From the book about Wabasha Co. Minnesota
"HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY"
Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell
Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884
Republished Currently by Higginson Books
The township of Plainview is a complete geographical
township, bounded on the north by the townships of Oakwood and Highland, on the east by
Winona county, on the south by Olmsted county and on the west by the township of Elgin. The
first settlements in this township were made in 1854 by two families of Norwegians, named
respectively Halgerson and Olson. These people occupied dugouts on the claims which they
made in the northeastern part of the township. The Halgersons are still residents of the township,
while the Nelsons (or Olsons) now own farms in the adjoining town of Highland, all highly
esteemed and well-to-do farmers. Early the following spring there came several enterprising
Yankees, and located claims near the central part of the township. The leading spirits of the new
comers were G. A. T. Sharp, E. B. Eddy, Wm. Boatman, Mr. Geising, Mr. Todd, Mr. Lock, A. P.
Foster and Benjamin Lawrence. The first five named gentlemen were the founders of the
short-lived town of Greenville. When the first pioneers arrived upon Greenwood prairie they
found themselves in the very heart of a veritable paradise of luxuriant verdure, carpeting a gently
undulating prairie soil, dotted here and there by small groves of oak, and all spread out beneath a
clear sky and a dry and invigorating atmosphere. Is it any wonder that they were charmed with
the scene which gave assurance that the dreams of their ante-pioneer days were about to be
realized? They were content to pitch their tents here and begin the work of building homes and
carving out fortunes. How well they have succeeded a ride over Greenwood prairie today will
enable you to judge, beautiful farms of many broad acres stretch away on every hand, pleasant
and commodious farm-buildings are found, frequently sequestered by groves of stately trees, and
a cheerful greeting meets you whithersoever you turn. A thrifty town stands in the midst of all
this world of agricultural wealth, good feeling pervades the entire community and the combined
effect of all this will convince the most skeptical that the lives of the old pioneers of Plainview
were cast in pleasant places and success has attended their labors.
The spring of 1856 saw a large number of new
families establishing themselves in various parts of the township. In the southeast settled the
Smiths, Hiram and Milton; the Sylvesters, George, Charles and Caleb; George S. Evans,
Solomon Fox, Johnathan Ingalls, Hiram Lindsey, Isaac Bancroft, Senica Carewell and Edwin
Ball. The summer of 1857 Woodland postoffice was established at the house of George W.
Sylvester, on the S. E. 1/4 of Sec. 25, with Mr. Sylvester as postmater.
In northeast Plainview we find the Mellendies,
Thomas Smith, the Carpenters; in the vicinity of Plainview the Halls, Thompsons, Smiths and
Browns, T. A. Thompson, Wilcox, Blackwell, Rittenhouse, Chapman, Wiley, Yale, Ackley,
Bigham, Ormsby; and farther south, where S. L. McCarty settled in 1855, there located in the
spring of 1856 John Hitchcock, Samuel Bowen, Ruben Brooks, Mr. Griffin, T. Mills, Huslow
Struck, Tyem, Ames, Weather, Brown, Churchill, Perry. The gentlemen were chiefly from the
eastern states, a few from Wisconsin, and one or two from Iowa; all were restless palefaces, with
good, true Yankee blood flowing in their veins. A volume might be written describing the
makeshifts to which they were obliged to resort during the first few weeks or months of their
sojourn here for habitations. Some of these pioneer families used their wagon-boxes for houses,
and other dwelt under boards that were leaned against a ridgepole. He who was so fortunate as to
own a domicile that bore any resemblance in shape and appointments to a house, was frequently
called upon to extend the hospitality characteristic of the pioneer, to dozens of people, and
sometimes entire families, beneath his humble roof. But with all these inconveniences, the hearts
of these people were buoyant with hope and bright prospects, and in these days they look back to
those early times and say, that "those were the happiest days of all." The sunshine in their souls
kept them warm, despite the blasts of the northern winter that besieged their shanty homes, and
shot his icy arrows through a thousand unchinked crevices; despite the rough food, insufficient in
quantity, and despite attenuated wardrobes.
The soil for the most part is very rich and free
from stone; it is not so heavy as that found in the adjacent timber regions, but is quite as
productive, easier to till, and apparently as inexhaustible. Natural growths of scrub-oak were
interspersed, but the ax of the pioneer was called into requisition only to provide fuel. The
surface is gently undulating, approaching to the level in the northeast and slightly broken in the
southeast along the White Water river, which enters the township from Elgin on section 30,
passing out through section 33, and again in the eastern part, where a diminutive branch of the
White Water flows through a bluffy vale.
Wheat was the chief product of this fertile region for a
score of years. Upon this important cereal the prosperity of the farmer chiefly depended, and he
gave no attention to other branches of husbandry, until the wheat-producing qualities of the soil
were impaired by excessive cropping, and a series of unfavorable seasons conspired to greatly
reduce the large yields, upon which he had for so many years safely relied. From thirty and forty
bushels to the acre to five and ten, despite the most skillful husbandry, was the result. But the
dauntless spirit of the old pioneer was not subdued by these discouragements, and he sought
relief in stock-raising, which, during the last few years, has developed into no insignificant
proportions. The raising of corn for the fattening of hogs perhaps receives the largest share of
attention, but fine grades of cattle and blooded horses are also specialties. Dairying is a branch
of farm industry that is coming rapidly into favor among the farmers of this section, and several
fine herds of Jerseys and Shorthorns are to be found. The Greenwood Creamery, located at
Plainview, and successfully operated by Hon. A. Y. Felton, is a prosperous enterprise, that leads
and encourages the dairy interests of this prairie. Grain raising has not been wholly abandoned,
but large quantities of wheat, oats and barley, as well as corn, are produced every year, and wheat
culture may be said to hold at least the second place in agricultural industry today.
THE FIRST HABITATIONS
The first habitations were the buildings erected by E. B. Eddy and Wm. Boatman. The building occupied by Eddy
was on the proposed site of Greenville, and was the conjoint product of A. P. Foster, A. T.
Sharpe and Mr. Eddy, all of whom contributed to the fund of muscle and money required in its
construction. Mrs. Eddy, being the only woman of this party, was installed as housekeeper over
this first palace of the prairie. Mrs. Wm. Boatman and Mrs. Eddy were the first white ladies who
came to Greenwood prairie, coming in the same party. During the summer of 1855, Mr. Sharpe
took charge of the affairs of the new town, Greenville, afterward called Greenwood, which was
located about two miles east of the present village of Plainview. Mr. Sharpe was a gentleman of
good address, and was full of ambitious notions concerning this new pioneer burg, which was
promptly platted by its proprietors, and its lots put upon the market. All fair and rational means
were employed to attract settlers to this new Eldorado, that these enterprising people could
devise. Eastern capitalists were besought to invest their money here, and letters filled with
glowing descriptions of the country, and setting forth the advantages which the new town
offered, were sent them. And not infrequently did these zealous town boomers overstep the
bounds of strict veracity, and sometimes resorted to tricks to deceive the incredulous. As a
sample we will here mention an incident that has been rendered historical by the clever pen of
Dr. N. F. Tefft, of Plainview, himself one of the early settlers in Wabasha county, and a witness
of all that he has related in the form of a drama which was produced at the "old settlers' meeting,"
February 13, 1884, and may be properly styled.
THE DRY WELL
One of the most serious problems which the citizens of
Greenville had to solve was the procuring of water. There was no kindly stream nearer than the
Whitewater, four miles south. Of lakes there were none, not even a good old-fashioned
mud-hole, and the water supply must be found in the bosom of mother earth, if at all.
Consequently the digging of a well for the use of the town was at once undertaken. A depth of
eighteen or twenty feet had been reached without indication of water, when the arrival of an
eastern capitalist was announced by mail a day in advance. What was to be done with the well
and the earth which had been taken from it and heaped into a telltale mound near by. A happy
thought came to the wily Sharpe, and he caused the well to be supplied with water from the river
before the arrival of the capitalist. When the latter came Mr. Shape took him in tow and escorted
him over the town site, pointing out the interesting features of the new town and expatiating upon
its admirable location and advantages. The unsophisticated stranger was advised of ta proposed
railroad line that had been surveyed through the village all the way from Dubuque on section
lines, indicated the spot where in a few months was to be erected a "female brick seminary,"
loftily declared the existence of a beautiful lake near the Melendy place, and spoke in tones of
assurance of the fine supply of water which the new well afforded, into the depths of which the
visitor was invited to look that he might dispel any doubt previously entertained on that score. It
happened that the water which the cunning citizens had put into the well had leaked out and the
deception was thus uncovered; the well was dry.
The lack of water was not the only drawback that
Greenwood had. A far more serious menace to her success was found in the fact that she was
located within the half-breed tract, which included all that portion of Plainview township lying
northeast of a line drawn from the northwest corner of the township southeast to a point near the
center of the N.E. 1/4 of the N.W. 1/4 of Sec. 24.
The title to all lands contained in this reservation
was in question for years, and was not determined until the fate of Greenville was forever sealed.
Greenville in her palmiest day was never more than a "four corners"; a hotel, a store, a blacksmith-shop and
a schoolhouse were the sum total of her business and public places. Today there is but one
building standing that once contributed to her fated glory, and that one building is used on the T.
G. Bolton place for a sheep-shed. T. J. Wadleigh, furniture dealer of Plainview, was the last one
to abandon her and transfer his business to her rival. The first school in the township was
established by the citizens of Greenville, in the fall of 1856. The boards for the schoolhouse
were prepared by Mr. Boatman, its builder, with a whip-saw. Miss Annie M. White (now Mrs.
Furlong, of Rochester, Minnesota) was the first teacher.
SIOUX HALF-BREED TRACT
A portion of the township of Plainview, as heretofore
mentioned, was embraced in the half-breed reservation. That portion was the northern and
eastern. The questionable title which those who settled on this Indian territory obtained of their
lands occasioned them much uneasiness and trouble. The Indians were ultimately induced to
relinquish their claims to this tract, in lieu of which the United States government granted them
certain valuable land-script, each Indian receiving enough of this script to enable him to locate
therewith four hundred and eighty acres of land, regardless of squatters' rights. This script was
not assignable, but Yankee wit found a way to circumvent the law, and for a valuable
consideration prevailed upon the dusky owners of the script to invest their white brother with the
power of attorney, requisite to enable him to buy the script in the owner's name, and also to
transfer the title to the land thus acquired to others. This scheme proved successful, and those
possessing the necessary means soon secured control of large tracts of land, and, in some
instances for a reasonable and in others for an exorbitant consideration, perfected the
squatter-claimants' title. These titles thus acquired were afterward disputed, and resulted in a
closely-contested suit, in which A. P. Foster was made defendant. The titles were, however,
confirmed by the supreme court, and the matter forever put at rest thereby. While the matter of
title was thus in abeyance, it had a tendency to delay improvements, and the development of the
country affected was temporarily suspended.
The organization of the township of Plainview
was effected in 1858. The first town-meeting was held in Plainview, May 11, of that year. Prior
to this there had been an imperfect attempt at organization under the territorial government as
early as 1856, during which year we find that John W. Burnham exercised the functions of a
justice of the peace. His official docket, which is still extant, contains records of judicial
proceedings in several cases. The first election in the township resulted in the selection of the
following-named persons: John Yale, chairman board of supervisors; Hiram Smith and J. P.
Robbins, supervisors; S. H. Gaylord, town clerk; John W. Burnham and H. H. Butts, justices of
the peace; David Ackley and Wm. F. Collins, constables; James Brown, assessor; Benjamin
Lawrence, overseer of the poor. The number of ballots cast at this election was seventy-eight.
THE FIRST ROAD
On March 26, the board of supervisors convened to
consider the matter of public highways. Up to this time the travel had been unconfined in its
selection of routes, save that here and there might be found the restraining fence of some
exclusive settler, and wagon-roads threaded the prairie in all directions, regardless of
section-lines. A survey had been duly made of a road from the township-line in the west, at the
section-stake between sections six and seven, due east through the township. This survey was
adopted by the board, and the first road ordered to be opened thereon.
The roads that now traverse the township are
chiefly located on section-lines, and are kept in excellent condition. Those mainly traveled are
known as the Wabasha road, and the extension east and west of Broadway, the main street of
The custom of fencing farms in vogue in the east was
introduced by the early settlers, and put those occupying prairie land to a large expense to haul
the rails necessary from the timber lands often many miles distant, but the more sensible practice
of requiring each farmer to fencing in his stock rather than his crops, resulted in the speedy
disappearance of fences, which are almost wholly unnecessary in a country exclusively devoted
to grain-raising. The introduction of stock-raising on an extensive scale, is, however, calling for
the restoration of fences. The old Virginia rail fence has had its day, however, and wire is being
The inhabitants are chiefly Yankees, with a small percentage of German and Irish interspersed. There is a strong
tendency toward independent and atheistic notions in religious matters, while the prevailing
religious sentiment (so called) is Protestant. A few Catholic families are, however, to be found,
and a Catholic society is in process of crystallization in the village of Plainview. There is a
manifest disposition on the part of the majority of the people to cultivate and foster a wholesome
and practical literary taste. With this end in view the children are given the advantages offered
Outside of the village there are seven school districts
bearing the following numbers; 59, 61, 62, 62, 63, 71, and 95. Each has a suitable school-
building, and much care is exercised in the selection of good and competent instructors. The
village school district No. 60, is provided with an able corps of instructors, and the high school
connected therewith receives each year many pupils from the neighboring rural districts.
Debt is the incubus that haunts the sweet dream of prosperity that otherwise were a bright reality for
Plainview. In a moment of generosity she issued her bond to the amount of fifty thousand dollars
to aid the Plainview & Eyota Railroad Company to construct their road from Eyota to Plainview.
This was in the spring of 1878, March 30. Prior to their issue, in accordance with a permissive
act of the legislature, a petition had been circulated among the taxpayers of the township, and the
signatures of a majority thereof had been thus obtained. This by the terms of the said act was
sufficient authority to warrant the board of supervisors to issue the bonds. The opposition to this
move made itself apparent at the spring election for the year 1878, and two tickets were put into
the field on that issue, the one composed of men pledged to issue the bonds, and the other of men
pledged to the opposite course. The election resulted in the choice of the bond men. The village
of Plainview surrendered its corporate existence, in order to enable the voters residing therein to
vote upon this issue, and has never been reincorporated. The validity of the bonds issued in this
manner were called in question, and a test case reached the highest tribunal of the state, where
the act authorizing the proceedings preliminary to the issuing of the bonds, was pronounced
unconstitutional, and the town was enjoined from levying a tax for the collection of the funds for
payment of said bonds or the interest thereon. The bonds were held by nonresidents, who at once
brought suit against the township to recover the interest as it became due, in the district court of
the United States. This tribunal pronounced the bonds valid, and issued a mandamus to compel
the town authorities to levy the requisite taxes therefore. Between these two conflicting forces
the town is in a dilemma, and the people know not in which direction their best interests lie.
They, however, are daily assured by the arrival and departure of trains, that the railroad for which
the bonds were issued has been constructed, and is being operated in accordance with the terms
of contract made with the Plainview & Eyota company.
THE ELGIN CYCLONE OF 1883
The Elgin cyclone which swept with such a destructive force over the fair and fertile fields of the sister town in the
west, and all but annihilated the thrifty little rural village of Elgin, exhausted its dying powers in
doing some slight damage to the property of Plainview farmers in the southern part of the
township as it passed on its way to the Mississippi.
OLD SETTLERS' SOCIETY
An informal meeting of old settlers of the southern part
of Wabasha county was held in Plainview on February 6, 1877, which resulted in the
organization of the Old Settlers' Association. H. P. Willson was elected chairman, and S. B.
Evans secretary. On February 28, they held what they were pleased to designate their first
regular meeting at Schoolhouse Hall in Plainview, adopted a constitution and by-laws, and
elected the following officers, viz: Dr. N. S. Tefft, president; George Farrer, of Elgin,
vice-president; T. A. Thompson, secretary; E. B. Eddy, treasurer.
Plainview Lodge, No. 16, I.O.O.F., was
organized December 29, 1866. The charter members, David Van Wert, Wm. L. Cleaveland, W.
W. Case, and Ferdinand Trace, and the first officers were: W. A. Allen, N.G.; John Simpson,
V.G.; D. Van Wert, secretary; S. N. Wright, treasurer; W. L. Cleaveland, constable; W. W. Case,
warden; E. B. Eddy, R.S.N.G.; W. H. Stone, L.S.N.G.; F. Trace, I.G.; J. Huntoon, O.G.; John
Valentine, R.S.V.G.; A. Pomeroy, L.S.V.G.; T. A. Thompson, R.S.S.; J. J. Butts, L.S.S. The Past
Grands at present members, and in good standing, are: John Simpson, W. L. Cleaveland, Wm.
Donaldson, T. A. Thompson, Jas. D. Knights, J. J. Butts, N. S. Teffte, J. P. Waste, D. R.
Sweezey, Geo. C. French, G. C. Richmond, F. H. Roberts, D. Z. Taylor (David Zachary ~ my
great-grandfather), D. C. Clark, S. O. Seymour, Jacob Haessig, John McArthery, A. Y. Felton,
John Springer, Ed. A. Paradis, Wm. F. Robinson. The present officers are: R. R. Damoude,
N.G.; D. R. French, V.G.; G. C. French, secretary; J. Haessig, treasurer; Ed. A. Paradis,
constable; D. C. Clark, warder; F. H. Roberts, R.S.N.G.; S. O. Seymour, L.S.N.G.; D. Z. Taylor,
R.S.V.G.; J. H. Robinson, L.S.V.G.; A. E. Thom, I.G.; S. H. Gaylord, O.G.; James McGee,
R.S.S.; C.W.Donaldson, L.S.S. Meetings are held every Saturday evening, in the hall over F. J.
Illustrious Lodge, No. 63, was chartered
October 23, 1867, the following being charter members: F. A. Wells, H. A. Wells, James Lynch,
Augustus Smith, S. N. Wright, E. C. Gearey, I. B. Pope, D. McCarty, A. Clawson, C. G. Dawley
and F. Trace. The first officers were: F. A. Wells, W.M.; H. A. Wells, S.W.; James Lynch, J.W.;
Augustus Smith, Treas.; E. S. Case, Sec.; E. C. Gearey, S.D.; I. B. Pope, J.D.; Jas. McHench,
S.S.; C. O. Landon, J.S.; D. Van Wert, Tyler. The Masters since organization have been: F. A.
Wells, E. C. Geary, D. D. Brown, E. S. Case, Augustus Smith, Jas. McHench, H. A. Wells, H. R.
Gearey and J. F. Pope. The present officers are: J. F. Pope, W.M.; G. R. Hall, S.W.; Wm. S.
Baxter, J.W.; C. O. Landon, Treas.; L. D. Colby, Sec.; H. D. Wedge, S.D.; Fred. Wahler, J.D.; F.
F. Fedder, S.S.; Geo. C. Landon, J.S.; E. B. DePuy, Tyler. The present membership is
seventy-six, and nights of meeting first and third Fridays of each month, in the hall over F. J.
Plainview Chapter, No. 36, was organized
October 18, 1882, with the following charter members: H. C. Woodruff, Augustus Smith, C. E.
Daniels, F. A. Wells, Jas. W. McCarty, D. McCarty, Ezra Fellar, T. L. Meachum, Robt. Wahler,
and the following as first officers: H. C. Woodruff, M.E.H.P.; Wug. Smith, E.K.; C. E. Daniels,
E.S.; Milton Smith, Treas.; E. C. Gearey, Sec.; H. D. Wedge, C.H.; D. McCarty, R.A.C.; F. A.
Wells, P.S.; E. R. Cornwell, M. Of 1st Veil; Jas. McCarty, m. OF 2D Veil; F. L. Meachum, M.
Of 3d Veil; Robt. Vickery, Sentinel. The following have been elected to fill the office of high
priest: H. C. Woodruff and F. A. Wells. The present officers are: F. A. Wells, H.P.; D. McCarty,
K.; H. R. Gearey, S.; Milton Smith, Treas.; S. A. Foster, Sec.; John Bryant, M. Of 1st Veil; G.
W. Harrington, M. Of 2d Veil; F. L. Meachum, M. Of 3d Veil; D. D. Harrington, Sentinel.
Nights of meeting are second and fourth Fridays in each month.
End of Chapter
Published in the Plainview News, July 7, 1987