat book provides a further explanation about how the name came about.

The Rev. Claus L. Clausen a Scandinavian Lutheran minister occasionally journeyed into Minnesota. On his way back he traveled near the Minnesota-Iowa State line.

Upon nearing the present Deer Creek and following it to the Cedar River, he saw many wild animals along the creek. The Danish word for "wild" is pronounced the same as deer so Olausen named the creek - Deer Creek.


Fairfield began in 1857 on the South shore of the former Rice Lake when Samuel Beardsley, the first settler, set up a blacksmith Shop and steam sawmill in Riceland Township.

George Bartlett went into business with a store the same year and shortly afterward a post office was established.

Expecting a railroad to come through the town, Beardsley, the promoter, had the entire village platted with a street system. But the railway was never built and Beardsley moved his sawmill machinery to the village of Itasca.

After Beardsley left, all hope of the town succeeding was given up and Fairfield became an e x-Village just two years after it started.


Itasca, sometimes spelled “Itaska” in the early days and also known as “Freeborn Springs", was one of the larger towns on the route of early pioneers traveling west in covered wagons.

Some travelers continued through the town and others stopped to rest. A few didn't continue their journey; historical records say that several of them died and were buried in the Itasca Cemetery.

In 1855, Charles C. Colby became the first settler in Itasca. He was followed by Samuel Batchelder later and Dr. A. M. Burnham from Shell Rock in 1857.

Burnham built an expensive home and tried to make the village the county seat. In 1857 a post office was erected and established under the name “Freeborn Springs”.

When Bancroft was abandoned as a village, buildings were moved to Itasca and in 1860 the “Freeborn Springs Herald" newspaper was started.

The village, located in Bancroft Township, eventually included the post office, two stores a newspaper office, tavern, hotel, sawmill, school, and about 15 homes.

A story has frequently been told, without absolute confirmation, that a horse race at Itasca may have determined the county seat was located in Albert Lea.

By 1890, Itasca ceased to be a village. The site is now occupied by the Wedge Nursery & Garden Center.


The former village of Knatvold once stood at the site of the present Freeman Township Hall. At its peak, the village had a store, town hall and a creamery.

Knatvold began in the early 1890's as a post office with Thomas E. Flaskerud as postmaster. The center of the community was eventually the creamery building, serving the Freeman Co-op Creamery Association, which lasted from 1900 to 1914.

Milk was brought to the creamery on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The farmers would drive up to the left side of the creamery where milk was unloaded and drive around to the other side to pick up a quota of skim milk based on the amount of whole milk the creamery received.

The cream from the milk was churned into butter and hauled to Glenville to be shipped east.

The butter makers included Will Nagel, Nick Sieverling, Robert Kapping, Jens Hagen, Ole Rusley and an unnamed young man.

The creamery association went defunct as competition increased and bigger creameries could offer a premium. The creamery closed and the building was used as a community social hall.

The creamery stood at Knatvold for a lengthy period until it was sold to Pete Limberg, who moved the building and used it for a hog house.

The store, which sold groceries and dry goods, stood at the present location of the Fred Miller home. Above the store were living quarters for the family. The store remained in operation later than the creamery, probably until 1918. '

The present township hall is not the original building.

It is not known why the village was named Knatvold. One theory is that the town was named for a member of the Knatvold family, one of whom was in the creamery supply business in Albert Lea.

However, no records exist showing that Knatvold's lived in Freeman Township and another guess is that the name conies from a town in Norway. The first settlers in Freeman Township were English, but many Norwegians later moved into the area.


A town hall and defunct creamery exist today, but in the, early years of Lerdal, the village consisted of a store, a blacksmith shop started in 1880 by John Peterson and a post office. In 1893, the Riceland creamery opened in Lerdal.

The Riceland Creamery was known as one of the first to make "Sweet Cream" butter, Navy Style. The butter was shipped to New York where it brought top prices. The name Lerdal comes from a town in Norway.


The village of Moscow is now g officially classified by the Freeborn County Historical Society as no longer being in existence. Moscow was platted in 1857 at the request of the owners, Nathan Owens, Benjamin Lindsey and David M. Farr. A post office was established in 1858 at Farr's home with John G. Dunning as the village’s first postmaster.

In 1866, Joseph James, John Chandler and James Dryly put in machinery and began operating a steam sawmill in Moscow. In 1879, Arthur Sanderson and his son, George, erected a two-story frame building for a store and dwelling and in 1880 stocked the business with general merchandise.

Moscow business around 1910 consisted of a creamery and a store. There was also a two-story schoolhouse.


The village of Newry is described by the 1911 "History of Freeborn County" as being a hamlet in the southern part of section nine of the township of that name.

In the same area, in section 16, the Newry Co-operative Creamery Association built a creamery in 1894, the year the association was organized. David Herron was the first president of the creamery.

It was reported that the creamery had a Convenient shipping point at Blooming Prairie.

In 1910, the creamery received 1,60,680 pounds of milk and 167,973 pounds of cream. The butter made totaled 114,043 pounds. The money received was $29,710, and of that, $27,230 was paid to creamery patrons. The patrons owned about 800 cows.

A 1924 newspaper describes the village of Newry as a settlement where the creamery was the prominent center of activities. The butter maker at that time was Hans Hansel. There was apparently also a general store.

The name Newry was chosen for the area when the township was organized in 1858 at the home of William Bell. Newry was early township pioneer Thomas Fitzsimmons' hometown in Ireland.

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, the first village in Freeborn County, was founded in 1855 o the shores of Albert Lea Lake, southeast of Albert Lea.

The settlers were a pair of adventurers, Jacob Ly Brand a French trader, and Samuel M. Thompson, from near Green Bay, Wis. The two men built the first store in the county, a log building which was also a trading post for Indians, who brought skins to purchase merchandise.

At its peak, St. Nicholas consisted of the store, a hotel built by William Rice, a blacksmith shop erected by William Eddy and a Sawmill.

Ly Brand became the county’s first postmaster in 1855 and mail was brought from Mitchell, Iowa. Rice was the first mail carrier and reportedly froze to death while on the job. The St. Nicholas post office closed in 1858.

Looking eastward from his mill on Fountain Lake, Albert Lea pioneer George Ruble believed that someday St. Nicholas would be the largest city in the area. So he walked to St. Nicholas to work out a deal.

Recalling his talk with Ly Brand, Ruble later wrote: About the time St. Nicholas was founded, I went and looked over the proposition and came to the conclusion that the situation was in every way equal to Albert Lea and the mill power was ever so much better than the one I was trying to improve.

“I therefore made a proposition to Ly Brand to unite town interests and influence, build the mill, procure the county seat and make the future metropolis at St. Nicholas."

The idea was met with a cold stare by Ly Brand.

He replied, "You may quit Albert Lea and move here, but unite the towns never. We’ll build the mill and have the county seat too."

But Albert Lea became the County seat in 1857 and St. Nicholas died within a short period.

After being abandoned for a number of years the Old store building was sold to Thomas Porter, another early settler who dismantled the structure and moved it to his farm.

When the old building was taken down, a set of counterfeiting tools were found that could be used to make fifty-cent pieces. There was a crucible, bars of metal and dies that were broken up and thrown away.

It was rumored that after turn of the century the ruins to an underground passage were discovered that led from the store site to the lake.

It was suggested that counterfeiting had been done in a small cabin near the lake.


The site of Sigsbee, once the home of a creamery, grocery store and post office, is now the southwest corner of the Phillip Sipple farm in Riceland Township.

Sigsbee derived its name from naval officer Charles Dwight Sigsbee, a Spanish American War hero who was in command of the battleship Maine when it blew up in Havana harbor in 1898.

The Sumner Valley Creamery, organized in 1893, was the beginning of the village of Sigsbee. It was named after a Sumner Valley, three miles to the east.

A lack of good roads made it difficult to take dairy products to Lerdal, Hayward or Moscow, which were all about equidistant from Sigsbee. So local farmers started the creamery.

However when the creamery burned down in 1927, the era of the automobile made reconstruction unnecessary. And the disappearance of the creamery accelerated the end of the grocery store.

The grocery facing south was built by Henry Bell in 1898. ! It was sold to a cousin, Henry H. Bell. The succeeding owners were Olaf Jurgenson, Andrew Tufte, Albert Tufte and Martin Christopherson.

Irvin Hanson took over in 1929 and ran the store until 1937 when he moved the building to Hayward and converted the downstairs to a home.

Hanson was Sigsbee's last resident and his store was the village’s last building.

Henry Bell was the first postmaster of Sigsbee and was succeeded by Andrew Tufte. The post Office is said to have operated in the store.

There was also a pony mail station in the valley to the east sometime before Sigsbee originated. It is not exactly known when the pony mail service ended, although the postal service was discontinued in 1904.


All evidence of the village of Trenton in Freeborn Township is gone. After the creamery - a lifeline to many early communities - ceased operation in 1900, most other buildings were likely moved to other locations.

The village reportedly consisted of a creamery, two stores, a blacksmith shop and a post office. There was also a local school. Although there were no houses as such, the stores had second floor living quarters.

The Trenton post office was established in September 1857 with George Watson as the first postmaster. The next postmaster was John W. Ayers in 1858.

Ayers lived near Trenton Lake, which extends into Waseca County. The post office was discontinued sometime before 1911.

Trenton area farmers met in the schoolhouse in the spring of 1895 to discuss organization of the creamery and on May 15 of that year the creamery opened for business with J. V. Carter as butter maker. The failure of the New Richland Bank in 1899 may have been a contributing factor to the close of the creamery in 1900.


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