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This Date In Central Minnesota History – February 20th, 1855

Photos courtesy of Stearns History Museum: A picture of the Stearns County Courthouse in 1877.

February 20th, 1855 – Stearns County Created

St. Cloud – Minnesota became an organized territory in 1849.  Originally, it was divided into 9 large counties by the Territorial Legislature.  Until 1851, no white settlers were allowed onto land west of the Mississippi River.  Stearns County, which was included in the original Wahnahta and Dakotah Counties, was created by the Territorial Legislature on February 20, 1855.

Charles T. Stearns

The act passed both houses of the Territorial Legislature with the name of Stevens County, in honor of Civil War General Isaac I. Stevens who conducted an expedition through the area in 1853.  However, due to a clerical error, the county was instead named Stearns County after Charles T. Stearns, who was a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1854 and 1855.  It was decided that it would be too much work to change the name to Stevens, and Stearns was also highly respected, so the Legislature decided to leave the county named Stearns, and name a different county after Stevens.  Stevens County was established 7 years later.

The Stearns County Officers on the steps of the courthouse in 1876

In 1872, the Minnesota legislature tried to pass a bill to make Stearns County smaller.  The proposed Franklin County would have taken 12 townships from eastern Stearns County and 8 from Todd County, with the county seat being located at Sauk Centre.  The bill had to pass in both counties, but the voters turned down the proposition.

St. Cloud was established as the county seat of Stearns County, even though it was on the eastern border of the 1,393 square mile county.  It was chosen because it was the first, and the largest, of several pioneer villages that were starting to appear in 1855.  Also, its location as a transportation hub on the Mississippi River meant that it was growing more rapidly than the other communities.  In 1913, the people of Albany made a determined effort to change the county seat to the village of Albany, a more centralized location in the county.  However, opposition to this change was just a vocal, and the move was never approved.  St. Cloud remains the county seat of Stearns County today.

Thanks again to Sarah Warmka and the Stearns History Museum for the photos and helping us with our series “This Date In Central Minnesota History”.

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