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St. Cloud Becomes One Town – On “This Date In Central Minnesota History”

A birds eye view of St. Cloud in 1869 from the Stearns History Museum

ST. CLOUD — April 2nd, 1856 – The three settlements, Upper Town, Middle Town, and Lower Town, were granted authority by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature to incorporate into the City of St. Cloud in March 1856, and on April 2nd the first town officers were chosen.

The boundaries of the three settlements which would later become St. Cloud were dictated by the two great ravines, north and south.  The northern ravine ran from the river westward through the area where Cathedral High School and its athletic field now stands.  The southern ravine ran from Lake George (at that time covering a much larger area than now) to the Mississippi north of 4th Street South.  The northern settlement became known as Upper Town, the central one as Middle Town, the southern one as Lower Town.

All three towns were established at about the same time, in the period from 1853-1855.  Middle Town, the site of the central business district of the city, was first platted in 1854 by John L. Wilson, a native of Maine who had supervised construction of a flour mill in Sauk Rapids and others at Little Falls and St. Augusta.  Wilson elected to stay in the area and in 1853 purchased a section of land from Ole Bergeson on July 19, 1853, for a price of $100.  Bergeson had originally made a squatter’s claim to the property after coming through the area as a member of a government surveying party.

Wilson’s Middle Town was settled principally by German Catholics, a thrifty, industrious group consisting largely of tradesmen and shopkeepers.  They were brought to St. Cloud by John W. Tenvoorde in 1855; he had come through the area a year earlier seeking a location to settle a German colony which wanted to migrate from Evansville, Indiana.  Wilson encouraged the selection of his Town by these migrants and other settlers by literally giving sites without charge to a considerable number of them in return for pledges to erect buildings on them.  He also contributed lands for public buildings including the courthouse site for Stearns County.

About the same time that Wilson platted his town, a professional townsite developer named George Fuller Brott acquired the rights to the area below the southern ravine.  He organized the St. Cloud Township Company with several other men, among them C. T. Stearns, for whom the county is named, and John Wilson’s brother, Joseph, who later promoted settlement in what became East St. Cloud.

This “Lower Town” was extensively advertised by the company in an effort to secure residents.  These early efforts met with considerable success and, during its first years, Lower Town developed much faster than Wilson’s settlement.

“Upper Town,” the area between the northern ravine and the site of the Sauk Rapids bridge, also grew faster than the central community during these years.  This area had been platted by General Sylvanus P. Lowry, a slave-holding southerner from Tennessee who had been a fur trader at nearby Watab.  The site was originally called Acadia, but was later re-platted as Lowry’s Addition to St. Cloud.

For some time the three towns developed separately.  The three settlements soon saw the wisdom of incorporating into a single community, not only to achieve political unity but also to share in the effective development of common services and facilities.

In March, 1856, the territorial legislature granted the three settlements the authority to consolidate.  Wilson’s name of St. Cloud was chosen for the new town, and on April 2, 1856, thirty-five voters chose the first town officers.

In the late 1850’s a traveler passing through the region commented: “The three hamlets together are not equal to one-tenth the size of St. Joe.”  Another observer called it “a small but pretentious suburb of Sauk Rapids.”

Pretentious or not, St. Cloud was on its way.

1856 plat of Lower, Middle, and Upper Town from the Stearns History Museum

Taken from “Three Towns Into One City, St. Cloud, Minnesota,” by John J. Dominik (1978)  Photos courtesy of the Stearns History Museum.

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