Kandiyohi County Historical Society's Museum
Archived Content 2007 - 2011


The Kandiyohi County Historical Society’s mission is “discovering, preserving and telling the story of Kandiyohi County and its people. For a number of years this was the official website for their museum.

Content is from the site's 2007 -2011 archived pages, as well as from other outside sources.

If you have inadvertently ended up here while searching for the Kandiyohi County Historical Society's museum go to the Kandiyohi County Historical Society's current website at: www.kandiyohicountyhistory.com/


Welcome to the

Kandiyohi County Historical Society

617 NE Highway 71 | Willmar, MN 56201 | Phone (320) 235-1881

Office Hours: 9-5 Weekdays

The Kandiyohi County Historical Society began in 1897 under the name of the Old Settler’s Association.  This organization only met once a year, but their mission was the preserve the history of Kandiyohi County.  In 1927, a cabin was dedicated at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds to be used as a museum for the Old Settler’s Association.  In 1940, the name Kandiyohi County Historical Society was incorporated.  The present museum building was dedicated in 1969. ” 



The First People

Centuries ago, after the last great glacier receded from what is now Kandiyohi(Dakota word meaning abounding in buffalo fish) County, the fertile plains and hardwood forests attracted Native Americans who lived here long before white people came. Two markers at the courthouse, downtown Willmar near the big Indian statue, tell the stories of these people and our county’s name.

The early Woodland people left behind burial mounds along the east shore of Green Lake (207*) and other sites. Most of them are worn down by weather, cultivation, and construction, but a few are still visible in back yards, farmyards, and near County Park #5.

Later, the Mdewakanton tribe of Santee Dakota had campsites in the county (205, 206, 309). Traditionally, they were on the east and north shores of lakes to take advantage of prevailing winds.

Early settlers met Indians who came to the area to hunt and fish (113, 203). An encounter between the Dakota and Ojibwa, near present-day Hawick, was called the “ Battle of the Broom,” because a pioneer woman chased the Dakota, who were chasing the Ojibwa, with her broom (210).

Artist Edwin Whitefield, traveling with the Kandiyohi Townsite Company, painted a scene of the site, near Lakes Minnetaga and Kasota, that was designated by the company for the state capitol, 1856.

Lake Lillian, located to the south of this site, was named after Whitefield’s wife.

Early Townsites & Pioneer Settlers

The first settlers who came here, beginning in 1856, platted five townsites.

One was Columbia (201), on the west side of Green Lake, near where the first settlers, E.T. and Loretta Woodcock (202), lived in their 14’x15’ cabin.

Two others were Irving (208), on the east side of Green Lake, and St. John’s (Harrison), on Diamond Lake.

Whitefield townsite (307) west of Lake Waconda was named after Edwin Whitefield, who painted watercolors of the lakes and prairies, sending the artwork East for land promotion. A township also bears his name, and he named Lake Lillian after his wife.

The other townsite was Kandiyohi (303), called “Capitol Hill” because it was twice chosen to become the new state capital, before St. Paul attained that distinction. It was also at this townsite, between Lakes Kasota and Mennetago, that Lucy “Le-Roi” Lobdell, disguised as a man, spent the winter of 1857-58 to hold the claim for the proposed capital. The grave of an early settler is also marked near this site (308).

Settlers streamed into the area, bringing with them businesses---Fullerville (209), the site of a sawmill, the first business, 1858; schools, one taught by Jane Clark, wife of the sawmill manager, 1858, and another at the Joshua Gates Homestead, 1859 (214); and the first church---New Sweden (105), organized as a congregation in a cabin at this site, 1859, forerunner of Lebanon and Peace Lutheran churches.

One of the immigrant farms, settled by the Swedish-American Broman family, is now listed on the National Register.

A Burbank Township farm was the birthplace of Henrik Shipstead, who would later become a United States Senator (218).


One of the saddest events in local and state history, the Dakota Conflict, started when the Indians hoped to regain their lands for their starving families in August 1862. Thirteen white settlers and an undetermined number of Dakota were killed in what is now Kandiyohi County (101, 106, 107, 109, 212, 213, 216, 217, 402).

Several lost their lives in the West Lake-Monson Lake area ( Swift County), after being alerted at morning worship services at the Andreas Lundborg cabin (112).

Another settler and at least one Dakota were killed at the Erickson cabin (104) in a battle of the Conflict, and several men were wounded, including Oscar Erickson and Solomon Foot. Foot and his wife, Adeline (Stocking), and their children were the first settlers of Willmar Township (102).

A log house (108) was built about 1858 for the Guri and Lars Endreson family. During the Conflict, Guri saved three wounded men, including Foot and Erickson, after her husband and son were killed and her daughters kidnapped. The house, National Register of Historic Places, can be viewed during the summer months. Call the KCHS office for details.

The Isle of Refuge (111) and Robbins Island (114) sheltered settlers during the 1862 Conflict.

John Otherday, a friendly Dakota, led a party of 62 men, women and children to safety during the Conflict, camping at this site (304) en route.

After the Dakota Conflict, a chain of military posts ensured safety of the frontier. Three were located at Big Kandiyohi Lake (305), Norway Lake (110), and Solomon Lake. Also during the aftermath of the Conflict, soldiers were attacked while on patrol (211301), and two Indians were killed near Big Kandiyohi Lake (306).


Farms, Railroads and Towns

Green Lake Village (204), established in 1866, was the site of the post office for this area, after reopening for settlement. A gristmill located there was later converted into a generator, to supply electric power.

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

Willmar, named by George Becker for Leon Willmar, Flemish land agent for the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, became a hub for the Great Northern Railway. A Great Northern steam locomotive and depot can be seen at the KCHS museum.

In downtown Willmar, the A. Larson store, built in 1876, is on the National Register. The War Memorial Auditorium, 1933, holds the same honor.

Willmar Farm (103) was established in 1870, operated by Leon’s son, Paul, on the grounds of the present Willmar Regional Treatment Center. The older buildings at WRTC are on the National Register of Historic Places.

During the Great Blizzard of 1873, twelve persons perished in the county. Four of them died at one site (401).

Four sections of land were included in the W.D. Washburn “Bonanza Farm” (403). Begun in 1877, it was abandoned a few years later when it proved to be financially unsuccessful.

A great train wreck between Atwater and Kandiyohi (302) in June 1882, took the lives of thirteen men and injured nineteen. A mass grave for the unclaimed bodies of the railroad construction workers is in Fairview Cemetery in Willmar.

Roads were sometimes built along trails formerly used for travel with oxen and horses (215).

The village of Spicer was named for John M. Spicer, a land developer. He and his wife, Frances, and their family resided at the “ Spicer Castle” in the summer and at their home on 7th St. North in Willmar in the winters. Both are on the National Register.

In the cities of New London and Spicer, permanent markers in village parks tell the stories of the towns.

20th Century

Rice Memorial Hospital, downtown Willmar, is built on the site of the home of A.E. and Sophia Rice. Albert was an early merchant, banker, regent, legislator and lieutenant governor. Sophia was an educator and civic leader. Their son, “Soldier of Fortune” Cushman Rice, bequeathed funds and land to the city for a hospital, in honor of his parents.

A State Hospital opened in Willmar in 1912. Its historic district of buildings, now called the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, is a National Register historic site.

During the Great Depression, farmers banded together to prevent the sale of their farms, forming the Farmers’ Holiday Association, eventually the largest organization supporting farmers demanding agricultural reform (310). The Svea School, Glader/Bosch Farmstead and Willmar Auditorium, all National Register sites, were early meeting places for Farmers’ Holiday members.

The rustic style buildings at Sibley State Park were built during the Depression years, and later listed on the National Register.

In later years, there have been several noteworth events in local history. The “Willmar 8” strike (shown at left in a West Central Tribune photograph, 1977), by eight women striking for fair labor practices at a bank, made news internationally, and became the subject of locally and nationally produced films. Willmar again made news when George “Pinky” Nelson, NASA astronaut who graduated from school here in 1968, made several space flights in the 1980s.

Most of these sites are marked by small wooden monuments, and some with permanent markers. Some of the National Register sites are privately owned and not open to the public.

*The numbers in the text of this document correspond to numbers that appear on a map of Kandiyohi County. For a copy of the map on a historic sites brochure, or for more information about any of these sites, contact the Kandiyohi County Historical Society office.



Broman Farmstead - Farmhouse and outbuildings built for Swedish immigrants Andreas and Johanna Broman and family. Built 1885-1940 and placed on Register in 1991. Off County Rd. 8, Kandiyohi ( Kandiyohi Township, not visible from the road).

Endreson House - Log cabin home of the Lars and Guri Endreson family, one of the few surviving structures built before the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Built about 1858 and placed on Register in 1986. Off County Road 5, Willmar ( Dovre Township).

Gustav Glader Farm (later John Bosch Farm) - Farmhouse and older outbuildings built for the family of State Senator Glader, and later associated with the Farmers' Holiday movement through the Bosch family. Built about 1885-1936 and placed on Register 1987. County Rd. 4, Atwater ( Lake Elizabeth Township).

The barn on the Bosch farm, shown here, was built in the 1930s.

Hotel Atwater - Handsome two-story brick structure featuring a ten-bay main facade and six bay sidewalls, now houses the Atwater Inn restaurant. Built 1904 and placed on Register in 1986. 322 Atlantic Ave., Atwater.

A. Larson & Company Building (Barnes Studio) - One of the oldest business buildings in Willmar, representing the early stages of the town's development. Built 1876 (northern half of building) and 1885 (southern), and placed on Register in 1989. 539 Pacific Ave. W., Willmar.

School District 55 ( Svea School) - Two-story school with Classical Revival-inspired design, was an early meeting place for Farmers' Holiday movement. Built 1907 and placed on Register in 1987. S. US Hwy 71 and County Rd. 3, Svea ( Whitefield Township).

Sibley State Park Historic District - Rustic Style buildings and other structures, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Built 1936-38 and placed on Register in 1992. Off Hwy US 71 SW of Jct. MN 9, New London ( Lake Andrew Township).

John M. Spicer House - Victorian house built for the family of one of our county's land and railroad developers, in Willmar's oldest residential neighborhood. Built about 1873 and placed on Register 1986. 515 NW 7 St., Willmar.

John M. Spicer Summer House and Farm ( Spicer Castle) - Summer home of the John M. Spicer family, now a Bed and Breakfast. Built 1895-1913 and placed on Register in 1986. 600 Lake Ave. S., Spicer ( Green Lake Township).

Willmar Hospital Farm (now Willmar Regional Treatment Center) - Historic District buildings feature Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial styles. Built 1912-1933 and placed on Register 1986. NE Business 71, Willmar.

Willmar War Memorial Auditorium - WPA constructed building, featuring freeze and bas-relief panels on exterior front and interior Memorial Room with mural painting. Built 1935-38 and placed on Register in 1991. 311 SW 6 St., Willmar.



Locomotive 2523

This mountain-type locomotive is a survivor of the steam engines acquired by the Great Northern Railway to speed up mainline passenger service. It was placed on permanent exhibit October 17th, 1967.

A powerful and speedy locomotive of the P-2 class, the engine now looks every bit the aristocrat that it was during the years it was preeminently associated with Great Northern's crack transcontinental trains -- The Embire Builder and the Oriental Limited. The Empire Builder was inaugurated in June of 1929 and the popularity of the train led to addition of cars to the consist and this necessitated more powerful engines -- the renouned S-2 locomotive.

Engine No. 2523 is the last of 28 locomotives built for the Great Northern by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. After these engines were replaced by the more powerful S-2's in Empire Builder service they pulled the fast mail trains and the famed silk trains. The P-2 engines later were used in freight service and were retired in 1955.

Locomotive and tender are 94 feet 6¼ inches in length, weigh 617,000 pounds and stand 15 feet 10 inches from rail to the top of the stack. No. 2523 was an oil burner and developed 57,580 pounds of traction effort. Each of the eight drive wheels is 73 inches high.

The track on which 2523 stands is laid to Great Northern main-line specifications. The creosoted ties are supported on a sub-ballast consisting of 6 inches of rock chips and a ballast of 6 inches of crushed granite, quarried by Great Northern near Granite Falls, Minnesota.



Welcome to the

Sperry House

Welcome to the Sperry House, built in 1893 when this site was Albert H. and Jennie Sperry's farm.  A.H. Sperry, born 1840, lived here until his death in 1917.  He was a pioneer settler, soldier during and after the Dakota Conflict of 1862, farmer and businessman.  Jennie Wilson Sperry, teacher and housewife, lived here into the 1920's and in other Willmar residences until their death, at age 92 in 1953.

The house was acquired by the Historical Society in 1970 after the death of Bryan, the Sperry's youngest son who resided here.  The downstairs rooms were partially restored and opened to the public in 1976, with Grace Sperry Redfield, Albert and Jennie's daughter, serving as a hostess.

As a museum showing turn-of-the-century home life in Kandiyohi County, the house showcases selected items from the Society's collections.  A few pieces -- the bedroom set, sewing rocker, china, doll buggy and some other items -- were originally in the Sperry family.  The portrait of W.m Jennings Bryan in the hall is also original.  Bryan Sperry was named after him.

The year 1993 was the Centennial of the old home.  For its 100th birthday, it received new exterior paint and repairs, a long-term project from 1994 to 1997.  Green and white colors replaced the former red tones, a decision based on analysis of the earliest colors found on the original wood.

We are pleased to welcome you to the Sperry House and share this glimpse into turn-of-the-century life in our county.

Thank you for visiting...


The Book Store



Kandiyohi County Historical Society
Text by Donald E. Miller
Photo Selection and Editing byMona Nelson-Balcer
Supplementary Research by Thomas J.H. Bonde

A Guide to Graves in Kandiyohi County Cemeteries

Published by
Kandiyohi County Historical Society

A Guide to Cemeteries in Kandiyohi County

Published by
Kandiyohi County Historical Society

125th Jubilee Throw

Willmar Technical College, Willmar Community College, Tallman Mansion, Willmar Seminary, First Street Bridge, Bank of Willmar, City Auditorium, Calvary Church, St. Luke's Church, Brickyards, Rice Hospital, Carnegie Library, County Courthouse, Train Depot, The Barn Theatre, Post Office, Fire House,  Utility Company, Early School, Tribune Building, Old High School, Sperry House, Willmar Regional Treatment Center... all can be found on this wonderful 125th Jubilee Throw.



Kandiyohi County Historical Society Blog Posts 2011

2nd Minnesota Battery Light Artillery

Posted on September 15, 2011 by Director

2nd Minnesota Battery Light Artillery

Civil War Encampment

Saturday, September 24


Step back in time to learn about the life of

Minnesota Soldiers and their families.

Join the Kandiyohi County Historical Society on Saturday, September 24 for a Civil War Encampment from 10am-6pm.  The 2nd Minnesota Battery Light Artillery of Red Wing, MN will be visiting the Sperry House grounds.  The battery will set up camp to learn about Minnesota soldiers in the Civil War. 

We will have music, demonstrations, food and fun!  The 2nd MN Battery Light Artillery will have different stations for the public to see.  They will include Gun Drills, Civilian Life, Small and Shoulder Arms and Battle Flags.  The Gun Drill will be held at 11am, 3pm and 6pm.  The Second Minnesota Battery Re-enactors are a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Civil War history by living it.  The unit was reactivated in 1985 and has continued to present an accurate and interesting history of the Second Minnesota Battery and Civil War history to hundreds of thousands of people.  

In addition to the 2nd MN Battery, The Sergeant and His Lady, Dale and Sharon Koenen of Clara City will have their collection on display.  Kandiyohi County’s Civil War Veteran Martin Jorgenson’s gun will be on display in the Museum.  We will have all the buildings at the museum open that day for tours.  This event is free to the public!

This event is sponsored by the Kandiyohi Power Charitable Trust, Raymond Legion, Spicer Legion, Willmar Legion, and the New London Legion.  We thank them for the generosity. 

We hope to see you there!!!