"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books
In the early part of May, 1855, Messrs. Wm. McCloud, George and Seymour Fanning came to this township, and after taking claims and working through the summer season, they returned to Illinois for the winter and in the following spring they returned here with their families. The same year, 1855, Jos. Fuller took a claim near Mazeppa, but being discouraged by a heavy frost in June was about to return to Illinois when his brother-in-law, Mr. Gill, dissuaded him, and they both settled in Gillford. In the fall of 1855 Mr. Gill returned to Illinois for his family; after spending the winter there and when returning here he was taken sick and died. Mrs. Gill, however, settled in this township, and on account of her amiable character the township was named for her. Much might be said in commendation of all those old settlers, but one deserves particular notice here. Mr. McCloud was a man of very great worth to county and township. He laid out the roads in the township; he was a great patron of schools; he did his utmost to promote religious interest in the community; as regards hospitality he could not be surpassed. In the spring of 1856 Messrs. E. M. Hoyt, E. F. Hoyt, W. F. Green and F. Lamb came to this township and took claims in the northwestern part.
The first town meeting was held at the house of L. W. Manning on May 11, 1856. The result of the first election was as follows: E. M. Hoyt, L. W. Manning, David Fanning, supervisors; E. M. Rider, town clerk; James Morehead, William McCloud, justices of the peace; S. Tysdel, assessor; William Green, overseer of poor. The number of votes cast was thirty-four.
The land of this township has a gently roll, and is exceedingly suitable for grain-growing. It is situated midway between the forests and rough land, bordering on the Zumbro on the south, and the similar land along the Mississippi on the north. There is an abundance of clear-running water, which renders stock-raising comparatively easy.
In the early history of the township the people were mostly natives of New England, New York or Pennsylvania, but the last ten years has seen quite a change. A large number of the old settlers having moved farther north and west, their places are now occupied by Germans. A careful investigation has shown that more than one-half of the present population are German, who occupy the eastern and northern parts of the township; of the other half, quite a large number are Irish, who reside in the southeastern part, and the rest living in the western part of the township are for the most part natives of New York and Pennsylvania. The present population numbers about two thousand, and the largest vote cast was two hundred and six.
There is but one town in the township, Zumbro Falls. It is situated in the extreme southwestern part of the township and has a population of about two hundred people. The river Zumbro divides it, the dwelling-houses being on one side, in Chester township, while the business-houses are in this township. A large bridge connected the two divisions until recently, when a storm, which did much damage to the village and surrounding country, completely destroyed the bridge. A new one will soon be constructed. A man by the name of Tuttle first owned the land where the town now stands. Mr. Tibbitts owned it next, and then Mr. Whaley, who is still a resident of the place and owner of considerable property in that vicinity, purchased it. The town really began to exist in 1878, when the narrow-gauge railroad was laid through this township. Mr Haradon is the present postmaster.
There is a postoffice in the northern part of the township with which is connected a general merchandise store. Mail is received and taken twice a week by stage. The name Oak Centre was given to this postoffice by Mr. C. C. Lowe on account of the abundance of oak-trees in that vicinity.
Until the summer of 1859 no religious services were held in the township, the principle reason being there was no leader. In that summer Haradon organized a Sunday-school at Oak Centre, and after that was in successful operation, two more were organized. As yet there was no preacher or preaching. In the spring of 1860 a man by the name of Stillwell came into the township and took a claim. It was soon rumored around that he was a Methodist exhorter, so he was waited upon and asked to preach at Oak Centre the following Sabbath. He preached, and the people were so well pleased that he made several appointments, and thus the work continued throughout the summer. In the course of several month a great revival took place, which was so widespread that three new churches were organized, which still exist.
Mr. Stillwell was one of those quiet, modest men, with little self-confidence, but he won the respect and admiration of all the people with whom he came in contact, and the good he was the means of accomplishing cannot be overestimated.
There are three churches in the township. A Methodist Episcopal church, on section 16, which was built in 1862, but which has no regular services at present. There is a large cemetery connected with this church, where many of its members and others are laid to rest. A woman's mission organization holds regular Sabbath services in the schoolhouse, district No. 19l. The German people have a Lutheran church at Jacksonville. It is a handsome frame structure, 30x16 feet, comfortably furnished and surrounded by one-half acre of land covered with beautiful shade-trees. About twenty-five families attend this church, Mr. Mire having been the pastor since the church was organized in 1878. All these churches sustain large Sunday schools, and an annual union picnic is held, which is one of the grandest occasions of the year to all.
There are two Good Templars lodges in the township, one at Zumbro Falls, with a membership of eighty-six, and the other at Oak Centre, with a membership of forty-five. They are in a prosperous condition, holding weekly meetings, at which literary exercises form a part of the evening's programme. Games and social pleasures are also indulged in, and many pleasant as well as profitable evenings are spent together by the young people in uniting themselves against the common foe, intemperance.
There are five schools in the township, Nos. 15, 16, 17, 19 and 20. The first teacher in the township was Miss Lizzie Green (Bartlett), who taught a select school in a "claim shanty," 10x12 feet in dimensions, in the summer of 1858, in the bounds of the district now known as No. 15. The second school was established on section 12, near the present schoolhouse No. 19, and the first teacher was Miss Rosa Montgomery. It is a lamentable fact in connection with the schools of this township, that the records, including names of teachers, number of pupils, salaries, dates, etc., have not been preserved.
The first marriage was Mr. E. S. Fanning and Miss Hannah Fanning in the spring of 1865. The first birth was Miss Mary Fanning, a daughter of the above.
The first death was that of Mr. Samuel Fanning, in the fall of 1856.
A liquor license has never been granted in this township. During the war there was not a man drafted from this township; a sufficient number enlisted.
At the time of the construction of the narrow-gauge railroad through the township a vote was taken whether the town should bond itself. It was lost by a few votes. There are six thousand two hundred and sixty-nine acres of land under cultivation. Politically the township is republican.