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Explore history in Kandiyohi County

More than 40 unique and significant sites have been marked throughout the county. All of them are easily accessible and can be toured in a day.

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The Guri Endreson cabin, located north of Willmar, is one of Kandiyohi County's oldest existing buildings that is on its original site.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo
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The history of Kandiyohi County is rich, diverse and filled with stories of exploration, conflict and growth. For those eager to learn more, the Kandiyohi County Historical Society has provided a road map to some of the county’s most unique and significant landmarks.

More than 40 sites have been marked throughout the county. All of them are easily accessible and can be toured in a day.

Brochures are available at the Historical Society Museum, with a description of each site and its location.

One of the historical sites is a log cabin more than 150 years old. It was built by Lars and Guri Endreson.

The cabin is one of the few actual buildings remaining from the early days of settlement and the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862.

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The Endresons had built the cabin, cleared the land and were developing a typical frontier farm when the conflict broke out.

On Aug. 21, 1862, the family was attacked. Lars and one son were killed, another son wounded and two of the daughters taken prisoner. Guri and an infant daughter hid in the cellar and managed to escape.

The following day she hitched up an ox cart and, with her surviving son and the baby, went for help to the Erickson cabin. There she found Erickson and Solomon Foot, wounded. She tended their wounds and loaded them on the cart, eventually reaching safety at Forest City in Meeker County, where she was also reunited with her daughters.

The Endreson cabin, now on the National Register of Historic Places, can be visited during the summer. Take U.S. Highway 12 west from Willmar, then go north on County Road 5 for four miles and turn west on 67th Avenue Northwest. Follow the directional signs to the site.

Guri Endreson was buried in Vikor Cemetery, four miles north of Willmar on County Road 5. A state monument was dedicated to her in 1962 at the site of her grave.

Two more cabin sites from this era include the Erickson cabin and Solomon Foot’s cabin.

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The Vikor Lutheran Curch located north of Willmar near Solomon Lake, which has a historic connection to Guri Endreson.
Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune file photo

Foot was the first European settler of Willmar Township. He and neighbor Oscar Erickson were wounded in the Dakota Conflict and rescued by Guri Endreson. The marker for Foot’s cabin can be found north of Willmar on U.S. Highway 71, then west three-fourths of a mile on 26th Avenue Northeast.

The marker for the site of the Erickson cabin is north of Willmar on Highway 71, then west on 41st Avenue Northeast, then south a short distance on 15th Street.

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The first European settlers’ home in the county was a 14-by-15-foot log cabin. The cabin, which no longer exists, was built by E.T. Woodcock in 1856. He and his wife lived there for a winter to meet homestead requirements. Their daughter, born the following spring, was the first European child born in Kandiyohi County. The Woodcock home marker is on the north edge of Spicer.

A man named Joshua Gates is believed to be the first farmer in Kandiyohi County. He arrived in 1857 and broke sod that same year. Trained as a teacher, he later organized his own school for children in the Diamond Lake area and eventually became a county superintendent of schools. The Gates homestead marker is half a mile north of County Park 3 on County Road 4.

However, Kandiyohi County’s history began long before the first European tilled soil here.

The first inhabitants of what is now Kandiyohi County were American Indians, attracted by the fertile prairie, hardwood forests and many lakes. Two markers at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse, near the golden statue of the mythical Chief Kandiyohi, tell the stories of these people and how Kandiyohi County got its name.

The county’s earliest inhabitants left behind a series of burial mounds on the east side of Green Lake. Most have been worn down by weather, cultivation and construction, but a few are still visible in backyards, farmyards and near County Park 5.

The marker is four miles east of Spicer on County Road 10, then 2½ miles north on County Road 4.

The Mdewakanton tribe of the Santee Dakota later lived at several camp sites on the shores of area lakes, usually selecting the north and east shore to take advantage of prevailing winds. One of the largest former camp sites is marked at County Park 5 on the northeast shore of Green Lake.

Another is on Lake Wakanda. The marker is five miles south of Highway 12 on County Road 8, then one mile west on County Road 3. Lake Wakanda, “Place Where the Spirit Dwells,” was named by the Dakota.

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Once Europeans arrived in the area and began settling here, their communities grew with a speed that even the Dakota-U.S. War could not slow.

In 1866, Green Lake Village was established, along with a post office for the area. A grist mill, later converted into a generator, is now a resort. The marker is north of Spicer on state Highway 23 and one-half mile east on County Road 30.

The railroad reached the site of Atwater (Hotel Atwater is on the National Register), Kandiyohi and Willmar in 1869. More communities soon emerged.

Willmar, named for Leon Willmar, a Flemish land agent for the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, became a hub for the Great Northern Railway. The A. Larson store, built in 1876, is the best preserved of the old downtown business buildings and is on the National Register.

Willmar Farm was established in 1870 on the grounds of what was the Willmar Regional Treatment Center. The site is now MinnWest Technology Campus. The older buildings are on the National Register.

During the Great Blizzard of 1873, 12 people died in Kandiyohi County. The site where four perished has a marker two miles north of state Highway 7 on Highway 71, then one-fourth mile west on County Road 80.

Four sections of land were included in the W.D. Washburn ‘bonanza farm.’ Begun in 1877, it was abandoned a few years later when it proved to be financially unsuccessful. The Washburn farm marker is two miles north of Prinsburg at the intersection of county roads 1 and 80.

A great train wreck west of Atwater on June 23, 1882, took the lives of 13 men and injured 19. The train, a construction unit, derailed in Summit Lake. A mass grave for the unclaimed bodies of the victims is in Fairview Cemetery in Willmar. A marker is at the site of the wreck, three miles west of Atwater on Highway 12 and one-half mile south on County Road 4.

During the Great Depression, farmers banded together to prevent the sale of their farms, forming the Farm Holiday Association, which became the largest organization supporting farmers seeking agricultural reform.

The birthplace of the Farm Holiday movement was in Lake Elizabeth Township; the site is marked at the intersection of county roads 4 and 20.

The Farm Holiday movement was active from 1932 until 1938. The Svea School and the Glader/Bosch farmstead in Lake Elizabeth Township, both National Register sites, also were early meeting places for Farm Holiday members.

For additional information, visit www.kandiyohicountyhistory.com

Donna Middleton started working at the West Central Tribune in 1975 and has been the news assistant since 1992. She compiles the arts, health, farm and community page calendars, as well as rewrites and works on the special sections.
She can be contacted at dmiddleton@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4341.
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