Honorable Mention

Lancaster's Early Years Were Booming


James Wiese

Lancaster, a small town in Northwestern Minnesota was oncea booming town. In 1904, the Soo Railroad Company turned the area settlementinto a flourishing business place. However, like most typical small towns,it's boom soon leveled off. This is Lancaster's story of her early years.

Up to and during the early 1880's the present day Lancasterarea was more or less a wilderness. Most of its settlers were traders andfur trappers. Chippewa Indians were plentiful, and often troublesome. Moneywas scarce. These Indians were often hired by the traders to dig snake rootwhich added to their incomes. Steamboats up the Red River and The GreatNorthern Railroad through Hallock opened up the county. About this timesettlers started moving in. At first a few came and then later on the numberincreased. Most of these early settlers were Swedes that had either comefrom Sweden directly or had come from Swedish communities in another partof the country.

Besides being interested in making a living, these earlypioneers were quite concerned about education. Olof Dahlman, an early pioneerof the community recalls that Louis Glad, the township clerk, hired theservices of Isabelle Gillespie as a teacher. (1) Miss Gillespie was thedaughter of a farmer who lived between Olof Dahlman's place and the townof Hallock. The kitchen of the Dahlman home served as the school house.Classes were held during the summer months. Some of the early pupils ofthis school were: Hilda and Emil Dahlman, Peter Sakrison, Oscar Bergeson,Mrs. Andrew Uppman, Gustav Melin, Martin Lager (former State Representative),and Mrs. John Axen. A year later two schools were constructed and educationwas continued at a more progressive rate.

The first church in the area according to Olof Dahlmanwas the Saron Lutheran Church.(2) Saron was chartered in 1883 and in 1885an edifice was built. Mr. and Mrs. Dahlman were members of this church.

On July 27, 1885, Granville Township was organized. Accordingto Warren Upham, the name Granville is common and is used in twelve otherstates.(3)

Before the actual settlement of the town Lancaster, severalsmall inland villages were started. Most of these inland villages consistedonly of a post office. Poppleton was one of these inland sites. It was locatedthree miles east of the future site of Lancaster. Poppleton was named afterthe township Poppleton which it was in. The township was organized on April8, 1893. It's name was mistakenly named after the poplar trees which grewin the township area. The mail was brought in by a stage coach, and Mrs.Gertrude Steen Hammerstrom was the post mistress there. Hemmington, anotherinland post office thirteen miles to the northeast of the future site ofLancaster, was managed by Mrs. Charlotte Hogdin Anderson. Perhaps the largestof these inland centers was the post office of Visby. Visby was locatedin the northwest quarter of section 23, in Richardville township. McCollum,a Hallock merchant built a store (Trading Post) near the office. A. G. Gabrielsonmanaged the store. This store was the only one in the immediate area. Itwas in this store that the Indians traded their snake root. The Visby postoffice was later moved to Orleans.

Perhaps the most unusual naming of these inland post officesoccurred when Lanroe came into existence. When the United States governmentasked for names that they might possibly use in naming the office, Mrs.Sven Olson sent in several names and Lanroe was one of these names. Mrs.Olson commented that Lanroe didn't stand for anything important but shesubmitted it because it had a nice ring to it.

During this time transportation was limited. The nearestrailroad was in Hallock. Because of poor roads and natural hazards travelwas often null. The hope of a railroad through this area was in existence.In 1904 this wish came true.

The Soo Railroad company started laying tracks in the summerof 1904. On September 28 of that year, the Kittson Land Company under JohnBirkholz, a Grand Forks financier, and T. M. George, the cashier of theKittson County State Bank, bought and platted the site.

Lancaster received it's name from the land company. Again,Warren Upham believes that the name Lancaster had no special significance,but rather it was a common name which eighteen other states used also.(5)The possible source of the name probably came from England where it is thename of a county and a city.

Business built Lancaster. Although the town hadn't beenofficially organized, business men rushed to Lancaster in hopes of doinga prosperous trade. The town site was located in a fertile area of KittsonCounty. This excellent location plus the railroad brought the traders andmerchants flocking.

The first building erected was a hotel built by BernardJohnson. About the same time, Charles Ungerth and Charles Peterson of Hallockbuilt the first store, The Lancaster Mercantile Company. In the fall ofthat same year, 1904, the Robertson Lumber Company was constructed. Duringthat same time, three grain elevators were built. These elevators were operatedby Prairie Elevator Company, Osborn-McMillen and Woodworth Company. Thefirst residence in Lancaster was built by Halvor Elfstrom in the back ofthe lumber yard. Edward Dicks also was an early townsman. He was responsiblefor building the first pool hall.

On September 30, 1905, the village was organized. The firstcouncil meeting was held on October 14 of that same year. The village officerswere: Charles Ungerth - President; Oscar Ryden - Treasurer; A. D. Dennis- Recorder; W. A. Lindgren, Peter Leon, and Edward Smith - Trustees; SwanSwanson and John Bark - Justices of the Peace; George Adrenpe, and PeterRomness - Constables. Edward Smith, the first postmaster operated his officein the back of Ed Dick's pool hall. Swan Olson had been appointed as postmaster,but he had failed to qualify.

George Ferguson was the first depot agent. Mr. Fergusonalso built the first cafe which he managed himself.

The Lancaster school district was created on July 19, 1905.At that time it was labeled as School District 74. During that same yeara school house was erected. According to former Representative Martin Lager,the first school teacher was Miss Mathilda I. Kohl. (6) The members of thefirst school board were: Edward Smith - Chairman; Ludvig Peterson and ThomasColeman as the remaining board members.

Every growing town has a newspaper office. Lancaster wasno exception. J. E. Bouvette, the publisher of the Kittson County Enterpriseestablished that office, which he called the Lancaster Herald. The paperwas first published in 19095. The plant was located in the rear of the theLancaster Mercantile Company. The presses used in the printing were theold Washington hand press. Lawrence Boyd was editor although J. E. Bouvetteowned the office.

The year 1905 brought many new businesses to Lancaster.Henry Dix built a hotel and a soft drink parlor. This later was changedinto a saloon when the village council voted the town "wet." Anothersaloon was built by Severin Anderson of Hallock, Minnesota. The first meatmarket was stated by S. A. Cable. Bernard Johnson built the first liverybarn which he sold to George Dope. The Lancaster Hotel, another early structurewas built by Peter Lindell. John Wallner, Miss Amanda Glad, and Tilda Dahlmanoperated this business. Peter Leon built a general merchandise store whichmanaged until 1913. During that same year a feed mill was built by PeterAnderson and Lars Halvorson. Joseph Ceroski was the town's first blacksmith.The last structure built that year was a harness shop which was run by PeterRomnes. Soon afterwards he sold his shop to Lars Glad.

In 1906, business places rose more slowly but professionalmen were being attracted. Doctor Young practices medicine in Lancaster fora short time. Doctor Patterson also practices but he left after a shorttime like Doctor Young. A hardware store was erected during that year andwas managed by Andrew Erickson and Anton Anderson. Another store was builtduring the summer of 1906 by Charles Ungerth and Anton Swenson of Warren,Minnesota. The first business to sell farm implements was run by WilliamLindgren and Oscar Ryden. Mr. Lindgren also served as the local undertaker.

Perhaps the most thriving business of the whole historyof Lancaster was that of the local creamery. Although the creamery was organizedin 1906, the first meeting wasn't held until January of 1907. Butter productiondidn't start until the next year, 1908. Because the area was still basicallya frontier, men agreed that a cooperative creamery was the best for them.The first officers were: Robert Sugden - President; Ludvig Peterson - VicePresident; Thomas Coleman - Secretary; Olof Dahlman - Treasurer; O. A. Wieberg- Director. The first creamery building was located one half mile out oftown. It was a simple structure but later it grew. "It was Mr. Lagerwho put the creamery's business affairs on the right side of the ledger,quoted N. M. Peterson, the association secretary."(7)

The cows were mostly scrubs at that time. Mr. Lager wasthe man who helped improve these conditions. He taught the farmers how tomanage and build up their herds. Because of his great interest in the developmentof these herds and the creamery itself, he also helped to build the areainto a more prosperous place.

In 1908, the First State Bank of Lancaster was organized.It was a branch of the Kittson County State Bank of which John Birholz andT. E. George were important figures. A. W. Dennis was the first Cashier.The bank was located in the southern part of the Mercantile Company buildingof Lancaster.

The year 1909 brought Doctor G. W. Dahlquist and DoctorReyald to Lancaster. Doctor Reyall was Lancaster's first veterinarian.

The Sion Lutheran Church was organized in 1909. The followingmen were the first elders: William Lindgren, Oscar Ryden, Edward Smith,Martin Peterson, O. G. Borton, J. Vrosvik and Olander Benson. Rev. Sphirawas the first pastor. John Akerlund was the man who erected the church.

Mr. William L. Peterson also moved into Lancaster in 1909.Mr. Petersen was an attorney for the local Lancaster area. In later years,Mr. Peterson was elected to a seat in the state Senate. Besides Mr. MartinLager, Mr. William Petersen was perhaps one of the most beneficial men tothe Lancaster area and village development.

During these first early years of Lancaster's growth, thevillage prospered. As the years went by, the growth stopped. Right now inyear of 1968, Lancaster is at a standstill. Whatever the future holds forLancaster, one fact will always remain; in her early years, Lancaster wasbooming.


(1) Olof Dahlman (early Pioneer), "History of Townsand Village," Kittson County Enterprise, Anniversary Number, I, (1931)47.

(2) Ibid., p. 47

(3) Warren Upham, Ibid., p. 47

(4) Mr. Sven Olson, Ibid., p. 48

(5) Upham, op.cit., p. 47

(6) Martin Lager (Rep.), Ibid., p. 48

(7) N. M. Peterson, Ibid., p. 59bid., p. 48

(5) Upham, op.cit., p. 47

(6) Martin Lager (Rep.), Ibid., p. 48

(7) N. M. Peterson, Ibid., p. 59