WEST ALBANY TOWNSHIP
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books
West Albany township lies nearly in the center of the county, being a full congressional township, and consisting of fine rolling prairie, considerably broken in the southern part by eroded valleys and gorges. The streams all lie at a depth of from one to two hundred feet below the surrounding country, affording perfect drainage, and swamps are entirely unknown. Through sections 34, 27, 26, 25, and 36 in the southeastern part, winds the picturesque Zumbro, with its limestone cliffs, wooded banks and fertile bottoms, receiving the united waters of several smaller streams, which take their rise in the central, western and southern parts. These deep valleys or canyons, which are the result of ages of erosion, appear to have been at one time considerably deeper than at present. The rock strata, which consist of Potsdam limestone, lie at an undiscovered depth below the streams, overlaid by a deposit of sand, clay and loam, which is rapidly increasing, and which indicates a long continued reversal of the process of erosion. The drift, which on the prairies overlies the rock to a depth of from five to fifty feet, consists of clay, topped by a layer of rich clay loam, which twenty-five years ago nourished a thick growth of buffalo grass and grubs, now supplanted by the products of intelligent industry.
Nature here spreads riches for the artist and poet, as well as broad acres for the practical husbandman. The picturesque valleys, bounded by perpendicular, moss-grown walls and steep hillsides, broken by glen and gorge and covered with blooms, shrubs, oaks and conifers, and the winding streams which flow by mill and meadow, hemmed by vine-hung elms and willows, challenge the admiration of the lover of Nature, and invite the artist's pencil. Leaving the valley, the vision sweeps miles of
For which the speech of England has no name ~
Lo! They stretch
In fairy undulations, far away,
As if the ocean in his gentlest swell
Stood still with all his rounded billows
Fixed and motionless for ever."
In the earlier days of the settlement, wheat was the staple product, and the abundant harvests which in those days invariably rewarded the settler's trust to this crop, soon made a prosperous community and gave this grain a monopoly of the farmer's attention. Corn was supposed to be ill adapted to this climate, and barley was yet to be introduced to any considerable extent. Passing years brought a decrease in the wheat production, with an occasional failure, and barley, corn and oats soon claimed a large share of the acreage, though wheat is still king and is likely to be for many years to come. Within the past few years increased attention has been given to stock-raising, owing to partial failures in grain, and the indications are that this industry will grow to considerable importance, though scarcity of water will always be one drawback to complete success in this line. The statistics given below are from the assessment rolls for 1882:
In June, 1855, the hitherto undisturbed reign of nature and the Indian, in what is now West Albany township, was broken by the appearance of Samuel Brink, who erected on the southwest quarter of section 21 a two-story log hotel 24x40 feet. A few weeks later John McCollom settled on section 28, accompanied by a Dr. Spafford who left shortly after the death of Mrs. McCollom in August of that year. This was the first visit of "that grim ferryman" that poets write of, a visit that has too oft been repeated. In the summer of 1855 came also Abram Lyons, followed in the early fall by Leroy, Eugene, and Cornelius McCollom. These settlements were all made in the valley near the future site of the village of West Albany, the first comers being attracted by the supposed superior fertility of the soil and the advantages of water and wood not found on the prairie. In the spring of 1852 Abram Lyons took unto himself a helpmate in the person of Miss Jane McCollom; this first marriage of the township was blessed by the appearance of a daughter the following spring, Laura An Lyons, who was the first child born in West Albany.
The summer of 1856 brought several new comer; their names, as far ascertainable, being as follows: Wm. Wright, of England; Frederick Jacobs, of Hanover; Andrew Hook of Baden; Charles Wise, of Baden' John M. Welsh, of Ireland, and Patrick Cronan, of Ireland. This summer saw the destruction of Brink's tavern by fire; he had remained but a short time after his location here, and when he took his departure he left the hotel in charge of a Mr. Smith. At the time of its burning it was occupied by Frederick Jacobs. For some time afterward the settlement was designated as "the Burnt Tavern."
In the spring of 1857, Lawrence Tracy, of Irish nativity, who had previously settled in what is now Oakwood, moved to West Albany. In the same year came Sylvester and William Applegarth, of Canada; Henry Schmuser, of Holstien; Wm. Funk, and some others. In 1858 began the establishment of the Scotch settlement in the northeastern part of the township. In this year came George and William Wilson, William Duffus, Henry Glashen, Geo. And William Perry, Charles Forest, Alexander Thoirs, William Sterling, David Munro, and William Corry; these have since been followed by many others from Scotland and Racine county, Wisconsin, some also from Canada. Many of these came here poor, but all are now successful farmers, and the Scotch settlement will be found a Christian, hospitable community where peace and prosperity reigns.
Thus we see the early establishment of three nationalities in this township, German, Irish and Scotch, and to these three the population still mainly belongs, but very few being of American descent.
Like the early pioneers of every part of the country the first settlers of West Albany saw their share of hardship and privation, and here as elsewhere bitter cups were often sweetened and brooding clouds lighted by the merry meetings which varied a life of toil, and a generous spirit of equality and neighborly kindness, over the departure of which many an old settler will be seen to shake his head regretfully. Money was scarce, and settlers were sometimes in actual want of food or reduced to a diet of johnnycake or potatoes. The abundance of game was often a great advantage, and the numerous flocks of prairie chicken and grouse, and the occasional deer that haunted the valleys, frequently increased an otherwise slim bill of fare. Sometimes the men would devote a day to ball or "shinny," and braking and hauling bees were quite common, often being a necessity, as teams were rather scarce. In the winter, sleigh-rides, singing-schools, lyceums, spelling- schools, donations, etc., varied the monotony and will always be remembered with pleasure by the participants.
An Indian trail from Wabasha to Blue Earth passed through this township, over which the Indians often passed, frequently stopping along West Albany creek to fish for the brook-trout that haunted its deeps. Winter sometimes saw them camped in the valleys, generally along the Zumbro, and through they often visited the settlers, to beg or bring in a little game, they gave no serious annoyance. Me. Tracy's cabin, which then consisted of one room, was a favorite resort, and on cold winter evenings they would invade this warm retreat, lay around on the floor, in the way, and play cards, sometimes until midnight. In 1862 the settlers were badly frightened by the rumor that the hostile Indians from the north were coming, and many wakeful nights were passed on this account. Some left temporarily, some would go to neighbors' houses to spend the night, and some talk of fortifying a retreat was indulged in, but the Indians never came and no scalps were lost.
Having taken this brief glance at the planting of civilization from a social standpoint, let us return to the year 1857 and consider other matters which time and change have given to the historian's pen. About this time the first road in the township was established. This was a road from Read's Landing to Oronoco and Mazeppa, passing through the village of West Albany. In the spring of 1857 Leroy, Eugene and Cornelius McCollom bought of George H. Faribault the W. of N.W. 1/4 of Sec. 28, on which they laid out a town, naming it West Albany. William Applegarth built a store, which he stocked with a small supply of general merchandise, and the proprietors erected a sawmill. Upon the petition of the McColloms a postoffice was established, being located at Applegarth's store, with E. B. McCollom, postmaster. The future prospects of the town seemed very flattering, but the plat was never recorded, and this was the extent of its growth. The store was sold, about 1866, to R. Barry, who carried on the business until within two or three years, and was postmaster until 1878, when the office passed into the hands of Thomas Smith. The mill was run a few years, when it was abandoned, and in 1874 it was sold to Hiram Fellows, who removed it to the present site of Brandt's flouring-mill. In the same spring (1857) John McCollom platted the town of Union of the W. of N. W. 1/4 of Sec. 27, but agriculture was the only business ever carried on within its limits.
On the first Monday in May, 1858, the township was organized as West Albany, though to whom the credit of naming the town is due, could not be ascertained. The election was held at William Applegarth's, resulting as follows: E. B. McCollom, chairman of board; William Applegarth, clerk; Leroy McCollom, justice of the peace' and Cornelius McCollom, constable.
In the spring of 1859 Sylvester Applegarth laid out the village of Albany, on section 29, about a half-mile west of the town started two years before. The plat was recorded May 3, 1859, and the place soon became the metropolis of the township. Richard Dawson erected a hotel, Sylvester Applegarth a gristmill, S. McIntyire a store and saloon, and Jacob Fister a blacksmith-shop. About this time a small land office was run by E. Foster, who did business of various kinds for the settlers, but upon his election as auditor he left this part of the county. July 4, 1861, the blacksmith-shop was burned. Its destruction was the result of a quarrel about the possession of an anvil with which the inhabitants intended to demonstrate their patriotism. The same year saw the burning of the hotel. Both were soon rebuilt. In 1862 the hotel passed into the hands of Frank Ryan, who ran it as a hotel and saloon for a few years. This place became a favorite resort, and dances were often held under its roof, with their attendant mirth and uproar.
These were the hamlet's palmiest days, though to those most interested in its progress hope whispered that these were but beginnings. In the minds of the proprietors and others this location was destined to become the capital of Wabasha county; and eligible sites for the county buildings were pointed out with confident predictions as to the bright future of West Albany. But shortly after the war its star began to wane, and now business of all kinds has entirely deserted this part of the township.
In the early days of the settlement the leading spirits in this part of the township were the McColloms and the Applegarths, all of whom are now gone. Perhaps more than casual mention is due to some. Leroy McCollom is remembered by those who knew him as an "odd genius," and his influence in "affairs of state" was considerable in those days. He was rather a successful pettifogger, a justice of the peace several years, and always took a great interest in local squabbles. He was a good neighbor and a man of shrewdness, but his time was largely passed, with legs crossed, whittling a stick and discussing the various topics of conversation that presented themselves. About 1867 Charles Nunn put a good-sized stock of general merchandise in the house now owned by Thomas Smith, and did a flourishing business for two or three years. In 1867 Ryan's hotel was purchased by the Catholic congregation, who used it as a church several years. Besides the business institutions mentioned, shoe and blacksmith shops have been in operation at different times; but all have now departed, and the little vitality left at the time was extinguished by the advent of the railroad in 1878.
In the establishment of a new community schools are, of course, a matter of early consideration. The condition and advantages of society are in a measure reflected in the schoolhouses and attendant educational facilities, and the best educational means available are often very crude. Such was the case in West Albany, and the first terms in the different districts were generally taught in abandoned claim shanties and cabins, or perhaps in a private house. The first term of school in this township was probably taught by Augustus Applegarth, in the summer of 1858, in a building owned by William Haines. Further than this nothing could be learned. Good frame schoolhouses now dot the township, and the schools are generally in a prosperous condition.
Baptist: The majority of the members of the organization are residents of West Albany; but meetings were for many years held in the schoolhouse of district 26, which, until 1878, was located in Glasgow township. At that time a new schoolhouse was erected in West Albany, where services were afterward held. The first Baptist preacher who ministered to this community was Benjamin Wharton, a native of Virginia, and at that time a resident of Wabasha. This was in 1858. His first services were held in the log house of John Owens of this township, and until the erection of the schoolhouse of district No. 26, in 1861 or 1862, he held meetings at intervals of two or three weeks, here and at the residences of William Corry and B. B. Fetzer. July 14, 1861, he organized the church at the log schoolhouse. Eight were enrolled as members, viz: Isaac Corry, William Corry and wife, Charles Forest, John Owens and wife, by letter from the Baptist church of Wabasha; B. B. Fetzer and Martha Fetzer, from Clarion county, Pennsylvania. The first officers chosen were B. B. Fetzer and Isaac Corry, deacons. Wharton was succeeded by William Sturgeon, who preached about one year, when Wharton returned, remaining several years. He was followed by Rev. Cummings, and one year later by Levi Ross, under whose charge the church saw its season of greatest prosperity, the membership reaching thirty-three. After a ministration of two and a half years he was succeeded by T. F. Babcock, who remained but a short time, and was the last to visit the church. About this time the ranks were greatly thinned by emigration westward; so much so that services have been discontinued about two years. In 1859 a Sabbath school was organized, and was kept up until the breaking up of the church.
Catholic: In the early days of the settlement the Catholics were favored with occasional visitations by Father Tissot, of Wabasha. He repeated his visits until 1866, when he was succeeded by Father Trobec, also from Wabasha. In 1869 Father Herman divided his time between this charge and Lake City, and was followed by Father Quinn. In the fall of 1879 Father Jacobs took charge of the church, being the first resident priest, and remaining four years. In the spring of 1883 the present priest, Father Boland, began his ministration. About 1863 the congregation purchased sixty acres of land near the village of West Albany, and two years later they bought twent additional acres, with Frank Ryan's hotel, which they used for a church several years. The new church was begun during the ministration of Father Herman, and will be completed in 1884, at a cost of about twenty-two thousand dollars. A commodious parsonage was begun in 1881 and will be finished at an expense of fifteen hundred dollars. The church is propserous, and has a membership of seventy- nine. A Catholic school at this place is one of the probabilities of the near future.
United Presbyterian: At the request of a few persons, residents of West Albany township, they were visited in September, 1860, by Rev. James McCartney, who preached at the house of William Sterling on the evening of September 13, 1860, and in schoolhouse No. 21 on the 14th. Though preaching was earnestly desired, other engagements prevented him from returning until January, 1861. From this time until July he preached here half the time. The Caledonia congregation of the United Presbyterian church was organized March 19, 1861, with nine members. Seven of these were by letter, from Yorkville, Wisconsin, William Wilson, Jeanette Wilson, Henry Glashen, Jane Glashen, William Sterling, Lucretia Sterling and George Perry; and two joined on profession, William Perry and Martha Perry. In the summer of 1861 Rev. J. K. Black visited them a few times, and July, 1862, A. B. Coleman was sent by the general assembly and preached half the time for a year. He was followed by H. McHatton, James P. Rait, James M. Wallace, J. Tate, James Rogers, and perhaps others. July, 1882, A. Y. Houston, the present incumbent, took charge. The present membership is about thirty. The year 1884 will probably see the erection of a frame church, at a cost of fifteen hundred dollars. A Sabbath school has been in progress at various times since the organization, and is now in a prosperous condition.
Lutheran: About 1863 Prof. Moldenke, of Milwaukee, made this section a visit and preached at the house of Henry Schmuser, on section 16. Through his influence the few adherents to the church in this neighborhood were visited in 1864 by William Vomhof, of Olmsted county. During the fall of that year he organized a church of six members, as follows: John Dankwart, Henry Schmuser and wife, John Haase, Fritz Lange, Henry Lange and John Schmidt. The succession of ministers since that time has been as follows: F. Seifert, A. Hoffman, M. Stulpnagel, P. Rubreih, and P. Bechtel, the present incumbent. Their church, a neat frame, was erected in 1868. At the same time a parsonage was erected. A Sabbath school has been running eight years.
German Methodist: The exact date of the first preaching was not ascertained, though it was probably in 1861, by Rev. Grechtenmeyer at C. Furhman's house. The following are the names of ministers who have followed him: Wm. Schreiner, Philip Funk, August Lamprecht, Adam Willer, Frederick Hermsmeyer, Frederick Hogrefe, Louis Thoele, Henry Schnitker, and Frederick Hermsmeyer, of Wabasha, who still preaches to the congregation. A frame church was built in 1866 at a cost of about eight hundred dollars.
July 26, 1875, Good Templar Lodge, No. 120, was organized by F. C. Stow, G. W., secretary of I.O.G.T., with forty-one charter members. The first officers were: J. P. Owens, L.D.; A. G. Sulton, P.W.C.T.; John Munro, W.C.T.; Jennie Ritchie, W.V.T.; John Brown, Secretary. Meetings were held regularly in the schoolhouse of district No. 26; then in Glasgow township. Through dissatisfaction, carelessness and emigration, the organization was disbanded April, 1878. The greatest membership (73) was reached April, 1877.
West Albany creek offers the advantage of good water-power to industries of this kind, and its hurrying course was first checked by a water-wheel in 1857, when the McColloms' sawmill was put in operation.
In 1859 Sylvester Applegarth built a gristmill, in his town, with two run of buhrs. Three or four years after he sold it to Patrick McNamee, and after passing through different hands and experiencing several changes, it was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt.
In 1867 Wm. Applegarth built a feedmill on this stream. It was soon sold, and in 1877 it passed into the hands of its present owner, John J. Hoffman. He reconstructed the mill at a cost of about two thousand dollars, putting in a new dam and machinery, and now has three run of buhrs, two for flour and one for feed.
As before mentioned, the sawmill built by the McColloms was purchased in 1874 by Hiram Fellows and moved farther down the stream. In 1877 it was purchased by the Brandt brothers, who removed the machinery and erected their present flouring-mill at a cost of twenty-four hundred dollars. In the fall of 1882 improvements were made to the extent of one thousand dollars, and more are contemplated. They have a turbine wheel, three run of buhrs, with first-class machinery, and are doing a prosperous business.
We must not omit mention of the Gopher Prairie postoffice, established about 1860, on section 2, with Benjamin Dodge as postmaster. This became a favorite place of resort for the neighbors to gather in, tell stories, discuss politics, or read the newspapers of which Dodge always had a plentiful supply. In the course of two or three years it was moved to the house of Wm. Wilson and shortly after to the town of Lake.
The only practicing physician who has resided in this township was Dr. Miller, who located on section 14 several years ago and remained about two years.
In 1878 the Minnesota Midland railway was completed, following the course of the Zumbro river through the southeastern part of the township. The history of the road will be found elsewhere, and only one thing need here be mentioned in this connection. Before the building of the road, agents of the company went among the farmers and got a majority of the voters to sign a petition for the road agreeing to aid the company to the extent of five thousand dollars in case the road was completed. This afterward created considerable dissatisfaction in the township, and when the road was completed they declined to grant the bonus. The case was carried to the supreme court where the law under which the petition was gotten up was declared unconstitutional, thus relieving the township of their obligation to pay the amount.
Since the advent of the railroad two little towns have sprung up in the township.
Tracy was so named by Mr. Lakey, superintendent of the road, in honor of Lawrence Tracy, on whose farm the station was established. Since 1878 the Mazeppa Mill Company has been buting wheat at this place. In the summer of 1879 P. J. McGinn built a two-story frame building and put in a stock of general merchandise, valued at about five hundred dollars. He met with fair success, increasing it from time to time, and in the spring of 1863 he sold to P. J. Fox, who continues the business. In 1880 the postoffice was moved from West Albany to Tracy, McGinn assuming the duties of postmaster. In 1883 he was succeeded by P. J. Fox, the present incumbent. The postoffice is called Lakey, there being another Tracy in the state.
Theilmanton is on the railroad in section 36, pleasantly located on a terrace in the valley, and about forty feet above the Zumbro river. It was named in honor of Christian Theilman, through whose influence the station was established, and by whom the town was platted in 1877. In January, 1878, Peter Hall completed and occupied the commodious two-story frame, where he still holds forth, putting in a stock of general merchandise, valued at about one thousand dollars. He was the first to locate on the site of the town, and his stock is now worth about four thousand dollars. In the spring of the same year he was followed by Nicholas Reil, who erected a good frame building, which he has since occupied as a boot and shoe shop. During the same season William Morris built a blacksmith-shop, and Henry Sommerholder a wagonship, which he yet occupies. In the fall two saloons were started by William Colegraff and Nils P. Christianson respectively. The latter afterward sold to John Will. Upon the petition of Peter Hall a postoffice was established, December, 1878, with the petitioner as postmaster. During 1878 a commodious grainhouse was erected by C. Theilman, who then began buying grain. In 1882 it passed into the hands of the Wabasha Elevator Company. About forty thousand bushels of grain were shipped from this place in 1882. The population numbers about sixty, and is now almost entirely German.