Litchfield, Minnesota

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The Litchfield Commercial Historic District.
The Litchfield Commercial Historic District.
Location of the city of Litchfield within Meeker County in the state of Minnesota
Location of the city of Litchfield
within Meeker County
in the state of Minnesota
Coordinates: 45°7′N 94°32′W / 45.117°N 94.533°W / 45.117; -94.533
CountryUnited States
 • Total5.47 sq mi (14.17 km2)
 • Land4.50 sq mi (11.64 km2)
 • Water0.98 sq mi (2.53 km2)
1,129 ft (344 m)
 • Total6,574
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,479.42/sq mi (571.21/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)320
FIPS code27-37448[4]
GNIS feature ID0646743[5]

Litchfield is a city in and the county seat of Meeker County, Minnesota, United States.[6] The population was 6,726 at the 2010 census.[7]


In the late spring/early summer of 1855, lumber company employees, John W. Huy, Benjamin Brown and (John?) Mackenzie canoed up the Crow River in search of pine timber. Not satisfied with their findings, they returned to St. Paul, Minnesota. Huy organized another exploring party, consisting of young lawyer D. M. Hanson, Dr. Thomas H. Skinner, and Rudolph Schultz and in late summer they left for the same area.

In the fall of 1855 they stopped in what is now the township of Harvey. There they planned to start a town called Kar-i-shon, Dakota for “crow”, reflecting the earliest record of the name for Crow River, "Karishon River". They moved instead to the present day Forest City area where they met Dr. Frederick Noah Ripley. Preferring this area, Schultz and Huy made a dugout house on the banks of the Crow River where it made a junction with a creek and Huy stayed in it through the following winter to make a claim on the land. Huy became the first permanent white resident of the county. The others, except for Dr. Ripley, returned to St. Paul where Hanson went before the legislature and urged them to create a new county, which would include the area he had just visited.

Meeker County was established on February 23, 1856. The county was named in honor of Bradley Burr Meeker of Minneapolis, who was an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1849 to 1853. With the nearby Crow River for transportation, more and more people gravitated to the newly established Forest City which was named the county seat. Hanson and Huy, were appointed county commissioners, and met in Forest City on May 6, 1856, to organize the county on paper. Dr. Ripley was to have joined them as another appointed commissioner, but he froze to death the March 3 a half a mile from the lake which now bears his name and his found his body later in the spring.

Prairie schooners or covered wagons brought the first settlers in the area in July 1856. Later that year, additional settlers came by prairie schooner. Sarah Jane Dougherty born in her parents’ prairie schooner on July 15, 1856 became the first white child to be born in Meeker County.

The settlers living in the area that is now Litchfield, named their settlement Ness on April 5, 1858, after many of the first settlers’ home - the parish of Næs in the traditional region of Hallingdal, Norway.

In 1867, George Baker Waller, Sr. moved his family to Minneapolis from Illinois, where they had lived for two years. While in Minneapolis, George purchased the northeast quarter of section 11 here, knowing that a town would soon be located in this vicinity. In June 1869, Waller came to the area where Litchfield now stands. When the railroad came through Waller owned the land and he deeded a undivided one-half interest in 150 acres of his land to the railroad company to plat a town upon. Railroad engineer and surveyor Charles A. F. Morris surveyed the land that Waller had deeded to the railroad and formally platted it on June 17, 1869.

In November 1869 Waller's wife Mary and two of his sons, George, Jr. and Henry joined him on his land where he was establishing a large apple orchard.

Waller deeded one-half interest in 150 acres of his land to the railroad company to plat a town upon, and upon which a part of the original township of Litchfield was laid out in July of 1869.

Waller shipped the lumber to build his house from Minneapolis as soon as the trains were running, putting up one of the first houses in the village. Built the house in 1871 the house continues to be located at 206 Marshall Avenue North.

Immigration to the county was slow until the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad, later the called St. Paul and Pacific and then the Great Northern, started coming through the area in 1869. The first train to arrive was a construction train on August 13, 1869.

Waller's oldest son, John relocated with his wife to Litchfield after working as a clerk in Minneapolis in 1869 and opened the town's first post office in his home, September 20, 1869. From 1870 to 1874, the post office was at the northwest corner of Sibley Avenue and Second Street where Litchfield's first official postmaster Horace B. Johnson had his clothing store.

Early establishment's in Litchfield included John D. and William C. “Billy” Peterson's tobacco and candy shop on the west side of Sibley Avenue. Truls Peterson had an eight by ten-foot shack across the street where he conducted his tailoring business from.

Early female residents to Litchfield were Marietta Porter, who was married to Charles O. Porter, who arrived on August 26, 1869 and Mary L. Pixley, wife of insurance agent B. F. Pixley, came the following day.

Samuel Alvin Heard and C. D. Ward's general merchandise store at the southwest corner of Sibley Avenue and Third Street was Litchfield's third building and first store. Heard became Litchfield's eighth Village Council President in 1879.

The next buildings built in Litchfield were Horace B. Johnson's clothing store and Post Office building at the northwest corner of Sibley Avenue and Second Street. In addition to being Litchfield's first official postmaster, Johnson was the town's third Village Council President in 1874. Next came a lumberyard and office building owned by Joseph James.

While most sidewalks in town were made of wood, Lewis L. Nyholm laid the first cement sidewalk in Litchfield in 1895 in the 200 block of Sibley Avenue.

By 1871, the village had grown to double the population of Forest City, Minnesota. The railroad put up a twenty-five by sixty-foot one-story building called an "immigrant's reception house." In addition to Litchfield, the railroad put immigrant houses in villages along the railroad's lines in the 1870s including in Willmar, Benson, Morris, and Breckenridge, Minnesota. The houses were "fitted up with cooking-stoves, washing conveniences, and beds." Newly arriving immigrants were given shelter in the reception houses and the chance to buy food and clothing at cost from the railroad while they looked for land in the area.

Litchfield got its name from a man named Electus Bachus Darwin Litchfield. He was a contractor, an investor, and a stockholder in the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad which originally went from St. Paul to St. Cloud and was built from 1862 to 1864. Later, his investments provided the means for building a more southern line through Meeker County to Breckenridge.

From early on, the village of Litchfield was originally called several different names including Round Lake, Ripley, and finally Ness. Litchfield was originally a portion of a congressional township named Round Lake, but most people called it Ripley after Ripley Lake one mile from its center.

The people of Ness were permitted to vote on the actual chartered village name of their township. Electus Litchfield donated grants of $2000 each to various religious sects in town to build churches, the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches being two of them. The Presbyterian Church, Litchfield's first church, was built in 1870.

The majority of the 350 people voted for the name Litchfield over Ness and the township of Litchfield was chartered as a village on February 29, 1872. The first village council meeting was held on April 5, 1872, in the railroad's land office. Jesse Vawter Branham, Jr. was elected the President of the Council.

The Village of Litchfield incorporated as a city in 1943.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.40 square miles (13.99 km2), of which 4.43 square miles (11.47 km2) is land and 0.97 square miles (2.51 km2) is water.[8]

U.S. Highway 12 and Minnesota State Highways 22 and 24 are three of the main routes in the city.


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)6,650[3]1.2%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 6,726 people, 2,747 households, and 1,749 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,518.3 inhabitants per square mile (586.2/km2). There were 2,930 housing units at an average density of 661.4 per square mile (255.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.8% White, 0.5% African American, 0.1% Native American, 0.1% Asian, 2.6% from other races, and 0.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.2% of the population.

There were 2,747 households, of which 30.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.4% were married couples living together, 10.7% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 36.3% were non-families. 32.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.37 and the average family size was 2.98.

The median age in the city was 39.6 years. 24.9% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.9% were from 25 to 44; 25.6% were from 45 to 64; and 18.4% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.8% male and 51.2% female.

Notable people[edit]

  • Bernie Bierman (1894-1977) - Minnesota Gophers football coach, won five national championships, seven Big Ten titles.
  • Florence Riddick Boys (1873-1963), Indiana journalist (first woman editor in the country with a syndicated column, suffragist - County Chair of the suffrage group "The Woman's Franchise", first Woman's Publicity Director to write publicly for the Republican National Committee, Indiana State Probation Officer, born in Litchfield
  • John Carlson, Jr. – football player, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals
  • Herbert W. Chilstrom - Presiding Bishop (1987–95) of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • John W. Foss - US Army (Ret.) four-star general and former commander of Training and Doctrine Command
  • Peter E. Hanson (1845–1914) - politician and businessman
  • William A. Nolen (1928-1986) - surgeon and author, wrote syndicated medical advice column that appeared in McCall's magazine for many years; his best-known book, The Making of a Surgeon, was written in 1970; appeared multiple times on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show
  • Wally Pikal (1927-2017) - entertainer and musician, Minnesota Music Hall of Fame inductee, resident of Litchfield for more than 30 years; appeared on The Tonight Show, Mike Douglas Show and Bozo's Circus, played with such notables as Frank Sinatra Jr, Conway Twitty, and Victor Borge
  • Michael Shaw - Minnesota Music Hall of Fame, Mid-America Music Hall of Fame, first open heart surgery survivor, operation by Drs. Lillihei and Lewis
  • Gale Sondergaard (1899–1985) - Academy Award-winning actress 1936 (first Best Supporting Actress award); appeared in more than 40 Hollywood films, numerous TV shows, radio, Chautauqua circuit and many Broadway plays
  • Hester Sondergaard (1903–1994) - Famous radio (CBS, NBC Mystery Theatre, Arch Obeler) character actress working with notables such as Ingrid Bergman, Burgess Meredith, Robert Mitchum, and Glenn Ford, she appeared on Broadway and was an actress in three movies (Seeds of Freedom, Naked City, Jigsaw).
  • Dan Sperry - magician; signature style of magic is called "Shock Illusion," performing cutting-edge magic incorporating razor blades, needles, broken glass, voodoo and industrial shredders.
  • Ann D. Montgomery, Federal judge of United States District Court for the District of Minnesota.

Historic sites[edit]

  • Grand Army of the Republic Hall (G.A.R.) was founded in 1885 by Civil War veterans, who called themselves the "Boys of '61". Membership was limited to the Union (Northern) vets of the Civil War whose motto was "Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty". The Hall remains exactly as it was when the "Boys of '61" met there. The Litchfield G.A.R. Hall is one of very few left in the nation and the only authentic one remaining in Minnesota. The G.A.R. Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 21, 1975.[9]
  • Litchfield Commercial Historic District is an unusually intact business district of a small Midwestern agricultural trade center of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with 36 contributing properties mostly built between 1882 and 1940.
  • Henry Ames House was built in 1888-1889 by area pioneer Henry Ames. The house is the only original structure that remains from what was known as the Litchfield Brickyard that operated during the years of 1883–1900. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 9, 1984.[10]
  • The Litchfield Opera House was built in 1900, the building is a darling of St. Paul architect William T. Towner, who designed it with a unique “Renaissance Revival” façade. Considered a jewel on the prairie; many people came to watch the performances of the traveling shows that came to the Opera House. The Litchfield Opera House was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 4, 1984.[11]
  • The Little Red Schoolhouse District 59 was built in 1913 on an acre of land 6 miles south of Litchfield. The architecture is a classic revival-style featuring a single story, red brick exterior, hip roof, and eight white Doric columns, was constructed at a cost of $3,500.[12]
  • Manannah (Union) Century Church, called Manannah Union Church when it was built in 1897, relied on traveling pastors to lead its flock. When membership dwindled in 1985, the church closed its doors. Esther Hegg, a longtime parishioner, bought the church at an auction. Hegg then lead the charge to move the church to the Meeker County Fairgrounds where it stands today.[13]
  • Ness Church was organized in 1861. It is one of the state's oldest historical sites and the first organized church in Meeker County. Buried in its cemetery are the first five victims of the U.S. Dakota War.[14]
  • Trinity Episcopal Church Founded in 1871, the church was entered into the National Register of Historic Places on June 20, 1975. The architecture of the church is attributed to Richard Upjohn, a famous architect from New York known for Carpenter Gothic architecture. Upjohn founded the American Institute of Architects and served as its first president. The door and side entry belltower, lancet windows, and batten walls are typical characteristics of Carpenter Gothic architecture.[15]


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  3. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  4. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  5. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  6. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  7. ^ "2010 Census Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File". American FactFinder. U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census. Retrieved 23 April 2011.[dead link]
  8. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2012-01-25. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  9. ^ "Meeker Co Museum & G.A.R. Hall". Meeker Co Museum & G.A.R. Hall. Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  10. ^ "The Henry Ames House | Minnesota Bricks". Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  11. ^ "Home". Litchfield Opera House. Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  12. ^ "Little Red Schoolhouse District 59 | Litchfield, MN". Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  13. ^ "Manannah church to find new home at fair". Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  14. ^ "Historic Ness Lutheran Church". Forgotten Minnesota. 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2018-08-12.
  15. ^ "Trinity Episcopal Church, Litchfield, MN". Episcopal Church. 2011-06-13. Retrieved 2018-08-12.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°7′N 94°32′W / 45.117°N 94.533°W / 45.117; -94.533