Location of Verndale, Minnesota
|• Total||0.98 sq mi (2.54 km2)|
|• Land||0.98 sq mi (2.54 km2)|
|• Water||0 sq mi (0 km2)|
|Elevation||1,348 ft (411 m)|
|• Estimate (2012)||593|
|• Density||614.3/sq mi (237.2/km2)|
|Time zone||Central (CST) (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|GNIS feature ID||0653638|
U.S. Route 10 serves as a main route in the community.
As of the census of 2010, there were 602 people, 239 households, and 156 families residing in the city. The population density was 614.3 inhabitants per square mile (237.2/km2). There were 253 housing units at an average density of 258.2 per square mile (99.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 94.4% White, 1.0% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 1.5% from other races, and 3.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.7% of the population.
There were 239 households, of which 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 44.4% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, 9.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 34.7% were non-families. Nearly 30.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52, and the average family size was 3.13.
The median age in the city was 35 years. Nearly 28.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.7% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 25.6% were from 25 to 44; 20.5% were from 45 to 64; and 15.8% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 51.7% male and 48.3% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 575 people, 234 households, and 157 families residing in the city. The population density was 587.7 inhabitants per square mile (226.9/km2). There were 260 housing units, at an average density of 265.8 per square mile (102.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 96.70% White, 0.35% African American, 1.22% Native American, 0.52% Asian, 0.70% from other races, and 0.52% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.57% of the population. 32.4% were of German, 17.2% Norwegian, 10.4% American, 7.3% Swedish and 6.0% Irish ancestry.
There were 234 households, out of which 33.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0% were married couples living together, 12.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.5% were non-families. Of those, 27.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46, and the average family size was 2.95.
In the city the population was spread out, with 28.9% under the age of 18, 7.8% from 18 to 24, 28.2% from 25 to 44, 15.7% from 45 to 64, and 19.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 94.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,000, and the median income for a family was $30,938. Males had a median income of $24,306 versus $21,058 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,448. About 10.4% of families and 11.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.9% of those under age 18 and 8.8% of those age 65 or over.
Called "the most beautiful town site along the Northern Pacific Railroad between Brainerd and Fargo", the townsite of Verndale was situated 1 mile (2 km) east of the Wing River, on the edge of a beautiful prairie which was sheltered on the north and west by groves of small pines. To the south and east of the town site was seen open prairie interspersed with small groves, bounded in the distance by the dark line of the Big Woods. In the vicinity of town there were three good waterpowers on the Wing River. To the north of town were extensive pineries. Verndale quickly became the commercial center of the Wing River valley, a fertile agricultural valley 20 by 6 miles (32 by 10 km).
The first settlement in the vicinity of Verndale was commenced by Capt. John E. Butler, Charles W. Brown, John B. Kelly, and Charles C. Kelly of Rock Falls, Iowa, in July 1877. This group was followed in September by Capt. C. C. Parker, Joseph Sombs and others from the southern part of the state. Many of Verndale's early settlers were Civil War veterans. At one time, 100 Verndale families had one member who was a Civil War veteran.
The honorable Lucas W. Smith settled on a homestead claim near the town site and is credited with building the first house at Verndale and engaged in mercantile business. His business and home were located on the north side of the railroad tracks. He was born in Caledonia County, VT, September 15, 1816, and had come to the Verndale area from Charles City, Floyd County, Iowa. The town site was first settled in 1876 and was platted in 1877 in section 30 by Judge Smith, with an addition in 1879 in section 19. Judge Smith named the village in honor of his granddaughter Helen Vernette "Vernie" Smith. Judge Smith was the first postmaster when the post office was established in 1878. In 1879, Judge Smith laid out his addition to Verndale, north of the railroad tracks, in Section 19 of Aldrich Township.
The first store was ready for business in January 1878 and was opened by a grand New Year's Ball. The first hotel, the Crandall House, was rushed to completion in June 1878. It opened July 3, 1878, as soon as the roof was enclosed, to serve the swarm of land hunters. The Clark House hotel opened in September 1878 by G.H. Clark. The Commercial Hotel was also constructed in 1878 by Henry Thompson.
The town of Verndale grew quickly with the establishment of merchants and hotels to service the swarm of settlers moving to the area. By 1878, according to the Wadena County Tribune, which was published at Verndale, the population had grown to 300 and the countryside near the town was full of rapidly developing farm sites.
W.H. Raymond built a general supply store on the south side of the railroad tracks, which was later occupied by C. C. Parker & Co. In March 1878, L.W. Farwell built a family residence and established a lumber yard. By 1880, the Farwell residence had been sold to Dr. H.J. Harding as a drug store. Col. C.E. Bullard, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, soon erected a good and substantial building near Farwell's and established himself in the sale of agricultural implements and farm machinery. In May, A.A. Amidon, of Farmington, Minnesota, erected a handsome building for a store and dwelling, opposite Mr. Raymond's site. In June, E.L. Ingalls built the first blacksmith shop, which he sold to John E. Butler in the summer of 1880, at which time the business became "Bullard and Butler."
In 1878 and 1879, the Todd County Argus newspaper of Long Prairie, Minnesota, frequently comments on the number of covered wagons passing through Long Prairie on the way to Wadena County in the vicinity of Verndale.
An important Verndale pioneer was Capt. C. C. Parker. Parker came from Iowa in 1877. Parker operated C. C. Parker and Co. Pioneer Store and was postmaster from August 26, 1878 until February 26, 1884. He was one of the group of Verndale residents who built the Verndale Road through the wilderness to the Shell Prairies. This group of industrious men was the first to recognize that there would be considerable economic advantage for Verndale to provide a route for settlers heading to the fertile Shell Prairies of Hubbard County, where bonanza wheat farms were being established. Their efforts paid off, making the railhead of Verndale and its merchants the unquestionable center of commerce, supplying the settlers with the goods they needed to establish their homesteads and providing a convenient place for them to ship their produce to market. Capt. Parker also was among a group of Verndale business men who attempted to get a railroad built between Verndale and Shell City. While a representative to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1883, Parker was instrumental in introducing legislation for the establishment of Hubbard County and making Park Rapids its county seat.
Being an important rail head for shipping wheat, Verndale had two grain elevators. The grain elevator east of the train depot, owned by Barnes and Tenney, was constructed about 1879. This elevator was later purchased by Mr. Andrews. Moses Stewart, Jr., a pioneer and early banker (Bank of Verndale), built a grain elevator in 1882, west of the train depot. Bert and Al Pettit who came from Iowa in 1879 and 1880, respectively, later purchased Mr. Stewart's elevator and started the Pettit Grain and Potato Company, which became a large and important business in Central Minnesota. The company was headquartered at Verndale and incorporated with B.H. Pettit, president; C.P. Pettit, vice president; and L.H. Pettit, secretary and treasurer. The Pettit Grain and Potato Company did an annual business of about $400,000 and had elevators or warehouses at Verndale, Leaf River, Wadena, Aldrich, Philbrook, Hewitt, Parkton, Menahga, Henning, Sebeka, Bluffton, New York Mills, Deer Creek, Park Rapids, Battle Lake, and Staples.
The town developed as a wheat trading center for the county, and much of central Minnesota. Having a grist mill, two grain elevators, a Northern Pacific Railroad station, plus numerous merchants, made Verndale a boomtown and provided a distinct advantage in commerce over neighboring communities. In 1881, the Verndale railroad station did $3,092.12 in freight business. And, in 1884, 200,000 US bushels (7,000,000 L; 1,600,000 US dry gal) of wheat were shipped from Verndale.
Settlers heading north to the fertile Shell Prairies, in southern Hubbard County, Minnesota, would travel by rail to Verndale, purchase their supplies at local merchants and head 55 miles (89 km) north into the wilderness, to their homesteads on the virgin prairie. The bumper crops of wheat grown on these fertile prairies brought a flood of homesteaders to the prairies and prosperity to Verndale.
In November 1879, a community meeting was held in the growing village of Verndale to discuss what was needed to keep the community moving forward. It was decided by the group that a gristmill was most important for the continued growth and development of the community. Word was put out through advertisements for parties to come here to erect a grist mill.
The plan worked, for in April 1880, Mr. E.M. Britts and Mr. S.S. McKinley of the Osage City Mills, Osage, Iowa, came to Verndale to inspect the area and selected a beautiful mill site on the Wing River. The property was owned by T. C. Thompson. Financial matters and rights of way were quickly settled to make way for the mill. Construction of the mill was quickly started, and the facility was completed and dedicated with a grand free dance on July 20, 1880. This was the first mill of its kind in the northern part of the state.
Mr. Britts hired Thomas C. Myers, also originally from Osage, Iowa, to be the general contractor on the mill; his crew of 25 men were quickly put to work building the sturdy mill building. He was assisted in building the dam by Charlie Ham who used his oxen to help move the logs, which were used to construct the dam. It cost $12,000 to construct the mill (about $235,000 in 2008 dollars). The mill was built into the hillside on the east bank of the Wing River. The mill structure was 30 by 40 feet (9.1 by 12.2 m) and 66 feet (20 m) high. 19,000 board feet (45 m3) of lumber was used to construct the flume. Inside the mill was three run of millstones to grind with, two middlings purifiers (to remove he husks from the kernels of wheat), and the latest technology available, all installed by R.B. Flenniken of Rockford, Illinois. An adjacent storage warehouse held 15,000 US bushels (530,000 L). A miller's house was also constructed on the site. It measured 20 × 30 feet (6 × 9 m) and was two stories high.
As recorded in an 1881 survey of Wadena county: "Verndale Flouring Mills, E. M. Britts & Co., on the Wing River near the center of section 18, Aldrich, one and a half miles [2 km] north of Verndale; three run of stone; head, about twelve feet [3.7 m]. This dam is founded on the till, which is covered here by ten feet [3 m] of sandy and gravelly modified drift."
The mill was built into the hillside on the east bank of the river. Power was delivered to the mill by the use of a belt 100 feet (30 m) long, protected from the elements by a wooden runway, which ran up the river bank from the three turbine waterwheels (two 40" [100 cm] diameter and one 30" [76 cm] diameter). This set up provided the mill with 125 horsepower. Although three run of millstones were first installed, the turbines provided ample power for six or even seven run of millstones. The mill had a capacity every 24 hours of 175 barrels (some accounts say 500 bushels a day). Later, the mill was updated with six roller mills. Roller mills used metal rollers, rather than millstones to grind grains.
The facility was dedicated with a grand free dance on July 20, 1880. Music was supplied by Ormsby's Orchestra and L.W. Farwell and L.W. Smith were floor managers. However, the mill was not open for business until December 6 of that year, when it began grinding both day and night to meet demand.
Mr. Britt's mill served area farmers and the caravans of wagons which traversed the 55 miles (89 km) long Wheat Trail (Verndale Road) which ran from Shell City to Verndale. Shell City, now a ghost town, was a community on the Wadena and Hubbard county line, on the edge of the vast Shell Prairies, near Park Rapids. Farmers from the Shell Prairies brought their bumper crops of wheat down the Verndale Road to have flour ground at the mill or to ship their grain out by rail from the Andrews or the Stewart (later Pettit) grain elevators which were located on the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks at Verndale. The caravans traveling to Verndale often numbered as many as 100 wagons. It is said that as much as 800,000 US bushels (28,000,000 L) of wheat were shipped from Verndale at the peak of the wheat trade. Verndale was the closest market for these farmers and their business made Verndale a bustling and prosperous trade center.
Mr. Britts ran the grist mill until about 1900 when, in poor health, he and his wife moved to Duluth to live with son Charles who was a prominent banker in that city.
The mill dam also supplied electrical power for Verndale. In 1903, an electric power plant was installed and the lights were first turned on March 1, 1903. By 1906, the electric power plant had been moved to the lower level of Verndale's vacant courthouse building, which was destroyed by fire on January 5, 1912.
Other owners of the mill included: John Greene, who was operating the mill in 1907. Mr. Greene would grind 25 sacks of oats for $1.00. K.S. Bagne was the miller in 1907. During the spring floods of 1910, Mr. Bagne made an attempt to save the dam, but his efforts failed, and the dam was lost.
The story of Verndale's grist mill ends on July 8, 1912, when lightning struck and destroyed the mill, which had been standing idle for several months.
County seat battle
Although the Wadena county seat battle was simmering as early as 1879, it began to heat up in 1884. In that year, the citizens of Verndale built a fine courthouse building at a cost of about $9,000 and offered it to Wadena County as a gift, on condition that within one year after its acceptance, the county seat would be moved to Verndale. The county board did not accept the gift.
Verndale's courthouse was a handsome, Second Empire-style structure erected on a 300-foot-square (91 m) block of ground, bounded on all four sides by streets. The courthouse was designed and built by Thomas C. Myers of Verndale. The building was 42 × 62 feet (13 × 19 m), two stories high, topped with a handsome iron mansard roof and tower. Full height of the building to the top of the tower was 67 ft (20 m). The walls were entirely made of brick, the first story 17 inches (43 cm) thick and the second 13 inches thick (33 cm). The first floor contained offices for the auditor, treasurer, clerk of court, register of deeds, and superintendent of schools. The second floor furnished a courtroom, grand jury room and sheriff's office (together), a jury room and small counsel chamber. The third floor, within the mansard roof, was to supply additional jury rooms, or other uses for future expansion needs.
Wadena matched the offer and a battle between the cities began. An election was held in 1886 to determine the matter. Both villages were said to have hired men to remain in their respective voting precincts 30 days prior to the election. The outside "voters" practically ran both villages and it was considered unsafe for women to go out on the streets. In November, the voters went to the polls and Wadena won the election by 474 votes. The normal voting population of each village at the time was approximately 300, but when the votes were counted, each town went considerably over the 1,000 mark. Verndale was never pleased with the manner in which Wadena went about securing the vote, counting the ballots in secret, and the result was protested to the Minnesota Supreme Court. In August 1887, the Minnesota Supreme Court handed down a decision in favor of Wadena; thus, the matter was settled and the county seat was retained at Wadena.
Following the county seat battle, a group of nuns from St. Cloud, Minnesota, opened a Catholic academy in the building. The academy opened in 1892, but closed in 1894 from a lack of support by local Catholics. Later, the building's second floor was remodeled into an opera house and the lower level was fitted with an electric powerhouse to generate electricity for the town. On January 5, 1912, the engine room caught fire and the Verndale courthouse building burned.
Because many of the early businesses were constructed of wood and built close together, fire was a major concern for many pioneer towns. Once a building was ablaze, there was little the local fire fighters could do, but try to save what contents could be stolen away from the flames. Several times fires have destroyed the business section of Verndale, but the industrious business owners, more often than not, rebuilt on the ashes of the old structures:
- October 1898, nine businesses were lost to flames on the west side of Farwell Street.
- In 1905, the bowling alley caught on fire.
- In 1906, another major fire destroyed five buildings west of Farwell Street.
- In 1922, the two-story Dickinson Block burned; this was Verndale's largest brick store, and it was located on the SE corner of Farwell Street and 1st Ave. S.
Fires have been a continual concern.
In 1878, the community built a two-story, wood-frame school building in the northern part of the village, and Miss Cora Butler was employed as the first teacher. Two more teachers were hired for the Fall and Winter terms. By the Fall of 1880, 50 students were enrolled at the Verndale School. S.L. Frazier came from Wisconsin in 1881 to become principal of the Verndale school. By 1885, the student body had outgrown the original school and the village constructed a handsome new brick structure on the southern edge of the town. This new school was designed and built by local architect and builder Thomas C. Myers. The brick school building burned in May 1915, and a new structure replaced it in 1916.
An addition was made to the 1916 structure in 1936, including a gymnasium/auditorium (seating 700) and additional classroom space. Another addition, to the rear, was competed in 1954. This addition provided classroom space for grades one through six. In 1965, a large addition added a new gymnasium, classroom space, and industrial shop area to the building. In the 1990s, the original 1916 building was demolished to make way for a new addition, which was added to the front of the building.
Verndale's most famous citizen, General Lesley James McNair, was born on May 25, 1883, in Verndale, then a farming and mercantile community of 500. McNair, the son of a merchant, served in World War I and gave his life during World War II so that Europe and the rest of the world might be free. McNair was killed July 25, 1944, near Saint-Lô during Operation Cobra, by a misplaced aerial bombardment. He was one of the highest-ranking Americans to be killed in action in World War II.
McNair graduated from West Point at the age of 21, and saw service under Gen. John J. Pershing, first in Mexico and then in France in the First World War. For his outstanding service, he was awarded both the Distinguished Service Medal and the French Legion of Honor.
In 1940, he was made major general, and undertook the reorganization of general headquarters at the Army War College. In 1941, he became a lieutenant general and commanding general of the Army Ground Forces. Chris Gabel has written of McNair's training skills, in which he still has few peers, in a book entitled Louisiana Maneuvers.
McNair, at the time of his death, had already received a Purple Heart for being wounded in the African campaign.
General McNair understood that courage and preparedness—together—are necessary building blocks of victory. It is for his organizational skills that he has been nicknamed 'A Maker of Armies' – and for his courage that he is recognized as a national hero.
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