The Birth and Growth of Marshan Township

Marshan Township was not settled by white men until Hastings, MN had become an established community in the early 1850s. In fact, the Sioux Indians, the main inhabitants of the region, didn't even camp in the Marshan area. They preferred to stay in Red Wing and Kaposia instead, a small trading post downriver from St. Paul. After many years, people from other areas found our township and decided to reside.

First Settlers

Originally from Point Douglas, Edmond Doyle was the first person who settled in the township. He staked a claim in 1853 to the west half of the east half of Section 28. The following 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 source was far from his cabin, so he decided to dig another one closer to his house. After he hollowed out a 20-foot-deep shaft, he ran into a solid layer of rock. He bravely blasted through about 20 feet of rock, then drilled another 40 before he struck water. The supply soon ran dry, so Doyle sank the well another 30 feet. He eventually hit a permanent supply of cool water after digging a total of 110 feet.

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, he discovered a full skeleton of a man lying in the bushes about a mile and a half from his claim. Cheney wasn’t able to determine if the man was white or native American.

In the spring of 1854, Cheney built a cabin—the second in the area—on his property. It became the birthplace of 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.

Joseph Bell, brother of John M. and Stephen D. Bell, early settlers of Hampton, came to Marshan in 1854. He 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, MI, to bring his family to Minnesota.

When they arrived in Marshan, they began to build a house and temporarily lived in ­­a tent during the construction. They suffered tremendously from a severe attack of fever and chills. Bell lived on the farm for about 20 years. He then moved to McLeod County where he died.

In April 1854, Chauncey Johnson came to America and staked out a claim in Vermillion Township. He then traveled to Illinois, where he had left his family. While out of town, someone made improvements and recorded the claim. This forced Johnson to look for a new place when he returned to his family. In August, he settled on the west half of the east half of Section 6 in Marshan.

A former resident of Freeport, IL, James Fahey 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 more than 10 years. This site later was used as the county poor farm.

Staking claim to the east half of the west half of Section 27, Charles Durnin was one of the people who moved to Marshan in 1854. He held the claim for two years before the place was taken by a German.

Early Villages


This small town 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 place derived its name. Marsh had the land surveyed and platted and recorded the plat on Aug. 26, 1856.


This village 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 the agent. In 1857, the company established the first hotel in the township. Sadly, it burned down and was rebuilt by Michael Marsh, but was destroyed by fire again in 1874.

The Church

The Bellwood Catholic Church was built on land donated by the townsite company. The Collins brothers 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. A survey was made at the time, but it was never recorded. In 1874, D. B. Lowell conducted a second assessment. The plat was recorded in July.

The Cemetery

The Bellwood Cemetery, which still exists at the intersection of Highway 61 and 190th Street, contains a monument to Henry G. Bailly. He was the first settler in Hastings, MN. His father, Alexis Bailly, was one of the first explorers and fur traders to spend time in the area. Henry’s mother was Lucy Anne Faribault, daughter of Jean Baptiste Faribault, who was a famous fur trader during the settling of Minnesota.

The Immaculate Conception

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 was completed a few months later at a total cost of $500. Opened to the public on August 10, 1862, the property consisted of painted confessional, tabernacle, belfry, and crucifix. These architectures were made by Edmond Doyle, Nicholas McGree, and M.D. Phalen.

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. In their home, a gathering was held on May 11, 1858 to complete the organization of the township.

The area contained all of Township 114, Range 17, as well as sections 19, 20, 21, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and 33 in Township 114, Range 16. The boundaries were short-lived after the meeting of the Board of Commissioners on June 5, 1860. 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

left Marshan Township in the shape of an "L.” It lasted until 1876 when the Minnesota Legislature passed an act that removed nine sections that had been attached to Ravenna Township 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 Range 17 to Marshan, creating a 36‑square-mile shape that retained until the late 1960s. Concurrently, Hastings, MN began a series of annexations that eventually pared 1.5 square miles of land from the northern mid‑section of the township. This helped the community extend sewer and water lines into commercial and high-density residential areas that sprang up along Highways 61 and 316.

Emerging Educational System

Even though farming in the 1850s was extremely challenging and required that every family member pitch in to help with the chores and fieldwork, the settlers recognized the need to educate their children.

Since traveling by horse or on foot over often muddy or snow‑drifted roads was a never‑ending struggle, townships, by necessity, hosted multiple school districts that accepted students from a limited number of sections surrounding their one‑room schoolhouses.

Section 21

Marshan's first school was taught in the winter of 1857-58 by William A. Gray in a small log house on the northeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 21. He held another class in the next winter.

Section 27

From 1859 to 1860, Michael Mallany taught school in a house on the western part of Section 27.

Section 28

Early in the spring of 1864, a small house costing $150 was built on the northeast corner of the northeast quarter of the area. The following summer, M.D. Phalen taught a three months' school in the house and continued to teach there six to eight months annually for the next 11 years.

District 31

In 1877, the district built a new and larger schoolhouse for $387.

District 32

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 schoolhouse 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. The district's first teacher, Susan Lyon, taught the first school in a house owned by C. B. Poor.

District 33

The first classes in this district were taught in 1862. It was held in M. Marsh's house by Michael Mallany, who had taught in 1859-60 in the western part of Section 27. Later on, another building was organized and a schoolhouse 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. In the same year, a new schoolhouse costing $400 was built on the southeast corner of Section 26, on land owned by P. Demsey.

District 95

This district was organized on March 31, 1874 during a meeting held at the home of W.B. Mather. Attendees voted to raise $400 to build a schoolhouse 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 101

Formed in 1879, this district was under a special act of the Minnesota Legislature. The first organizational meeting was held on Sept. 6, 1879 at the Cook house, owned by John Estergreen. The attendees decided to raise $500 for building a new schoolhouse and $300 for a teacher's salary and incidental expenses. The building, situated on Section 12, was completed in the fall of 1879.

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. He appointed the Country Life Commission in 1908 to investigate and report back on the living conditions in rural America. The commission called for a massive overhaul of the rural school system, mainly through consolidation.

Hastings native John Karpen, a strong advocate of consolidation, was elected Dakota County's superintendent of education in 1914. 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.

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 of the same year.

The march toward a modern county school system hit a number of roadblocks along the way. These include the Great Depression and insufficient tax bases. Rural schools were declining rapidly by the late 1940s. Many of the old schoolhouses were of little use and some had been abandoned. The students also bused to other schools.

In 1948, the first schoolhouses in the county were offered for sale. The one in District No. 33 in Marshan was sold to local resident Fred Bauer, who later sold it to George Marschall.

Early Tragedies

Winter was a particularly treacherous time for early settlers in the township. Roads were basically glorified paths that rarely were plowed, and the only forms of transportation were on foot or riding in open sleighs pulled by horses. Rev. Neill told of two winter deaths and one summer death involving Marshan residents.

On January 14, 1858, Barney Judge and his hired man left Hastings, MN around 4:00 PM for his home, which is about seven miles away. Snow had been falling for three days, which made walking 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 numb from fatigue and cold. Judge could have entered a delusional state due to the hypothermia he was experiencing. Because of their awful situation, the hired man walked back to Hastings and left Judge. The next morning, the employee, together with some friends returned to the area to look for Judge. They found him dead.

In January 1873, a powerful winter storm ripped through Minnesota. Neill wrote that a German named August Leindecker got 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 struck by lightning, instantly killing Mrs. McKay and the team of horses. Hugh McKay was severely injured by the jolt and never fully recovered.

Natural Features

Chimney Rock

Described in 1905 as “the most picturesque and perfect example of a columnar rock weathering in Minnesota,” the township's most notable natural attraction is Chimney Rock. It is a 40-foot high sandstone outcropping that served as a guidepost for early settlers and travelers. Now called the Chimney Rock Scientific and Natural Area, it continues to fascinate visitors today.

Vermillion River

This picturesque 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.

Smith’s Lake

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

Twin Lakes

Later on, Rev. Neill discovered that two small ponds, which are almost identical, were situated on Section 22. They were separated by a narrow neck of land but four rods wide. The ponds, which are called the Twin Lakes, are remarkable for their beauty, clearness, and inexhaustible supply of water. A few years later, they simultaneously disappeared without any perceptible cause.