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La Prairie Minnesota History

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5Page 6

From LaPrairie - The Road Back
By Dick Cain
1990 by the City of LaPrairie

Time for law and order

While LaPrairie was enjoying the fruits of growth, it was also experiencing problems that go with it: Lack of roads, lack of sidewalks, violent settlement of disputes, dog bites, horses loose in cabbage patches, to name a few of them. Added up, it meant LaPrairie needed government, so town leaders decided they should incorporate as a village. But before they could do it, there were hoops through which they had to jump.

State law required a petition to the county and an election. So LaPrairieites circulated the petition, got 32 signers and went to the county with it. At that time - 1890 - Itasca was administered by Aitkin County. Meeting as a committee doing Itasca business, the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners accepted the petition and set the election for Dec. 22, 1890. At the little LaPrairie school, the voters (only men had the franchise then) approved incorporation overwhelmingly.
On Jan. 17, 1891, the council held its first official meeting. John Bowman was the president; Moses Manston, John G. Fraser and Daniel Smith, trustees; I.D. Rasmussen, recorder; A.G. Bernard, treasurer; W.H. Chapman and James Gody, justices of the peace; and Al Elmslie and John McCaffrey, constables (or marshalls). Manston served as president in the absence of Bowman and shortly
became the regular president.

LaPrairie's first village hall is the oldest existing building in Itasca County. It stands now on the Itasca County fairgrounds and serves as the fairgrounds office. Photo by the author.

Several more meetings were held in short order. Establishment of the police department took high priority, as did establishment of rules for operating the justice of the peace court and the regulation of the sale of intoxicating liquor. The council chose the LaPrairie Magnet as the village's official newspaper and adopted a village seal. Seal design called for two concentric circles with the inner one containing the seal of Minnesota and the outer one "The Village of LaPrairie" at the top and "Corporate Seal " at the bottom.

The first liquor licenses went to Daniel Smith, John G. Fraser and his partner, O'Toole, and J.J. Flynn. The seven-week licenses went for $75. Liquor, the new law said, could be sold only from the place named in the application, could not be sold to minors nor to anyone on the sabbath or election days. No gambling was permitted and selling liquor had to be done in an "orderly fashion."

A plaque in the LaPrairie village hall building at the fairgrounds tells the building's history. Photo by the author.

January also saw the enactment of nuisance and dog ordinances, and a board of health was established. Construction of wooden sidewalks on some streets was authorized, and Moses Manston was directed to procure a stove for the jail. By 1893, the village's ordinances had proliferated to the point where the council figured it needed them revised and codified.

Petition signers

A petition asking that LaPrairie be incorporated as a village was presented to the Aitkin County Board of Commissioners. Following is a list of the petition signers:

J.A. Bowman, Dan Smith, E.W. Fuller, W.H. Chapman, Moses Manston, I.D. Rasmussen, James Smith, S.S. McMahon, C.O. McGuire, H.B. Knudsen, J.J. Flynn, Courtney A. Buell, J.H. McDonough, Thomas Sawyer, James G. Gody, W.H. McGowan, S.E. Boots, Fred Churchill, J.H. French, William McKenzie, N.W. (Web) Gilliland, A.G. Bernard, Edward Holland, G.E. Clark, F. McNaughtin, John G. Fraser, P.H. Varley, A.O. Brown, J.O. Flaherty, Mike Michelson, Angus McIntosh, and O.L. Mather.

Having achieved incorporation ahead of Grand Rapids, LaPrairieites felt they had one-upped their rivals. The timber business, the town's growth, the railroad, the railroad terminus - all that produced a heady feeling.

Town promoters were claiming a population of nearly 400 in early 1891 and Bernard, at the newspaper, was predicting 3,000 by the end of 1892. They were well aware of Grand Rapids and its growth, at the head of Mississippi navigation, but they were dismissing the town as LaPrairie's suburb. Bernard always liked to say "two rivers are better than one."

Petition signers 'Indignation Committee' closes 'hotel'

M.J. Baker (one of the managers of the Wells Stone Mercantile Store in LaPrairie)"...recalled that at one time a 'hotel' in LaPrairie aroused the indignation of a group of citizens and he heard some of them planning to go down and 'clean it out.' While having no desire to be participants in the 'fun,' he and another young man decided that it might be an interesting affair to watch and, slipping around the back way, they managed to sneak into the kitchen of the hotel. From this point of vantage, they were able to look out through the bar and into the 'parlor,' a grandstand seat for everything that was going on. They put out the light in their retreat and waited for the curtain to go up.
In a short time, the indignation committee arrived, and the fight started at once. The battle provided capital entertainment for a few minutes, but suddenly, he said, they lost interest in it completely when they heard the z-z-z-t-t z-z-z-t-t-t of a couple random bullets whizzing past their ears. They got out of there with commendable dispatch, Mr. Baker added, and did not see the end of the fight. The resort was merely closed for a short time, opening later under different management."

From an unpublished portion of Logging Town, The Story of Grand Rapids, Minnesota

A full page advertisement that James Smith, the realtor, ran often in the Magnet, reveals the optimism. The line across the top proclaimed LaPrairie the MINING, MANUFACTURING AND AGRICULTURAL CENTER OF ITASCA COUNTY. Among its attractions, he listed:

  • Excellent opening for all classes of businessmen

  • Mechanics can find steady employment all year 'round.

  • Title to property is absolute.

  • Divisional headquarters of the Duluth and Winnipeg Railroad and the present terminus of the D&W, with roundhouse and machine shops.

  • Churches, schools.

  • Mines being developed nearby on the "celebrated Mesaba Iron Range."

  • At the confluence of the Mississippi and LaPrairie Rivers, it is the national manufacturing point for millions of feet of logs.

  • Prairie River has fine natural water power.

  • Extensive manufacturing establishment contemplating locating in town.

So, Smith concluded, there are "good opportunities for businessmen and workers, town properties are cheap and investment opportunities abound." The final line: GET IN ON THE GROUND FLOOR.

Optimism was at its peak in LaPrairie when this advertisement was being run in 1890 and 1891.
Optimism was at its peak in LaPrairie when this advertisement was being run in 1890 and 1891.

The manager of the Wells Stone mercantile store added his voice to the swell of optimism. In the Oct. 22, 1892 issue of the LaPrairie News, he said he was pleased with the growth of the company's business in LaPrairie. He noted that the town received 60 million feet of pine the last spring from the Prairie River and 75 million from the Swan, adding that predictions for next spring's load were for 200 million on the Prairie River alone. He also said that nearby iron mines were producing and that railroad branches to them from LaPrairie were in the offing. He also saw an increase in farm production in the area.

Meanwhile, Bernard had gone to Duluth to urge the Chamber of Commerce to encourage settlers to farm in Itasca, St. Louis and Aitkin counties.

The optimism hit its peak, perhaps, over a proposal for a canal connecting Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. The LaPrairie Council passed a resolution supporting the project, suggested LaPrairie as the logical linkup point with the Mississippi, and sent it off to U.S. Senator Davis. LaPrairie's councilmen may not have given the canal plan much chance, but they did figure they had a good chance on another matter - that of being designated the Itasca County seat.

Realtors in LaPrairie used this map, which shows LaPrairie but not Grand Rapids.
Realtors in LaPrairie used this map, which shows LaPrairie but not Grand Rapids.

On to LaPrairie History Page 5

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