Ann E. Rice was a prolific writer, teacher, and Oronoco area history advocate. She was involved in the Post Office with her father for several years. She knew much about the community. She wrote a comprehensive history of Oronoco in 1948 when she was almost 80 years of age. On January 7, 1949, the Olmsted County Historical Society gave a tea and reception in her honor. She had been the Vice President of the Society and its Director since its organization January 25, 1926.
An article kept at the Minnesota Historical Society regarding attendance in an Oronoco country school tells how Miss Rice encouraged the children in her classes to speak English even though their immigrant parents spoke German in their homes. She even went so far as to register the students with English surnames, thus changing the name Koenig to the English translation, King. Some of the family members reverted back to the German spelling and pronunciation, while other members of the same family continued to use the name King. (The previous two paragraphs above written by Hazel Markham, Secretary-Treasurer of the Oronoco Area History Center in 2007.)
The Ann E. Rice story was also included in the book, Oronoco Past and Present which was written in 1983 by Elsie Boutelle.
Permission to use the original Ann E. Rice Oronoco history typed following for the Oronoco Area History Center website and typed by Hazel Markham in 2007 was obtained through the courtesy of the Olmsted County Historical Society, owners of the original copy which was donated to them by Ann E. Rice herself. Several other people were also given copies of the original by the author.
Oronoco Township by Ann E. Rice (written in 1948)
One of the eighteen townships of Olmsted County has recently celebrated its 94th birth-anniversary. For countless ages the sun’s hot rays have beat down on her during summer, and winter’s snow has buried her deep. Wild animals, as the deer, fox, wolf, lynx, badger, and bear were her inhabitants. Birds came in the spring as now – the English sparrow had not yet arrived by box car – that was in January 1887 – and the Sioux and Winnebago Indians fished and hunted along the banks of the river as it murmured along on its way to join the “Father of Waters.” What river? The Zumbro of course, or as the French voyagers name it Las Zambras which Indians and English alike shortened to its present name. The French word meaning embarrassment, was given by the French because when they came down the Mississippi and tried to ascent the stream, they found the mouth clogged with trees, roots, and what-not, endangering their frail birch bark canoes.
And so, when on March 13th, 1854, Leonard B. Hodges, with a permit to survey lands in the Territory of Minnesota, with his companions, Ebenezer Collins and John B. Clark, arrived here, there was no sign of previous white settlers. These men had left Monona (Allamakee County), Iowa, some days before on foot, with surveying instruments and camping equipment, over snowy trackless territory: The last habitation was at Curtis (now Pleasant Grove). Arriving in the late March afternoon they sought shelter for the night on the north bank of the river at a point about under the north end of the concrete bridge in the village of Oronoco.
Prospecting for water power for grist and saw mills, these men had come to, and camped just below, a fall in the river and the murmur of the falls made music in their ears as they lay in their camp beds, for it was the site where the first dam was built. They were also looking for a town site and in a few weeks they were sure this was the place they sought. This was the beginning of Oronoco, both village and township for they are one and the same. The village was never incorporated and Mr. Hodges gave the name Oronoco to the place, after being fascinated by stories of the river in South America. How the spelling happened to be different, history does not reveal. It could be, that as Mr. Hodges was very near-sighted, he read it that way.
In April Mr. Hodges and Mr. Clark started back for Iowa for supplies and arrived at their camp site again with five yoke of oxen, a prairie schooner loaded with provisions, farming implements, and a small blacksmithing outfit, for it was too far to go to Red Wing, forty miles away to get plow lays sharpened. During these spring days claims had been made and lots staked out, but the Government was not ready to sell land. Not until 1856 was it opened for sale. However, the three partners filed preemption papers at once. Roads were staked out to Red Wing and July 15, 1854, four months after the arrival of the three proprietors, M. O. Walker’s stage line drawn by four horses exchanged at certain points—made daily trips to St. Paul from Dubuque, carrying mail and passengers. History saith not who was the Postmaster that summer of 1854 but no doubt, some public spirited citizen carried the letters in his hat as other noted men did in early times. Anyway, carpenters, merchants, and farmers were not long in finding the new settlement. Their need for housing was as acute as in this 1948. Messrs. Hodges, Collins, and Clark deeded to Ezra O’Dell ten acres including site for the dam, and the dam and saw-mill were built that fall and winter. Then with native lumber for houses ready and at hand, the carpenters were busy. Here came Dorman J. Bascomb and his brother Newell and several of the houses they constructed are in good condition today.
Merchants Mark W. Clay and his brother Thomas came from Massachusetts and built a two-storied building, a store on the first floor and living apartment on the second floor. This was built on the flat below what is now the Oronoco Cheese factory. But when the Zumbro River goes on a rampage, anything on low ground had best be moved. And so the building, then the property of Mrs. Almira E. Clay, widow of Thomas Clay, who lost his life in the war between the states, had it moved to higher ground and it is now the home of Mrs. Bessie Moulton.
We will not retrace our steps and give a brief description of the trail followed by the early pioneers in coming to the new settlement. Much of the route was located about as the highway from Rochester is today, with a few variations, but after leaving the Arthur Koenig farm, the trail it kept to the higher ground, passing to the right of the farm buildings of Henry Markham to avoid low ground, soft in spring for the stage coaches and ox teams. There, reaching higher ground east and north of the Presbyterian Church, swept down the steep hill east of the old school building (now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Drazan) fording upstream and reaching a higher level just west of the Dreblow home. Nothing was there to hinder that four-horse stage coach from driving right through what is now the house site, and stopping at a spring across the street from the Dreblow pump at the back door. Here the animals slaked their thirst and as they went, always to the northwest, cutting across the Rice lots, down across what is now the school grounds, across the “White House” lots and Huntsinger corner until coming to the ravine leading to the Karl Glabe farm. This was the old St. Paul and Dubuque road.
Going back a moment, on the high ground mentioned on the Markham farm, in an early day was a residence, the house of Mr. and Mrs. George Barnes, who remained here as popular residents of Oronoco until the 1870’s when they sought a home in northwestern Minnesota where the city of Barnesville was named for him. Withrow and Evans, also from Iowa, built a store in early times on the south or “Brooklyn” side of the river which is still standing and used as a residence, the home of Mrs. Hattie Peiffer, and son, Leonard. Also on this side of the river the first newspaper in Olmsted County was published. The Oronoco Courier was established in the fall of 1856 by a stock company, the members of which were Leonard B. Hodges, John B. Clark, Ebenezer S. Collins, Rueben Ottman, and E. Allen Power. Dr. Hector Galloway was Editor-in-Chief as well as ministering to the sick. He was probably the first doctor in the county. E. Allen Power was local editor. The first newspaper in Olmsted County had a brief existence because in 1857 a panic, with scarcity of funds in a new country warned the stockholders that they must retrench and so the publication ceased. However, Dr. Galloway was acclaimed the most accomplished writer in Southern Minnesota. That he was not only a writer, but a grand gentleman to meet, we can attest. He was elected to the Senate soon afterward and Ned Powers was elected to the House of Representatives. Mr. Powers was not a naturalized citizen but that made little difference in the early days. The proprietors of the town of Oronoco filed redemption papers on the northwest quarter of Section 17, Township 108, Range 14, and patent from the U.S. Government was issued to William H. Welch, Chief Justice of the Territory of Minnesota, September 5th, 1855, and he quit-claimed the same to Messrs. Hodges, Collins, and Clark, November 15, 1855.
The original plat of the village of Oronoco was filed and recorded August 29th 1855, and on November 19th of that year, they gave a warranty deed of certain lots to Francis Kimmerly, a Canadian. He was the first Justice of the Peace and performed the first marriage ceremony in the town regardless of citizenship. He built a residence on the property, and with his wife and child lived there. One day the wife’s clothing caught fire from the open hearth and she and the babe were fatally burned; the dwelling was totally destroyed. This was on the site of the present Oronoco Garage, Whipple, and Olmsted Property.
Olmsted County was established in 1855 but not organized into townships until 1858. The first county commissioners’ meeting was held in Oronoco, August 27, 1855, and at that time the School District No. 2 was organized within boundaries reaching north to the county line and east to the Zumbro River embracing what is now District No. 89. James George, of Ohio, who had settled on a farm three miles southwest of the settlement, was one of the county commissioners. He, it was, who became Colonel of Company C Minnesota Volunteers and distinguished himself at the battle of Chickamauga. The 160 acres which he preempted was on a warrant he received for service in the Mexican War. On an adjoining 160 acres, Cabel C. Emery had built a cabin. One cold January evening Mr. George came to his house and said “Mr. Emery, there are some men unloading building material on the northwest corner of your claim.” Mr. Emery waited to hear no more, but started on foot for the land office in Winona to file—a procedure he had neglected to do before. Reaching Winona the next evening, he found the land office closed, but by inquiry found where the official in charge lived and early next morning, Mr. Emery and the official proceeded to the land office and duly registered the filing of land in Section 30, Oronoco Township.
In the meantime, affairs in the village were moving on a pace. D. P. Hicks built a hotel of logs 18 x 24 with a lean-to 12 x 24 in the rear. Here 60 to 100 men (few families had yet arrived) slept and were fed. A dance hall was placed in the second story where square dances, schottisches, waltzes, and polkas were danced to the music of two violins. This was on the corner where the Dreblow house now stands and continued as a hotel from that early time until 1931 when the building was torn down and the stucco house was built by Mrs. Minnie Newell. A grist mill was built by D. J. Bascomb, T. A. Olmsted, and H. O. Evans. A sash, door, and planing mill was built and Samuel Withrow operated it by the water power furnished by the dam. It was said that more money changed hands then, than in a month in the decades following. But alas and alack: a freshet in June 1859 washed out the dam partially, and machinery of the factories, and the factories were never rebuilt. Only one chair, to the narrator’s knowledge, that was made in Oronoco, exists now—the property of Mrs. Edward Conley. It is likely that many were embedded in silt along the Mississippi. At this time another industry was ended.
In 1858 Holden Whipple and his small son Sandford were crossing his preemption claim which would now be the tract of land just below the Rochester Power Dam in Wabasha County. Now the former was a ‘49er and knew gold when he saw it. Reaching down he picked up a handful of soil, examined it, and said to his small son, “Sandford, that’s gold.” The news soon spread and soon the “Oronoco Mining Company” with headquarters in Oronoco Village was founded and sluices for washing gold were built. Much excitement and much activity at that time! A verbatim account of the operations at that time was told this writer by Caleb C. Emery who was one of the operators. All sluices were carried away in the spring flood of 1859; however, more capital was put up and a dam and machinery were installed by late June, 1859. But the Zumbro River, as has been its habit since time immemorial, went on a rampage while the tired laborers were seeking rest at their homes in Oronoco. When they returned Monday morning, no vestige of their dam was left. Their courage evaporated and mining operations were never resumed. It is fair to say that gold was found there and that R. Damon, well known former Rochester Jeweler, made rings and waist coast buttons, stickpins, and watch chains from Oronoco gold.
The one industry that remained—the grist mill in Oronoco was purchased in 1864 by A. D. Allis of Waupun, Wisconsin, who took active charge in 1866 with Messrs. A. Gooding and D.S. Hobbard, both of Rochester enlarged and rebuilt the interior until it was capable of turning out 200 barrels of flour daily (all barrels, no sacks then). Many teamsters hauled this flour over rutted roads to Rochester where it was shipped to eastern points. Once the dam washed out, but was repaired. Calamity struck and on November 25, 1879, the mill and elevator, with 30,000 bushels of wheat were burned—a loss estimated at $90,000. Teamsters were thrown out of work, a sorry picture with a long, cold winter coming on.
Land had been broken and crops of wheat and oats raised, as well as garden vegetables—the new fertile ground produced prolific growths.
One of the first farms was that of E. C. Stevens who preempted the land, part of which is now the Henry Engelrup farm; Mr. Stevens was a Mississippi steamboat captain, and Mrs. Stevens, a Kentucky lady accustomed to being waited on by colored servants. Coming to Red Wing and thence to the wilderness of Indians and unknown terrors, the poor lady was rather homesick—as her son told this narrator some years afterward. They became residents of the village soon. A daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, Priscilla Williams, and Mr. Stevens both lie in the Oronoco Cemetery.
The first school was held in a small building on the public square west of the Presbyterian Church, taught by Miss Sarah Pierce, an aunt of J. A. (Bert) Pierce, well known Rochester grocery man of some years ago.
In 1958 the Oronoco Literary Society built a building near the site of the old building now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Drazen. The Literary Society sold the building to the District and it was used until the brick building just mentioned was built in 1875—of brick made on the ground near where the barn on the L. Huntsinger farm now stands, just off the highway. A store building, that of M. W. Clay, also was made of these bricks. The school building was a two-story and four-room building with entry and basement heated with wood stoves. The upper room was presided over by Howard J. Cane, that January morning in 1876 when the new building, spic and span, was first used. Mrs. Cane had charge of the primary department. The next teachers were Orie O. Whited and wife. It was then that young men and women from the country ‘round about came to receive instruction in such subjects as philosophy, geometry, algebra, Latin, and German. The fundamental studies were not neglected by Mr. Whited and some of his pupils now in the 80’s show the result of his teaching of penmanship. The upper rooms of the school building were used by two societies. One by the I.O.O.F. (Odd Fellows lodge) which was organized February 28, 1876 and continued active until 1926, when the Charter was surrendered. The other room upstairs was used by the I.O.G.T., which had previously met in the old school building. This organization, the Independent Order of Good Templars, a temperance society, was in existence as early as November 1st, 1866, according to a membership receipt book in the hands of this narrator. According to the Olmsted County History of 1883, the society began its existence June 30th, 1875; but this, we think, must have been a reorganization of the society. There is no data on low long it lasted.
In this room, William Surrey Hart began his public appearance in 1876, when he sang a song composed by his father Nicholas Hart. Bill Hart, the idol of movie fans, two-gun Bill, who played on the legitimate stage with Madam Modjeska and other celebrated artists, lived during a part of his youth, at Oronoco. After his retirement from the movies in the 20’s he wrote his life story in: “My Life East and West”—also “Hoof Beats” and “… And All Points West” in which his sister Mary E. Hart collaborated. During his career as a movie actor, he wrote many of the scenarios for his plays. His father, Nicholas Hart was a millwright, working on the Oronoco mill in 1876. While Bill Hart’s work carried him distances from his home, he maintained his residence in Oronoco. A few years prior to his death, this narrator, in correspondence with Bill Hart about his boyhood days at Oronoco, received copies of the books written by him.
The Rebekahs began their existence, April 22, 1896 and met in the I.O.O.F. hall. This society continued until 1926.
In 1896 the Modern Woodmen of America received its charter. This was an insurance organization and had many members, but as time rolled on, many members moved away, and so the lodge ceased to exist in the late 1930’s. Through this organization, however, Oronoco had its heyday of campers.
In early times the Indians camped below the village, later the horse traders, and still later the gypsies. But when the 4th of July was to be celebrated, crowds of farmers and townsmen gathered at the “Picnic Grounds” west of the village, now the Oronoco State Park which was created in 1939. Here a speaker’s stand of rough lumber would be erected, plank seats for the ladies, and a bandstand where the Oronoco Silver Cornet Band dispensed music, sweet music, during the day and a quartet of singers sang patriotic songs; among them were Pascal Ware and wife, Mrs. Helen Farrand, and James Fulton. A parade through the village with Albert S. Grant, marshal of the day, riding a gaily caparisoned horse, with the band following and other citizens in carriages, and bringing up the rear, a band of ragamuffins in clothing of any and all descriptions—Sambo, pickaninnies, Negro mammies, and with them all, James Haskins who acted as interlocutor and could impersonate and mimic man, woman, child, or animal. How the youngsters thrilled at the sight and we believe the oldsters were deeply appreciative. The
Line of march led to the speaker’s stand where the band took their places, the assembled crowd became quiet, the minister pronounced the invocation. The quartette sang and the band played. The speaker of the day, usually a reverend or other Rochester citizen, was introduced and gave a patriotic address, listened to appreciatively by the assembly. Patriotic songs were sung, the benediction pronounced; by this time it was noon and time for the dinners, spread on white table cloths on the grass. Such good things as were prepared by the wives and mothers–no canned stuff—all fresh from the garden and orchard; baked ham and fried chicken, cakes, and pies. Children had plenty lemonade—no ice cream, for that was before the days of putting up ice by the farmers, or commercial ice cream wagons. These were days of the late 1860’s or 1870’s.
Going back to the Woodmen, in June, we believe it was the 28th, 1898, society held a county picnic at the aforesaid picnic grounds. A great crowd attended from the county and even outside the county. Speeches and games featured the day. But there was the beautiful lake with its waters rippling in the sun and shade of trees along the banks (it had already been named Lake Shady) but nary a boat on its expanse. Many spoke of it during the day to Mr. A. D. Allis, owner of the property. By July 4th, just six days later, a dance pavilion 80 x 30 had been built with maple floors, an orchestra procured, and all afternoon and into the wee small hours of the morning on the 5th, dancers filled the floor of the new place of amusement. Later an addition of 20 feet was built for restaurant purposes. But the pavilion was finished except the roof, which was only sheeted that July 4th evening. At 2:00 a.m. of the 5th, a torrent of rain descended and although it dampened the clothes of the dancers, it dampened their ardor not a bit. Like Kilroy, we were there. Please remember, ladies wore long dresses and high shoes and with water on the floor an inch or more deep, they enjoyed the fun.
Boats were soon put on the lake, a barn for horses, and an icehouse where great masses of ice was stored for use of the campers. For many years, Frank Moulton, the genial Frank, cared for horses, boats, and grounds; cottages were built and occupied by many, a group of Rochester young people now crowned with gray hair and with grandchildren. In 1926 the pavilion burned and the cottages were moved away as the dam had gone out, and the lake was dry. Resident cottages had been built in the village by Drs. William J. and Charles H. Mayo, Drs. Henry Plummer, and E. S. Judd, Mr. J. H . Kahler, and Burt W. Eaton. The last two are still in use. The first campers on the grounds which we remember, and who used tents, was in August 1897, when Rev. and Mrs. John P. Pringle and sons, Presbyterian minister in Rochester, and afterward missionary to Alaska, with Mr. and Mrs. C. F. Massey and daughters and Mr. and Mrs. T. H. Titus and daughters.
Returning now to the secret societies. The Royal Neighbors of America Auxiliary of the M. W. A., was organized in 1902 and is the only one of the lodges still in existence. The Guardians of Liberty held sway for a time, and the Sunnyside Club, a men’s organization led by Mr. Kerry Conley and others from Rochester, held meetings at the Presbyterian Church for a time.
A new school building was built in 1927—a two room and library, with recreation room, kitchen, and dining room in the basement. The present teachers are Miss Cecelia Foley of Wabasha and Miss Florence Posz of Plainview.
Religious services were early held in Oronoco. One of the first, was a preaching services in the store of Withrow and Evans in the fall of 1854. The congregation were all men, as no families had yet arrived. A collection was taken and when the preacher looked at the pile of money and then at the assembly, he remarked “This is the biggest pile of money from the smallest crowd I have ever seen.”
The first church to be used—a building moved to the site of the Grace Church parish house—was used for many years by the Campbellites—now the Christian Church. Rev. Noah Wirt was the only minister. Mr. Wirt was the grandfather of Roy W. Allis. Rev. Thomas Van Dolsh presided for a number of years. The site was later occupied by the Lutheran Society as St. Paul’s Evangelical Church. In 1870, Rev. Thomas Burnet came from New York, young and enthusiastic, and founded the Presbyterian Society, and in 1871 a building begun with Nathan N. Williamson as contractor which was dedicated in 1872. It recently has been enlarged and modernized. The present minister is Dr. L.C. McEwen and the church has approximately one hundred-fifty members.
The Missouri Synod has a strong following of the Lutheran faith and in 1908 built a church, now Grace Church, presided over by Rev. Norbert A. Reinke.
In 1856 a bridge of logs and planks was built across the Zumbro, which served the public for ten years, when it washed out and another one was built in 1866. This served until 1876, when in May, a flood came and the north abutment was giving away under the impact of water. Mr. M. W. Clay called to the school teacher to hold the pupils living on the north side of the river until boats could come for them. One pupil wishing to cross the bridge once more, ran at full speed and just as he reached the north end, it let loose from the bank and the lad had to jump—he made the bank. That was Fred D. Allis, well remembered citizen, by many. A steel bridge was then constructed by H. E. Horton, contractor and bridge builder of Rochester. This bridge with wide roading and walks for pedestrians on each side, was the pride of every citizen. No trotting of horses unless you wished to be fined $10. This bridge did good service until the automobile age, when it was replaced by a concrete structure—more durable perhaps, but not so artistic. This new bridge was said to have the longest single arch between here and Chicago, at that time—1918. On the steel bridge, one could stand on the sidewalk and watch the rush of waters over the dam, which was several feet upstream from the present one which was constructed with gates in 1936.
A bridge was built in 1876 where White Bridge now is. Used for many years, it was finally unsafe, and the present bridge was moved from Mankato to replace it in 1918.
We have spoken of a few farms opening up in the early days. Settlers were not long in coming where choice land was to be had. William B. Webster was the first settler on Greenwood Prairie, a mile south of White Bridge. Here he made his claim in June 1855. He was a cousin, once removed, of Daniel Webster the statesman, and was a native of Bangor, Maine. Representing the family at present is townsman, Frank E. Webster, who lives near the old homestead. In May 1857 Charles B. Carley came from Pennsylvania and settled on northeast part of Section 1, Oronoco Township. J. F. Rueber became a resident of Oronoco and for many years owned the 160 acre farm now the property of Carl and Miss Anna Loos and Mrs. Clara Belle Loos. Representing this family here are Frank E. Rueber; a grandson; Mrs. Iva McCutcheon; and a granddaughter; and Mrs. William A. Moore of Rochester, another granddaughter. Shortly after Mr. Rueber came from Germany, his brother-in-law, John Rucker, came. Both gentlemen were well educated in German, and Mr. Rueber became well versed in English. John was a miller, and shortly after coming here, was employed at the grist mill. He kept the books in German. The original is now in the possession of the Olmsted County Historical Society.
Another brother of Mr. Rucker’s, Frederick, Sr., became well known and is represented by a son Fred W. Rucker, well known farmer south of the village. Jacob C. Rucker, another son of Frederick, Sr., lived here many years. His son is Alfred J. Rucker.
In the late 1860’s John Irish, who owned a small farm on Trout Brook, near the road to the Power Dam, built a dam and grist mill where buckwheat, cornmeal, and feed were ground. This was quite a boom to the settlers. But high water washed the dam away and another industry was lost. One of the mill stones was found years later and given to the museum of the historical society by John F. Hoffman of Rochester. However, Mr. Irish loved horses and on a level part of his farm, he had a half-mile race track on which he trained a good many racers. He was a relative of the late R. K. (Riley) Irish of Pine Island, who also loved horses and the race track.
Thomas B. Lindsay and his brother Ed came from Milwaukee in the late 1860’s to take charge of a general merchandise store in the village. The former remained over a decade and was active in the church and the Good Templar Society. The family went to Minneapolis and he was engaged with the Lindsay Brothers firm, manufacturers of farm machinery. He became wealthy and before his death in 1916, he gave to Pillsbury Academy, Owatonna, $25,000 to build a gymnasium. Mrs. Lindsay died February 1922.
Acres of land were being broken and put into wheat and oats, later barley was sown. Grain was sown by hand at first, before seeders came into use and harvested with a cradle—which is a tool something like a scythe with guards to gather the grain together. This grain was bound by hand on the ground. At first, small crops were flailed out on the floor but by 1859, threshing machines, operated by horse power, were in use. The cradle was succeeded by the McCormick reaper, a horse-drawn machine with sickle, which did the work faster and easier. Still, the grain had to be bound on the ground. It was not long before the harvester was invented which put the grain that fell on a canvas operating on rolls, carrying it to another canvas which elevated it and finally dumped it on a table where two men standing on a platform, swept an armful up, made a band of grain stalks and deftly bound it into a bundle. A carrier back of the men then received it and when enough bundlers were collected for a shock, it was dumped, ready for the shockers. Hard, hot work those August days!
Horse-powered machines went from farm to farm during October and threshed the grain after it had been stacked. How proud these farmers were of those stacks and how they vied with each other to see who could put up the most symmetrical stacks! At the present time, much grain is combined when all of the foregoing operations except stacking are done at one time.
One of the leading industries in the early days of the township was blacksmithing. All breaking of the sod was done either by oxen or horses. So much horse shoeing must be done. Also work on breaking plows and other farm machines, wagons, etc. L.P. Hill was proprietor of an early shop and continued until 1878. Jacob Fleck came after being discharged from the army in 1865 and continued until 1898, when he sold to Carl Leichner, whose shop on part-time basis, is run by his son Hugo O. Leichner.
In 1878 Isaac Reifsnider and wife and sons, Volney and Charles, arrived from Kansas. Mr. Reifsnider was an experienced smithy—an artist in the business. He soon took over a shop formerly that of Richard Griffin, afterward a well-known business man in Rochester. With him was associated for a time John Kern. Mr. Reifsnider continued in the work until age and failing health caused him to retire. He died April 16, 1913, and his wife passed on.
Early settlers in the southern part of the township were Abel Moulton and his brother Amos, who settled there in 1855. Stone brothers, for whom the place now known as Douglas Corner, was named “Stone Corners.” Here was a wagon shop, blacksmith shop, etc. Years later a cheese factory was built, we believe by Jacob Vroman from New York, and still later, a creamery.
In 1861 and later, many of the citizens volunteered for the army and some who went, never returned—died on the battlefield or prison.
In 1862 the Sioux Indians, who had been moved farther west, returned to the settlements around New Ulm and burned, pillaged, and murdered the settlers. Men of Oronoco enlisted and chased the Indians across Minnesota and Dakota, now South Dakota. Thirty-nine of these Indians were captured and hung at Mankato. Some of the soldiers of Oronoco recognized among them some of the tribe who had lived here in the early years. Well-worn trails led from this village up cemetery hill, down to Trout Brook to the Power Dam, where many of the tribe lived. Long years after, a painter, John Stevens of Rochester, depicted the massacre on canvas. In time, the canvas became the property of Henry Horton, who with his son Will, exhibited it at schoolhouses in the area. Will was the delineator: when the whites were gaining a victory, the musicians played lively airs on their violins, but when they were being overcome, the music was doleful. Among the songs were: “Minnehaha, Laughing Water”—a very popular song then. As a side show, a dancing skeleton was exhibited, made of cardboard, loosely jointed and manipulated on a string; the scene was a hair raiser for children. The canvas painted by Stevens is now the property of the Minnesota Historical Society, a gift from Burt W. Eaton, Rochester Attorney, who at that time was a member of the Executive Council of the State Society.
In 1864 J.C. Fifield and wife settled near the school house in District No. 89 and lived there until 1876. It as called the Fifield District many years. Mrs. Carrie Huntsinger was a daughter. Also came Truman Culver and Edwin J. Rice with their families, also settling in District 89. In fact, the school house was not yet built, but when it was, Mr. Rice had donated an acre of land for the site.
In the southwest part of the township, W. S. Bush came in 1963 and settled. The school district there bears his name. The house was built of brick hauled from Lake City. Here a daughter, now Mrs. Jennie Fischer, living with her daughter, Mrs. R. S. Aney, in the village was born. At the Olmsted County Fair in 1887 prizes were given for the prettiest baby—Mrs. Fischer’s daughter, now Mrs. Emil Dickman, was the winner. In 1883, Lulu Owen, sister of Mrs. Fred King, won a prize.
Dr. Hector Galloway having moved to Rochester, Dr. Harvey N. Rogers of Mauston, Wisconsin, came in 1886 to care for the sick. He remained until 1870 when John N. Farrand (who met his death by drowning in 1880) came.
Dr. Edgar A. Holmes came in 1880 and moved to North St. Paul in 1888. His daughter, Mrs. Roy W. Allis, is still a resident of the village.
Although Indians were numerous, no burial grounds were found here. Spear heads are still found and some years ago, C. D. Reifsnider found an Indian pipe on his farm west of the lake.
The virgin soil was rapidly being broken up and planted to wheat and oats—no corn was raised because the season was too short for the varieties then know to mature. But scientists soon began experimenting on crossing varieties, until now corn here is one of the main crops. The wheat in these early years was hauled to Red Wing or Lake City until the Oronoco mill, already spoken of, was ready to take it all.
In 1861, our young, able-bodied men responded to President Lincoln’s call for troops. Many never returned. Among them, fathers leaving a family of young children to be cared for by the mother. Times were indeed hard for those families. Among those who were taken prisoners were George Seville, who was taken to Andersonville Prison but was afterwards discharged. He lived on the farm now owned by Mrs. Louis Meyers in School District 104. He moved west to South Dakota in 1880. Also George Atkinson, an early resident of East Oronoco, who died in Andersonville Prison. Grandsons now live near Rochester. Hiram J. Kirkham also met death in that war. His descendants live in Rochester.
Among the veterans of the Philippine War are John Williamson, who now holds a Congressional Medal for assisting in rescuing his commander held captive in the Philippines. He lives at Alder Point, California; A. M. Pendergrass, White Bear, Minnesota; William Pendergrass in northern Minnesota; and Deed Morrow now deceased. Maurice L. Stiller, son of Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Williamson, entered West Point military school in 1914, and is now a Brigadier General, having served in Germany, Hawaii, and Italy, returning to the United States last year, 1947.
The township furnished its quota in both World Wars I and II. One of the first casualties of Olmsted County men in World War I was George Brummer, an Oronoco man. Born of a German father and an English mother, he spent his early life in London. He became restless when war was declared so, going to Canada, he enlisted with the Canadian troops and was soon at the front. A machine gun, which a squad were operating exploded and every man was killed. Among those who rest on foreign soil in World War II are: Charles Swanson, navy; and John Jones, army; in the Pacific area. Richard Wood, European soil. Reginald R. Aney has been with the Pacific naval fleet since March 19, 1940.
Among the early settler in the northeastern part of the township was Nathaniel Roseboom, a former ship builder, building Monitors at the U.S. Navy Yards in Brooklyn. He settled on the northwest quarter, Section 1 in Oronoco Township, which is now the home of our County Commissioner for the 5th District, Mr. John Roseboom, a grandson of Nathaniel. The latter was township supervisor for 20 years. He has two sons, Clifton of Rochester and Percy who lives nearby. Mrs. Roseboom was Miss May Cook of South Troy.
In the 1870‘s, as is the case in older settled places, the younger generation having married, were looking for farms. As government land win western Minnesota, North and South Dakota was opened for preemption or homesteading, many sought new homes there. So changes came about in our population. Among the earliest to move was Christian Millhouse with his wife Hannah, sons George and Sam, and daughter Stella. Their home was the Withrow and Emans store, which then became the residence of Edwin F. Treat and his family of sons, Charles, Jerome, Noble, Veeder, and Frank; and a daughter Nellie, afterwards Mrs. Nellie D’Auby. Of this family, Veeder became a physician and now lives in Todd County on a farm where he retired after practicing his profession some years in Oronoco , a part of the time.
Now Mr. Millhouse was a boot and shoemaker, a good one. He had profound faith in the village of his choice. So profound was his faith that when the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the State of Minnesota was published in 1874, he had a wood cut of the store building he had in mind inserted in the book, also showing Hannah, his wife, coming down the steps. It was never built.
About this time, M. W. Clay was Postmaster and dealer in general merchandise, built a brick store 24 x 60 with hall above. The brick was made in Oronoco, as was the lime used in the building. Here was brisk trading until the mill burned when trade, as well as grain, went elsewhere. However, Mr. Clay set up a printing press in the hall in 1879. He secured an outfit of type which was set by hand in a fixed frame, and a roller from the burned mill was rolled over the inked type by hand which did the printing. It was a very neat sheet, as may be seen by looking at several copies of this paper “The Oronoco Journal” in possession of the narrator. In 1883 Mr. Clay rented his store to Messrs. Clark and Batson and with his family of four sons and two daughters, moved to Hutchinson, Minnesota, where W. S. Clay, co-partner in the telephone exchange and Harvey I. Clay, a barber, sons of M,. W. reside. Both visit the old town often. Another son, Dr. E. M. Clay, was our physician in Oronoco from 1898 to 1901.
About the same time, D. J. Bascomb also sold his stock of merchandise—consisting of men’s suits, fur coats, mostly buffalo; woolen goods; calicos; dishes; bedsteads; and bedding, with a full line of groceries to James Barnett. Mr. Bascomb went to Clark, South Dakota, when for many years he operated a roller flour mill. Of this family, there are two survivors living at Clark, South Dakota, Letha and Jay Bascomb. The Clay store was afterward occupied by William M. Phelps who was also deputy Postmaster. Mr. Phelps and wife were early settlers in Oronoco.
In 1878 the Rochester and Northern Railroad was built from Rochester to Zumbrota. Freight, which had heretofore been shipped by Rochester, now came to Oronoco Station four miles west of the village. The mail also came from there. The first station agent was Byron H. McCray, a native of Pennsylvania.
The mail left at 6:30 a.m. for the station and the wagon loader with barrels of sugar, salt, and other groceries and perhaps boxes of dry goods, arrived at 6:00 p.m. with the mail. The store would be full of customers. The mail must be distributed at that time as there were no local boxes, so one clerk must stand at the Post Office window and hand out mail as patrons called.
At this time, a boy of 16, who lived with his grandmother, Mrs. Mary McNeill, a very early settler of these parts, clerked for Mr. Clay. This boy became nationally known as a surgeon and cancer specialist. He was Dr. James Fulton Percy, who died at his home in Los Angeles three years ago. He frequently visited the scenes of this boyhood in later life.
In the meantime, across the street, James Barnett was doing business. He added to the line of patent medicine, drugs, and in due time, with a license to dispense the same, he compounded medicine for both man and beast. Coming to the village in his infancy, he had been elected Justice of the Peace and performed marriage ceremonies (although he was never admitted to citizenship). He was born in England. This was proven when, after his death in California, his daughters sought title to his property in Mexico after he had been compelled to leave Tampico where he had a banana plantation, before the Mexican uprising in 1915. In the earlier times in Oronoco, Mr. Barnett was proprietor of the Exchange Hotel. While he was dispensing drugs and groceries, he had time to dramatize plays which were produced by local talent and were not badly done, either in text or acting. He was also a photographer and had a studio above his store.
In his store and Post Office, he was assisted by his daughters, Miss Minnie Barnett; afterward Mrs. Frank Hill (mother of Rev. Alden Hill of Los Angeles and Rev. Harry Hill of Long Beach, California), and Miss Mae Barnett, now Mrs. Miner Jones of Knapp, Wisconsin.
William Phelps sold his general merchandise stock to Ham McCray and brother, C. F. McCray, about 1885. Both were young, hustling go-getters for business. In 1889 another brother, Joe McCray, came from Pennsylvania and in May of that year, a creamery was built by C. F. and J. McCray, the first in Oronoco. It was located on the site of the E. A. Ackerman residence. H. H. McCray moved to North St. Paul in 1888, C. F. McCray was Postmaster for a number of years, and was also Town Clerk.
He returned in 1897 to the old home in Corry, Pennsylvania, where he lived until his death. J. McCray sold the creamery and farmed here for some years. He died in 1931. In 1911, the building which housed the creamery was converted into a cheese factory. In 1915, a new building was built and operated under the management of Arthur Parkin, veteran cheese producer of Pine Island. Two years ago last June, the High Grade Food Products Corporation of New York City purchased the property and have rebuilt, added to, and modernized the factory which employs four full-time and two part-time workers and four truck drivers. John Holliday is the foreman of the factory. The dairy business is chief in the farming community.
In the 1880’s, we have mentioned moving of families to new fields. It must have been atmospheric—this seeking new homes, for here during that time, came many families whose descendants are substantial citizens of the township and village.
To mention a few: Frederick M. Koenig and family came from Chicago and settled on the farm which his son Robert and grandson Cyril now operate; Arthur Koenig is another son. William C. Ritter, Sr. and family, also from Chicago, purchased the farm now owned by his son, William F. Ritter. Charles Kurth and family also came, as did John Kurth and his family. Of these two families, William Kurth is left. Carl Glabe and wife and sons, Henry and Herman, and daughter Alma also came from Chicago. Mrs. Glabe died in a few years, leaving another daughter Ida (now Mrs. Edward Rucker). Mr. Glabe married again and the children of this marriage are Caroline, now Mrs. J. H. Tiedeman of Oronoco village; Amiel L Glabe of Rochester; and Lydia, now Mrs. Walter J. Stolp of Los Angeles. Alma also lives in California. Herman lives in Oronoco village and Henry on a nearby farm. Also came Herman Ritter from Chicago. Now these men were not farmers. Some were carpenters, some worked in factories where moldings were gilded and they lost a degree of health by breathing the dust. However, each tackled the job of farming with a right good will and made a success of it.
Among those coming to the township in the 1870’s was Arthur Huntsinger and family, who resided many years on the farm now owned by his son, E. A. Huntsinger, and who are the only representatives of the family now living in the township.
John Stolp, Sr. and family came from Wisconsin and his sons still live here. In 1892, L. J. Fiefeld and his son John H. moved from their farm in Wabasha County and opened a hardware store. It is the only business of the 1890’s which still survives. They advertised as dealers in hardware and jewelry, also carried some machinery, pumps, etc. McCray brothers sold their stock of merchandise to E. J. Rice and Company who continued in business until 1907 when the store and stock were burned. During the time E. J. Rice, Jr. was Postmaster for eleven years, his sister Ann E. Rice was Assistant, and brother W. Rice was Deputy Postmaster. During this time the mail route to Oronoco Station was discontinued in 1894 and a Star Route to Rochester instituted. In 1899 Rural Free Delivery, with mail coming from Douglas became a fact. The first Rural Carrier was Lincoln Holmes. Oronoco never had a railroad. Several surveys were made, but no road materialized. However, she nearly had an “electric line.” In the strong boxes of a number of our citizens, now passed on, are beautifully engraved certificates with large gold seals showing that the holder had paid $100.00 for said certificate for the purpose of building the said Electric Line from Hastings—at least to Oronoco. (Perhaps if the promoter could have kept out of Stillwater, it might have been built, but like the Scotchman says, “we have our doots.”)
During the first twenty years of this century, Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Williamson presided over “Lawn Comfort” cottage and here came campers and cottagers to dine and also to find rooms for the weekend.
In 1913 a bank was built and duly incorporated, but in 1929 it was merged with the Security State Bank of Pine Island. The business places are fifteen in number in the village, and several along the avenue west of the lake. They consisted of grocery stores, sheet metal shop, hardware stores, garages, cheese factory, restaurant, Post Office, and soft drink parlors.
In summer the State Park which is cared for by Mrs. R. S. Aney has many visitors. Kings Park, a summer colony, as is Cedar Beach, both on Lake Zumbro, have many summer dwellers.
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Conley are proprietors of the Oronoco Telephone Exchange, which has grown out of a line built by F. S. Haines and J. A. Malone from Rochester to Oronoco in the 1890’s and later taken over by the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company. The first rural lines were built by Messrs. L. L. Cornwell and T. H. Bunn of Pine Island.
The first automobile driven in the village was that of Dr. Charles H. Mayo, who with his brother, in the early part of the century, had a cottage on the lake on the site of the present H. J. Harwick residence. Dr. Wm. J. Mayo had a cottage at Waseca which was moved here and was rented to the public by Mr. A. D. Allis, who purchased it. It was always called the Waseca cottage.
When the Minnesota State Constitution was framed in 1858, in some townships there were not enough natural born citizens to fill the local offices as supervisors, clerk, Treasurer, etc. So a provision was made that foreigners who had taken out their first citizenship papers could vote on local matters, provided they took out their second papers when they had resided in the United States the prescribed number of years. Many failed to do this and for nearly forty years, they voted in local, county, state, and national affairs regardless. Our State Legislature seeing this, passed a bill in 1895, which was ratified by the counties at the election in 1896, prohibiting anyone who did not have their second papers from voting in the spring election of 1897. Several of our citizens were much surprised by this turn of affairs and made haste to get final citizenship papers.
Among those who have served as county commissioners for the 5th district comprised of Farmington, Oronoco, New Haven, Kalmar, Cascade, and Haverhill, are Fred J. Rucker; George H. Olson, who filled the unexpired term of A.O. Cowles; J. M. Loos, who served for twenty years on the board; and the present incumbent, John Roseboom. The present township officers are: Supervisors, Carl Loos, George Wittlief, and Vaughn Kolbe; Clerk, Roy Allis; Treasurer, Lester Tiedeman; Constable, R. S. Rawson; and Justice, Leslie Page,
Tragedy often struck in the village and township. In early time, legend has it that a man was hanged near the west side of the park and there are those claim to have seen the objects taken from his pockets. Stopping at the hotel for the night, he unwisely displayed quite a roll of cash with which he said he was going to buy a farm. Anyway, when the body was found, there was no money. No inquiries for the stranger’s whereabouts were received or arrests made.
During high water, many were drowned while attempting to cross the river. At Webster’s Ford, now Cedar Beach, Jane Atkinson was swept from the wagon into the muddy water. Her body was found six weeks later caught in a bush on the east bank of the river below where now is White Bridge.
Small children of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Nichols, living in what is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Holliday, were caught by the waters and drowned. In 1878, John and Alden Hill attempted to cross the “pond” to hunt; the ice broke and they lost their lives. Dr. John M. Farrand was the next victim when his boat was swept over the dam in 1880. One miraculous rescue in 1876 was that of Miss Myra Wood, who plunged into the pond just above the mill-flume. A farmer crossing the bridge saw her and whipping up his team, he reached the mill and rushed in calling “shut down the mill.” This was done and the flood gates opened. The body of the young lady shot out of the open gate and landed on an island a few feet below, damp but unharmed by her experience. Some twenty later the lady succeeded in taking her life by jumping from the High Bridge in St. Paul.
Ambrose Reed, a teacher here for several years when bathing with one of his pupils, Erwin Hewitt, at the park at what was then known as Ellithorpe’s Cove. A sand bar some distance out was their goal. Reaching it, Mr. Reed rested and then plunged in to swim to shore. He sank and did not rise. His body was recovered some hours later. A like fate befell Lloyd Moulton in 1941, just opposite where Dr. Reed was drowned.
In 1893 the low wheeled bicycle had become the rage, both ladies and gentlemen purchasing wheels. As country roads were not then as smooth as now, many spills resulted.
The only bicyclist before this was Charles N. Chadbourn of Rochester, who rode out on one of the high-wheeled kind.
In 1920 the highway was graded through the village, and in 1931 a new route west of the village was graded and paved which is now Highway 52.
The Jefferson Transportation Company, whose buses carry loads of passengers on the highway between Rochester and Minneapolis, and whose resident is Edgar A. Zelle, began as a freight transportation project in 1921. Mr. Zelle told this writer that his first visit to Oronoco was one July night when he drove into the place sometime after midnight to pick up household goods of a chiropractor who was moving to St. Paul. He parked his van and slept until morning, when he loaded the goods and was on his way. By 1922, Mr. Zelle had a fleet of 7-passenger Packard cars transporting passengers between the two points. By 1926 the railroads sensed the danger and sought to put the buses off the highway. A hearing before the Railroad and Warehouse Commission was held at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester in October of that year, and witnesses for and against the project came from villages along the route. Many from this village attended, all in favor of the bus line, as were most of those from further north. One witness was asked by the Railroad and Warehouse attorney if there were other ways for her to get out of the village. “Oh, yes” was her reply. After pausing a short time –“I can walk!”–which didn’t help the attorney’s side of the case. The upshot of the hearing was that the Jefferson Transportation Company was allowed to continue on the highway. They have extended their lines and added new equipment and are much appreciated by the traveling public.
In the early days Merritt Nichols and family came from Illinois and settled in New Haven Township. After living there a short time, they moved to Oronoco. Two of the sons, Adelbert W. Nichols and John J. Nichols, lived on farms near the village, reared families; one of whom, Warren A. Nichols, son of A. W. Nichols, is a resident of the village at the present time (1948) and lives just across the street from the house in which he was born 81 years ago last December 15th.
School children who trudged miles to school in cold weather in the early days had a hard time, for it took them until nearly noon before getting warm enough to settle down to study. No free text books then; each child must furnish his own books. Few schools were equipped with a dictionary. But a small percentage of the rural school students attended high school. Now, after passing the 8th grade, many are picked up by the school buses and attend either Rochester or Pine Island High School, and after graduating, go on to the University of Teachers College or Business School. Thus, have the educational facilities progressed in the 94 years of our existence.
In the late 1880’s a menagerie and circus traveling overland by team came to the village and in the afternoon of a July day began setting up tents on vacant lots on main (Minnesota) street, where the home of Mrs. Marie Koenig is now located. There were horses, camels, elephants, and other animals, with clowns and lady bareback riders, enough to attract a crowd. One of the proprietors said to a bystander, Frank Hellenbelt, who was watching the putting up of their tents — “Do you know where I could get some potatoes?” Looking over the crowd, Frank said “Why yes, I think that man may have some” and calling out said “Come over here, Tom” Tom came and the matter having been explained to him, the circus man began asking in a raised voice about how many he could buy and the price of the potatoes. Tom, believing him deaf, answered in a raised voice also, much to the amusement of the bystanders. After the bargaining was nearly completed, Mr. Ringling, the circus man, bethought himself and said “I’m not deaf!” “Neither am I” said Tom, who was Thomas Pendergrass, a type setter on the Rochester Post in earlier times, and later, the Oronoco News. At the turn of the century, Mr. Ringling was one of Ringling Brothers who were proprietors of one of the World’s largest circuses. Thus from small beginnings do great enterprises grow.
There were other tent shows with menageries in the years following, which drew great crowds of the youngsters. The Kickapoo Indians gave shows in the hall for six weeks, nightly, with full houses. They sold many remedies which were warranted to cure every disease imaginable. Their stage performances were considered very good. In the hall spoken of, were given many plays with local talent and some from out of town. Here also, those who cared to dance (and who didn’t in those early days?) came to trip the light fantastic to the music of Henry Horton and son William, violinists with organ accompaniment: Arthur B Gray and son’s orchestra and many others, including Charles O. Dixon who also called the figures for the quadrilles. Many kitchen parties were held during the time when none were held in the hall. Mr. Dixon, now nearly 89 years old played for small parties until a few years ago. In announcing the next meeting of the Oronoco Old Settlers two years ago, he said: “The next dance here will be August 17, 1946,” which of course, provoked smiles from the assembly. An invitation to a social dance in Clay’s Hall, Oronoco on February 22, 1887, states: “All are invited to come and have a Good Time. We will endeavor to make this the nicest dance of the season. Floor Managers, J. A. McLane, A. Cooke. Music by Rice’s Full Band. Bill 50 cents. McCray and Carley, Prop’s.” Thus was Washington’s birthday celebrated in 1887 in Oronoco.
In 1927 the Oronoco Old Settlers began to assemble once a year. That year the meeting was held in September at the home of E. J. Rice. Each year since then, the meeting has been held in August. Early settlers came from a distance; some years from Florida, California, Arizona, Washington, Iowa, Wisconsin, and points in Minnesota. The meetings are at the State Park now, and with a picnic dinner, much reminiscing is done. There are no dues, no officers, no set speeches. The day is all too short for greeting and visiting. Not all are of the older generation for many middle ages attend.
When in August 1920, the 19th Constitutional Amendment was passed permitting women equal rights, with me, it did not seem to awaken much enthusiasm at first, but when a year or two had past, people had been given time for thought, most women were ready at the primary election held that year in June, to cast their ballot intelligently. How many wives voted as their husbands did is not revealed. By the time town election was held in March 1922, several lady candidates were on the ticket for various town offices. Ann E. Rice was elected Justice of the Peace and held the office several terms. She was possibly the first Justice in the State of Minnesota. During the summer of that year, a Mexican laborer on a highway at West Concord got into difficulty at the pavilion. He was arrested by the Deputy Sheriff about 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning and brought before the Justice at 8:00. It being Sunday morning, no trial could be held. So it was arranged to release the guilty party on his own recognizance to appear at 6:30 a.m. Monday. Sure enough, “Little Joe” the Mexican appeared with the Deputy, was arraigned, pleaded guilty, was fined $25.00 and costs, and released. After thanking the Justice and both the deputy and Joe having had a cup of coffee with said Justice, the latter departed for West Concord where his day’s work began at 7:30 a.m. The deputy went home and Miss Rice betook herself to Rochester where she serving as petit juror in District Court, being the first woman juror from the township to serve. Mrs. L. Huntsinger was also on the jury that session. The first lady to be chosen on the jury in Olmsted County was Mrs. Maitland Little then of Byron, now of Rochester.
On the A. J. Rice farm there was a 10-acre piece of slough which grew the sweetest grass. The owner was very particular about this grass, for hay made of it remained sweet and was considered the best feed for horses inclined to have heaves. The reaper was not yet obtainable so this hay was cut with a scythe. For several seasons, an elderly gentleman, nearing 70, mowed it. He left the grass in neat windrows to be raked and piled into mounds. He wore a home-braided and sewed broad brim straw hat in which he placed his well dampened handkerchief to protect his head from the heat. He was also a firm believer in herbs made into medicine by steeping. These he gathered while mowing. One morning he returned to the Rice home with a sample of the brew and wished the lady of the house to taste it. Fearing to offend by refusal, she started to taste daintily, when “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Guess ‘twont kill ya!” roared the man. The smell of the brew warned her the taste must be awful. The hay from the meadow was out in a dry loft and most fragrant it was,
One April afternoon about the turn of the century, the store of E. J. Rice and Company was spic and span, the spring house cleaning having just been finished. It so happened that Jerry Creed, business man from Rochester, and Sheriff Elbert H. Vine had dropped in to the store for a chat with Mr. Rice. They were standing near the front of the store when the latter saw a cloud of dust traveling up the street. Eddie, for so the Postmaster was known to everyone, remembered that a window on the street level at the back of the store was wide open and a good target for the dust. He started to run the 60 feet to close the window which had to be reached by going up a 12-foot step ladder. Jerry and the sheriff, thinking Eddie was heading for a cyclone cellar, were close at his heels. When the window was closed, Eddie came down a step or two, saw the two men below, sat down and had a good laugh in which his companions joined as soon as they recovered their breath,” “Be me soul,” said Jerry “’tis the first time I was ever chased by the sheriff.”
In 1893 when the Columbian Exposition opened May first in Chicago, all were making plans to visit it. Railroad fares were cheap and many excursion trains were run from Rochester. Before the close of the World’s Fair, a goodly percent of the township had visited there—the agricultural building, horticultural building, mechanical arts building, The Ibby Prison which had been transported there, piece by piece and set up. This was one of the buildings left on the fair grounds for some years after the close of the fair before being taken down and transported back to the original location at Richmond, Virginia. One of the sights of the Fair was the Ferris wheel which thrilled some and terrified others.
About this time Carrie Nation of Kansas was wrecking saloons here and there with her hatchet. One day an Oronoco lady, went to Rochester on a shopping trip. Heretofore, she had been able to reach Man Street now First Avenue) from Broadway by going through an empty store. Much to her surprise on this day, when she walked in, she found the store was a saloon, fully occupied. But undaunted, she walked straight through to the back door and out. She believed the assembly thought she was Carrie Nation who had been scheduled to make an appearance in Rochester that day.
W. A. Nichols and E. O. Hickock, the later publishers of the Oronoco News had the concessions on the picnic grounds for the day of the picnic. The evening before, Mr. and Mrs. C. F. McCray and Mr. and Mrs. Nichols made and froze ice cream until 2:00 a.m. to be sold at the stands. In the morning, the members of the local camp came by, and the ladies, mistakenly thinking the ice cream was for the camp members turned it over to them. It swelled the camp fund quite appreciably.
In the early days it was customary for students, mostly young men of 18 to 20, to attend school during the winter term in rural districts. There were but two terms then, three months in summer and four months in winter. Whether these young men wished to increase their knowledge, pass the time away during dull winter months, or become better acquainted with the teacher, a pleasant young lady, is not a historical fact. Usually reading and arithmetic were the subjects pursued by them. Neither grammar, history, nor geography seemed to be needed by them. Had they been Columbus, America would probably never have been discovered. When the County Superintendent of Schools, Sanford Miles, visited this one particular school in cold weather in the 1870’s, he came with team and open sleigh over not too good roads. The schoolroom, 20 x 20, lighted by huge windows on the east and west sides, was heated by a long, low stove capable of taking a two-foot length of heavy wood and with a drum over it. Often, as Will Carleton recorded in his poem, “The School Master’s Guests,” this stove could “break out in red hot flaming sores.” Often the children’s faces were steaming, the while they were freezing their backs.” The stove pipe was at least 20 feet long. Here Mr. Miles would warm himself, meanwhile looking over the scholars seated in three rows of double seats with desk and a compartment for books and slates. A hinged leaf to close the compartment was capable of creating considerable noise. A small opening in the center of the top of the desk contained a glass ink well which had a metal cover. The teacher was busy with a class at the board, working problems in arithmetic; all seemed going well.
But when the class of young men already referred to were summoned to class with their National 4th Benders and called on to read, Mr. Miles was all attention. These boys ere poor readers. After each had done his best, Mr. Miles would take the book and not even glancing at it, would give the message at hand in a carefully modulated voice: “Bird of the wilderness, blithesome and cumberless, sweet be thy matin’ o’re moorland and lea”–from “To the Skylark.” It was charming to hear him read those old poems. But when the class essayed to copy him, the effect was not so good. They were not to blame. They were “sons of toil” and education had not as yet claimed them for its own.
Following Mr. Miles, who had been county superintendent 12 years, came G. Spring, who was diligent in his work and inaugurated some changes in school work. He visited schools each term, no mean job in those years. Once when arriving at school during a heavy snow storm, he shed his overcoat and cap, sat down by the stove already mentioned and divested himself of his dickey. Now in those years, it was customary for men to wear a heavy wool shirt for such outdoor drives as this was. Over it, for dress up purposes, a white shirt front and collar were worn. The school was quite upset by this procedure.
At a later period in this school when the county superintendent called on a May morning, the young lady teacher said “Won’t you lay off your coat?” Glancing over the school, the superintendent said with a smile, “I don’t see any youngster that needs a shaking up.” The teacher had mistaken his dress coat for a light overcoat so the joke was on her.
To this school in 1877 came Porter James McCumber who afterwards studied law in the law office of Charles C. Willson of Rochester, and later completed his course in law at Ann Arbor. Then he took up the practice at Wahpeton, North Dakota. Here he was elected U.S. Senator and served with distinction during his life. He was one of Rochester’s old Boys and Girls Club members.
In March 1883, Fayette L. Cook, who had been elected county superintendent of schools, held the first examination, both oral and written of pupils of the county in ungraded schools, at the Oronoco school building. Beginning at 9:00 a.m. and continuing until late afternoon, Mr. Cook conducted the program in person. Subjects were reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, history, geography, and spelling.
The pupils of District #2 Oronoco School who graduated at that time were Miss Carrie Fifield, afterward Mrs. L. Huntsinger, who died March 31, 1948; Miss Agney Carley, who died May 23, 1935; and Volney C. Reifsnider, who died in January 1895. Mrs. Huntsinger received the first rural diploma in this county.
We have spoken of the earlier physicians. Some later ones were Dr. C. Q. Scoboris, who came in 1888 and remained until 1892. Then for a time, the village and country were without a resident physician. During that time Dr. Charles Hill and Dr. Wm. L. Craddock of Pine Island and Rochester physicians were called to attend the sick. Dr. C. B. Farrand, son of the doctor who was drowned in 1880 practiced here for some time. Dr. Galloway returned in his old age to care for the sick. He employed a driver and then returning home from a call in the country, he saw a farm coming to the road. The driver, thinking he wished to talk to the doctor, slowed down his team. The following conversation took place.
“Good morning Dr., how is Mrs. X?”
“She’s sick—drive on, Sam!”
Dr. Axel C. Baker, a Rochester boy spent a few months here before completing his internship at Cook County Hospital, Chicago. He had been a well-known physician at Fergus Falls, where he and his sons have a clinic. Dr. Walter Voss Gullick, whose father and mother were missionaries in Japan seventeen years, the former a medical missionary, came in 1901 and remained until 1905. Then he went to Mayo Clinic. He died some years later in Washington (state). His mother died here and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery, Rochester. Dr. Frank D. Smith was the last resident doctor, leaving here in 1908. He died two years ago in Rochester. The sick are cared for now by Dr. Carle B. McKaig and Dr. E. A. Olson of Pine Island, and Dr. Robert A. Glabe, of Plainview who is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Herman J. Glabe.
Among the Postmasters who served here in more recent years were Fred D. Allis; J. H. Kruse; and John H. Tiedeman, who died December 29, 1948 while serving. The deputy, Mrs. Mabel Kruse continued until the appointment of the present incumbent, Mrs. Loren Smallbrock.
Dated: April 26, 1948
(Note: in nine months, i.e., 1-7-1949, Ann E. Rice will be 80 years of age.)
Date: On 1-7-1949, the Olmsted County Historical Society gave a tea and reception for Ann E. Rice, Vice President of the Society and Director since its organization in January 25, 1926.
Permission to use the Ann E. Rice history of Oronoco is printed here through the courtesy of the Olmsted County Historical Society, owners of the original copy. Several people were given copies, however, The story is also included in the book, Oronoco Past and Present which was written in 1983 by Elsie Boutelle. This copy was typed for on-line use on the Oronoco Area History Center’s website, created in 2007.