History of Steen

Transcribed from "The History of Rock county"
By A. P. Rose
Published in 1911

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  In the list of Rock county's unincorporated villages Steen ranks among the foremost, both in size and importance. It is located on the northwest quarter of section 32, Clinton township, near the southern boundary of the county, and is a station on the line of the Illinois Central railroad connecting Sioux Falls with Chicago. Steen makes no pretense of metropolitan greatness but is content with being a prosperous and substantially built hamlet, surrounded by a rich farming country. Several lines of business are represented, including a bank, general store, hardware store, drug store, furniture store, hotel, blacksmith shop, harness shop, pool hall, lumber yard, two elevators, livery barn, fuel dealer and stock buyers. The town also has a town hall, two churches and a first grade public school, employing two teachers.

  The land on which the town of Steen is located was taken as a homestead in 1871 by John P. Steen. A brother, Ole P. Steen, filed a homestead claim to the quarter section adjoining the year before, and it was in honor of these two pioneers that the village was given its permanent name.

  The last few years of the eighties witnessed the founding of three towns in southern Rock county as a direct result of the construction of the two new lines of railroad, the Illinois Central and the Sioux City & Northern. Included in this number was Steen, or Virginia, as it was originally known, on the Illinois Central, which commenced laying rails on the extension from Rock Rapids to Sioux Falls in September, 1887. The station of Bruce, seven miles to the west in Martin township, was the first of these to be located, the site being selected in December.

  Early in the year 1888 the Illinois Central authorities announced their intention to plat and develop a town on the line between Bruce and Rock Rapids, in Clinton township. A number of the residents of that precinct at once became interested in the project and lent their assistance in its furtherance. It was the offer of John P. Steen to donate twenty acres of his homestead for town site purposes that influenced the railroad company so as to permit the operation of the first passenger train on June 2, 1888. In the course of the same month the town site of Virginia was surveyed by J. F. Whalen. The plat, made to comprise thirteen blocks, was dedicated on June 13 by N. T. Burroughs, president and W. A. Sanford, secretary, of the Cherokee & Western Town Lot & Land company, and it was placed on record September 3.

  The farm house of John P. Steen was the only building on the Virginia town site prior to the activities of the railroad company at that point. No sooner had the survey been completed than work was commenced on a depot building and a flat grain warehouse, and before the summer of 1888 was over there were signs of a promising village. Two grain warehouses, one erected by John Butler, and the other by E. M. Dickey, had been established, and the pioneer merchant, C. C. Clemetson was actively engaged in business. A petition signed by residents in the vicinty of the new town asking for the establishment of a post office was granted, and before the year had closed an office was being operated in the store with Mr. Clemetson as postmaster.

  For several years following its founding Virginia was at a standstill so far as any material growth was concerned. It proved its advantage as a grain market from the start, but it was not until the early nineties that development along broader lines commenced. Among the early business enterprises was a lumber yard established by J. H. Zenker in March, 1890. The town experienced the most pronounced era of progress in building operations and expansion during the period which included the years 1891 to 1894. Early in 1891 the pioneer store was taken over by the firm of Miller & Roan, formerly of Rock Rapids. A second general store was established later in the same year by Hensing & Thorstad. C. C. Berge was the first hardware merchant. The E. M. Dickey Co., which established the first grain warehouse in the year of founding, was the first to erect an elevator, which was done during the summer of 1892. The year 1893 was an especially active one and witnessed a number of substantial building and business improvements.

  In 1895 a town hall was built by a stock company organized by the citizens of Steen. A business directory compiled in July of that year contained the names of the following men: George J. Roan, general store; W. E. Bauer, general store; C. Clemetson, billiard and pool hall; T. L. Peyer, harness shop; George Heath, blacksmith; O. A. Helgeson, livery and feed barn; C. Brant, manager Edmonds Co, elevator; Dickey & Co., elevator; J. H. Zenker, lumber and fuel; C. C. Berge, hardware; G. N. Graves, agent, Illinois Central railroad; C. H. Peterson, postmaster.

  On February 24, 1900, Steen was visited by a fire which consumed the two elevators of the town and destroyed 20,000 bushels of grain contained in therein. For a time the depot building was threatened with destruction, but the energetic work of the citizens prevented further spread of the conflagration. Both of the elevators were rebuilt.

 In late years Steen has enjoyed with others of her sister villages the prosperous times that have been incident to Rock county's marvelous agricultural development. One of the finest little school houses in the county is found at Steen. It was erected in 1905 and was occupied for the first time at the beginning of the September term. This building replaced a former one, erected in the days of the town's infancy.

 There are two church organizations that maintain houses of worship in Steen, the German Evangelical and German Lutheran. The Lutheran church was organized in the summer of 1890 with sixteen charter members by Rev. Theodore Maesse, of Fulda. The present church edifice, the first in the village, was erected in 1895 at a cost of $1800 and was dedicated on October 20 of that year. Rev. H. W. Baumann, of Luverne, is the present pastor.