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Swift County, Minnesota


Benson, Minnesota History

Source: History of the Minnesota Valley: Including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota, by Rev. Edward D. Neill. Minneapolis, North Star Publishing Company, 1882. Transcribed by Mary Kay Krogman.

The village of Benson, as surveyed by C. A. F. Morris, was located on the southwest quarter of section five, township 121 north, range 39 west. It was surveyed and laid out for the First Division of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company in the spring of 1870, being a portion of the land grant to the company. An addition was platted, and filed in the register's office, March 18, 1876, by Morris & Payte, consisting of the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of section six. This addition was sold, in 1881, for non-payment of taxes.

The first store was opened by A. W. Lathrop, previous to the advent of the railroad. Meldal & Sunde, in February, 1870, opened a store in a sod shanty. It consisted of a few posts driven into the ground, against which were banked sods; the roof being of straw. In this primitive edifice were sold very many goods. About the same time Thomas Knudson started a saloon, and in the following July, Theodore Hanson arrived and erected a frame building and started a general store.

When the railroad company commenced the survey of the town site there was an effort made to get the company to locate it a short distance from where it now is, on the claim of N. P. Strom, on the banks of the Chippewa river. The company however considered that the price demanded was too high and therefore declined. It was here that Lathrop and Knudson were located. There was also a lumber yard owned by L. R. Davis and O. N. Barsness.

The first hotel was started by L. S. Williams, in May, 1870, and was called the Central House.

Soon after this a man by the name of Hyser kept a hotel in a temporary building put up by the railroad company for the use of immigrants. He remained there about a year when he partially rebuilt the structure formerly used by the surveyors, as their headquarters, and called it the Benson House.

Soon after Hanson had started his store, Peter Sutherland arrived with a kind of a movable store, in which he kept groceries and railroad supplies. He was in the habit of moving with the railroad, and did not remain long, going from here to Morris. A post-office was started in 1870, with R. Sunde as postmaster. He continued to act until 1874, when O. Wenaus, the present postmaster, was appointed. For office purposes he had a small addition put on to the west side of the Central House, where he remained until he built his present store. Frank M. Thornton was the first station agent. In 1873, Thomas Knudson started a general store. From this period on until 1875, there were very few additions made to the population-but in 1875 a great improvement began to be visible. In 1876 there were four good general stores; those of A. N. Johnson & Co., T. Hanson, Croonquist & Benson, and T. Knudson. Other business interests were: H. L. Greaves, keeping a drug store, Stone, Clark & Co., in the hardware business, and, early in the year, D. E. R. Bundy came, and started another drug store. W. A. Foland opened a law office, in February, and also commenced to edit the Times. There were then two saloons, but the town had voted the prohibition ticket, and they were running without a license, and the owners were under indictment. At the next town meeting, however, opinion had changed, and the licenses were again granted. Besides these there were two machinery houses, Ole Jacobson & Co., and H. B. Strand, and three hotels, the Crandall House, Pacific House, and the Central House. The above constituted, in the beginning of 1876, all the business interests of the place. During the spring and summer M. Hoban opened a general store; William McCabe built a two-story building and started a saloon; Peter Burns erected a blacksmith shop, and Charles G. Austin built, and took charge of a store as a branch of Campbell, White & Co., of Litchfield. He was afterwards succeeded by M. Cosgrove. That summer, L. A. and R. W. Dunn, two brothers from Willmar, bought out the Crandall House, and re-named it the Benson House.

A veritable "boom" struck the place in 1876, and speculation in town lots was very heavy. All the hotels were crowded with the rush of immigrants, so that sleeping accommodations, even on the floor, were at a premium. All the conversation was about lots and quarter sections, and much prospecting was indulged in. So eager were the new comers that many claims were made before the snow went off the ground, and when the thaw came, the happy claimants in some cases would have found difficulty in finding their claims without the aid of boats.

In the fall of 1876 the land office was moved here; J. E. Braden being the register and W. H. Greenleaf the receiver, who both came with the office from Litchfield. In 1877, Braden died and D. S. Hall, the present register, succeeded him. Greenleaf resigned his position as receiver in 1879 and was succeeded by H. W. Stone, the present officer.

In the fall of 1875, Thornton built an elevator about half the size of the present one, the addition being made to its capacity in 1877-8. It is now known as the Farmers' Elevator, and will hold 120,000 bushels of grain. Davidson elevator which originally was a couple of small warehouses was rebuilt and enlarged to its present capacity of containing 75,000 bushels, in 1877.

In 1877, the streets were much improved by the laying of 100 car loads of gravel, obtained from beyond Morris. A complete system of drainage was also effected, by which the surface water is all carried by pipes, under the streets, into a creek, which runs into the Chippewa river; so that the village, at all times is dry, and free from any malarious influences likely to arise from defective sewerage.

The act to incorporate the village of Benson was approved February 14, 1877, and W. A. Foland Z. B. Clarke, R. R. Johnson, T. Hanson and Ole Jacobson were appointed to give notice of and conduct the first village election. March 11, 1878, another act was passed which provided that the village of Benson should constitute a separate and independent organization from the town of Benson; this act also conferred other privileges on the village. The first meeting of the village council was March 3, 1877. Officers: A. N. Johnson, president; F. M. Thornton, T. Knudson and C. A. Dwight, trustees; J. Q. A. Braden, justice; H. W. Stone, treasurer; R. R. Johnson, recorder; A. McMillen, constable; W. A. Foland was appointed village attorney.

The present village hall was completed in 1881 and cost $3,000. It is a well constructed edifice; the upper floor is fitted up for a lecture hall with a good stage and seats; the rear part is used by the fire company, in which is kept good fire apparatus; the company was organized by a resolution of the council passed June 18, 1881.

The first church edifice in the village was that erected by the Congregational Society in the fall of 1870. Rev. Walcott was first pastor; the present pastor is C. A. Ruddock. The Episcopal church was built in 1878. The first rector was Rev. D. T. Booth. Rev. F. B. Nash is now in charge. Other organizations are the Catholics, who are building a church; the Norwegian society, who use the court-house, presided over by Rev. C. A. Peterson, and the Lutherans, who purchased the old school building and refitted it; their pastor is Rev. A. Almklov. In 1879-'80 there was a Baptist organization, presided over by Rev. O. B. Reed, and in 1876 there was a Methodist class, but neither are now in existence.

The first school was taught by Mrs. Charlotte Knowlton in the winter of 1870-'71, in the emigrant building erected by the railroad company. The first school-house was erected in 1872, at a cost of $1,200. The present two-story brick school-house was built in 1879, and cost $6,000.

Swift Lodge, No. 129, A. F. & A. M, was instituted in 1877. J. Q. A. Braden was the first W. M.; Z. B. Clarke the first secretary. Benson Lodge, No. 54, A. O. U. W., was organized in March, 1878; W. A. Foland was the first M. W.

The first newspaper was the Swift County Censor, published in February, 1874, by E. V. Price. It was only continued for a few months. The Benson Times was started in February, 1876, by Edward Thomas as publisher, and W. A. Foland as editor. It is in the hands of the same gentlemen, and is, both typographically and editorially, a creditable journal. The Swift County Advocate was started in 1877, by Z. B. Clarke, who sold it in 1879 to W. A. Foland and T. W. Woodburn. They disposed of it in 1880, and the material was taken to Willmar by the purchaser.

On August 5, 1880, quite a disastrous fire occurred in the village, which completely wiped out of existence one whole block of business houses. The fire started in a small building next to Joseph Fountain's saloon. Fountain's, Paul Sheridan's and Otto Oleson's saloons, the general stores of T. Knudson and M. Hoban, the drug store of E. R. Bundy, the meat-market of Brambilla & Hackett, the harness shop of T. F. Thompson, law office of Foland & Hudson and the Benson House were totally destroyed.

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