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Chapter 18
Pages 744-751

From the book about Wabasha Co. Minnesota
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books

This township is probably as happily situated for the agriculturist as any to be found in the state. The Zumbro river crosses its southwest and southeast quarter-sections; on the former corner there is no timber save a small grove of second-growth. In the southeastern portion of the town there are several fine groves. The general configuration is quite uneven, the region being traversed by numerous valleys, but a rich prairie loam covers the whole and affords a handsome return to the tiller of the soil. A deep valley tributary to the Zumbro, with its several branches, drains the whole surface. Through this valley a bear was pursued by the early settlers, and the region became known as Bear Valley, a name by which the only postoffice is still known. When the town was organized, on the admission of the state, its present name was attached. The postoffice was established in 1856, with Joseph Caswell as postmaster, and was supplied by the Wabasha and Faribault stage line for some time. Mail is now received twice a week by the Lake City and Mazeppa stage route. Mr. Caswell kept the office six years, after which it was held by the following persons in succession, the last having held it since February, 1879: Silas Cross, James M. McMillan, C.M. Bontelle, E.H. Smith, William Morris, Charles E. Buckminster.

A permanent settlement was made here previous to any in Mazeppa. During the winter of 1854-5 a party of St. Paul gentlemen who were out on a trapping, hunting and fishing expedition, encamped on Trout brook in the southwestern part of the town. Among the number was James M. Kimble, who was so pleased with the stream, filled with fine trout, that he determined to settle there. On returning to St. Paul he secured tools and supplies and set out with only one companion to establish a claim. There were hundreds of men at Red Wing waiting for the snow to settle, but Mr. Kimble and his companion pushed on. They lived two weeks in a cloth tent on the banks of the creek, while getting out material and building a cabin. Thus a claim was established in February, on the northwest quarter of section 30, and here Mr. Kimble brought his family in April following. The next settler was probably G. Maxwell, now in Mazeppa, followed by Peter Bouillard, and Alsatian Frenchman, who still lives on his original claim, on section 28. He came in May, and during the same month came Joseph Caswell and four sons - Joseph, Jesse, Cyrus and Hiram; Edward Hunt, William Washey, William Davis, and two sons - Robert and James; Daniel Slaymaker and two sons - Reuben and Henry; Greenberry Triplett. This year also saw the arrival of Francis Jerry, W. W. Day, G. W. Judd, Wells B. Smith and Thomas Cliff.

Attention was early given to religion and education. There were two local elders of the Methodist Episcopal church in the town in 1856, namely, A. E. Standish and Greenberry Triplett. Meetings were held under the leadership of these gentlemen during the year 1856 in Joseph Caswell's house. About the same time, or early in 1857, Rev. Ralph Frasier, a local elder residing in Mazeppa, preached at the same place. To Mr. Standish is given the credit of preaching the first sermon in the town. During the winter of 1856-7 Sidiney Cross taught a rate school in Caswell's house. During the following winter timbers were got out, and in the spring of 1858 Bear Valley schoolhouse was erected. It was a log structure and stood on the site of what is now known as Bear Valley schoolhouse, adjoining the cemetery. At the town meeting, April 5, 1864, an appropriation of thirty dollars was voted to establish this cemetery.

Isadore, son of Francis and Elizabeth Jerry, was probably the first Caucasian child born in Chester, his birth dating May 13, 1857. He is now in Washington Territory.

In June, 1857, a daughter was born to Nelson B. and Margery Smith, and christened Lottie Ann. She is now the wife of John McCabe, and resides in the town.

On July 14, 1856, Cyrus L. Caswell and Margaret Jenkins, of this town, were united in marriage at Mazeppa. This is the earliest marriage of Chester's citizens. In the fall of the same year two persons, Edward Hunt and Sarah Washey, agreed to live together as man and wife, and had a contract drawn up to that effect. L. T. Nicholls, of Mazeppa, executed and witnessed this unique document. The contractors lived an apparently happy life till Hunt entered the army, four children having been born to them in the meantime. On his return from the war Hunt was disowned by his quandam ostensible spouse, who subsequently married another man, and now resides in Missouri.

The month of May, 1857, also dates the first death in the town. At this time a ten-year-old daughter of William Davis, named Agnes, passed away.

The town was politically organized, under the name of Chrester, May 11, 1858. The meeting was held at the house of Joseph Caswell, Jr., and the following officers were chosen for the ensuing year: chairman, F. M. Skillman; associate supervisors, R. H. Davis and Jesse M. Caswell; clerk, John A. Slaymaker; he soon resigned and S. J. Buckminster was appointed November 11; assessor and collector, John Rawalt; overseer of the poor, Wells Smith; constables, R. H. Davis and E. W. Hunt; justices, Alfred Ambler and J. A. Skillman. N. B. Smith was appointed collector November 16.

On April 5, 1859, the second town meeting was held at Bear Valley schoolhouse, and thirty-two votes were cast. A committee was chosen to draft by-laws in relation to the restraint of stock, and report at the next town meeting. F. M. Skillman, S. J. Buckminster and Joseph Caswell, Sr., constituted this body. Joseph Spaulding, T. J. Cliff and James O. Wilcox were made overseers of road districts 1, 2 and 3 respectively. The supervisors that year were F. M. Skillman, Henry Slaymaker and T. J. Cliff. S. J. Buckminster was clerk until his death, which occurred May 3, 1861. Robert H. Davis was appointed to fill the vacancy for that year.

At the third annual meeting, 1860, V. B. Conklin was chosen school superintendent. The supervisors that year were R. H. Davis, G. Maxwell and N. B. Smith. Fifty votes were found in the ballot box.

In 1874 W. H. Campbell moved away and C. A. McKean was appointed clerk in his stead. October 10, 1876, W. C. Prescott was appointed clerk, and has held the office continuously since.

At the presidential election in 1880 the republican electors received ninety-seven votes in the town, and the democrats had one hundred and three. This most nearly represents the present political feeling of the voters of any data now to be found. At the fall election in 1882 but eighty-seven votes were cast, of which the democratic candidate for congress received fifty-eight and the republican twenty-nine. Local prejudices affected this election.

No draft was resorted to during the civil war to fill out the quota of Chester in the United States army, but some very high bounties were paid. On February 23, 1864, the town board appropriated one hundred and fifteen dollars and ten per cent interest to each volunteer who was accredited to the town. This move was made necessary to avoid a draft, and sufficed for the time. In the autumn of the same year, five more men were demanded of the town, and on September 5, the board appropriated fifteen hundred dollars of bonds drawing twelve per cent to secure them. On January 5 following, the board offered four hundred dollars per man, and a special town meeting was held on the 23d of that month to ratify or annul the proposition. By vote of thirty-six to four it was decided to pay four hundred dollars per volunteer. On March 4, 1865, a contract was made with L. J. Fletcher, W. H. Amsbry and C. W. Hackett, by which these men agreed to procure four volunteers, for which they were to receive sixteen hundred dollars, and did so.

On March 28, 1865, the board appropriated fifty dollars to cover a balance supposed to be due on bounties. It was found on investigation, in August, 1866, that the town had paid bounties for more men than were really required of it, and was reimbursed by the county to the amount of eight hundred and ninety-five dollars and fifty-three cents.

In 1880 the number of acres assessed in the town was twenty-two thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven, of which nineteen thousand three hundred and seventy-seven were improved. The lands were valued at two hundred and thirty-four thousand one hundred and forty-five dollars, and buildings thereon at thirty-two thousand six hundred and twenty dollars. Personal property at this time was assessed forty-six thousand one hundred and ninety-nine dollars. In 1879 but twenty-six thousand three hundred and eighty-eight acres were assessed, the value then placed thereon being one hundred and twenty thousand five hundred and twenty-two dollars, and probably included buildings. Personal property was valued at fifty-three thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight dollars. In that year eighty-two thousand four hundred and fifty-seven bushels of wheat were raised, and fifty-two thousand seven hundred and twenty-three bushels of other grains.

The population of the town in 1880 was one thousand and sixty-seven. Ten years previous it was eight hundred and thirty- five. The number of births from 1870 to 1882, inclusive, are recorded respectively, as follows: 32, 34, 12, 42, 36, 24, 47, 42, 44, 40, 34, 10, 6, 8, 10, 6, 14, 6, 10, 21, 13, 21, 8.

An amusing incident is related in regard to the experience of the first constable, E. W. Hunt. Being required to serve a summons, he sought advice as to manner of procedure, and was told to read the summons to the defendant, and endorse it "personally served." When the document was returned to the justice who issued it, the endorsement read, "bodily served."

A gristmill was built on the Zumbro in the extreme southeast corner of the town in 1866, and did a good business till it was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1882.

No stores were maintained within the limits of the town until 1877. During this year Anthony Caspar built a large store on the north line of the town, at Belle Chester, and has since kept a complete general stock there. In the spring of 1883 John P. Wagner and John M. Weimar built a fine store on the northeast corner of section 5, opposite Caspar's, and put in a large general stock. This building and its contents were totally consumed by fire on the morning of November 22, the same year, causing a loss of seven thousand dollars.

In 1873 E. and M. Skillman, brothers, built a gristmill on the west side of section 19; Trout Brook supplies the power, and two sets of buhrs are kept in operation, one for flour and the other for feed; Evander Skillman is the miller and now principal owner. This mill is a great convenience to farmers of the vicinity, and is kept busy the year round.


Rev. Frederick Hill, a Baptist clergyman who settled in Zumbro - then Hyde Park - in 1856, soon after held meetings in this town and organized a class, but no records or reliable memories of any organization of this sect can now be found.

The first religious organization was a class of Methodists. This body came together under the efforts of Rev. Nelson Moon, a local elder who settled in Bear Valley in 1864. He at once began preaching at Bear Valley schoolhouse, and the class was formed August 27, 1864. The following persons composed it: Nelson, Casandra and Emma Moon, R. H. Davis, Samuel and Emeline Converse, Mrs. H. J. Crump, Huldah Cliff, Joseph and A. B. Spaulding, Susan Merrill, Hiram, Almira and Frances Stacy, Isaac Waters, David Jones, Margaret Caswell, James A. and Mrs. A. Davis, Philo Tenyke and wife. Of these twenty-one members three have died and many have moved away, and only four now remain. This class was assigned to Gilford circuit, and preaching has been maintained ever since the organization, save one year. A uniln Sunday school has been kept up with good results. R. H. Davis is its faithful superintendent. Meetings are now held in the grange hall near Bear Valley schoolhouse.

A Roman Catholic mission was early established on the northern border of the town to accommodate the foreign population which was fast taking up that section. At this time fully two-thirds of the town is occupied by natives of Luxembourg, Hanover, Belgium, and parts of northern Germany.

In 1865 the Catholic society purchased forty acres of land in Belvidere, adjoining the northeast quarter of section 5, this town, and next year erected a frame church thereon at cost of one thousand dollars. This is now used as a schoolhouse, to which has been added a residence for teachers, costing, with furniture, fifteen hundred dollars. Three sisters of the order of Notre Dame, from Milwaukee, now conduct the school. Services were conducted by Red Wing priests until the fall of 1875, when Father C. Walters took up his abode here. The next summer he went away and this again became a mission station. In the summer of 1878 Rev. John Meyer became resident priest, and a parsonage was built at an expense of one thousand dollars. The present pastor, Rev. John Tori, succeeded Father Meyer in September, 1881. A handsome stone church, 90x50 feet in area, was finished and consecrated in 1877. Besides the hauling of material and windows, which were donated by the people, this cost eight thousand eight hundred dollars in cash. An average of ninety families are communicants in this church, represented in Chester by the following heads: Philip and Nicholas Arendt, Dominick and Nicholas Bartholome, Jacob Berend, Anthony Caspar, Peter Glad, Matthias Prom, John Wagner, John Weimar, Nicholas S. and Nicholas Schmitz, Peter Musty, John Delwar, John and Hugh Darcy, Patrick Gillaspie, Michael Hart, William Hofschult, William Janti, Nicholas Kruer, Andrew, Nicholas and John P. Lifrige, John N. and Stephen Meyers, William Nardanger, Adam and Michael Poncelet, John Reiland, Michael Sullivan, Matthias and Stephen Schmieds, Nicholas Threner, Peter and Frank Weber, John Schuler, Michael Coffee, Frank and Paul Conrad, Charles Early. Under an act passed in the legislative session of 1878-9, incorporating Belle Chester church society, the following officers were chosen in the fall of 1879: Councillors - Phillip Arendt, William Nardanger, Henry Straus; trustees - Herman Hofscholt, secretary; John Befort, treasurer.

Evangelical Lutheran. To this society belongs the honor of erecting the first church edifice in Chester. As early as the fall of 1868, Rev. Rupert Weiser came here and held services in the schoolhouse on section 2. Rev. Horst afterward visited the few Lutheran families in the neighborhood and held meetings here. The society was organized by Rev. Christ. Maeurer, of Belvidere, on January 24, 1875. It was named "St. John's German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation," and the following, with their families, composed it: Ernest Radke, Louis Winters; Louis, Ferdinand and August Freiheit; Louis and Jule Gray; F. W. Sprikes; Louis Huh; Claus Luchan; Carsten Siems; Henry Feldman; Peter Niegers; Frederick Jette; John Webusth; August Radke 16. In 1878 the membership included twenty families, and in 1883 it had increased to twenty-four. Services were conducted three years in the schoolhouse, and it then decided to build a church. Frederick Winters donated an acre and a half on the northwest quarter of section 12 for a site, and a frame building was erected there under the supervision of the following trustees: Louis Gray, Louis Freiheit and Louis Winters. Beside the labor donated by the congregation, a cash outlay of fifteen hundred dollars was made to complete this structure. It is 32x45 feet on the ground, with a neat spire. It has a gallery, and will comfortably accommodate two hundred and fifty auditors. It was dedicated on September 29, 1878. The present board of trustees has one vacancy, caused by the recent removal of F. W. Sprikes, clerk. The others are Ernest Radke and Louis Freiheit, treasurer. The spiritual wants of the congregation are now ministered through the labors of Rev. Al Krahn, of Belvidere.

Bear Valley Grange This organization of the Patrons of Husbandry began its existence about 1870, and over one hundred members have been connected with it. In 1874 a hall was built by the society on the southwest quarter of section 23. It is 28x40 feet in area, two stories high, the lower story consisting of a single room. In the second story are entry and anteroom at the south end. The building cost about five hundred dollars. It is now used for religious meetings, town meetings, etc., but the organization that built it has gone out of existence.

On section 12 of this town is a rare natural cave of large dimensions. It was discovered by Tyler Whipple, in the summer of 1856, and has been visited by numerous exploring parties. Almost every season it is entered by people from Mazeppa and elsewhere. Numerous apartments exist, and several have been entered and examined. The exterior entrance is found on the side of a small mound, and the explorer is obliged to descend a narrow passage to gain admission. The passages leading to some of the apartments are so low that one must lie on the face and creep to reach them. The labor is, however, well repaid by a sight of the beautiful stalactites which descend from the roof. One of these rooms is in the form of an inverted jug, the entrance being made through the mouth. In another place is found a well of limpid water; in another a deep pit has been found, whose depth is shown to be very great by the time occupied by a pebble in reaching the bottom.

Great changes must have taken place in this county at some past time. On section 8, a few years since, a solid piece of wood was found at a depth of sixty-four feet, in a well dug on the farm of Philip Arendt. A part of this timber is now in possession of Mr. Arendt.

End of Chapter