Sherburne County, Minnesota

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County History

Source: Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society; transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman

This county, established February 25, 1856, was named in honor of Moses Sherburne, who was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Minnesota Territory from 1853 to 1857. He was born in Mount Vernon, Kennebec county, Maine, January 25, 1808; came to St. Paul in April, 1853, and resided there fourteen years, engaging in law practice after 1857; was one of the two compilers of the statutes of Minnesota, published in 1859; removed to Orono, in Sherburne county, 1867, and died there, March 29, 1868.

An interesting biographic sketch of Judge Sherburne, with his portrait, was contributed by Rev. Simeon Mills Hayes in the M. H. S. Collections (vol. X, part II, 1905, pages 863-6). This paper includes special notice of his life and public services in Maine before coming to Minnesota. His professional and personal character is portrayed as follows: "Sherburne was a successful lawyer from the beginning of his practice. His absolute integrity, imposing presence, accurate learning, and oratorical endowments drew clients from neighboring counties, and brought him almost immediately into prominence. Although never an office seeker, his popularity and the general respect felt for his ability made him a recipient of public offices during the greater portion of his professional life. . . . When the Territory of Minnesota applied for admission to the Union as a state, Judge Sherburne took a prominent part in the deliberations which resulted in the adoption of the State Constitution, and his remarks during the Constitutional Convention are among the valuable original sources to which the future historian of Minnesota will apply for an insight into the problems and motives of the Fathers of the North Star State."

Information of the origin and meaning of geographic names has been gathered from "History of the Upper Mississippi Valley," 1881, having pages 294-339 for Sherburne county; "Fifty Years in the Northwest," by W. H. C. Folsom, noting this county in pages 453-459; and from Charles S. Wheaton, attorney at Elk River since 1872, and Hiram H. Mansur, photographer, each being interviewed during a visit at Elk River, the county seat, in October, 1916.

BAILEY, a railway station in Big Lake township, five miles west of Elk River, was named in honor of Orlando Bailey, a pioneer farmer there. He was born in Chautauqua county, N. Y., in 1820; came to Minnesota in 1852, settling in this township; kept a stage station and hotel nine years; was the first sheriff of this county; and his son, Albert Bailey, is the present probate judge.

BALDWIN township, first settled in 1854 and organized September 13, 1858, received this name in honor of Francis Eugene Baldwin, of Clear Lake township. He was born in Wayne county, Pa., March 7, 1825; was graduated at Illinois College in 1846; was admitted to practice law in 1847; came to Minnesota in 1855, and resided in Minneapolis and at Clear Lake in this county; was the county attorney two years, and owned a farm; was a state senator in 1859-60.

BECKER township, settled in 1855, organized in 1871, and its railway village, founded in 1867, were named in honor of George Loomis Becker, of St. Paul, for whom a biographic sketch has been presented in the chapter of Becker county.

BIG LAKE township, settled in 1848, organized in 1858, and its village, at first called Humboldt, are named from the lake adjoining the village, a favorite place for picnics. Humboldt was the county seat until 1867, being succeeded by Elk River, and its name was changed to that of the township when the railroad was built, in 1867.

BLUE HILL township, settled in 1857 or earlier, organized March 20, 1877, had previously been a part of Baldwin. It has a lone hill of glacial drift in the northwest quarter of section 28, called the Blue Mound from its appearance when seen at a far distance, which rises about 75 feet above the surrounding flat plain of sand and gravel.

CLEAR LAKE township, settled in 1850, organized in 1858, and its railway village, founded in 1867 and platted in 1879, were named for a lake in sections 10 and 11, two miles west of the village.

ELK RIVER township, settled in 1848 by Pierre Bottineau, who established an Indian trading post near the site of the village, received its first farming settlement in 1850. Its village of Orono, to be again noticed, was platted in 1855; and the village of Elk River, platted in 1865, was incorporated in 1881, the two villages being united under the latter name. The county seat was first established at Humboldt, now Big Lake village, as before noted; but its offices were removed in 1867 to Elk River village, then known, in distinction from Orono, as "the Lower Town."

The river, whence this township and village are named, was called the St. Francis river by Carver, Pike, Long, and Schoolcraft, taking the name given to the present Rum river by Hennepin. Nicollet's map, in 1843, applied the name St. Francis as it is now used, for the chief northern tributary of Elk river. Beltrami and Nicollet used an Ojibway name for Elk river, translated as Double river, or by Allen as Parallel river, alluding to its course nearly parallel with the Mississippi. On account of the herds of elk found there by Pike and later explorers and fur traders, the present name was given to this river, and to Elk lake, through which it flows, on the first map of Minnesota Territory in 1850.

FITZPATRICK is a railway station six miles north of Elk River.

HAVEN township, first settled in 1846, organized in 1872, had previously been a part of Briggs (now Palmer) township. Its name is in honor of John Ormsbee Haven, who was born in Addison county, Vermont, October 3, 1824, and died at his home in Big Lake township, September 1, 1906. He was graduated at Middlebury College, 1852; came to Minnesota in 1854; settled on a farm at Big Lake in 1866; was register of deeds, county auditor, county superintendent of schools, and clerk of the district court. In 1872-3 he was a representative in the legislature.

HOULTON, a railway station about three miles north of Elk River, was named for William Henry Houlton, who was born in Houlton, Maine, March 29, 1840, and died at his home in Elk River township, August, 1915. He came to Monticello, Minn., in 1856; served in the Eighth Minnesota regiment, 1862-5; entered partnership with his brother Horatio at Elk River in 1866, and engaged in mercantile business, manufacture of lumber and flour, banking, and farming; was a state senator in 1878 and 1883-85; was superintendent of the State Reformatory, 1896-1900.

LAKE FREMONT, a village on the Great Northern railway in Livonia, incorporated in 1912, is called Zimmerman by the railway company and as a post office, in honor of Moses Zimmerman, who was owner of the farm on which the village was located. The adjoining lake received its name in 1856, when John Charles Fremont (b. 1813, d. 1890) was the Republican candidate for president of the United States. He was the assistant of Nicollet, 1838-43, in the surveys and mapping of the upper Mississippi region including Minnesota.

LIVONIA township, settled in 1856 and organized in 1866, is said to bear the Christian name of the wife of Benjamin N. Spencer, who settled in this township in 1864 and was the probate judge of the county for two terms. This is the name of a province in Russia, adjoining the Gulf of Riga.

ORONO, a village that in 1881 became a part of the village of Elk River, as before noted, was platted in May, 1855, by Ard Godfrey of Minneapolis, who named it for his native town in Maine. Much interesting biographic information of Orono, the Penobscot chief, for whom the Maine town and village are named, was given in an address of Hon. Israel Washburn, Jr., at the Centennial Celebration of that town, March 3, 1874. Orono was born in 1688 and died at Oldtown, Maine, February 5, 1801, aged 113 years. His life is also sketched somewhat fully in the "Handbook of American Indians," edited by F. W. Hodge (Part II, 1910, p. 155).

ORROCK township, settled in 1856 and organized in 1875, after being previously a part of Big Lake, was named in honor of Robert Orrock, its earliest settler. He was born in Scotland, July 15, 1805; came to America in 1831; settled here in 1856 as a farmer; and died at his home January 4, 1885.

PALMER township, settled in 1855, "was organized in 1858, with the name of Briggs, in honor of Joshua Briggs, who resided on the west bank of the lake bearing his name. . . . A few years afterwards, the name was changed to Clinton Lake, and subsequently to Palmer, in honor of Robinson Palmer, the father of Mrs. Joshua Briggs." (History, Upper Mississippi Valley, p. 336.)

Benjamin Robinson Palmer, physician, was born in South Berwick, Maine, March 15, 1815; came to Minnesota in 1856, settling in St. Cloud; was assistant surgeon in the United States army, 1862-6, being stationed at Sauk Center and Fort Ripley, Minn.; lived afterward at Sauk Center, had an extensive medical practice, and died there May 6, 1882.

ST. CLOUD, the county seat of Stearns county, extends also as an incorporated city across the Mississippi to include wards 5 and 6 in Benton county and ward 7 in the northwest corner of Sherburne county. The State Reformatory, established in 1889, is in the part of St. Cloud lying in this county. Its ground, 1,057 acres, includes a large granite quarry.

SANTIAGO township, settled in 1856, organized in 1868, and its village, platted in April, 1857, have the Spanish name for St. James, borne by the capital of the republic of Chile, as also by a city and province in Cuba.

ZIMMERMAN, the railway village in Livonia, named for a farmer there, has been before noticed as Lake Fremont, its corporate village name.

Lakes And Streams.
In the foregoing pages, attention has been given to Big lake, Clear lake, the Elk river and lake, St. Francis river, Lake Fremont, and Briggs lake, the last being named in honor of Joshua Briggs, a former English sea captain who settled there.

The other lakes and streams bearing names on maps of this county include Twin lake, on the east line of Elk River, outflowing by Trott brook, named for Joseph Trott, its earliest settler, who came in 1854; Tibbetts brook, the outlet of Lake Fremont, named for four brothers from Maine, Joshua, Nathaniel, Ben, and Jim, who were lumbermen and farmers; Battle brook, named from a fight of two white men, as noted in the chapter for Mille Lacs county, flowing through a second Elk lake; Rice lake, on the St. Francis river, filled with wild rice, called St. Francis lake on old maps; Catlin and Sandy lakes, in the south part of Baldwin; Stone lake, in sections 25 and 36, Livonia, and a Lake of the Woods in its section 30; Lakes Ann and Josephine, Big Mud lake, and Eagle lake, in Orrock; Birch, Mud, and Thompson lakes, in Big Lake township; Lake Julia and Rush lake, joined by straits with Briggs lake; Rice or Strong creek, in Palmer, flowing through a lake having much wild rice; Pickerel and Long lakes, crossed by the south line of Haven; and Biggerstaff creek in Haven, named for a pioneer farmer, Samuel Biggerstaff.

Rapids And Islands Of The Mississippi.

From the "Historico-Geographical Chart of the Upper Mississippi River," accompanying Coues' edition of Pike's Expeditions, published in 1895, the following names are listed, in the descending course of the river on the border of Sherburne county, from St. Cloud to the mouth of Crow river at Dayton.

The Thousand Islands, within two miles south of St. Cloud, so named, with great exaggeration, in allusion to the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence river along many miles next below the mouth of Lake Ontario, were called Beaver islands by Pike in 1805, and an "archipelago" by Beltrami in 1823.

Next southward are Mosquito rapids and Grand island, which is more than a mile long.

Boynton's island and Smiler's rapids adjoin the south side of Clear Lake township.

Bear island, Cedar rapids, Cedar island, and Lane's island, are at the south side of Becker.

Boom island, Battle rapids, Brown's island, Spring rapids, and Bakers' and Dimick's islands, adjoin Big Lake township. The Boom island has reference to booms for storing logs. Battle rapids, adjoining section 32, received this name in commemoration of the battles of Elk river, between the Ojibways and the Sioux, narrated by Warren in his "History of the Ojibways" (M. H. S. Collections, vol. V, 1885, pages 235-241). These battles are referred by Winchell to the years 1772 and 1773 (Aborigines of Minnesota, 1911, page 539). "From the circumstances of two battles having been fought in such quick succession on the point of land between the Elk and Mississippi rivers, this spot has been named by the Ojibways, Me-gaud-e-win-ing, or 'Battle Ground' " (Warren, page 240).

Next are Davis, Wilson, Jameson, and Nickerson islands, extending to the vicinity of the mouth of the Elk river; and near the southeast corner of Elk River township and of this county are Dayton island and Dayton rapids, named, like the adjoining village and township in Hennepin county, for Lyman Dayton of St. Paul.

Craig Prairie.

A large opening in the woods in the west part of Orrock, having an area of about two square miles, is named Craig prairie, in honor of Hugh E. Craig, its pioneer farmer. Other and more extended open tracts, originally prairies but unnamed, or partly brushland, adjoined the Mississippi through this county and are now mainly occupied by farms.

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