Freeborn County Minnesota Genealogy and History (2022)

Naming Townships Complicated Effort
Albert Lea Tribune
Sunday, July 18, 1976, Pg 10
Submitted by Michael Nelson

Early Tasks of the Freeborn County board of commissioners included the tremendous job of laying out and creatingthe county's 20 townships.
In addition, the board found itself not only choosing names each of the new townships but also facing the choreof renaming them according to the whims of the County settlers. The preoccupation with names begin seriouslyin April 1858 when the county commissioners, S. N. Frisbee, Joseph Richard, and Peter Claussen, set out to complywith a law passed by the state legislature which required the naming of all townships throughout the state.

At the meeting set aside by the commissioner's for the sole purpose of establishing township titles. John Woodof Freeborn was in attendance with a map he had prepared with the County showing townships, sectional lines, andthe larger lakes and streams. Wood was paid $25.00 for his map work - a sum considered to be exorbitant by some ofthe settlers.

The commissioners started in the naming process with the northeastern most township. Since all the commissioner'swere good republicans, they decided that Seward would be a good name, after William H. Seward a leader of the partyand later Lincoln's Secretary of state.
The residents of the area didn't like the name Seward however, and so changed it to Union. The state auditordidn't like Union and suggested Dover.
Dover pleased nobody but the auditor, history texts tell, and it wasn't until later in 1859 that the name ofnew Newry was mutually agreed upon.
Newry was the name of the town in Ireland from which settler Thomas Fitzsimmons had come. There were apparentlyenough Irishmen on the board of supervisors in 1859, which was then the decision making body, to sanction Newryas the official name of the township. (A certain Patrick Fitzsimmons was among those who sat on the board.

The second township tackled by the commissioner's of 1857 included withinits boundaries the village of Geneva.
The first decision reached by the board members prior to their consideration of individual townships was theunderstanding that where a village had been platted and recorded, that township was also to receive the name. Since the village of Geneva was so platted and recorded by that name, the township was also named Geneva byagreement.

The third township was named Porter in honor of Erastus Porter, a popular man in the district. He left thedistrict in 1859, however, and apparently took his honor with him since the people then chose to change the townshipname to Bath.
Bath, Ohio, was the hometown of F. W. Calkins, one of the first settlers in the township. The board of supervisorsagain let the settlers have their way and made the new name official.

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The fourth considered township was named after Hartland, Vermont. The New England town had been the home O.Sheldon, the first postmaster in Hartland Township.

Freeborn, like Geneva, had had a platted village by that name. Again the agreement held.

The township immediately south of Freeborn Township was first named in honor of Elias Stanton.
Stanton was one of the first settlers in the area. He died just prior to the commissioner's naming the townshipin his honor after he had frozen his feet while trying to rescue his oxen from a lake.
His neighbors in the township, however, considered him to have been somewhat eccentric, according to historytexts, and so suggested that Springfield be placed as the name of their township. The state auditor, who earlierobjected to the title of union for Newry Township, didn't like Springfield either and suggested that Groten beused.
Though used temporarily, the settlers didn't like the name of Groten and decided on Carlston, after I. E. Carlson(not Carlston) who was an early postmaster for the county and who drowned in Freeborn Lake earlier in 1857.

Next on the commissioners naming list was Manchester Township. That name was arrived at also after two othertitles were suggested and discarded. Buckeye was first suggested, but citizenry dislike defeated the suggestionquickly. The name Manchester was finally settled upon after a town in Illinois by that name from where early settlerMathias Anderson has come.

Bancroft Township, next in line for naming, was given the name of its town, which had been established, bya group of settlers trying to gain the county seat. Even though the town didn't get the county seat, the town sitewas not yet quite extinct and one of the commissioners is recorded to have said "we will name it Bancroft to satisfythose who lost a good fight".
After settling the Bancroft naming, the commissioners faced another county seat race related situation.

The township immediately to the east of Bancroft Township had been unofficially labeled Fairfield Townshipafter the village within that carried that name. The town's proprietor, history records report, had earlier boastedat great length that his site would be winner in the race for the county seat. By the time of the township namingmeeting conducted by the county commissioners in 1857, however, Fairfield had been placed among the losers of therace.
Since no township wants to remain associated with a losing reputation someone in the commissioners audiencesuggested that the township be named Beardsley, after the proprietor who earlier so eagerly and convincingly boastedof his Fairfield's potential. It is not certain in what mood the commissioners were when they approved the suggestionand so named the township Beardsley.
Later, a petition by township citizenry was put together to name the township Riceland after a lake there thatno longer exists. The commissioners approved.

The most easterly township on the second tier of the county's division had a good-sized town named Moscow.But when the agreement previously established concerning naming township after its largest established town, CommissionerFrisbee surprised those in attendance by speaking out and saying, "The name is to be Gullford".
Gullford was the town in Connecticut from which Frisbie had come.
The citizens of the township objected, however, and so the name remained Moscow.

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Naming Alden Township was more or less a haphazard affair. The township was actually scoffed and laughed at. "Itwill make no difference what we name it for there is not a tree, man, woman, or child in township, - one of thecommissioners is reported to have said while pointing to the map.
The name Alden was suggested by someone present at the meeting and was immediately pushed through approved.

Pickerel Lake Township took its name from the lake located within its boundaries, as did the village -now extinct- in the township.

Albert Lea
Township automatically tookthe name of its village and lake.

Hayward Township was so named in honorof George Hayward who lived just east of the north arm of Albert Lea Lake, having settled there in 1856.
At one time there was a move to rename the township after Hayward left the area. Douglas was suggested as a replacementtitle, but the change never materialized.

One township in Freeborn County is named after its surroundings. Oakland was named for the many burr oaks, whichmagnificently populated much of the township. Commissioner Frisbie is recorded to have suggested the title.

Mansfield Township was named by suggestionby George Ruble, pioneer settler of the county. Ruble noted that the southwestern, section of the county resembledMansfield, Ohio.

Adjacent to Mansfield, another town name transference occurred in the in the naming of NundaTownship. Patrick Fitzsimmons considered to be "one of the best citizens ofthe county" and later elected to a Position on the county Board of Supervisors hailed from Nunda, Ill. The townshipwas named in honor of him and his hometown.

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Freeman Township just east of Nunda was named for one of the county's prominent settlers, John Freeman. Freemancame directly from England to settle in the township. Land is still owned in the township by Freeman's descendants.

Shell Rock
Shell Rock Township took its title from the river and town by that name. It is one of the first settled townshipsin the county.
The village of Shell Rock's name was later changed to Glenville when the railroad came through to avoid confusionwith Shell Rock, Iowa.

The last township to be named was coined Asher after settler John Asher who lived on mail trail heading southeastout of the township.
Later citizens of the township petitioned to change the name London which it has been called since. It is said,however, there was never any office made to change the name.

Topography and physical features - Early Settlers -town government-educational -the first marriage:

The township bearing this name is the southern of the two center towns of the county, Bancroft being its comradeon the north, with Riceland impinging on the northeast, Hayward on the east, Shell Rock to the southeast, Freemanon the south. Nunda to the southwest. Pickerel Lake on the west, and Manchester to the northwest. It coincideswith the original government survey, having thirty-six sections.

It may be said to be a prairie town, with numerous oak groves; and when first visited presented a most invitingprospect, which will be described further on.

The principal river is the Shell Rock, which flows in an average direction toward the southeast, diagonallythrough the township. Lake. Albert Lea is the largest body of water in town, and is a magnificent sheet, with itsirregular but gently curving outline and undulating surrounding meadows and hillside. Most of it lies inthe town. But its length is about eight miles. Pickerel Lake also laps over into its territory, as does White'sLake, which Col Lea at first called Lake Chapeau. Goose Lake, a compact little body of water, may be found in sectionthree. Fountain Lake is an artificial pond created by the milldam erected by Mr. Ruble on his first coming here.It hugs around the northern side of the city in a curvilinear way, and with its graceful foliage, at various pointscoming down to the water's edge, presents one of the most pleasing views to be found in all Southern Minnesota.

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The interest in this town, as well as the whole county, centers in the city, which has sprung up here, andretains the same name.

The early settlement of this township has, of necessity, been given in the history of Albert Lea City, so thatvery little remains to be said here. A few pioneer notes however, will be given.

Mr. and Mrs. Blackmer were early settlers but both are dead. Two sons, Loren and Herman, live on the homestead,and other sons reside in Albert Lea and vicinity. Dr. F. Blackmer, residing in the city, is a son.

John G. Godley is an old settler and still lives in the township.

The Nelsons are among the very first settlers in the southeastern part of the town, and still live there.

The old town of St. Nicholas, which, at one time, had lofty aspirations, was located in this township, butits history is fully depicted in the sketch of the city, no further reference to it will be made here.

It would be monotonous to furnish the names of the various town officers from year to year, as many of themhave been re-elected from time to time. But it will be sufficient to name the various gentlemen who have been prominentin the town government up to the time of the organization of the city government. Among the men who havebeen town officers we notice: A. C. Wedge, D. G. Parker, John Brownsill. Bernard McCarthy, Luther Parker, H. T.Smith, T. J. Sheehan, F. Blakely, Chauncy Conley, Thomas Smith, Reuben Williams, H. D. Brown, A. B. Webber, JosephFrance, E. C. Stacy, F. D. Dudley, John Ruble, L. Eaton, George Thompson, Francis Hall, John Wood, A. Armstrong,Charles T. Knapp. James E. Smith, William Morin. Reuben C. Cady, Reuben Williams, O. P. Kenfield, J. G. Godley.H. Y. Manley, W. J. Martin, A. W. St. John, George Whitman, D. K. Stacy.

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[Source: The Irish Standard, Anniversary Edition, (Minneapolis, MN) Sept. 1, 1915] mkk
Albert Lea is a thriving hustling city of 1,200 inhabitants 100 miles south of Minneapolis, ten miles north of the Iowa line. United team work on the part of the business men of the town have caused its growth to jump from a few hundred to its present population in a few years. The city is connected with the rest of the world by twelve railroad lines. It has a model water and sewer system and well paved streets. In addition to the business of handling the big dairy business from the surrounding country, it has several big factories. There are also four colleges. The city has lately built a fine new city hall and a central heating plant. A number of fine lakes add to its scenic beauty and make it an ideal residence city. Its fine high school, with departments of manual training, domestic science and agriculture, and a number of churches, add to the desirability of the city from a home Standpoint.


1. Albert Lea
(2 Wheels 1 Compass)
2. Albert Lea: Operation Transformation
(Blue Zones Project)
3. A Minnesota woman catches rare disease from Albert Lea hotel; her family says she on a ventilator
4. Freeborn County, Minnesota Farmland Auction
(Murray Wise Associates)
5. Downtown Albert Lea prepares for changes
6. Popcorn History: What's on Wheels?
(Freeborn County Historical Museum)

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