Olmsted County Places - New Haven Township

NEW HAVEN township, organized in May, 1858, was named for the city of New Haven in Connecticut. Settlement began in the summer of 1854, when Samuel Brink, S. P. Amsden, William Kilroy, J. N. Palmer, C. Colegrove, and several others, made their homes there.

Source: MINNESOTA GEOGRAPHIC NAMES Their Origin and Historic Significance

This is one of the most heavily wooded tracts in southern Minnesota. Two principal forks of the middle branch of the Zumbro river flow through the town, and the surface is much broken by the bluffs which always line the streams of this state. The timber, consisting of oak, maple, black-walnut, elm, linn, poplar, etc., which clothe the whole surface, was in great demand for building purposes on the first advent of the white settlers—railroads being then unknown and undreamed of here; and the numerous powers afforded by the South Middle Zumbro were speedily employed in turning sawmills, one of which is still standing and does occasional service. The North Middle takes a turn for a mile or two through the adjoining town of Pine Island, Goodhue county, where it turns saw and grist mills at the village of Fine Island, which forms the business center for a large portion of the residents of New Haven. This town is described as T. 108, R. 15 W., 6th P. M. It lies in the northwest corner of Olmsted county, and is bounded by Pine Island on the north, Oronoco on the east, Kalmar on the south, and on the west by Milton, Dodge county.

A considerable portion of the territory embraced in the township is owned by residents of the prairie regions surrounding, and yet it is quite thickly populated by a hardy, intelligent people. While many sought the open prairies for farms, others thought they could not live away from timber, and struck into the heavy woods; so that many fine farms are now seen where was once the virgin forest.

The settlement of this town dates from a very early period in the history of the county. In the spring of 1854 M. C. Van Horn came up from Iowa, and visiting the site of Oronoco village, then just started by Hodges, Clark & Collins, struck out thence along the north bank of the river into this township and soon found his present location, on section 11, which he at once pre-empted. He built a cabin during the summer and brought his family the following fall, and has ever since been a resident.

Soon after Van Horn's arrival, Park Amsden settled on section 35. On August 7, 1854, Samuel Brink removed from the Little Cedar river, in Iowa, to this town, bringing with him eight teams and eighteen men, of whom only one, J. N. Palmer, now remains. All took claims to timber land, and sold out to Brink. All hands at once set to work to get out material for building a sawmill. A stock of merchandise was part of the outfit and was placed in a log building as soon as it could be erected, and the new town of "Durango " was soon established. This was at what is now called New Haven, where the Rochester & Northern Minnesota railroad crosses the river. A dam was placed across the stream and a sawmill erected, which was set in motion in the fall of 1855. During the last-named season settlers had come in very fast, and the demand for lumber was active. The first boards turned out were used in the houses of Daniel Sally and Abram Clason. The former arrived and settled on section 36 on June 14; the latter arrived on June 8 and settled on the same section; both still occupy their original locations. Previous to this time the Kilroys, John and William, and Philo Phelps had settled a little farther west.

The locality last above referred to was called Center Grove, which name still clings to it, notwithstanding it is the site of Douglas Station. Here occurred the first wedding in the town, that of John Holmes and Diana Phelps, which took place at the residence of the bride's father, Philo Phelps, on March 23, 1855 ; the ceremony was performed by P. H. Bucklin, Esq., of Rochester.

During the summer of 1855 the citizens of the locality desired to have a school, and so clubbed together and put up a small log structure to be used for school purposes on section 36. Ann Losinger, a miss of fourteen, was employed to train the young ideas. This was probably the first school in the county. On the organization of school districts subsequently, the Center Grove schoolhouse was located on the opposite side of the road, in the town of Kalmar, where it still remains. Miss Losinger married R. L. Emerick and lives at Minneapolis.
The first white child born in the town was Bertha E., daughter of William Kilroy. This birth took place March 17, 1855. Miss Kilroy grew up and married John A. Senn, and now resides at Sauk Rapids.

In August, 1856, Mrs. Helen Madison, wife of Henry Madison, died of fever, in the northern part of the town. This was probably the first death that occurred within the limits of New Haven. Mrs. Madison was less than twenty-one years old at the time of her decease. She was attended by her only female neighbor, Mrs. Samuel Campbell.

The settlement of the town during the year 1855 was very rapid, and it would be impossible to name all the arrivals. Many of the original settlers have moved farther west. John B. Bassett filed a claim on a quarter of section 34 in October, 1854; and his son, Joshua B., took a quarter of the same section in May, 1855. This was the first land in the town on which a patent was issued by the government. The instrument bears date of December 1, 1856. Owing to an error in the survey, the lands in New Haven could not be patented until a long time after their settlement. Mr. Bassett happened to be the first to patent his claim after it came in market. Joseph and John Cornwell, brothers, entered claims in May, 1855. In September of the same year Cornelius White claimed the quarter of section 31 on which he still continues to reside. James Button, now a leading citizen of Rochester, located on section 14 in 1855, and continued to reside thereon for many years, taking an active part in the development of the town. In 1858 he bought the sawmill on section 27, built two years previously by Baker & Madison, which he still owns, with four hundred acres of land in the vicinity.

At one time the village of Durango promised to make a large commercial center, as so many new towns often promise, only to prove like the fruit of Sodom and Gomorrah. After Brink's sawmill was set in motion, numerous people were employed by him in its operation. In partnership with John Holmes he opened an extensive store and supplied a large tract of county with necessaries. It is said that the first nails driven in Rochester were purchased here, and that many came from what is now the commercial center of the county to purchase drygoods, etc., in the winter of 1855-6. Early in 1855 a man named Birch opened a "dry and wet" grocery, and some wild carousals were held here, after some shooting had been indulged in, in which the proprietor seemed to be the chief target, the place was closed and its keeper disappeared. Brink & Holmes sold out to Charles Nye in 1856, and Brink decamped the following spring, leaving Holmes in the lurch. All of the latter's real estate was absorbed in paying the debts of the firm, and he had to start anew. His defaulting partner subsequently died in an almshouse. Nye died in 1857 and the property fell into the hands of Daniel Heany. In the spring of 1858 Heany opened a large store and continued also to operate the sawmill till 1864. At this time the development of rival towns, where better powers were afforded by the Zumbro, had deprived New Haven (this was the name taken in 1858, when the state and township were organized) of its prestige, and the village rapidly fell into decay. The sawmill was operated in a small way by one Ambler for four years longer, at the end of which time it fell down and the dam has since disappeared through neglect. Three residences now constitute the hamlet. The building at first occupied as a store is doing service as a stable. A postoffice was established here about 1861 or 1862, with John H. Hill as postmaster, but was discontinued some years since. Considerable sport was made with Mr. Hill by his democratic friends over his degradation in being compelled to accept an appointment from a republican president! The honors of emoluments of the office were never such as to be sought after, but the office was accepted by its incumbent as a neighborhood accommodation.

Source: History of Winona and Olmsted Counties, 1883



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