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The History Of Humboldt, Minnesota


Mark Lommen

Humboldt, Minnesota started out like a typical NorthernMinnesota, Red River Valley town. It was typical because it was a "JimHill" town; meaning that James J. Hill, the millionaire railroad magnate,owned and platted the town site. Hill, who also owned and farmed most ofthe land in the Humboldt area, was responsible for bringing the railroadthrough Humboldt. Many other Great Northern villages were named after associatesof the railroad, but Humboldt was named after the great German scientistAlexander von Humboldt. There were many Germans living in the area who hadinvested in railroad bonds and naming a town site after a famous Germanwould be a tribute to the German people.

Humboldt was originally designed as a wheat shipping center.Before the railroad came to Humboldt, the grain was stored in flat housesusually located near the river. At that time the only efficient way it couldbe shipped was by steamboat on the river. The coming of the railroad causedmany elevators to be built in and around Humboldt. The first of these wasbuilt by the St. Anthony & Dakota Company. Others were built by localfarmers who constructed their own private elevators. this efficient systemof storing and shipping grain brought about a great increase in the amountof grain production and brought many new farmers to the area.

Humboldt was not important as a trading center in its earlyyears, chiefly because it was surrounded by big, bonanza farms and was consideredsimply as a shipping point. With the coming of the railroad and the increasein population, Humboldt found the need for a general store. The first storewas built in 1878 by the Booker McFadin firm. The business had a slow start,but the needs of the bonanza farmers and of the few small farmers made someretail business necessary. In 1900, the Florence and Nelson Firm openeda general store which did much to accelerate the business pace of the village.This firm handled farm machinery and supplies as well as general supplies,which made it possible for the local farmers to get equipment without sendingout for it. also, in 1900, developments in agricultural methods and thegrowth of livestocking caused an increase in population and furthered theneed for supply stores. In 1904, the Mathews and Anderson firm came intobeing. Mathews and Anderson built up a thriving business that made over$50,000 a year. In the Kittson County Enterprise it was advertised at thattime:

"The Mathews and Anderson General Store constantly has on hand complete lines of dry goods, furnishings, hats, shoes, fancy and staple groceries, fruits, confectionery, cigars, tobacco, hardware, furniture, and also heal in the standard makes of farm machinery, repairs and extras." (1)

Also, in that time period, another merchant, Victor Clow,began a general store which was a help to the area farmers because of thecompetition it caused in prices and the quality of goods. Several otherbusinesses sprung up at this time, among those were creameries, hotels,saloons, blacksmith shops, machinery repair shops, fur trading posts, andvarious other associated activities. During this time period, Humboldt wasa thriving village and a major shipping center.

Although the village had programmed much since the railroadfirst came through in 1878, it had not been incorporated. The incorporationdid take place on September 29, 1919 and the organization meeting was heldand officers elected December 2, 1919. Even the filing of the town siteplat was not a very early accomplishment. The actual filing date was notuntil October 20, 1920. But this was only a formality and the village wasnot affected by the delay. There was a bank in Humboldt long before theincorporation took place. The First State Bank of Humboldt was incorporatedon April 18, 1904, with a capital of $10,000. The bank was incorporatedmore than ten years before the great land boom, which followed the WorldWar, and the bank aided in the pro-boom developments. The residents of Humboldthad hopes that the incorporation of the village and the boom would bringa large municipal growth.

Along with the Germans, the Humboldt vicinity was settledprimarily by Prince Edward Islanders and Scots. Most of those first settlersremained and are now represented by descendants whose names are familiarthroughout the vicinity. Those men were very interested in the town's futureand were responsible for much of its progress. George W. Mathews built thefirst school in 1882 at a cost of $140. The school district No. 10 was createdJuly 24, 1882. Some of those early settlers were also responsible for foundingmany of the churches in the Humboldt vicinity. The North Star PresbyterianChurch, which was organized in 1901, is one of those churches. The buildingis still standing and is located about four miles north of Humboldt nearthe Joe River.

Almost everything that happened in Kittson County in theearly years, was greatly influenced by the activity of James J. Hill. In1897, two-thirds of the Northern part of the county was owned by eitherHill of the Great Northern Railroad. Hill owned over 40,000 acres of landin Clow, St. Vincent, Hampden and Hill townships when Edward Florence openedhis general store in 1904. Hill got rid of half of those holding directly,and the balance was sold in the World War Boom period in a selling campaignby the Payne Investment Company at prices of twenty-three to seventy-fivedollars per acre. A great slump followed this sale and more than ten percentof the land was turned over to the hand of trust companies, savings banksand insurance companies.

In the late 90's, wheat was the most important cash crop.Some flax was being grown, but drainage was poor and most of the land notunder cultivation was considered unfit for farming. At that time the areaeast and southeast of Humboldt was known as "the flat" and wasa succession of sloughs and pot holes where ducks and geese bred and onwhich farmers made hay. Before 1890, livestock farming in Kittson Countywas carried on only to supply the demands of the people living in the county.

After the abrupt ending of the "Jim Hill" era,another man, Edward Florence, introduced a new large scale farming technique.This technique was not only new to Kittson county, but to the whole countryas well. This new technique was the use of Diesel engined tractors, combines,and other motorized farming equipment. This new style of farming began afarming revolution which had spread all over the state and was making farminga big business operation.

As the years have passed by, the small farmer image hasalmost completely died out and bigger and more modern farms have taken theirplace. Now, a person must have a large piece of land, expensive and modernmachinery, and good general farming knowledge, as well as ambition in orderto succeed as a farmer. Even the elevators of the early 1900's are gone.In Humboldt, only one elevator is still in operation, although there stillare a few privately owned elevators. The general stores and supplies storesof early Humboldt are now gone. The town itself has been growing steadilysmaller as the people have been seeking jobs with more promise in the largerpopulated areas.


(1) Kittson County Enterprise; Fiftieth Anniversary Number.J. D. Bouvette and Sons publishers; Hallock, Minnesota. 1931.


nterprise; Fiftieth Anniversary Number.J. D. Bouvette and Sons publishers; Hallock, Minnesota. 1931.