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Story by Joe NelsonJune 17, 2002
Learning about the day to day life in ones ancestral village can be very fascinating. It's the kind of information that gives depth to one's family genealogy research.
The early Fillmore County immigrates, mostly Norwegian, English, Irish, and German, rapidly populated the county as per the census:
• 1850 - 7 people
• 1860 - 8,425 people
• 1870 - 35,900 people
Amherst was one of the early and wealthy towns of Fillmore County. Even the early names of Amherst, "Strung out town" and "Stringtown," were indicative of its early growth.
The name Amherst was given by Ethan P. Eddy, in honor of his wife Julia Onstine, who was born in Amherst, Ohio.
Amherst, Henrytown, Lenora, Newburg, Highland, Tawney, Choice, Whalan, Cherry Grove and the list goes on and on. These are only a few of what was once thriving, but now sleeping villages scattered throughout Fillmore County.
All that now remains in the village of Amherst is Lilly's Store, started 48 years ago. Lilly and I share a common day, April 1, 1954. It's the day that Lillian Haagenson and her husband started the store and also the day I was born.
The original story below was written almost 24 years ago by my brother, Joe Nelson, as part of a historical project while in high school. It was first printed in The Mabel Record on August 3, 1978 and is being rerun with permission from the author. Joe is the owner of the Lanesboro Sales Commission.
Amherst Township covers 23,040 acres. The soil is dark loam mixed with clay. It is generally rolling prairie, with timber enough to make the land valuable. Amherst Township and the village of Amherst were organized in 1858.
A military company was organized in Amherst Township. About 150 men made up this company. They drilled every Saturday. The uniforms were white pants with red stripes and black caps with red stripes.
In 1866, there was a flood in Weisel. This is a small creek on the south branch of the Root River three miles from the Amherst Store. Five people died at Weisel. Mrs. Weisel was found clinging to her bed on which she had floated down stream. By the time the flood had subsided, 16 lives were lost.
My Great-Great-Grandfather, Knud Knudson, born 1818, was one of the very first Norwegians to settle in Amherst Village or what was called Stringtown in 1853. Knud was the first Justice of the Peace and homesteaded 160 acres. He later added land to make 600 acres. The house was log and measured 12' x 14'. Knud first came to Rock Prairie, Wisconsin in 1846 and was married there in 1853.
The first area post office was at Decorah, Iowa and later located at Lenora. Amherst did not have a post office until 1864.
Stringtown Village was located on the south branch of the Root River. It had one store, a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse and post office. The post office was named Amherst. W. Winch was the first postmaster and the post office was kept in the Winch Store. The store was known as the "Stringtown Store." The store was started in 1860 by W. Winch who ran it for a number of years and sold it to Mr. Ole Olson. Mr. Olson had the store for a short time, then used the building for various other purposes. The store was again started a few years later by Mr. Ward. The next owners were Langley and Halvorson, J. D. Elliot and the last owner was Mr. Babcock.
The name, Stringtown, came from the fact that all the settlers built their houses along the road in the ravine in which the village is located, thus stringing it out for some distance.
A creamery was built in Amherst about 70 years ago. It was a cooperative. My Grandfather, Henry Knudson, used to haul cream from as far away as Kendallville, Iowa. Firewood for the creamery was cut by the patrons of the creamery. Butter was hauled to Canton to be shipped by railroad. Amherst was surveyed for a railroad in the early days.
July 4th celebrations were held behind the creamery or on the Knudson land. Ball games were a popular event. There were very little fireworks. Dances were held for special occasions on a wooden floor with a local band. The only liquor was hidden in the men's pockets. The men smoked cigars, chewed snus, and rolled their own cigarettes. The women would bring food to the dances.
Lillian Haagenson has a grocery store in the old creamery building. Everyone in the community likes to go there to get pop, ice cream, or just visit.
The school was organized in 1857 and in 1858 a frame building was erected, but afterwards sold and used for a blacksmith shop. In 1867, a 20' x 30' school was built, which was kept open until 1947. In the early 1900's there were approximately 20 pupils in grades one to eight.
On the creek behind the creamery was an ice pond. My grandfather helped cut squares of ice for the creamery to keep the butter cool in the summer. The pond is still there today.
My grandfather remembers his first car ride. News came over the telephone line that a car was coming from Lanesboro. He and two cousins met the car a few miles from Amherst and rode back to Amherst.
There were about 100 Indians in South Fork Valley, which is about 10 miles from Amherst in 1854. My grandfather can remember seeing a few Indians about 1900. In 1862, there was a big Indian scare in Fillmore County. There were no hostile Indians for 140 miles, but the village of Preston was jammed full of people and teams of horses. All houses, shops, mills, and every available shelter were crowded with people. Not one shot was fired during this panic.
According to the auditors books, there were 104 wolves captured in Fillmore County during the month of April, in 1881. Bounty was $7.00 for each wolf.
There were also horse thieves and murders in the early days. In 1874, a vigilante committee was organized in Fillmore County against horse thieves. A man was murdered by his wife in 1876 near Amherst in 1876. She chopped him in the head with an axe, while he was sleeping.
Jesse James stopped and asked my grandfather's cousin for food. The Jesse James Gang was on the way to Northfield to rob a bank. This event was about six miles from Amherst. Jesse James stayed overnight in a cave near the fish hatchery at Lanesboro.
I was raised on the original Knudson homestead. When my great-great-grandfather came to this farm, an oak tree in our yard was about 8 inches across. Now it is three feet across. The main reason for settling in Amherst was because of the water in the creek for the cattle.
Deb Nelson Gourley is a layout editor at the Journal. She was raised on a farm in Amherst (near Preston, MN), and is writing a book about her Norwegian heritage. You can visit the author's Norwegian Ancestry Series at www.fillmorecountyjournal.com for all of her stories. Deb can be reached at Gourleydeb@aol.com
Deb Nelson Gourley is a layout editor at the Journal. She was raised in Amherst and is writing a book about her Norwegian heritage. Deb can be reached at Gourleydeb@aol.com