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Ada, Norman County, Minnesota


Information taken from "Under Prairie Skies" by Lenora I. Johnson, 1976

In May of 1876 William Shields of Bremer County, Iowa, made a tour of the area. He liked the county and persuaded six other settlers to move here from Iowa with him. There was already a house on the Wild Rice River, but the new settlers decided that locality was too low and swampy, so located the village where it is now. The first building was a shanty erected by Shields and two of the other settlers for their living quarters that first fall. He also put up a grain warehouse and began buying grain from the farmers in the vicinity. The new settlement was first called Ada that year, when the post office was moved from Finnian McDonald's farm two and a half miles south on the Wild Rice River to the village. The Ada village was platted on June, 1880, and the instrument was signed by officers of the old Manitoba Railway Company, James J. Hill and E. Sawyer, the former then being vice-president and the latter the secretary of the company. The town was named for the little daughter of H. W. Fisher, formerly assistant superintendent of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, who had a large farm at Edna (now Beltrami) at that time. Ada Nelson Fisher died at the age of six in 1880.

The summer of 1877, Robert Houston of Crookston, built an eating house in the new settlement. W. Stuart, also of Crookston, started the first hotel, but sold it the next year to Frank Bergquest, who renamed it the Ada House. According to early settlers, the first hotel was only a large residence where travelers were accommodated, not in the greatest comfort. Bergquest built the Hotel Ada, a large frame building, in 1881. In 1884 it was taken over by George Warniger, who turned it over the same year to John Heitman.

Davis and Cleveland built the general store in 1877 and G. S. Barnes and Company shipped in a stock of goods for the store that summer. The next year they built a new and larger store with Lars Ramstad put in charge of the store. Lars and his brother Peter were two of the leading business men of Ada in the eighties. They came from Coon Prairie, Wisconsin, and bought lots in the newly formed village in 1881. They had the largest store in Ada at that time. Lars was also postmaster, and upon his death, his brother Peter succeeded him in that office. Their sister was the wife of A. K. Strand, county treasurer from 1883-89.

Walter Wilmot, later a noted professional baseball player, and his father A. C. Wilmot operated Ada's first meat market. During the winter of 1879-80 the only meat they had to serve their customers was elk, plentiful at that time as herds of elk approached the town daily along the banks of the Marsh River. The inrush of settlers to Ada and vicinity in 1879 and 1880 created a building boom, attracting carpenters, masons, and bricklayers.  Lewis Weatherhead was one of the first carpenters in Ada. He sent for A. O. Rolfe whom he new from Glyndon, in 1880. Rolfe did the plastering and mason work on many of the early residences. He built the Hotel Ada block, the Barlow and Prentice buildings and the Congregational church, all made from Ada brick.

Other early business places in Ada in the early eighties were a drugstore operated by Thompson and Hahn; a confectionery store run by A. B. Watson, Civil War veteran and grandfather of Mrs. Jason Weatherhead; Ada's first furniture store was established by August George; the first hardware store started by Cragin Brothers, later bought by Sandvig Brothers; and a general store established by G. S. Barnes of Minneapolis, who sold it to W. H. Bangs of Boston, who in turn sold it to P. O. Onstad.

One of the first doctors in Ada was Dr. F. H. Stuart, who came to the village in 1879. He was a dignified appearing man, who wore a stiff silk hat, and drove a team of spirited horses. He became the main figure in Ada's famous murder trail of 1885. E. L. Narum, who was a physician and druggist, had also come to Ada in 1879 and opened a drugstore together with G. T. Lysingen and S. A. Swenson. On one occasion Stuart had been fined fifty dollars for striking Narum during an argument at a coroner's inquest. Narum as a small, hunchbacked man, while Stuart was large and strong. Some time later, the two got into another argument in Narum's drugstore, which  ended by Stuart's knocking Narum down and injuring him so badly he died several days later. Stuart was arrested for murder. Feelings in the community ran high and some of the hotheads wanted to lynch the doctor, but were restrained by Peer Stromme, a local pastor, and other level-headed citizens. It was impossible to secure an impartial jury in Norman County as everyone had formed an opinion on the case so it was decided to try it at Detroit in Becker County. When the day of the trail came, everyone that could do so went to Detroit. The prosecution had investigated Stuart's early life and brought out a number of damaging facts concerning him. His real name was Frank Fields, a former hostler of a physician named Stuart. When the real Stuart died, Fields stole the diploma of the dead man, assumed his name and proceeded to practice medicine. Stuart was found guilty of fourth degree manslaughter and fined five hundred dollars. He left for Kentucky immediately afterwards, but soon came back to Ada and resumed practice. Except for a short stay in Wisconsin, he remained in Ada until 1900 when he went to Minneapolis. In spite of notoriety gained by the trail he was very popular and had a large practice in Ada and surrounding territory.

The pioneer photographer of Ada was Halvor W. Thune who opened his photograph gallery in 1883 and continued to operate it until his retirement many years later. He held both county and village offices, including court commissioner, chief of the fire department, mayor of Ada, and member of the school board. Another early photographer was L. H. Loverstone, whose advertisement appeared in the 1884 papers.

The first resident pastor of Ada seems to have been Peer Stromme, a picturesque pioneer preacher, who wrote an account of his experiences during the early days of the village. He served a number of other congregations in the county, even a German one, although he admitted he was not very proficient in that language. He was the first county superintendent of Norman County, serving from 1881 until 1886. He combined the jobs of pastor and school-man as he traveled around the country inspecting the schools, organizing districts, and holding religious services.

Early records are incomplete, but in 1883 the village officers were: H. M. Hunting, president of the council; J. S. Johnson, C. H. Brown, F. A. Gaetke, councilmen; D. H. Fiske, recorder; W. H. Hanson justice of the peace; H. G. Lee and M. Woodbury, constables; Al. L. Shields, road overseer.

 

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