TOWN OF MINNEISKA
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books
This township is situated in the southeastern part of Wabasha county, and is bounded as follows: On the north by the town of Greenfield, on the east by the Mississippi river, on the south by Winona county and on the west by the town of Watopa, and is known on the government survey as T. 109 M., of R. 9 W.
Minneiska is a fractional town, and falls far short of containing the requisite number of sections to constitute a full government township, there being but thirteen complete sections in it, while the eight other parts of sections, which form its eastern boundary, are much curtailed by the course of the river.
The first settlement within the limits of what is now known as the town of Minneiska was made as early as 1851, Michael Agnes coming up from St. Louis in August of that year, and building a shanty on the southeast corner, on the river side. Louis Krutely followed the same summer, settling near Agnes. During the same year Charles R. Reed, of Reed's Landing, purchased a claim some four miles further up the river. These men only built shanties to shelter themselves while cutting wood for the steamboats that plied up and down the river, and broke no ground for cultivation during their first year. Their mainstay for subsistence was the rod and the rifle, and very often they had nothing but fish and fowl, and considered themselves fortunate if they could occasionally trade their game for some flour and other necessaries with the stewards of the steamers. The total sale of their wood during the summer did not buy enough food to supply them during the winter, and they had a hard time to pull through until the following spring. Steamboats were not as plenty on the rivers in those days as now, and the advent of a steamer passing at intervals of weeks was a godsend to these hardy men. They used to climb a tree on the island opposite to where now is built the pretty village of Minneiska, commanding a view of the river up and down for several miles, to sight a coming boat, and its was with feelings of anxiety, as their supplies would run low, that they would watch for the first sign of smoke or the pant-pant of the steamer.
1852 brought B. C. Baldwin, Abner Tibbetts, B. H. Reppe and Joseph Schurb, who all took up land on the river bank. A year later John Cook, Albert Pomeroy and others came in, and Reed, Baldwin, Tibbetts and Reppe laid out their claims into a town site. During the summer a steamer had come to grief and sank just opposite their claims, her pilot-house remaining above water, with her name, "West Newton," in large letters, so they christened their embryo town West Newton, and proceeded, through the agency of speculators in New York and Chicago, to dispose of "city lots." The old settlers, in speaking of these men, dubbed them "land gulls." Elaborate plans were drawn showing reservations for parks, magnificent streets, public buildings, hotels, etc., and a large number of these "city lots" were disposed of. The scene described by some old pioneers would be laughable, if it were not sad, of the landing of a purchaser of a city lot asking for the city, and being pointed to the sunken steamer and the half-dozen shanties on the low shore. Reed built a store and hotel in 1853, and Reppe building a store in 1854; settlers in the meantime taking up land in which is now the townships of Minneiska and Mount Vernon.
In 1855 West Newton was doing well. Shanties had multiplied, a tavern, two stores and a sawmill was in operation. A road had been opened to Rochester; considerable lumber was being cut, and West Newton postoffice was established in 1853, with Wm. Runnell as postmaster. Everything pointed to prosperity for the city and its promoters, and it looked as if at a very early date the place would become one of considerable importance; but it turned out to be that the bona fide town was built on as slim a foundation as the one on paper, and retributive justice fell quickly on West Newton and its projectors. The city had been laid out on the low flat bordering the river, and the Father of Waters resenting the fraud, as it were, rose in its mighty wrath and swept the city of West Newton out of existence forever. Not a vestige of the place remains, and to this day it is covered with water. The proprietors moved higher up, but never again attempted to resurrect West Newton.
Michael Agnes and Louis Krutely, the two first settlers, were more fortunate in their laying out and planning operations. In 1854 they laid out what is now known as the village of Minneiska, called after the river Minneiska that runs through the township, which is the Indian for white water.
A sad fate befell Louis Krutely, who was drowned in Buffalo slough, and his body was found some three days afterward by Charles Jacobs.
In the same year that the town site was laid out Dr. Childs and a few others located here. But very little improvement was made from this time until the year 1856, which date chronicled the arrival of Pliny Putnam, who built a hotel in the fall of the same year. S. A. Houck commenced mercantile operations the same season, and H. B. Slater opened a store in 1856. The first blacksmith-shop was built and put in operation by Albert Pomieroy during the year 1855, but he had not remained in the business long when he sold out to Peter Peterrein. The first warehouse was built by Dr. Childs in 1856, and was occupied by Timmerman & Swart in 1857, this being the year that the first grain warehouse was erected in Wabasha county. In 1856 a steam-sawmill was erected by the firm of Bigelow & Son, which was continued in operation about four years, when the business was closed up and the machinery removed to Chippewa.
As early as the year 1854 the first birth occurred in the town. This was a daughter of Jacob Schurb, christened Mary, born in the month of January. The first marriage was that of Peter Schenk to Mary Leyes. The ceremony took place on July 16, 1856. The first death was that of the wife of John Meyer, which took place in January, 1855. Religious services were held here as early as 1856 by Elder Mallinson.
The first school was taught by Miss M. Adams, in the summer of 1858, in a building owned by C. Anderson. No regular school-building was erected until the year 1866. A church edifice was erected by the Roman Catholics in 1867, costing $1,100. Prior to this date services had been held by that denomination for a period of ten years.
Minneiska is a fine brisk business town, containing within its limits two villages, one of which bears the same name as the town, while the other is called Weaver and is situated about three miles northwest of the village of Minneiska, the latter village being situated in the extreme southeastern corner of the town. Both Minneiska and Weaver are stations on the line of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railway. The village of Minneiska is built on the banks of the Mississippi river, and has one of the finest natural boat-landings to be found on the great "Father of Waters" from Lake Itaska to the gulf. The village extends for about a mile along the river's bank, and contains but one street of any consequence. So abrupt is the ascent of the high bluffs which at this point rise almost from the river shore and tower over the village at an altitude of five hundred feet, that it was impossible to do otherwise than confine the limits of the village to this narrow compass. During the winter months the sun, shortly after noon, hides her face behind these steep bluffs, not to appear again until she peeps over the Wisconsin hills on the following morning, while during other seasons of the year she is lost to Minneiska at a correspondingly early hour, and it may therefore be truthfully said that in this village "the sun never sets."
Following is a list of the first officers of the town of which there is any official record. They were chosen at a town meeting held at the house of S. C. Brown, on April 5, 1859: A. Z. Putnam, chairman of supervisors; G. E. Kaeding and James M. Douglass, supervisors; Linus Bascom, town clerk; Linus Bascom, assessor; Aaron Fox, colletor; Peter Wurstlein, overseer of poor. The present town officers are: Benjamin Jacobson, chairman of supervisors; J. P. Nepper and A. Roselock, supervisor; D. H. Ingalls, town clerk; William McKenney, treasurer; W. E. Wright, assessor; D. H. Ingalls and S. P. Jones, justices of the peace; William Fitzgerald and J. C. Gentzhow, constables.
On the morning of January 6, 1884, at 2:30 o'clock, occurred a disastrous fire in the quiet little village of Minneiska, which resulted in the loss of considerable property. The fire was discovered by Nick Rouck, dealer in dry goods and notions, between his store on Main street, known as the Agnes building, and the large elevator of Brooks Bros., the belief being that it originated in the former building, which, besides being occupied as a store and dwelling by Nick Rouck, was also occupied as a dwelling by the Bowman and Agnes families.
The night was clear and extremely cold, the thermometer registering 30 degrees below zero, with a light wind blowing from the bluffs, and both the Agnes building and the large elevator were soon enveloped by the fiery element; the flames then crossed the street, and, despite every effort of the people, caught on the large three and a half story hotel, owned by Joseph E. Becker, of St. Charles, and managed by John W. Short, and this structure was soon reduced to ashes. Luckily, the fire spread no farther than this on the main street; two other buildings, one a warehouse, owned by Brooks Bros., lying northeast of their elevator, and the other an icehouse, lying north of that, were also razed to the ground.
Twenty-five thousand bushels of grain were destroyed in the elevator, besides all the machinery, which was very valuable, and other appurtenances. Dr. D. F. Brooks, who, in partnership with Dr. Jas. B. Cole, had an office in the elevator building, lost a valuable medical library, while Dr. Cole lost all his surgical instruments, valued at $250, on which there was no insurance.
Brooks Bros. were insured as follows: Elevator building, $3,500; machinery, $500; grain in building, $12,500; Dr. D. F. Brooks, library, $1,500; Nick Rouck, on stock, was insured for $2,500. Mrs. Agnes, on building, was insured for $1,000, and Joseph E. Becker, on the hotel, had insurance to the amount of $1,000.
Mr. Short, the hotel proprietor, carried no insurance on his household goods, and, together with the Agnes and Bowman families, lost nearly everything in this kind of property. Edwin Zimmerman, an employee of Brooks Bros., lost all his clothes.