Verndale town history
Mill dam on the Wing River near Verndale
It was constructed of logs, rocks, and earth by Mr. E.M. Britts, of Osage, Iowa. He was contacted
by Verndale April 1880 to construct a water powered flour mill. The first mill of its kind in the northern
part of the state. Mr. Britts was a miller of exceptional experience. He did the construction and selected
a site on the Wing River just north of Verndale. By July 20, 1880 the mill was finished and dedicated with
a “grand free dance.” The dam created a large mill pond. This was also a very popular spot for boating,
fishing, and swimming.
Verndale Depot in 1880
Verndale – Horse and Buggy Days and Dirt Streets
Verndale – Bicycle Shop and Livery Stable
Verndale – Intersection
“Families to Oregon” -an article from the Pioneer Journal from April 26th, 1900
The middle of next month will witness quite an exodus from Verndale of people who have lived in and around our neighboring town for years. They are being attracted to Oregon, where there appears to be many chances to make money.
E. M. Britts is largely responsible for the removal of the Verndaleites to the coast. Mr. Britts spent some time in Portland and western Oregon last winter. He has a brother in the land business in Portland and through him he learned that a rare opportunity was being offered for securing valuable timber claims in Polk County, Oregon. Mr. Britts made careful inquiry as to the methods of procedure to secure these claims and acquainted his neighbors in Verndale with the plan, with the result that at least six families will go to Oregon next month and others are thinking seriously of following later.
The Siletz reservation lands are not yet on the market, but by a special act of congress, permission is given to file on claims. Unlike homesteading, three years residence upon the claim secures the title to the settler. Mr. Britts says each quarter section has from fifteen to twenty million feet of fir and cedar lumber, which will find ready sale to the large lumbering companies for from $5,000 to $10,000.
Mr. Britts is not advising any one to leave Minnesota. He likes this state and speaks a good word for it wherever he goes, but for a man who has nothing to do here and is looking for good opportunities, he thinks such could not do better than go to Oregon and file on a timber claim on Siletz reservation.
Among the gentlemen who will go next month with their families are Thomas Reynolds, Theo Farrington, Ira Handley, E. L. Ingalls, Bert Brown and Mr. Farewell.
County seat battle – “…it began to heat up in 1884.”
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′ square 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′ x 62′, 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′. The walls were entirely made of brick, the first story 17″ thick and the second 13″ thick. 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, MN, 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. In October 1898, nine businesses were lost to flames on the west side of Farwell Street. In 1905, the bowling alley caught on fire. Another major fire destroyed five buildings on the west side of Farwell Street in 1906. 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.