Tricounty News

History Matters: Calling for a 'do-over'

When my Tri-County News arrived in my mailbox, I read and re-read the headlines: "Rockville residents ask to join Maine Prairie." Incredible! Let me first explain that this column has nothing to do with the politics of township versus city government nor who can provide the best services for the landowners along the Rockville and Maine Prairie township line. Rather, the headline - in this our state's sesquicentennial year - was astonishing to me because of what happened 150 years ago, rather than what is currently in consideration. On May 11, 1858, Minnesota became a state. Stearns County commissioners, in keeping with an act of the legislature, immediately gave local townships just a week to establish themselves by electing officers. "Marysville," one of 11 original townships in the county, included Rockville and Maine Prairie. Residents met at John Farwell's granary to fulfill the county's directive. As soon as they elected a moderator, their first action was a resolution "that the name of the town be Maine Prairie." Townships that did not organize themselves separately that week were afterwards attached to the townships that did. Fair Haven should have organized separately but had, in fact, staked its identity with Maine Prairie and were present at the granary. Indeed, Thomas Partridge, Fair Haven founder, was elected a Marysville Township supervisor at that first election. It was noted that some officers (presumably the Fair Haven members) "neglected to qualify," and in July they were replaced with Maine Prairie residents. But the distinction between governmental boundaries and community boundaries - that is, of neighbors who considered themselves a unit - was already a point of friction. It would get worse before it got better. In August, at the first meeting of the new county board of supervisors (commissioners) following the elections, Fair Haven was formally annexed to its neighbor at the same time that a name change request was summarily accepted: Marysville Township became Maine Prairie Township. This readjustment began a sequence of boundary changes that would not be settled until 1867. In 1859, prior to the second township meetings, Fair Haven was again set off as its own township. Without the Fair Haven representatives, the Maine Prairie settlers present at the 1869 annual meeting were a minority. The Rockvillites had arrived in force at G.W. Cutter's home on the west end of Pearl Lake and won all elected offices but one. Minutes show that each office was filled by exactly the same vote count-presumably the numeric division between Rockville and the Maine Prairie settlers at the meeting. (Only Martin Greeley had support on both sides of the township line.) It was the beginning of the end for this mismatched couple. Rockville and Maine Prairie townships were separated before the third annual meeting, in 1860. E.H. Atwood wrote in his 1895 history that the hard feelings of the 1869 meeting could still be brought to the surface just by mentioning the incident: "This was a meeting long to be remembered. The old settlers refer to it with the remark that 'They had a high old time,' and the animosities engendered at that meeting, although dormant, could easily be aroused 35 years afterwards ..." The cultural mismatch of Rockville and Maine Prairie could be identified by any freshman sociologist. Though of less significance, it is the same principle at work today in the Bosnia/Serbia division, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or even the Shiite/Sunni/Turk tensions in Iraq: Who are "we" and who are "they." The distinctive differences of the communities were documented in a St. Cloud State study of the settlement patterns of Stearns County. Maine Prairie and Fair Haven were settled by "Yankees," that is, mostly multi-generational English-speaking,   Protestant Americans moving westward into the expanding national frontier. Rockville's residents were much more heavily newer immigrants of Germanic descent, Roman Catholic by church affiliation. At that time, and for the next 100 years, the Protestant/Catholic chasm was enormous. Cultural patterns also conflicted, evidenced for example in that while Maine Prairie was the most "temperance-oriented" township in the county, Rockville supported its breweries with gusto. Only on paper could the pairing look like a good idea. Maine Prairie Township took its permanent unique "panhandled" shape and size in 1867 following numerous reassignments of areas between Fair Haven and Maine Prairie townships. County supervisors ultimately bowed to the pressure of residents demanding that the political boundary match their perception of their community boundary, itself a result of the original shape of that prairie surrounded by the "Big Woods." Original pioneers settled within the prairie, never thinking that political boundaries drawn by nameless surveyors might attempt to divide a united community or force together two communities with such disparate identities. Will the current attempt at reconciliation work? I know nothing of local politics but I am sure that the issues of concern 150 years ago will be of little consequence in 2008. I am also sure that in the following election neither Stanleys nor Eatons will be on the ballot. In the 1860 elections, following Rockville and Maine Prairie separation, two of my own great, great grandfathers were elected as two of the three township supervisors. Thomas B. Stanley, who had arrived on the prairie before statehood, was elected chairman. ********** A unique history of the unique business of funeral care was the very special program at The Kimball Area Historical Society meeting April 22. If you were there, you met a 1969 Kimball graduate who followed in his family's footsteps as Art Dingmann shared nearly everything about his business that requires almost a decade of that specialized education. Many thanks, Art. ********** Journey into the past as a member of the Kimball Area Historical Society. You're invited to experience the benefits of membership. Members who haven't renewed are encouraged to do so. Your membership support keeps us going. It is the strength of the society to keep preserving the valuable. For eight years, The Kimball Area Historical Society has worked to preserve the past and instruct the future. This is only possible through the generous support of citizens like you. Our goal is to make history relevant for today's students and visitors. Become a member of Kimball's Historical Society. ********** Plan to join the multitude of others as we enter phase four of Kimball's historic city hall restoration/preservation. Opportunities are now open to contribute for phase four as we begin to work on the interior of this magnificent building. Your support is priceless to preserve such visible evidence of our rich history in the heart of Kimball. Donate soon or pledge now and pay early in 2009 or both. All donations are tax deductible, payable to The Kimball Area Historical Society, and acknowledged on the donor plaque. "A Vision Built on Heritage." ********** Did you know? Minnesota was the first state volunteer regiment to answer Abraham Lincoln's call for troops in 1861. Celebrating 150 years of Minnesota statehood - 1858-2008. ********** To volunteer, search your own history, become a member, secure keepsake souvenirs and donate to the city hall fund, contact The Kimball Area Historical Society at Box 100, Kimball, Minn. 55353, or phone (320) 398-5743, (320) 398-5250 or (800) 252-2521. ********** "Man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it."