Norman County, Minnesota

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County History

Minnesota Historical Society Collections, Volume 17, Minnesota Historical Society (1920) Submitted by SD

This county, established February 17, 1881, has been thought by R. I. Holcombe and others to be named, like Kittson county three years before, in honor of Norman W. Kittson, who accomplished much for the extension of commerce and immigration to the Red River valley. The actual choice of this name, however, as better known by residents of the county and by surviving members of the convention held at Ada for securing its establishment by the state legislature, was for commemoration of the great number of Norwegian (Norseman or Norman) immigrants who had settled there. Norse delegates were a majority in the convention, and the name was selected on account of patriotic love and memories of their former homes across the sea. Similarly a township organized in March, 1874, in Yellow Medicine county, had been named Norman; and another township there in the same year received the name Normania. "In Norway a native is referred to as a Norsk or Norman."

By the census of 1910, in a total population of 13,446 in Norman county, 2,957 were born in Norway; and both parents of 4,651 others, among those born in America, were Norwegian. No other county of Minnesota has so large a proportion of Norwegian people.

Townships And Villages.

Information of the origins and meanings of names has been gathered from "History of the Red River Valley," two volumes, 1909, having pages 967-972 for Norman county; and from David E. Fulton, county auditor, historian for the Norman County Old Settlers' Association, and Conrad K. Semling, clerk of the court, interviewed during visits at Ada, the county seat, in September, 1909, and again in September, 1916. Additional notes were also received in 1916 from Alexander Holden, of Ada, and Anund K. Strand, of Lake Ida township, pioneers who came respectively in 1872 and 1880.

Ada, the county seat, founded in 1874, and incorporated as a village February 9, 1881, was named in honor of a daughter of William H. Fisher, of St. Paul, then attorney and superintendent of the St. Paul and Pacific railroad, under whose superintendency this line of the Red river valley was constructed. A biographic notice of him is given in the chapter of Polk county, where his name is borne by Fisher township and village. Ada Nelson Fisher died at the age of six years, in 1880, but this prosperous and beautiful village and the county perpetuate her name and memory.

Anthony township, organized in 1879, was named for Anthony Scheie, one of its first settlers, who came here in 1872. His father, Andreas A. Scheie, the first pastor in this county, was born in Vigedal, Norway, February 17, 1818; came to the United States in 1840; was ordained to the ministry in 1855; was pastor in Fillmore county, Minn., 1857-76, and afterward in Ada; died in 1885.

Bear Park township, organized in 1881, received this name in accordance with the request of its settlers in the petition for organization.

Borup, a railway village in Winchester township, was named in honor of Charles William Wulff Borup, who was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 20, 1806, and died in St. Paul, July 6, 1859. He came to the United States in 1828, and to St. Paul in 1848, where in 1854 he established the banking house of Borup and Oakes, the first in Minnesota. His sons, Gustav J. and Theodore Borup, were also prominent business men in St. Paul.

Flaming is a Northern Pacific railway village in Sundahl.

Flom township, at first called Springfield, organized in 1881, was named for Erik Flom, a native of Norway, who came here as a pioneer farmer in 1871.

Fossum township, settled in 1872 and organized in 1881, was named for a village in southern Norway.

Gary, the railway village of Strand township, founded in 1883, received this name in compliment to Garrett L. Thorpe, its first merchant, who came here from Manchester, Iowa, became an extensive land owner in this county, and settled at Ada.

Good Hope township was the latest organized, in 1892, its auspicious name being chosen by vote of its people.

Green Meadow township, organized in 1880, bears a name that was likewise chosen by its people, having reference to the summer verdure of its prairie surface.

Hadler, a railway village in Pleasant View township, was named for Jacob Hadler, an early settler there, who in 1909-15 was a member of the board of county commissioners.

Halstad township, organized in 1879, and its railway village, were named for Ole Halstad, a pioneer farmer, who came from Norway. During many years he was the postmaster of Marsh River post office in this township, now discontinued.

Hegne township, organized in 1881, was named for Andrew E. Hegne, one of its first settlers, coming from the district of Stavanger, Norway, who removed to Evansville, Minn., and was a hardware merchant there.

Heiberg, a railway village in Wild Rice township, was named in honor of Jorgen F. Heiberg, owner of its flour mill.

Hendrum township, organized in 1880, and its railway village, founded in 1881, are named from a district or group of farms in Norway, whence some of the early settlers of this township came.

Home Lake township, organized in 1881, has two lakelets in section 13, to which this name was given as a compliment for John Homelvig, the former clerk of this township.

Lake Ida township, organized in 1879, bears the name of a small lake in its sections 7 and 8, given in honor of Ida Paulson, daughter of an early homesteader in Anthony township.

Lee township, at first called Norman, organized in 1882, was named for Ole Lee, a pioneer settler, who came from Kongsberg, Norway. His son, B. O. Lee, of this township, was in 1909-17 a member of the board of county commissioners.

Lockhart township, organized in 1882, was named for its very large Lockhart farm, which bore the name of the owner, a resident in Pennsylvania. Lockhart railway village, in the north edge of section 29, has superseded the former Rolette station and village in section 17.

Mcdonaldsville township, the first organized in the area of this county, in 1874, was named in honor of one of its pioneer farmers, Finnen McDonald, a native of Scotland, who came to Minnesota from Glengarry, Ontario, settling here beside the Wild Rice river.

Mary township, organized about the year 1880, was named in honor of the wife of Jacob Thomas, an early settler here.

Perley, the railway village of Lee township, was named in honor of George Edmund Perley, of Moorhead. He was born in Lempster, N. H., August 19, 1853; was graduated at Dartmouth College, 1878; was admitted to practice law in 1883, and came to Minnesota the next year, settling in Moorhead; was a representative in the legislature in 1903-05.

Pleasant View township, organized in 1880, received this euphonious name by suggestion of James Preston, one of its pioneers, who later removed to Duluth.

Rockwell township, at first called Wheatland, organized in 1882, was named by settlers who came from Rockwell in Cerro Gordo county, Iowa.

Rolette, a former railway village in Lockhart township, was superseded by Lockhart village. Its name commemorated Joe Rolette, who was born at Prairie du Chien, Wis., October 23, 1820, and died at Pembina, Dakota, May 16, 1871. He was employed by the American Fur Company at their trading post at Pembina in 1840; established a cart route from the Red river to St. Paul, extending the fur trade of that city into a large region in competition with the Hudson Bay Company; was a representative in the territorial legislature of Minnesota, 1853-5, and a member of the territorial council, 1856-7. During the latter year occurred his notorious exploit of carrying away the bill to remove the seat of government to St. Peter, and thus he saved the capital to St. Paul.

Shelly township, organized in 1879, was named for John Shelly, a trapper, who was the first homestead farmer of this township, was later a wheat buyer at Ada, and thence removed to Duluth as an assistant grain inspector for the state. Shelly railway village was platted in 1896.

Spring Creek township, organized in 1880, was named for the creek flowing through it, a tributary of the Marsh river.

Strand township, organized in 1880, was so named by the Norwegian settlers because its poplar groves bordering the beaches of the glacial Lake Agassiz, seen at a long distance from the vast prairie of the Red river valley, resembled an ocean strand or shore.

Sundahl, organized in 1880, received its name from a village and a river in Norway.

Syre is the railway village of Home Lake township.

Twin Valley, a railway village in Wild Rice township, was named from its situation between the Wild Rice river and a tributary creek.

Waukon township, organized in 1880, has a Dakota or Sioux name, meaning "spiritual, sacred, wonderful." It probably refers to the grandeur of the view westward over the broad Red river valley, this township being crossed by the highest shoreline of Lake Agassiz.

Wheatville is a railway village in Winchester.

Wild Rice township, organized in 1881, is crossed by the Wild Rice river, translated from its Ojibway name, Manomin or Mahnomen.

Winchester township, organized in 1854, was named by settlers from Winchester in Van Buren county, Iowa. This name is borne by townships and villages or cities of twenty-one states of the Union.

Lakes And Streams.

The Red river has been considered in the first chapter, and the Wild Rice river is most fully noticed for Mahnomen county, which bears the aboriginal name of that river and of the lakes at its source.

Marsh river, which diverges from the Wild Rice river about two miles southeast of Ada, flowing thence northwest to the Red river, is a sluggish and marshlike stream in dry seasons, but carries a great part of the Wild Rice waters during flood stages.

Spring creek, for which a township is named, receives a tributary, South Spring creek, from Green Meadow township.

Two tributaries of the Wild Rice river in this county are named on maps, these being its South branch, a considerable stream, and the little Marsh creek in Fossum.

With Lake Ida and Home lake, in the townships so named, only two other lakes are mapped with names, these being Long lake, close east of Ada, and Love lake, a former rivercourse in the northwest corner of Lee.

Several other lakelets are found in the most eastern townships, above the highest beach of Lake Agassiz; but for these no names were learned, excepting Stene lake on the farm of Mons L. Stene, in section 35, Fossum.

Frenchman's Bluff.

The first settlers of Flom, coming in 1871, found three old log cabins, long deserted, in a grove adjoining a prominent and irregularly outlined hill of morainic drift near the center of the area of that township. Thinking the cabins to have been built by early fur traders, they named the hill "Frenchman's bluff." It rises 150 feet or more above the upper shoreline of the former Lake Agassiz, about three miles distant at the northwest, and affords a wide view on all sides.

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