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Chapter 39
Pages 1251-1260

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

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 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.


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.


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.


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 Plainview village.


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 successfully substituted.


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 by good.


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 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.


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. Cornwell's store.

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. Cornwell's store.

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