Marshan Township's early history

Marshan Township was not settled by white men until Hastings had become a settled community in the early 1850s. In fact, the Sioux Indians, the main inhabitors of the region, didn't even camp in the Marshan area, preferring instead Red Wing and Kaposia, a small trading post downriver from St. Paul.

The first settler in what is now Marshan Township was Edmond Doyle of Point Douglas, who staked a claim in 1853 to the west half of the east half of Section 28.

The next year he built a log cabin -- the first in the township -- and plowed up some of the land for a wheat crop. Doyle also dug a 12-foot-deep well that supplied a permanent and ample supply of water. Unfortunately, the well wasn't close to his cabin, so Doyle thought it would be a relatively simple task to dig another. After digging a 20-foot-deep shaft near his cabin, Doyle ran into a solid layer of rock. Undaunted, he blasted through about 20 feet of rock, then drilled another 40 feet before he struck water. But the supply soon ran dry, so Doyle sank the well another 30 feet -- for a total of 110 feet deep -- before he hit a permanent supply of cool water.

On Aug. 12, 1853, Christopher Cheney arrived in Point Douglas. But after a brief stay, he traveled to Marshan and claimed the west half of the west half of Section 27. During his search for suitable land in the township, Cheney discovered a full skeleton of a man lying in the bushes about a mile and a half from his claim. Cheney didn't know if the skeleton was white or Indian.

In the spring of 1854, Cheney built a cabin -- the second in the township -- on his property. The cabin is significant because it was the birthplace of Cheney's daughter, Sarah Etta, the first person born in the township. Cheney lived in the cabin for about three years, then sold out and moved to another Minnesota town called High Island.

In the spring of 1854, Joseph Bell, brother of John M. and Stephen D. Bell, early settlers of Hampton, came to Marshan and staked a claim to 160 acres in the northwest quarter of Section 31. After securing the land, Bell returned to his home in Branch County, Michigan, to bring his family to Minnesota. Once here, they began to erect a house. But it wasn't completed until the following January. During the construction phase, the family lived in a tent. Not surprisingly, they suffered tremendously from a severe attack of fever and chills. Bell lived on the farm for about 20 years, then moved to McLeod County, where he died.

In April 1854, Chauncey Johnson come to American and staked out a claim in Vermillion Township. He then traveled to Ilinois, where he had left his family. While there, someone "jumped" his claim, made improvements and recorded the claim. When Johnson returned with his family, he was forced to look for a new place. In August, he settled on the west half of the east half of Section 6 in Marshan.

James Fahey, who had lived in Freeport, Ill., for some time, moved to Marshan in the spring of 1854, settling on the northwest quarter of Section 21. In the fall, Fahey moved his family to his new property, making it his residence for about 10 years. This site later was used as the county poor farm.

Charles Durnin also moved to Marshan in 1854, staking claim to the east half of the west half of Section 27. Durnin held the claim for two years before the place was "jumped" by a German.

Once a few settlers claimed land in the township, others soon followed.

Early villages

Marshan City was located on the east half of the northeast quarter of Section 27 and the west half of the northwest quarter of Section 29. The land was owned by Michael Marsh, from whom the city derived its name. Marsh had the land surveyed and platted and recorded the plat on Aug. 26, 1856. Soon after, Marsh erected a store and sold a few lots to other people. He also opened a post office in 1857 and became its postmaster. But when it became obvious that the entire plat would not sell, Marsh abandoned it.

Another village, Bellwood, was located on the east half of the northeast quarter and east half of the southeast quarter of Section 28. It was surveyed and platted by T. Blakely and owned by land speculators, with F. B. Curtiss as agent. The company erected the first hotel in the township, in 1857. It unfortunately burned down, was rebuilt by Michael Marsh but burned down again in 1874.

The Bellwood Catholic Church was built on land donated by the townsite company. The Collins brothers then donated five acres of land on the northwest quarter of Section 22 to Bishop T. L. Grace in St. Paul to be used as a cemetery by the new church. A survey was made at the time but it was never recorded. A second survey was made by D. B. Lowell in 1874 and the plat recorded in July. It divided the property into 35 blocks, but the lots are not of uniform size because of insufficient care before the survey was made. By the early 1880s, there were 445 graves in the cemetery. The first gravesite was for Stephen Collins, who died in November 1862. The cemetery was used by a mission church associated with the Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Hastings. The cemetery opened on May 9, 1862, and closed in 1900 when the mission church disbanded.

The Bellwood Cemetery, which still exists at the intersection of Hwy. 61 and 190th Street, contains a monument to Henry G. Bailly, the first settler in what later became Hastings. Bailly's father, Alexis Bailly, was one of the first explorers/fur traders to spend time in the Hastings area. Henry Bailly's mother was Lucy Anne Fairbault, daughter of Jean Baptiste Faribault, a famous fur trader during the settling of Minnesota. Henry Bailly ran a trading post in Hastings called the "Old Buckhorn." Bailly stocked the trading post with just enough trinkets to enabled him to retain his fur trader's license and hold the land until the treaty with the Sioux was signed in August 1851, ceding lands on the west bank of the Mississippi to the U.S. government. The treaty opened the floodgates to settlers in the Hastings area. Bailly, who helped build the city, was killed during the Civil War battle called Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. He apparently was buried there.

The Bellwood Cemetery monument contains two inscriptions:

"H.G. Bailly, Co. D, 5th Minn Inf"
"Henry G. Bailly, 1st Lt., Co. D, 5th Minn Inf, A Founder of Hastings, 29 Oct 1828 - 7 Jan 1865"

Questions remain over the date of Bailly's death. Some documents claim he was killed in battle on Oct. 29, 1863, and was buried the same day. But other documents say he died of his wounds on Jan. 7, 1865.

For a time, Bellwood's future looked promising. It received glowing praise in a July 25, 1857, article in the Hastings Independent:

"This town is beautifully located at the junction of the Hastings, Cannon Falls and Faribault road with the road from Red Wing to Lakeville and the Minnesota river.

"It is laid off on the borders of a lake in a fine oak grove, and commands a fine view of Chimney rock and the undulating prairie stretching to the south. The distance between Hastings and Cannon Falls is shortened about five miles, and the town being above half way between the two places must build up a fine hotel business, and its natural attractions must lead many of our citizens to seek it as a pleasure resort.

"The surrounding country is a rich, fertile prairie, here and there dotted with small but luxuriant groves. There is no portion of Minnesota where are more or better farms than in the vicinity of Bellwood. We predict for our young neighbor a rapid and healthy growth."

Despite the high praise and bright outlook portrayed in the newspaper article, the lots didn't sell and Bellwood's bright future never materialized, so the townsite was soon abandoned.

The township's second church, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, was organized in January 1862. The cornerstone was laid in April and the building completed a few months later at a total cost of $500. The building consisted of a confessional, tabernacle, belfry and crucifix, all painted and ready for use by Aug. 10, 1862. The work was handled by Edmond Doyle, Nicholas McGree and M.D. Phalen.

The first Mass was offered on Oct. 12, 1862, by Father Hurth, pastor of Hastings and Bellwood. At the time, the parish consisted of about 60 families. By the late 1870s, the parish had grown to about 150 families. However, Neill never pinpointed the location of the church.

Organizing Marshan

Marshan Township was created during a Dakota County Board of Commissioners meeting on April 6, 1858. It was named after Michael Marsh and his wife, Ann. A meeting to complete the organization of the township was held on May 11, 1858, in Michael Marsh's home.

At the time of its organization, the township contained all of Township 114, Range 17, plus Sections 19, 20, 21, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33 in Township 114, Range 16 -- the southern nine sections in Ravenna Township. But the boundaries were shortlived; during a June 5, 1860, meeting of the Board of Commissioners, Sections 1, 2, 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 -- the northeast quarter of the township -- were removed from Marshan and attached to Hastings.

This odd move left Marshan Township in the shape of an "L." This unique layout lasted until 1876, when the Minnesota Legislature passed an act that removed nine sections that had been attached to Ravenna by the county board and re-attached them to Marshan. At the same time, the Legislature took Sections 19, 20, 21, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33 of Township 114, Range 16, from Marshan and attached them to Ravenna. These moves restored all of Township 114, Range 17, to Marshan Township, creating the square, 36-square-mile shape it retained until the late 1960s, when the city of Hastings began a series of annexations that eventually pared 1.5 square miles of land from the northern mid-section of the township. The annexations were completed so that the city could extend sewer and water lines into commercial and high-density residential areas that sprang up along Hwys. 61 and 316 south of the Hastings city limits.


Even though farming in the 1850s was extremely challenging and required that every family member pitch in to help with the chores and field work, the settlers recognized the need to educate their children. While cities, such as Hastings, Farmington, Rosemount and South St. Paul, could eventually build large brick schools with multiple classrooms, heated with furnaces, furnished with the latest fixtures and staffed by well-educated teachers, rural areas struggled with one- and two-room schools heated with wood-fired stoves and staffed by underpaid, undertrained and unsupervised teachers. Because traveling by horse or on foot over often muddy or snow-drifted roads was a never-ending challenge, townships by neccessity hosted multiple school districts that accepted students from a limited number of sections surrounding their one-room school houses.

Marshan's first school was taught in the winter of 1857-1858 by William A. Gray in a small log house on the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 21. Gray also taught school the following winter in the same log house.

In 1859-60, Michael Mallany taught school in a house on the western part of Section 27. Early in the spring of 1864, a small house costing $150 was built on the northeast corner of the northeast quarter of Section 28. The following summer, M.D. Phalen taught a three months' school in the house and continued to teach there six to eight months each year for the next 11 years. In 1877, the district -- District No. 31 -- built a new and larger school house for $387.

District No. 32, on the other hand, was a joint district that covered 8½ sections in Marshan and two in Nininger, which were attached in 1867. That same year, a section in Hastings was added; a second was added in 1878.

The district was organized at a meeting held on Dec. 8, 1858, in W. H. Montgomery's house. Those in attendance voted to build a school house on the northwest corner of the northeast quarter of Section 6, on land owned by C. Johnson. However, the building was not erected, as planned. Instead, school was conducted in private homes until 1865, when the district bought a house at Vermillion Falls for $100 amd moved it to the southeast quarter of Section 6, where it remained until January 1868, when it was moved to the northeast quarter of the same section, where it remained for years. It also should be noted that the district originally was named District 46, but the name was changed to District 32 in 1862. The district's first teacher, Susan Lyon, taught the first school in a house owned by C. B. Poor.

Another district, District No. 33, was created in 1860 and was originally called District No. 2. A school house was built that same year on the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of Section 29, on land that belonged to John Redding and was eventually purchased by M. Cole. The first school term was for a three-month period and was taught by W. S Green, who eventually became a resident of Hampton. School was taught in the district each winter for a number of years.

The first classes in District No. 33 were taught in 1862 in M. Marsh's house by Michael Mallany, who had taught in 1859-60 in a house in western part of Section 27. Prior to the district's organization, four township residents -- John Judge, P. Demsey and John and Thomas Burke -- furnished lumber for a school house. A building "bee" was organized and a school house erected on the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 27. Catherine Ryan taught the first classes in the new building, which was used until 1879, when a new school house costing $400 was built on the southeast corner of Section 26, on land owned by P. Demsey.

District No. 95 was organized on March 31, 1874 during a meeting held at the home of W. B. Mather. Those in attendance voted to raise $400 to build a school house on the southeast quarter of Section 7. However, the building eventually was built on the northeast quarter of Section 8, on land owned by Peter Huneicker. Ella Gilkey taught the first term during the winter of 1875-76. It lasted four months and involved about 27 students.

District No. 101 was formed in 1879 under a special act of the Minnesota Legislature, which used parts of District Nos. 27 and 28 in Ravenna Township to create the new district. The first organizational meeting was held on Sept. 6, 1879, in the Cook house. The house was owned by John Estergreen and had been leased by the district and used for a three-month school term in the summer of 1879. During the meeting, attendees voted to raise $500 for building a new school house and $300 for a teacher's salary and incidental expenses. The building, situated on the northwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 12, was completed in the fall of 1879.

One additional district, District No. 65, extended into Section 36 of Marshan Township but the school house was located in Douglas Township.

By the early 1900s, it was becoming clear that the nation's rural education system was highly inadequate. One of the strongest advocates for a more progressive rural school system was President Theodore Roosevelt, who appointed the Country Life Commission in 1908 to investigate and report back on the living conditions in rural America. Among its many recommendations, the commission called for a massive overhaul of the rural school system, mainly through consolidation.

It took a few years before the movement gained a foothold in Minnesota. Hastings native John Karpen, a strong advocate of consolition, was elected Dakota County's superintendent of education in 1914. Although only 25, Karpen was a strong advocate for consolidation. In 1916, he managed to convince voters in the Randolph area to approve the consolidation of six districts in southern Dakota County and one in Goodhue County. The vote was close; 134 approved while 98 opposed the move. A new $30,000 brick school building in Randolph was completed in 1918, becoming the county's first consolidated school. Eight buses needed to transport rural students to the new school were delivered in August 1918.

But the march toward a modern county school system hit a number of roadblocks along the way, including the Great Depression and tax bases too small to support consolidated schools. But the strongest -- and by far the most vocal -- opposition came from residents who vehemently opposed losing control of their local school districts.

Despite pockets of strong opposition to consolidation, rural schools were declining rapidly by the late 1940s. Some districts in the county existed in name only. Several of the old school houses were of little use and some had been abandoned and the students bused to other schools. In 1948, the first school houses in the county were offered for sale. The District No. 33 school house in Marshan was sold to local resident Fred Bauer, who later sold it to George Marschall, who used it as a temporary home while he built a new house.

By 1960, Randolph, Rosemount, Lakeville and Farmington had undergone consolidation. Now it was Hastings' turn. Fortunately, Hastings had witnessed the struggles other communities had experienced during their consolidations and it was well prepared. Property for future school sites had been purchased and sewer and water lines were being laid out. In addition, several elementary schools had been expanded.

The issue, which generated little opposition, came to a vote in November 1961 and passed 408 to 114, bringing 23 common school districts from Marshan, Vermillion, Ravenna, Nininger, Douglas, New Trier and Hampton under the umbrella of District 200.

Early tragedies

Winter was a particularly treacherous time for early settlers. Roads were basically glorified paths that rarely were plowed. Most winters experienced long periods of bitterly cold weather and the only forms of transportation were on foot or riding in open sleighs pulled by horses. In his history, the Rev. Neill told of two winter deaths and one summer death involving Marshan residents.

On Jan. 14, 1858, Barney Judge and his hired man left Hastings about 4 p.m. for his home, about seven miles away. Snow had been falling for three days, making travel on foot extremely difficult. The two men plowed through the drifts until they were about one and a half miles from home when they became "bewildered" and stopped to rest. Neill wrote that Judge soon became "insensible" from fatique and cold. It's likely that Judge was suffering from hypothermia, which tends to make victims delusional. The hired man became alarmed at their predicament and, instead of proceeding to the Judge home, turned around and walked back to Hastings, leaving Judge in the cold and snow. The next morning, the hired man, along with some friends, walked back to where Judge had been left. They found him dead.

In January 1873, a powerful -- and famous -- winter storm ripped through Minnesota. Neill wrote that a German named August Leindecker became lost as he tried to walk from Hastings to his home in Marshan. His body was not found until the snow melted in the spring.

During the summer of 1863, Hugh McKay and his wife were on their way home from Hastings when they were struck by lightning, instantly killing Mrs. McKay and the team of horses. Hugh McKay was severely injured by the jolt and never fully recovered, Neill wrote.

Natural features

The township's most notable natural feature is Chimney Rock, a 40-foot high sandstone outcropping that served as a guidepost for early settlers and travelers and continues to fascinate visitors today. Located in Section 31, Chimney Rock rises out of a 72-acre parcel of land that was recently purchased for $550,000 from the Schoen and Voelker families by Dakota County and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Now called the Chimney Rock Scientific and Natural Area, the site also contains a handful of rare plants, including kittentail wildflowers, beach heather, Canada frostweed and narrow-leaved pinweed. It is open to the public.

Chimney Rock was described in 1905 as "the most picturesque and perfect example of a columnar rock weathering in Minnesota." The following is a detailed description contained in the Rev. Neill's history of the county:

"Chimney Rock is situated on the eastern part of the north-east quarter of Section 31 on land owned by Nicholas McGree. Its shape, resembling a chimney, has given it its name. Standing on a base of sandstone rock, it measures about eighty feet in circumference at the base. At a height of twenty feet from the ground, the circumference is thirty-five feet. From this point, it again enlarges, resembling the cap of a chimney, and reached a circumference of about fifty feet. It has two large seams, one extending from nearly the top to the base, and the other about half way down The height of the rock is about forty feet."

The picturesque Vermillion River flows through the northwest corner of the township, entering at the northwest quarter of Section 7 and leaving by the northeast quarter of Section 6.

The Rev. Neill also wrote about a four- or five-acre clear, spring-fed pond, called Smith's Lake, that was situated in Section 27 on land owned by Mrs. B. Gergen. "This pond and the river are the only two bodies of living water in the township,'' he wrote.

But that apparently wasn't always the case. At one time, two small ponds "nearly similar in appearance and size were situated on Section 22," Neill explained. "They were separated by a narrow neck of land but four rods wide. The ponds, bearing the name of Twin Lakes, were remarkable for their beauty and clearness, and seemed to be provided with an inexhaustible supply of water. A few years since they simultaneously disappeared without any perceptible cause."

Copyright © 2012, Marshan Township. All rights reserved.