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Fillmore County is 150 years old

Fri, Aug 1st, 2003
Posted in Features

Fillmore County in 1858.

Fillmore County has reached a most significant milestone. Its now 150 years old.

Fillmore County was created from Wabasha County by a Legislative act approved March 5, 1853. Its boundaries were indefinite. In general, however, it included all of Houston, most of Winona, nearly all, if not all, of Fillmore, some of Olmsted and a little of Dodge and Mower.

The Governor, in accordance with this act, appointed county officers, and the new governmental unit started to function with the first meeting of the county board held at Winona on May 28, 1853.

Fillmore County was divided by a Legislative act approved February 23, 1854. Winona and Houston Counties were created and the boundaries of Fillmore, Wabasha and Goodhue Counties redefined.

All the government functions of the original Fillmore County had centered about Winona. All the county officials lived in that vicinity. It was therefore necessary to set up an entirely new organization for the curtailed Fillmore County. Three new county commissioners, appointed by the Governor, met at Chatfield on August 28, 1854, and organized the present county. New officers were appointed and new election districts defined.

Beginning in 1858, Minnesota experimented for a short time with county boards of supervisors, consisting of the chairman of each township and representatives of incorporated municipalities. The county board of supervisors of Fillmore County held its first meeting on September 14, 1858, and its last meeting on January 5, 1860. The State then returned to the commissioner system of county government. The new board of Fillmore County commissioners, elected at large, met on June 4, 1860, and two days later, divided the county into five commissioner districts. The next board, which first met on January 1, 1861, consisted of a representative from each of these five districts. The governing body of the county still consists of five members, each representing a district.

Townships Formed

Two of the seven original election precincts embraced portions of the present Fillmore County, the Brownsville Precinct taking in the southern three-fourths and the Root River Precinct taking in the northern one-fourth. The county was divided into assessment districts on January 2, 1854. The northern part of the present county was placed in the second district and the southern part was placed in the third district. After the county was reorganized, the new commissioners on August 28, 1854, divided the curtailed area into six election precincts, the predecessors of the present townships. Twenty-two townships were created on April 6, 1858, and the first election of township officers was called for May 11, 1858.

These townships were Amherst, Beaver, Bloomfield, Carimona, Carrolton, Chatfield, Douglass, Elyria, Fillmore, Forestville, Fountain, Harmony, Jordan, Newburgh, Pilot Mound, Preble, Preston, Rushford, Spring Valley, Sumner, Union and York. Each embraced a full Congressional township, except Rushford and Douglass, which embraced two. Arendahl Township was organized from a part of Rushford Township on April 1, 1860. Douglass Township was split into Holt and Norway on January 8, 1862. The name of Elyria was changed to Canton on January 5, 1860. With the exception of the municipalities, which have been from incorporated from their areas, all townships have regular boundaries, following the Congressional Survey.

The boundary lines of Fillmore County as set off by the Legislative act of 1854 were the same as they are today with the addition of six townships on the north. These six townships were added to Olmsted County in 1855 leaving Fillmore comprising the townships 101, 102, 103, 104 north, ranges 8,9,10,11,12,13 west, and making it 36 miles from east to west and 24 miles from north to south. Since that time the boundaries have not changed.

County Seat

The county seat question was left open in the act that created Fillmore County, the duty of making the choice being enjoyed upon by the first elected board of county commissioners. All the officials of the new county were residents of Winona or vicinity, and the Winona Hotel, where the first appointed board of county commissioners held its first meeting, became the county headquarters. A few early meetings were also held in private homes in the same vicinity, including Minnesota City and Minneowah (Homer). In the meantime, a group of speculators had selected the site of Chatfield for a land promotion scheme and had interested some of the county officials. As a part of this scheme, and despite the fact that the appointed county commissioners had no legal authority in the matter, two of the commissioners, with a man whom they had named as temporary clerk for this particular purpose, met on December 19, 1853, in the only shack on the site of Chatfield and named the place as the county seat. The two commissioners, however, ignored their own action and held their next and last meeting at Minneowah.

The first elected board, which took office on January 2, 1854, likewise ignored the action and held its early meetings at Winona, Minneowah and Minnesota City. This board did, however, set about at its first meeting to obey the legislative mandate to select a county seat. The result was one vote each for Chatfield, Winona and Minnesota City. Finally on January 30, 1854, Chatfield was selected by a 2 to 1 vote. On March 14, 1854, the board again met at Winona, but this was the last meeting of the board of commissioners of Fillmore County held outside its present limits. The board held its next and last meeting at Chatfield on April 7, 1854.

The early Fillmore County seat controversies were purely a struggle between the conflicting financial interests of persons interested in town site promotion and had nothing to do with the convenience of citizens. The nearest settler to the lone shack at Chatfield was a squatter at St. Charles, some 12 miles away, and it is probable that the settlers who were drifting into the southern part of the county had no knowledge of the county organization.

The people of the reorganized county found themselves with a county seat, which was not only on the extreme edge of their county, but partly in another county. The Legislature came to their relief and on March 2, 1855, established the county seat at Carimona, almost in the center of the county. County offices were move to the new location shortly afterward and the commissioners held their first meeting there on July 2, 1855.

Another change came within a year. Authorized by an act of the Legislature, the voters selected Preston as the county seat on April 7, 1856. The board of county commissioners held its last meeting at Carimona on April 25th and ordered the records and furniture moved to Preston. The following day the board met in Preston. An attempt to move the county seat back to Carimona was made in 1859, but the county supervisors rejected the petition by a vote of 11 to 10. In 1863 an act of the Legislature authorized the return of the county seat to Carimona subject to a vote by the people. Provision was also made that any responsible persons who wished to present the county with a courthouse in whichever village should be selected, might submit plans and specifications for the building they proposed to erect, together with bonds to insure the performance of their agreement. Groups representing both places filed the required documents, and without waiting for the outcome of the election, the people of Preston began the construction of a courthouse in May. At the ensuing election on November 3, 1863, Preston won by a majority of 556.

Millard Fillmore

Fillmore County was named in honor of Millard Fillmore, the thirteenth president of the United States. With the untimely death of then president, Zachary Taylor, on July 9, 1850, vice-president, Millard Fillmore assumed the position of the nations highest office the following day. On March 4, 1853, Mr. Fillmore, having served only one term, retired from office.

Millard Fillmore was born on February 7, 1800 in the township of Locke (now Summerhill), Cayuga County, New York. He was the second son of Nathaniel Fillmore and Phoebe Millard. His political career began and ended with the birth and extinction of the Whig Party. After his retirement from office, he resided in Buffalo, New York until his death on March 8, 1874 at the age of 75. Mr. Fillmore was responsible for establishing the Buffalo Historical Society and was often called upon to welcome distinguished visitors to his city.

Jerry D. Henke is the Executive Director of the Fillmore County History Center in Fountain.

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