Friday, June 16, 2023

West Newton - Town and Township


West Newton –Town and Township


I think this piece though not Brown County, is important enough to at least add here because so many of us are familiar with these roads and trails, but don’t realize what took place on these locations or why is this marker here or did something significant happen here that I missed out on?  There are so many questions a person can come up with for any location, let’s learn about the town of West Newton…was there really a town called West Newton?




West Newton Township, the new home of many of these new arrivals, had been set apart for organization on April 27, 1858, and contained also the territory of what is now Ridgely Township.  The first election in the township was held in the home of James Ryan on May 11, 1858, the day on which Minnesota became a state.  Because the early records were destroyed during the Indian outbreak in 1862, a list of the first officers is not available.  Ridgely Township was separated from West Newton in 1886.

At this time, the area which encompasses the St. George settlement on top of the hill around the church, contained only a few buildings, the log church, the school, and to the northwest a store and saloon known as the “Schwabenhalle” and operated by Jacob Maennerle. It was here the settlers were wont to seek consolation for their bodies, if the absence of the priest deprived them of food for their souls.  Two barns were also erected to house horses while the settlers were attending church services. With the advent of cars, these buildings were dismantled.  A few years later, after the “Schabenhalle was destroyed by fire during the Indian uprising, the present St. George store and adjoining living quarters was rejected.

Quite a little more prosperous was another settlement located within the boundaries of the parish, the town of West Newton in Sections 29 and 30.  It is ironic that while today the once unpromising St. George has become the hub of the surrounding areas, little remains to indicate that once a thriving town was located along the river, just four miles southwest of the present church.

Two points of view are held regarding the origin of the name “West Newton” –town and township.  Some say that the name was given in honor of James Newton, an early settler who lived on what is now the Edward F. Dummer farm, with the appellation “West” added to distinguish it from another Newton township in the state.  Others claim that the name came from the steamship, “The West Newton”, which sailed under the command of Captain D. S. Harris from Fort Snelling in the last four days of April, 1853, bringing two companies of the Sixth Regiment with lumber and supplies for the building of Fort Ridgely.  The latter explanation seems the more plausible.  “The West Newton” was 150 feet long and was built for the Mississippi River traffic between Galena, Illinois and St. Paul.  It was sunk near Alma, Wisconsin, in September of 1853, before the area which was to bear its name was settled.

Whatever the source of its name, the town of West Newton played a vital role in the lives of the early settlers.  Not all the citizens of this town were members of St. George Parish, of course, but the proximity to the town was a major benefit to the parishioners and unquestionably furthered the progress of the parish. 

The spot chosen for the village of West Newton lies in a valley between the Minnesota River and the bluffs with an elevation of approximately 790 feet.  A road north of the river which in those days dubbed the “Fort Ridgely Road” and is today called the “bottom” road lies between the river and the bluffs.  The road led from Birch Coulie via Fort Ridgely to Fort Snelling near St. Paul.  At all of these places, soldiers and government agents were stationed, and the road was used to haul supplies and mail.

The little village was started at the spot which marked the end of a day’s journey from Fort Ridgely.  Here also, the river channel was deep and near the road, providing a convenient landing for river boats.  One of the busiest spots in the community was the steamship landing below the Harkin store and the first passenger ship to arrive here was the “Frank Steel”, another steamer was the “Belfast” while many freighters also stopped at the landing, including the “Time and Tide”, and the “Ware”.  The steamship “Otter” was bought in 1859 by a New Ulm company with Jake Hindermann, a local man, as captain.  During the years of river travel, the steamship landing at West Newton was used by more than 200ships; old timers still recall the loud horn that sounded as the ships arrived.  At West Newton the ships unloaded their cargoes of kerosene, hardware, groceries, tobacco, and whiskey, and loaded wheat and flour.

Instead of bridges, ferries were used for river crossings, and there were four ferries in the vicinity.  One was located where Highway 14 now crosses the river; another known as the Beussmann Ferry served as river transportation where the present Beussmann Bridge now stands.  The third ferry, known as the Palmer Ferry, was in the town of West Newton, while the fourth, manned by Cummings, forded the river in Ridgely Township.  The Palmer Ferry was conducted by Alois Palmer from 1859 until 1867, when Palmer began delivering mail to Fort Ridgely, walking back and forth from New Ulm to the fort daily.

The ferries, large rafts with enough room for a team of horses and a wagon, were manned by a ferryman.  The current of the river usually furnished the motive power.  A rope, anchored on each side of the stream, hung several feet above the water.  Several pulleys were strung on this rope.  Other ropes connected the pulleys to the raft.  The ferry was simply poled away from shore, which, turned at the proper angle, the current would carry it to the opposite bank of the river.  It is interesting to review the rates charged generally for crossing the river in those days: a single team cost 15 cents, stock per head 5 cents, plus 1 cent for each additional head – except for hogs which were always 5 cents each.

As the settlers drifted into the region, the town began to flourish and soon a number of business places were established.  Among were a three-story warehouse, the Brunner Dance Hall and Boarding place, a molasses press, Huber’s Blacksmith Shop, Younker’s Livery, Saloon and Boarding place, Garrick’s Wagon Shop, the Harkin Store, the Diepolder Hotel and Henzel’s Blacksmith Shop.  A brewery was built on the river bank, but was soon discontinued because of poor water.  In addition, a stream flour and saw mill was built by William Pless in 1861, south of the road where the Leonard Powers’ family now lives.  The mill was destroyed by fire twice and finally abandoned in 1875.  Another mill, erected by William Koke in 1870, was in operation only two years.

The Brunner Saloon and Dance hall, also called “The Farmer’s Home”, was a busy place in the little town.  Often entire families would attend the dance and stay until the wee hours of the morning.  In the days when nice young ladies did not approve of drinking, clever escorts would drop in at the Harkin Store for cloves to chew and thus hide liquor-scented breaths from delicate noses – believing that their charming companions did not guess the reason for their sudden spicy aromas. 

Across the street from the dance hall was the Garrick Wagon Shop owned by John Garrick.  Next to the wagon shop, on land where Lawrence Volz’ house now stands, was Michael Huber’s Blacksmith with its old hand-pumped forge in use for long hours of every day.  A livery and saloon was located on the spot where the Robert Palmer farm house stands today, and since many travelers stayed overnight in the town, the place also served as a boarding house.  Across the Palmer Creek stood a molasses press, also operated by Younker and later by William Palmer.

The first building erected to serve travelers was the Diepolder Hotel, operated by Henry Diepolder.  In one of the rooms was a space reserved for the first postoffice in West Newton used by the first postmaster, Alexander Harkin, who lived on a farm a mile east of the hotel near another blacksmith shop operated by a man named Henzel.

As he watched the soldier and settlers pass through the town, Harkin realized the need for a general store.  His first store was established in his home, but in 1871 he built the famous Harkin store which still exists but in no longer a business.  When the business place was discontinued in 1901, the post office which had been part of the Harkin Store, had been discontinued before, and the present St. George Store became the post office for the area.  Twice a week the mail was brought to the store, often by ship, but chiefly via stagecoach.

Peter Kitzberger, Sr., delivered mail on the rural route as well as to the post office in the present St. George Store when Joseph Reinhart was postmaster.  Often he found warm coffee in the mail boxes that he served, and many other times received cake left over from parties on the previous night.  He remembers on angry patron who destroyed his mailbox when he failed to receive any mail and told the mailman he need not deliver any mail in the future.  Kitzberger delivered mail in 1900, but it is unknown when the St. George post office was discontinued. 

Besides delivering mail, Kitzberger also served as a delivery boy, bringing meat from New Ulm and taking butter from the local creamery back to New Ulm.  He still remembers the wolves’ howling as he drove along and seeing sheep that had been killed by these wild animals.  Occasionally he would bag some wild game on the familiar route.

Alexander Harkin was the leading citizen of both the town and the township of West Newton.  A Scottish Presbyterian, he came here in 1856 on a wedding trip with his first wife Janet Crawford.  Though they settled in the area, Mrs. Harkin never grew accustomed to the rigors of the territory and finally succumbed to tuberculosis.  Harkin later married her sister Margaret who died of a heart attack some years later.  His third wife, a Mrs. Lamberton from St. Peter, eventually became a Catholic, though Harkin remained a Presbyterian all his life.

The Harkin Store was a popular stopping place in the little town.  It and the Diepolder Hotel are the only remaining landmarks, the hotel now serving as the farm residence of the Wilfred J. Bushard family.  The store itself has been turned into a museum and on the registers of the pot-belly stove are the names of visitors from thirty-two different states, and from Germany, Denmark, Scotland, New Zealand, Japan, and Canada.  Many organized visits are made to the store by school teachers and their student, troops of boy and girl scouts and members of historical societies.  Frequent mention of the old store is made in newspapers and magazine articles.  Everything inside the structure is still preserved by Janet Mossopust, the granddaughter of Alexander Harkin, exactly as her father left it when he closed the store in 1901.

In the old store are shelves of old dishes, lamps, coffee, order books, catalogues and charge accounts.  In the accounts of some of the unpaid bills the term “deadbeat” is often found next to a name.  There are barrels and boxes of goods that have never been opened, and a price sheet lists tea as $1.00 a pound; eggs at 7 cents a dozen; a barrel of flour, $8.00; and a hog, $4.00.  Heads of families remembered their children, as almost every receipt lists candy; and father did not forget himself either, since most bills also include tobacco.  Vinegar and health bitters were widely used and taken as cough medicines.  With bitters consisting of 90% alcohol, it is little wonder if coughs were highly contagious among sly pioneer husbands.  Patent medicines were widely advertised in the store, and placards still hang on the wall, proclaiming the worth of Ayer’s Sarsaparilla as the “only thorough blood purifier” or the tonic that works wonder for “dyspeptic men, nervous women, weak children and is the nicest worm-expeller.”

Patrons of the store lives as far away as Beaver Falls (near Redwood Falls).  They came on foot, on horseback, or via wagon to trade, get the mail and visit with neighbors.  A trip down the road to one of the saloons to seek bodily consolation, then a spell of visiting in the store around the stove near the cracker barrel, filled the day set aside for shopping. 

A few of the humorous events in the store are still preserved.  One day an Irish boy came to the store, after a prolonged visit in a saloon, to purchase some valentines.  After picking out some of the ugliest in stock, he directed the clerk to address them to some young ladies in the community.  The sly clerk, however, addressed some to the young fellow himself, and on his next trip to the store, the Irish lad was furious because he had received the horrible unsigned valentines.  He never learned that he had selected them himself. 

One day a lady came in to buy calico.  Every time Harkin showed her a bolt of cloth, he was surprised to hear her say, “Zu hell,” thinking that she was saying “To hell”.  Finally he learned that she was merely informing him that the cloth was “too light”.  She finally chose a black print. 

Bes his position as storekeeper and postmaster, Harkin also served as coroner, administrator of wills and justice of the peace.  As justice of the peace, Harkin recorded the marriage of a number of the settlers.  Michael Murnane and Helen Mooers were married before him on April 25, 1858.  According to the record, Helen Mooers returned for another marriage in 1866 but was refused ---Harkin gives no further details.  An unhappy marriage resulted for Jacob Stack and Baptista, an Indian half-breed, who were married on May 5, 1858.  The marriage came to a bitter conclusion on the morning after the ceremony when Baptista disappeared and was never seen again.  On December 28, 1858, Harkin witnessed an even stranger ceremony.  The first husband of the bride had been accidentally killed while greasing an old-fashioned water wheel.  On the third day after the accident, the prospective groom showed up at the funeral in the deceased man’s shoes and on the next day filled them entirely by marrying the widow.

Little remains of the former bustling village of West Newton except the store and the hotel.  At one time, a Methodist church was constructed in West Newton Township but was moved many years ago.  Until the church was built, the Protestant ministers held services in village homes.  Today only a cemetery indicates that a church was located there. 

Several reasons have been advanced to explain the disappearance of the town.  Some say the advent of the railroads caused West Newton to decline, for when the railroads appeared in 1872, they circled the town and were routed instead through New Ulm and Sleepy Eye.  Another railroad from the Twin Cities through what is now Gibbon and Fairfax also side-tracked the village, and then with the distance from the railroads and the decline of river traffic, it became difficult for the businessmen to obtain supplies.  In addition, Fort Ridgely was soon abandoned and the town quickly felt the absence of the generous military men. 

With the farmhouses scattered so sparsely across the plains, the commandment to “love thy neighbor” was easily observed in the pioneer days.  Even the most rugged settler was not without nostalgia for his homeland and the warm companionship of friendly neighbors was an effective remedy for dispelling gloom when bleak winds howled across the prairies. 

But there was one neighbor who was seldom invited to share the cozy intimacy of pioneer society.  This was the inhabitant of the land, the Sioux Indian.  As we pass the peaceful farms of the parish today, it is hard to believe that less than 100 years ago, this area bordered on Indian territory.  After the treaty with Spain many years before, in which the Minnesota territory had been obtained, the Indians received full rights to the property, and the Federal Government was faced with the problem of subduing the Indians and purchasing their land for the white men.



A history of the Church of St. George of West Newton, eight miles north-west of New Ulm, Nicollet County, State of Minnesota: from its origin to its centennial year, 1858-1958. [Minnesota: s.n., 1958]. 25-32 pgs reproduced.




Wednesday, May 10, 2023

YES WE ARE OPEN for the 2023 Season!!


As a reminder our hours are:
Wednesday - Saturday 10 AM till 4 PM

Can’t wait to see you!


Thursday, August 25, 2022


Have a Cigar!


            Here is more about early cigar makers. We know that in 1901 Sleepy Eye had at least four men practicing this craft. We have the names of C. A. Lemke, J.B. Hacker, Otto Nothardt and Albert  Wandersee. Lemke lived on the north side of Main in the block across from the old L.P. Jensen residence, and that house was between the corner) later site of a creamery) and the Dyckman Library.

            Hecker had been employed by Lemke and in 1901 he opened his own shop. Nothardt apparently was on the North side of Main near the Radl (later Martinka) corner. At least, his saloon was in that block. There is reason to believe that Hecker later went to New Ulm. No information has turned up so far about Wandersee, who was perhaps a relative of later Wandersees living in Sleepy Eye. In 1902 William Davison was a cigar maker, and in 1905 Albert Kaping was apparently here. Pictures of a Lemke cigar box show his number was 521. J. J. Schobert made Verdict Cigars, about which we know very little.

            In a box of odds and ends Richard Class found at an auction there were three documents pertaining to the manufacture of cigars by F. Berg and Son. One "collector's certificate to the manufacturer of cigars" certifies that F. Berg and Son, manufacturers of cigars in Sleepy Eye "have given bond in the sum of $1,000 Dollars, said premises being manufactory No. 645 of this district, and limited to the metde and bounds as follows: one room on west side of second story of brick veneered building situated on Lot 8 Block 26 original plat Village of Sleepy Eye Lake, Brown County" The date is April 19, 1902, at St. Paul, and the same signed looks like "Fred vio Baumbach." I could misread it.

            A second certificate gives a new location of the manufactory, "one room on lower story east room of a frame building situated on Lots 1, 2, and 3, Block 2, of Brackenridge's 3rd Addition to the Village of Sleepy Eye Lake. Date is April 12, 1903.

            By January 13, 1905, the business must have prospered. That notice, still $1,000 bond and No. 645, gives this description of the premises, "two rooms (size 12 x 18 feet) and one room (size 12 x 14 feet) on the second floor of the building situated on Lot 17 Block 25 in the City of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Also, one room (size 6 x 12 feet) in the basement of the above building for storage of tobacco." You will notice that this was issued just after Sleepy Eye had acquired a city charter.

            There is a fine print note at the bottom of each certificate, "Section 35. Act of October 1, 1890, dispenses with bond 'for each person proposed to be employed by him in making cigars' and makes the minimum amount of bond $100." As near as I can interpret this it means that F. Berg did not have to give bond for employees, and the father and son were bonded together for the $1,000. These three documents are placed in the files in a brown ringbook with other documents and many pictures for the Brown County Museum.

            Every little town once had its cigar maker. A tiny village might have at least one. The Sleepy Eye of 1901 had several men so engaged, J.B. Hecker, C, A. Lemke, o. F. Nothardt, and Albert Wandersee.  It required only a small place for this skilled hand-rolled trade. Since this is not a country for raising tobacco, except as a small hobby, the men had to import their tobacco leaves, giving them proper care as they worked with them.

            At some time, a man named Schobert apparently made cigars in Sleepy Eye.  An antique store acquired a cigar box with this name.  The first initial may be an "H" but is blurred.  The second initial is "J". His name is followed by the word "cigarmaker".

            The label "Verdict" Brand is on the box, and the information that in some way the "Community Development Committee" was involved or was sponsoring the maker.

            If we learn nothing else, we are made aware than in early Sleepy Eye the businessmen were wideawake and willing to lend a helping hand to new business.


Friday, August 5, 2022



After the Dakota Conflict of 1862, settlers in the area were so infuriated with the Indians that they decided they didn't want a town to be named after one. On January 6th, 1880 -an election finally changed the town's name to Loreno.  The town of Sleepy Eye had to go to the Legislature to make this change....

However, it didn't last long, though, and it was changed back to Sleepy Eye Lake, which was the original name on May 2nd, 1881.

This year our town is celebrating its 150th Year Anniversary... We are known as the City of Sleepy Eye.


Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Sleepy Eye Historical Society
Depot Museum
Is Now Open For The 2022 Season!
Our Hours Are
Wednesday - Saturday
10 Am till 4 PM

West Newton - Town and Township

  West Newton –Town and Township   I think this piece though not Brown County, is important enough to at least add here because so many ...