History of Delano
** The information found on this page was taken from the 1976 Delano Bicentennial Book created by the Delano Franklin Bicentennial Committee. **
It seems appropriate to begin this brief history of Delano and its surrounding community of Franklin Township with a glimpse at prehistory - with some idea of what was here before man came to view this area to record his observations.
Back before the Big Woods stood, ice covered the Crow Valley. Twenty-five thousand years ago, great continental ice sheets flowed out from a center near Hudson Bay covering most of North America down to the valleys of the Missouri and Ohio rivers. The glaciers slowly spread out pushing soil and rock ahead of them; forming mounds call moraines. The Grantburg lobe of the Keewatin ice field pushed up the several moraines that cross Wright County. Melt water from the glaciers drained into the Mississippi from the moraines on the northeast side of this large finger of ice. Glacial drainage once flowed over the small plains of sandy gravel that lie along the Crow River Valley. Large mammals such as the wooly mammoth and arctic musk oxen driven down by the icecaps ranged as far south as Minnesota.
The first human being to enter this locality were probably Indian hunters who came into the region when plans and animals began to thrive after the glaciers retreated. The earliest date of man's migration to Minnesota is not known, but state archaeologist Elden Johnson is certain that - "descendants of earlier migrants from Asia - who had entered the New World via the Bering Strait region - gradually made their way to Minnesota from the west and south probably after 8000 B.C." Much of the history of these people who lived before the dawn of written records is a mystery. Their only records lie buried in the earth. Numerous mounds exist in Minnesota - some near Delano and throughout Wright County. They are found mostly on the banks of streams or lakes. The mounds vary in size. They may be round or elongated. The early theory that the mounds were constructed by people called "Mound Builders" who were unrelated to the Indians of the region has been debunked. Archaeologists now say that such mounds were erected by Woodland and later groups of prehistoric Indians; that later they were used by recent tribes such as the Sioux. Some of the mounds which have been opened near Delano do not appear to contain human remains. But State Archaeologist, Eldon Johnson says of Minnesota mounds in general - "There is no doubt about the purpose they served; they were graves." Unfortunately, many of the 10,000 burial mounds which did exist in Minnesota have been destroyed. Important archaeology resources have been lost.
Just when the Dakota or Sioux reached Minnesota is not known. Only future archaeology can answer that question. When the first white men came to this region in the seventeenth century, most of what is now Minnesota was held by the Sioux. In the mid 1700's the Chippewa, moving westward from Lake Superior, drove the Sioux to the country west of the Mississippi and south of the Crow Wing River. War followed, as the Sioux continued to be pushed south. In 1772 and 1773, battles were fought near the mouth of Elk River, a few miles from what is now Wright County. In 1825, the Chippewa and the Sioux established a boundary line between their hunting grounds. The agreement was not well observed.
When Wright County and much joining territory west and south of the Mississippi was ceded to the United States by treaties of Mendota and Traverse des Sioux finalized in 1853, Wright County was open to white settlement. As trappers, traders, farmers, and shopkeepers moved into the Big Woods, a culture centuries old began a rapid decline. In a few years, it would face extinction. Where are they now - those hunters who intermittently ranged the Big Woods? Shortly before he signed the treaty in 1851 Wabasha, head chief of the Medawakantons rose and said - "You have requested us to sign the papers and you have told these people standing around that it is for their benefit; but I do not think so. In the treaty you have said a lot about farmers, schools, physicians, traders, and half-breeds who are to be paid out of our money. You have named a place for our home, but it is a prairie country. I am a man used to the woods and do not like the prairie; perhaps some of those who are here will name a place we will all like better."
Sadly, most of the Indians never found other places or ways of life that suited them so well as those they gave up forever with the signing of the treaty in 1851.
Compiled by Sandra Horeis. Based on material found in The Prehistoric People of Minnesota by Eldon Johnson, Published by the Minnesota Historical Society, 1969 World Book, Vol. 10, Field Enterprises, 1967, p.p. 6-7. "Wright County Historical Sketch" taken from "inventory of Archives of Minn." No. 86, prepared by the Minn. Historical Records Survey Project Division on Professional and Service Projects, Work Projects Admin. September, 1940.
Once the Big Woods was no longer the undisputed hunting ground of the Indians, it became inviting to settlers. By 1850, a trading post had been established by Edmund Brissett at the west end of Lake Pulaski for the purpose of obtaining pelts from the Winnebago who then ranged over that area. Brissett and his associates cut a crude road from Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun to Buffalo. The post was abandoned in 1855, but the road remained to serve the early settlers. According to the account recorded in The History of the Upper Mississippi published in 1881, the first people to settle in the area which was to become Delano, traveled to Greenwood and from there followed the Crow River to the place where their claim was selected. They might have used the road cut by Brissett to arrive at Greenwood.
James P. Lyle, a Nova Scotian, was the first settler to claim land lying partly within what is now the City of Delano. Accompanied by James Patten, he arrived on June 15, 1855. In July, Patten and Lyle were joined by J. C. Ellis and S. Patten who were also from Nova Scotia. The Ellis claim consisted of most of the land Delano was to accompany later. David White arrived in December of 1855 and lived for the remainder of that winter with Lyle in his small, but comfortable claim shanty. White was later to build a claim shanty adjoining Ellis. One half of this duplex shanty was situated on each man's claim, and it was this unique structure that the first school sessions were held in 1858. It was among the earliest schools in Wright County and probably came into being because the natural route of travel along the Crow brought children in claims nearby. Mr. Ellis, the teacher, was paid by subscription.
Among the very early settlers (1856) were Luther V. Walter from Maine, Riley Sturman, and John and Luther Cunningham, who took claims along the Crow. Settler's came in yet greater numbers in 1857.
On August 7, 1856, the first child, Ida May Patten, was born in the little settlement. Riley Sturman and Louise Murphy were the first couple to be married in the community (December 25, 1857), and the first death was that of Mary Lyle, wife of Delano's first settler (December 1, 1858).
Life for the early settlers, even under the best of circumstances, was exhausting and rugged. There were ordeals of cutting timber, building houses of logs, and sharing work at the crude sawing operation that was carried out at Lyle's place. Taking turns, the settlers were sometimes able to cut as much as 200 feet of rough lumber a day manning system that had one man standing in a pit beneath a log and one above to operate a cross-cut saw. Roads were poor. The settlers traveled to Watertown and Rockford in Indian canoes or dugouts, but navigating a loaded canoe was difficult. Roads went through to Watertown and Rockford in 1858, making it possible to bring some lumber in from mills in those towns.
Beyond the struggle to build houses, to hack small fields out of the woods, and to secure provisions - other problems beset the settlers. Grasshoppers plagued Franklin Township in 1856 and 1857. A financial crash occurred in the fall of 1857. Most of the settlers had no money to pay for their claims at the time of the land sale in 1859. They were battered by rain, hailstorms, heat and drought. An Indian outbreak swept the state in August 1862, causing the settlers to flee to the stockades at Rockford, Greenwood and Minneapolis. They fled again in 1863 and farming suffered in their absence.
The plentiful ginseng root probably saved a number of the pioneers from despair and financial ruin. In 1859, a Mr. Blaine from Virginia arrived in the area to promote the ginseng trade. The story has it that the enterprising Mr. Baine at first paid the settlers four cents a pound for a product he in turn sold for eighty cents a pound. Ultimately, he agreed to raise the price to eight cents a pound. Local revenue increase in 1861, when Mr. Blaine left the area, and the business was taken over by local merchants. It flourished until well into this century. Some well know ginseng growers were a Mr. Kaiser, who raised it near what used to be the Elmer Johnson farm, Philip Martin, who raised it on the property now owned by Mrs. Oscar Leiter, and John Kritzeck, who raised it in the woods across from the present school.
Wright County was divided into townships in 1858. Township 118, range 25 was designated as Newport. Since there was a town named Newport in Washington County, residents petitioned to have the name changed. The commissioners named it Franklin. The first town meeting was held at the White home, May 11, 1858. The following officers were elected: Supervisors, C. A. Wright (chairman), William McKinley and Fred Adickes; town clerk, J. J. Wright; assessor, J. B. White; treasurer and collector, J. P. Lyle; justice of the peace, Samuel Sturman; constable, Philip Martin; overseer of the poor, David White.
Although Franklin contributed a number of volunteers during the early Civil War years, the quota was not reached and the draft was imposed. It was decided that a bounty would be paid to encourage enlistment. New officials, who refused to pay the bonds issued for bounty, came into power. Bondholder H. L. Gordon brought suit against Franklin town and was awarded $2,287.75. Officials voted to take an appeal to the Supreme Court, but that never happened. The debt was paid in installments.
Smallpox broke out in 1872. Stricken households were quarantined and the roads closed. The house of F. J. Bauman became a hospital. The only death was that of Bauman who sacrificed his life as the result of being a good neighbor.
The first bridge over the south fork of the Crow River in Franklin Township was built in 1859 near William McKinley's. The McKinley Bridge of today is about 40 rods below the site of the original bridge. The present bridge was built in 1873.
The first store-saloon in the township, located on the Waverly road, was opened in 1866 by John Marth. In 1871, Mr. Marth moved his store to Delano.
By 1868 steel rails extended west from Minneapolis to reach the present site of Delano. A new influx of settlers arrived in railroad coaches - coaches fitted with unpadded wood seats and devoid of heat in winter. Some new settlers probably stepped on the platform at the end of the line cold and sodden from water that seeped into the coaches during wet spells. This early mass transit, crude as it was, offered the ultimate in refinement to settlers used to ox carts and dugouts and long trips to the city on foot.
The railroad increased the rate of settlement and changed the lives of those already established on farmsteads cleared from the woods in southeast Wright County. When the mainline, First Division, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad reached the claim sites clustered beside the Crow River, Mr. Ellis sold twenty acres of his claim to Breed, Atwater, and Payte who were connected with the railroad. He sold seventeen acres to Lyle and donated six acres to the railroad to be used as depot grounds. The land was platted. A little later the remainder of Mr. Ellis's claim was purchased by W. B. Litchfield. The handful of rude claims by the river became a village called Crow River, and a post office called Crow River Station was established in a small store kept by F. B. Hopkins. The local population was not happy with the name Crow River. After much discussion, they decided to rename the village for Francis Roach Delano, of Massachusetts, the enterprising superintendent of the railroad. The legislature of 1870 acted to legalize the name change. Six years later, on February 11, 1876, the village was incorporated.
The railroad brought large numbers of German and Polish people into the Big Woods Country. Some were workers on the road earning $1.75 a day. Some came looking for adventure or a new place to set down roots. Seeing the lush timber as evidence of rich soil, many decided to stay on and take up farming. Whereas Colonial Americans and Scandinavians' predominated in most areas of Wright County, settlers in Delano and Franklin Township were mostly of German or Polish origin.
The advent of rail service and the growing population brought businessmen and tradesmen who began fledging commercial ventures in the newly established village. About the time that the railroad was being built, William Wesson began keeping one of the first small stocks of goods for sale. Miner Ball had a hand in several early businesses one of which was a general store he built which was managed by Frank Nichols. Warren Ames built one of the earliest saloons.
In December of 1868 the Great Northern Hotel appeared just west of where the Delano State Bank now stands. It wasn't built there. It appeared when Miner Ball moved one of the old Greenwood buildings in and furnished it as a hotel. An addition was added in the spring. Col. James D. Young purchased the hotel and made it into one of the finest on the railroad line known for its excellent food and ample accommodations. By 1879 the Great Northern had been expanded to include forty rooms. It was a popular rest for salesmen and travelers who arrived by rail and rented livery rigs from the management to make their calls at Watertown, Mayer, New Germany, Lester Prairie and Winsted - towns not served by the railroads. Much later the old Great Northern became the Pfeiffer Hotel, and lastly it became an apartment dwelling. In 1975 it was demolished to make room for the new State Bank of Delano. Some local historians lament the passing of this fine old structure which was allowed to lapse into a state of ruin. The Great Northern offered bed and board and friendship to newcomers from the time of the town's founding and throughout early history.
In 1869, the Epple Brothers arrived in town and built a large general store just west of the Great Northern Hotel on the corner of Railroad Avenue and River Street. Railroad Avenue was to serve as Delano's chief commercial area until the turn of the century. The Epple partnership was dissolved in 1871. Valentine continued in the original business until 1875. Charles moved a building from the south side of the railroad to the corner of Bridge and River Streets and engaged in one of the most successful businesses in the village. Today, Lundeen's operate their clothing store from building Charles Epple moved to that corner a century ago.
John Haffner managed the first hardware business in the village for the Lucas Brothers supplying necessary implements to hardy settlers who came to clear, then break the land. The wares were crude - shovels, picks, and axes. At first, saws were not to be had. Haffner later purchased the Lucas stock, and in 1879 he built a large store on River Street.
On July 4, 1869, the frame for Delano's first grist mill was raised on a spot by the river near where the Libby house now stands. Miner Ball and E. D. Barnett were the proprietors. How the settlers must have welcomed the convenience of having their grain ground locally at the fine new mill with two run of stone. For early day farmers, a trip to the mill was a festive occasion. Wagons laden with the precious grain harvest clustered at the mill to deposit the raw grain and await the return of freshly ground flower that could keep a family from starving until the harvest of next year's crop. Sometimes entire families traveled to the mill to picnic and socialize with neighbors while the grain was being ground. A saw mill adjoined the grist mill providing a ready supply of planks for flooring and walls. One power team operated both mills. Two steam engines were used, one of twenty-five horsepower and another of forty-five. Much later (1895), Delano's first electrical power plant was located near the site of the mill in a little red brick building behind the Libby house. Older residents recall how the power was turned off promptly at eleven o'clock each evening. A later flour mill was run by Les and Everett Bartlett on the site now occupied by the granite works.
In 1872 a newspaper called the Big Woods Citizen began to lend an influence to the community. For many settlers this paper brought the only news of the state, national and international events. It contained local news, serialized fiction, and a healthy dose of editorial opinion. In 1881, the name of the paper was changed to the Delano Eagle. This paper has served the community continuously since its inception in 1872.
Among early businesses which began on Railroad Avenue was the general store of Louis Raush, established in 1873. Several attractive and functional brick buildings were erected along Railroad Avenue during the 1880's. In 1883 the Delano Eagle moved from a little frame building on Third Street into the brick building on Railroad Avenue; and in 1885 Mr. J. W. Lindsley moved his hardware business into the new brick building across Third Street from the Eagle building. Later it was converted into a hotel. Today it is an apartment dwelling. The brick building on the corner of Railroad Avenue and SEcond Street dates from the same period. It housed the Wright County Bank founded by the C. M. Dittmann and C. G. Roosen in 1880. Roosen bought out Dittmann in 1882 and continued the business as a private bank until 1884 when the Wright County Bank was incorporated under state banking law with the State Bank of Delano. Most of these early brick buildings were built from bricks made near Delano.
The year 1881 brought small but noticeable surge of business expansion. John Lohmiller, the jeweler, came to town and by 1884 his business had grown enough to warrant a new building on a corner of Railroad Avenue. A company of citizens united in 1881 to build a circular elevator that could store 32,000 bushels of grain and was powered by a 15 horsepower engine. It was also in 1881 that Whittman and Johnson arrived from Wayzata to open a drug store on Railroad Avenue between Second and Third Streets. A year later A. W. Whittman bought out his partner. Long time resident Margaret Hills is the daughter of this early day druggist. The neighboring Peters' General Store also began in 1881. The second story of Peters' store served as a hall for the Odd Fellows and the Masons. The Keplinger home is the rear portion of the old Peters' addition.
Prior to 1882 Delano had no harness shop. J.C. Hitz established a business dealing in tack and harness. In 1883 R. M. Walters, a gentleman from Nebraska, bought out the existing Chance Drug Store; and William Bentz acquired the town's only furniture store and coffin warerooms from Andrew Hansemann.
A new round roller skating pavillion stodd as proof that Delano was not a place of all work and no play in 1884. The 4,000 square foot structure with a floor of hard maple was considered one of the finest buildings of its kind to be found outside a large city. It was in nearly constant use for skating, theatrical amusements, dancing and parties. Part of the structure now houses the office of Lundsten Lumber Co.
The fact that ten or more saloons found business to sustain them during the 1800's and well into the present century tells something of another local form of rest and relaxation. Most of the saloons outlived the roller rink by many years. But they too became past history in the early 1950's when they were superseded by municipal liquor sales.
Not many people remember the cooper shop that stood where Art Gallus' house stands now. Younger folks might even ask, "Just what is a cooper shop?". A cooper was a man who manufactured barrels and barrels where essential in those days gone by. Barrels held salted meat and pickled foods, crackers and dry goods, and rainwater. Everybody had a rain barrel to catch soft water for washing special things.
It's been a long time since Andrew Reider and August Sieloff manufactured wagons and repaired buggies and sleighs at their place on North River Street. And how lang has it been since someone rushed into a tonsorial parlor to make quick end of a bad toothache?
Quite a few people remember the pickle factory. Charles Brunkow started it in 1899 after having success with a local farmers' market. Among other things, he traded in ginseng. His business developed into a general store, a grocery store, then pickles. In 1919 three sons Reynold, Frank and Herbert took over the plant; and in 1926 Herbert became sole owner operating the plant until it closed in 1938. While the plant was in operation, cucumbers were a popular local crop; and the three varieties of pickles processed locally found their way to stores as far away as Kansas City.
The first lumber yard in Delano was established in 1882 by Adam Horsch. His yards and sheds stood on the site now occupied by the Delano Municipal Power Plant. The home Horsch built on River Street is a classic example of Victorian architecture. In 1909 Horsch sold his business to Midland Lumber and Coat and devoted his energy to other business and community endeavors.
The millinery shop is another form of livelihood that has passed from the scene. Delano had its millinery shops as early at 1878, and the popularity of ladies' hats did not wane until sometime in the 1950's. Indeed up until that time, women regarded hats as essential to a well groomed public appearance. Mildred Sawatzke recalls her mother's millinery store which started as a sewing shop in 1900. Three sewing machine operators made custom dresses for the local ladies. The business branched into hats made of buckram or hat wire shaped to the customer's wishes. Velvet, satin, fur, chiffon, silk, or straw braid covered the frames. Genuine ostrich plumes, feathers, jewels, buckles, flowers, and ribbons provided the ultimate in decoration. The store known as "Rosies" was located near the current site of Rieder's Meat Market and provided local ladies with stylish clothing for over fifty years.
Old ways of life have disappeared, but tales remain and memories of buggy rides and quilting bees, of steamy prancing horses harnessed to a sleigh and the merry sounds of sleigh bells in the air. It's been a long while since small boys rolled hoops along the walks and town folk gathered after supper on the lawn to listen to the band play from the bandshell near St. Peter's Church.
The need for a Village Hall in Delano was felt early in the history of the town. On September 8, 1887, the Delano Eagle reported; "It has been said that Mr. S. S. Breed offered to donate two lots on Second Street to the village as a site for a town hall." A comment by the editor followed: "If the citizens should desire to build a town hall, it is sincerely hoped a room sufficiently large for theatrical entertainment will be made that acoustic properties will not be overlooked."
At a special election held on September 12, 1887, it was decided to spend $3,500 for a town hall. The vote was 53 to 13. The property was purchased from Mrs. Mary Bentz for $500. A contract for a stove was given to the Kelsey brothers. On October 17, it was voted to purchase brick from Ed Ziebarth. (Mr. Ziebarth's brick factory was on the property now owned by Eugene and Phyllis Grunklee. Mr. Ziebarth made the brick for many of the buildings in Delano.) On March 13, 1888, the contract for erecting the hall was let to E. J. Swedebalk and Swan Erickson for $3,524.
During the Fourth of July celebration, a dance was held in the unfinished Village Hall. On August 24, 1888, the Council accepted the building and the first meeting of the Village Council was held in the building on September 25, 1888.
After completion, the hall became the center of activities. The fire department had a home downstairs. The council offices were also downstairs. Upstairs was the place for meetings, dances and entertainment. Church dinners, school graduation, basketball games, wedding dances and even a funeral was held in the hall upstairs. One Delano resident reported that sometimes wedding dances lasted two to three days. In the morning, after a long night of dancing, farmers would go home to do their chores, the townspeople did their work and in the evening they went back to dancing. The Delano Eagle, in the November 15, 1888 edition, gives this report on the first inhabitant of the new jail: "The new jail was formerly opened and occupied by a drunken Swede Saturday night who was conducted to the handsome structure by several distinguished officers and citizens of the village. He indulged in a song and dance for short time and, after cooling off a little and declaring the house of correction a 'howling success' was liberated."
In September, 1890, work began to build a stage upstairs in the hall so theatrical performances could be held. The next year the village purchased stage scenery to equip the stage. A year later dressing rooms were added on each side of the stage. Also, in 1890 the Delano Dramatic Company offered to pay $100 toward $250 needed for a piano, but the remained couldn't be raised, so no piano was obtained.
In 1896 the Council voted to build a tower on the building and put a bell in it for fires. In 1905 two jail cells were installed.
The building continued to hold most community functions. Village business offices remained downstairs. In 1940 a library was incorporated into the office. Later the Library was moved. Village elections are always held in the offices downstairs. Franklin Township held elections upstairs.
The building was modernized. The two-story out-house was removed and two bathrooms were put in where the dressing rooms originally were. The stage was removed and a kitchen was put in. A shower and rest room was also installed in the fire hall. The hall upstairs was used often for dances and meetings.
As more buildings were built the Hall was used less and less. Franklin Township stopped using the hall for elections. In 1972 the Delano Recreation Committee held a Mello-Drama as part of their summer program. The Mello-Drama was a great success; it played to 700 people for three summers.
In 1972 the village passed a bond issue to build a new fire station. The Crow River Federated Woman's Club renovated the part of the building that was used by the fire department to be made into a library. The new library was dedicated in April of 1974. The village remodeled their offices in 1974 and 1975 and the upstairs remodeled.