Thank you to the Grant County Historical Museum for providing this history.
Grant County is located in West Central Minnesota. It is 24 miles square in size. The eastern part of Grant County consists of rolling
hills and is dotted with many lakes and sloughs. It is also wooded. This part of the county drains south to the Mississippi River via the Pomme de Terre and Chippewa Rivers. The western part of the county is relatively flat and was originally all
prairie with few lakes and trees. This area drains north, eventually to Hudson Bay via the Mustinka River. This part of the county was covered by glacial Lake Agassiz, which existed some 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Grant County was formed in 1871 when land was detached from Stevens County to the south by an act of legislature. There is some discrepancy with this date. A possible alternate date is March 1868. It is divided into 16 townships, 6 miles square each. They are Pelican Lake, Pomme de Terre, Stony Brook, Lawrence, Erdahl, Sanford, Elbow Lake, North Ottawa, Elk Lake, Lien, Delaware, Gorton, Land, Roseville, Macsville, and Logan. Present day towns include Ashby, established in 1879, Barrett, established in 1888, Elbow Lake, established in 1887, Erdahl, established in 1887, Herman,
established in 1871, Hoffman, established in 1891, Norcross, established in 1890, and Wendell, established in 1887. Grant County was named in
honor of General Ulysses S. Grant.
Although Grant County was formed in 1871, it was not officially established until 1873 when the governor appointed three commissioners to organize the county. These three were Henry Sanford, K. N. Melby, and S.S. Frogner. Their first task was to choose a county seat and elect officers. The only two settlements that amounted to anything at that time were Herman (which already had rail service) in the southwestern part of the county and Pomme de Terre in the northeast. Mr. Frogner wanted Herman to be the county seat; Mr. Melby wanted Pomme de Terre. Mr. Sanford, caught in the middle, privately suggested to Mr. Frogner that a neutral site should be chosen and that it would then be easier to get the county seat moved to Herman at a later date. At least it wouldn't be in Pomme de Terre. The men chose Elbow Lake as the county seat. It was located next to
Sanford's land, nearer to the center of the county than either of the other two choices. It was not until 1878 that a courthouse was even built. Elbow Lake remains the county seat although it was not without a fight. In 1881 Herman was able to get the state legislature to name Herman the county seat if residents of the county voted in its favor. In a
special election, it appeared that Herman had won. Although the voting was being appealed, a group from Herman raided the courthouse in Elbow Lake and took all the records to Herman. A courthouse was quickly
built there. When an investigation found out that a number of ineligible votes had been cast in the Herman area and that the votes of one of the northeastern townships had not been counted at all, the final vote was overturned and Elbow Lake was again declared the county seat. A number of men from the Elbow Lake area in turn raided the Herman courthouse one night, returning all the records to Elbow Lake. The present court house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was
built in 1906.
Some of the earliest history of Grant County goes back to 1859 when the Minnesota Stage Company built a road from St. Cloud to Fort Abercrombie on the Red River. This road crossed the northeastern corner of Grant County. (The Red River Ox Cart or Pembina Trail also cuts across a portion of Grant County.) A stage relay station was built in what is now Pelican Lake Township. From 1859 to 1862, Indian disturbances were few, but after the Sioux Uprising of 1862, people grew fearful. A fort, named Pomme de Terre (which is also on the National Register of Historic Places), was built and manned at the location of the stage relay station. It became the principal outpost between Alexandria and Fort Abercrombie. This fort was operated by the military until 1866. It then went back to being a stage station and hotel for a few years until the insurgence of the railroad put an end to the stage line. Incidences at the fort were few. In 1863, two soldiers were attacked and killed by Sioux Indians while
uniting. Their graves still exist at the site of the old fort.
Both Sioux and Chippewa Indians occupied what is Grant County. This is evidenced in part by Indian burial mounds located mainly in the
eastern part of the county. Some of these can still be seen in the area of Tipsinah Mounds Park, which is about 4 miles east of Elbow Lake on the shores of Pomme de Terre Lake. By the time white settlers began coming into Grant County, there was little trouble with the Indians. There were some encounters, but they were
mostly friendly, as the Indians were usually just passing through while hunting, etc. There was a more significant
scare in 1876. Many settlers sought protection by going to Alexandria or elsewhere for a few days, but nothing ever came of it.
The first permanent white settler was Henry T.
Sanford, mentioned previously. He first came to Grant County as a soldier stationed at Fort Pomme de Terre. He
homesteaded on land adjacent to what later became Elbow Lake in 1868. Other early settlers also started coming in 1868, with more and more
people coming in the early 1870s. The majority of these early settlers were
Scandinavian, others were German and English. Many of these settlers had first settled in Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, or Iowa before coming to western Minnesota in search of new opportunities or more land on which to raise their growing families. The eastern portion of Grant County was settled earliest because of the
availability of wood and of water from the numerous lakes. The area around Herman was also settled early on because it was the first area to get railroad
access. Early houses were simple log cabins, sod houses, or dugouts.
The first settlement in Grant County was Pomme de Terre Village. The townsite was laid out in 1868 and plotted in 1874. It was centered around a grist mill on the Pomme de Terre River about a mile west of Fort Pomme de Terre. The village of Pomme de Terre
eventually died out in the early to mid 1900s for two reasons. One, it was passed over for the county seat, and two, the railroad passed by to the north, going instead through Ashby. Other towns that
sprouted up in Grant County that no longer exist include Aastad, Hereford, Thorsborg, and West Elbow Lake (also called Canestorp). The lack of rail service or the eventual discontinuing of rail service led to the demise of these towns. The other towns in Grant County grew mostly as a result of the railroads passing through and staying. Grant County's economy is and always has been dependent on
agriculture, so the economic conditions of the towns fluctuate with that of the farm economy.
Some of Grant County's first:
The first township organized was Lien on July 28, 1874, followed closely by Logan, Pelican Lake, and Erdahl.
The first school was in Elk Lake Township. It was organized in 1872 and classes began in 1873. There was at one time as many as 71 country school districts in the county before the move to consolidation. Before schools were organized, children were taught at home by parents, or a group of neighboring children were taught in one home by a teacher who would board with one of the families.
The first church in Grant County was the Rock Prairie Lutheran Church in Stony Brook Township. It was built in 1873. Like schooling, church services were first held in a settler's home by a traveling minister until enough money was raised to build a church. Services were also held in the school buildings when they became available. Schooling and religion were very important to the early settlers.