Farm Horizons, December 2012

How did townships get their names?

By Starrla Cray

Victor, Middleville, Winsted, and Bergen are all townships in Wright and McLeod counties, but there’s more to their names than meets the eye.

More than a century ago, all four townships were named after cities in other parts of the world.

Victor Township

One might expect Victor Township to be named for a fellow named Victor, but according to the 1978 Howard Lake Centennial Book, that’s not exactly the case.

Instead, a man named Mark Fosket gave the Wright County township its title in honor of a city in Ontario County, New York.

Victor, NY had a population of 14,275 at the time of the 2010 census. Its name comes from Claudius Victor Boughton, a hero of the War of 1812.

In Minnesota, Fosket was one of Victor Township’s earliest settlers, along with Edwin Brewster, A.J. Gardner, John F. Pearson, and A.D. Pinkerton.

Fosket’s home was the site of the township’s first election of officers, in 1866. Those chosen to serve included chairman A.D. Pinkerton, supervisors Jesse Christopher and Abner Pearson, clerk George McKinley, and treasurer J.B. Nelson.

Before 1866, Victor Township (along with the townships of Cokato, Middleville, and Stockholm) were all organized as one, and called Middleville.

Middleville Township

M.V. Cochran was originally from a town in Virginia named Middleville, so when naming his new land in Minnesota, he took a little of his past along.

Middleville Township’s first meeting was at Cochran’s house in May 1858. Officers elected included chairman John L. King, supervisors Jason Lobdel and Edwin Brester (Brewster), clerk M.V. Cochran, treasurer Geo. Doerfler, assessor A.J. Gardner, justice of the peace A.E. Cochran, and constable Timothy Lowell.

At that time, Middleville encompassed a larger area, including the current townships of Victor, Cokato, and Stockholm.

A school comprising the present townships of Middleville and Victor began in 1860, with a small log schoolhouse on the shore of Howard Lake.

Middleville Township’s population began to increase as settlers got married and had children. The first two marriages in town were those of Joseph Sheppard and John Leonard Barth. According to the Howard Lake history book, the men had been living alone, doing their own cooking and housekeeping, but grew tired of the “lonely life.”

In November of 1857, they went to St. Paul for the express purpose of finding wives. In two or three days they returned to Middleville, having succeeded.

The population decreased dramatically in 1862, after an “Indian scare” that sent most inhabitants to other areas such as St. Paul, Minneapolis, Greenwood, and Rockford. Some on farms stayed, however, and experienced the Dustin Massacre June 29, 1862.

Another hard time occurred in 1867. A railroad was expected to be built that year, so in 1866, several citizens made their home in Middleville, anticipating employment from the railroad.

However, the spring of 1867 was extremely wet, and the railroad was not able to be built. The area was nearly flooded throughout April, May, June, and July, making roads impassable and construction impractical.

Many of the settlers along the proposed line who were depending on railroad work were without employment, money, and food.

Temporary relief was provided by Wright County, and aid was also solicited from St. Anthony, Minneapolis, and St. Paul.

Bergen Township

Many settlers in Bergen Township had emigrated from and near Bergen, Norway, so they named their new American territory accordingly.

Bergen is the second-largest city in Norway, and is a national center for tourism, finance, and education.

In Minnesota, Bergen Township is located in what was known to Indians as the “Big Woods,” or “Chantonka,” according to the McLeod County History Book.

Five tornadoes caused damage in Bergen Township, in 1897, 1899, 1904, 1905, and 1965.

Bergen Township residents helped one another in various ways. In September 1864, for example, voters approved raising money for families who had a man drafted into the armed services during the Civil War. Two instances are recorded in 1865 in which $100 was paid to the wife of the draftee.

The first Bergen Township hall was the former C.P. Lindholm store, purchased in 1879 for $225. When the land lease ran out, a new site was chosen, and the old building was taken down and used as spare lumber.

The new town hall was constructed in 1911, with a material cost of $627. Hardware totaled $17, and labor was $37 for the concrete foundation and $127 for the building and barn. The structure is still used as the town hall today.

Winsted Township

The fact that there’s a Winsted, MN and a Winsted, CT is no coincidence.

Eli F. Lewis (founder of Winsted, MN) was born in Winsted, CT in 1820. As young adults, Lewis and his wife, Elenor, lived in various locations throughout the US. Lewis and his family founded the village of Watertown, MN in 1856.

A year later, Lewis also founded the village of Winsted, purchasing the land north of Main Avenue from a half Sioux Indian named Baptiste Campbell. Lewis and his brother, Isaac, moved to Winsted to clear the land and establish the town.

The first Catholic church in Winsted Township was created in 1868, in the French settlement at Rocky Run (about six miles west of Winsted). German Catholics started their own church soon after, on the corner of First Street and Winsted Avenue.

When construction for the new Church of Holy Trinity was completed in 1887, the old church building was moved to the north side of Winsted Avenue and used as a warehouse.

A few Lutheran families also settled in Winsted Township, and organized St. John’s congregation in 1872. The cornerstone for the first St. John’s Lutheran Church was laid 10 years later.

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