Litchfield, Minnesota

Litchfield, Minnesota

Infobox Settlement
official_name = Litchfield, Minnesota
settlement_type = City
nickname =
motto =

imagesize =
image_caption =


imagesize =
image_caption =


mapsize = 250px
map_caption = Location of Litchfield, Minnesota

mapsize1 =
map_caption1 =

subdivision_type = Country
subdivision_name = United States
subdivision_type1 = State
subdivision_name1 = Minnesota
subdivision_type2 = County
subdivision_name2 = Meeker

government_footnotes =
government_type =
leader_title =
leader_name =
leader_title1 =
leader_name1 =
established_title =
established_date =

unit_pref = Imperial
area_footnotes =
area_magnitude =
area_total_km2 = 12.1
area_land_km2 = 9.7
area_water_km2 = 2.4
area_total_sq_mi = 4.7
area_land_sq_mi = 3.8
area_water_sq_mi = 0.9

population_as_of = 2000
population_footnotes =
population_total = 6562
population_density_km2 = 675.1
population_density_sq_mi = 1748.4

timezone = Central (CST)
utc_offset = -6
timezone_DST = CDT
utc_offset_DST = -5
elevation_footnotes =
elevation_m = 344
elevation_ft = 1129
latd = 45 |latm = 7 |lats = 29 |latNS = N
longd = 94 |longm = 31 |longs = 33 |longEW = W

postal_code_type = ZIP code
postal_code = 55355
area_code = 320
blank_name = FIPS code
blank_info = 27-37448GR|2
blank1_name = GNIS feature ID
blank1_info = 0646743GR|3
website = []
footnotes =

Litchfield is a city in and the county seat of Meeker County, Minnesota, United States.GR|6 The population was 6,562 at the 2000 census.

Litchfield is among the largest of a series of "whistle stop" towns built along a railway extending west from Minneapolis in the nineteenth century. U.S. Route 12 follows the rail route, which is still active.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.7 square miles (12.1 km²), of which, 3.8 square miles (9.7 km²) of it is land and 0.9 square miles (2.4 km²) of it (19.66%) is water.

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


As of the censusGR|2 of 2000, there were 6,562 people, 2,624 households, and 1,653 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,748.4 people per square mile (675.6/km²). There were 2,741 housing units at an average density of 730.3/sq mi (282.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.64% White, 0.37% African American, 0.27% Native American, 0.41% Asian, 3.67% from other races, and 0.64% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.15% of the population.

There were 2,624 households out of which 31.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.7% were married couples living together, 9.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.0% were non-families. 32.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.38 and the average family size was 3.02.

In the city the population was spread out with 25.1% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 25.5% from 25 to 44, 20.3% from 45 to 64, and 20.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 93.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $36,021, and the median income for a family was $45,233. Males had a median income of $33,578 versus $21,952 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,819. About 4.2% of families and 7.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.0% of those under age 18 and 16.3% of those age 65 or over.


The January 22, 1880, "Litchfield News-Ledger" newspaper stated, “Twenty-five years ago (1855), where now stands the beautiful and enterprising city of Litchfield, was an unimproved waste, inhabited only by wild beasts and wandering bands of red men.” There wasn’t much else here other than some thick woods. The famous “Big Woods” was just four miles away. But, the plentiful wood, nearby water and rich black earth was appealing to settlers. And the price was right…free for the homesteader. In an early historic document, our area of Minnesota was called the “Garden of the State”.

In the spring of 1855, John W. Huy, Benjamin Brown, and someone named Mackenzie; all employed by a St. Paul lumber company, paddled a canoe up the Crow River to the Minnesota Territory’s west central area in search of pine timber. Not satisfied with their findings, they returned to St. Paul, but Huy organized another exploring party, consisting of D. M. Hanson, Thomas H. Skinner, and Rudolph “Fred” Schultz. Late that summer, the explorers took off for the same area and in the fall they stopped in what is now the township of Harvey. There they planned to start a town and call it Karishon, Sioux for “crow”, which is what the Indians called the area. But, for some reason, they moved on to the present day Forest City area where they met Dr. Frederick Noah Ripley (whom the lake was later named after). They preferred this area so 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. He thus 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.

The legislature complied and established Meeker County on February 23, 1856. The county was named in honor of Bradley B. Meeker (1813 -1873) of Minneapolis, who was an associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court from 1849 to 1853. Hanson and Huy, who were appointed county commissioners, met in the newly started Forest City on May 6, 1856 and organized the county on paper. Ripley, another appointed commissioner, was to have joined them, but he had frozen to death the previous March; half a mile from the lake which now bears his name. William S. Chapman found his body later in the spring. With the nearby Crow River for transportation, more and more people gravitated to Forest City. It was named the county seat.

Litchfield, Minnesota was originally a portion of a Congressional township named Round Lake, but most people called it Ripley after the lake one mile from its center. Prairie schooners or covered wagons brought the first white people to settle in the area in July 1856. They were Ole Halverson of Ness, who changed his name to Ole Ness, Henry T. Halverson, Sr., Ole Halverson of Thoen, who changed to Ole Thoen, Amos Nelson of Fossen, changed to Amos Fossen, Nels C. G. Hanson, Colberg Olson, Gunder Olson and all of their families. Having previously left their homeland of Norway in 1846, the settlers came here from Orfordville, Wisconsin (south of Madison, near the Wisconsin - Illinois border).

Later in 1856, William Benson, Sven or Swen and Nels Swenson, Michael Lenhardt, and Ferdinand, Christian, Frederick and William Cook came, also by prairie schooner. Sarah Jane Dougherty became the first white child to be born in Meeker County. She was born in her parents’ prairie schooner in July 1856. The first white male child, born in his parents’ crude log cabin on December 11 1856, was Ole T. Halverson. Henry and Margaret Halverson’s cabin was the first “house” in town, if you can call it that. More people came in 1857 and still more in 1858 , including a man named George B. Waller, Sr. The pioneers, some of whom lived in nothing more than a “dugout”, named their settlement Ness on April 5, 1858, because most of the first settlers’ home church was in Ness, Hullingdahl, Norway. Minnesota became the thirty second state in the Union on May 11 1858, coming in as a “free state” to balance to arrival of the slave state of Kansas, a move which has been thought by historians to have eventually won the Civil War. In the fall of 1858, the Ness church here was established in the Ness home, which was southwest of present day Litchfield. Norwegian Reverend William Frederickson conducted the first service and, in 1874, the settlers there built an actual church building.

The government started offering free land to homesteaders here in 1861, just as Abraham Lincoln was being inaugurated as President of the United States and the Civil War was beginning. The Indian Outbreak of 1862, also called the Dakota War of 1862 or Sioux Uprising, slowed immigration to the area, however. The Sioux War moved further out west as the local Indians were put under control and the Civil War ended in 1865. Veterans started coming to Minnesota looking to start a new life. Immigration to our Meeker County, however, continued to be slow until the "St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad", which became the "St. Paul and Pacific" and then the "Great Northern", started coming through the Ness area in 1869, just as Ulysses S. Grant was becoming the U.S. President.

The first train to arrive was a construction train on August 13, 1869. Having been in service for only seven years, the railroad’s first locomotive was called the William Crooks Engine No. 1. A man named Bernard Dassel paid out money to the railroad workers along the route from the train’s “pay car”. In gratitude for his loyalty, the railroad named a village after him. The William Crooks brought the first female residents to our town. Marietta Porter, who was married to Charles O. Porter, came on August 26, 1869 and Mary L. Pixley, wife of insurance agent B. F. Pixley, came the next day. In September 1924, the railroad sent the William Crooks engine on a good-will tour. It stopped in Litchfield pulling two 1862 coaches and was met by a large crowd of on-lookers.

Litchfield was just prairie prior to 1869. An old pioneer, interviewed by the newspaper, said there was prairie grass growing down Sibley Avenue and there was a small pond where Sibley Antiques is today. The pioneer remembered shooting ducks at that pond. Another pioneer, butcher Chris Sather, remembered a big wheat field in the mid-1870s from the corner of Sibley Avenue North and Second Street all the way out to Lake Ripley.

George B. Waller, Sr. owned the original Litchfield town site land. He had a large apple orchard on the one hundred and sixty acres where he also grew beets. Born in 1804, Waller had run a steamboat up and down the Mississippi from Alton, Illinois to Fort Snelling before settling here. He deeded one half of his land to the railroad as an inducement for the railroad to locate a town here, which of course increased the value of his land. Charles A. F. Morris surveyed the land Waller gave to the railroad and platted it on June 17 1869. The plat was filed on July 16 1869. I suppose we could have been called Waller, Minnesota. The railroad changed the population make-up of the county. By 1871, the village of Ness had grown to double the population of Forest City. The county, at that time, had 6,610 people.

John D. and William C. “Billy” Peterson were on one of the first trains that stopped here. They eventually had a tobacco and candy shop on the west side of Sibley Avenue. They said that when they arrived, the only building in town was a little eight by ten foot shack across the street to the east from the current Post Office. That would be at the northeast corner of Marshall Avenue and Second Street (202 Marshall Avenue North). Apparently they didn’t see a barn elsewhere in town that Ole Halverson-Ness had erected in the summer of 1856. Ole lived in the barn for a summer while his house was being built. Truls Peterson built the building in 1869 that John and Billy referred to. Truls conducted a tailoring business from it. He had bought the southeast corner of Sibley Avenue and Second Street but traded it for this corner.

It’s no surprise then that Litchfield’s first real residential house and second building was next door north of Truls’ shack. George B. Waller, Sr. built the house in 1871 and it was at 206 Marshall Avenue North. The lumber to build it was shipped here from Minneapolis by rail. Ole Halverson-Ness bought the lot and it was Farmers’ Insurance Company agent B. F. Pixley’s residence for many years. The third building to go up was Samuel A. Heard and C. D. Ward’s general merchandise store at the southwest corner of Sibley Avenue and Third Street. It was Litchfield’s first store and Heard was Litchfield’s eighth Village Council President in 1879. The clothing store and Post Office building owned by Horace B. Johnson at the northwest corner of Sibley Avenue and Second Street came next. Johnson was Litchfield’s third Village Council President in 1874, when the population of Litchfield was just nine hundred people. At some time J. M. Miller’s house went up somewhere. Next came a lumberyard owned by Joseph James, just across the railroad tracks to the south and also his office building, which was on the west side of Sibley Avenue.

When the railroad came in the fall of 1869, the businesses in town were Ward and Heard’s store, William S. Brill’s hardware, which became Meeker County’s first drug store, the lumber business (but not a lumberyard) owned by Joseph James, a lumberyard owned by John Esbjornsson and Charles Ellis Peterson, Clark L. Angell’s photography studio, Chase and Dunn’s livery stable, Charles J. Almquist’s hotel called the Litchfield House, and the Railway Land Office managed by Hans Mattson. The lone doctor in town was George W. Weisel, Litchfield’s second Village Council President in 1873, but there were three lawyers, Frank Belfoy, Newton H. Chittenden and Charles Henry Strobeck. Strobeck, born in New York, was the first lawyer in town and he was Litchfield’s eleventh Village Council President in 1882 and seventeenth mayor in 1895.

Some other store “firsts” were B. O. Esping’s jewelry store, D. E. Potter’s furniture store, Mark Baldwin’s harness shop, Vanderborck (or Vanderhorck) and King’s hardware store and Harrington and Lynn’s Bank of Litchfield, which closed in 1877. L. A. Nyholm laid the first cement sidewalk in Litchfield in 1895 in the 200 block of Sibley Avenue. Before that, of course, any sidewalks in town were made of wood. Because there was a gentle southerly slope of the land in town towards Daley Slough , by the time the sidewalk reached where True Valu hardware is today, it was four feet off the ground and required steps.

Somewhere in town, most likely by the tracks and the depot, the "St. Paul and Pacific" Railroad put up an “immigrant’s reception house.” The 1871 Meeker County News incorrectly referred to the twenty-five by sixty foot one story building as an “emigrant” house. The railroad put them up in villages, such as Litchfield, Willmar, Benson, Morris and Breckenridge, along the railroad’s lines in the 1870s. The largest one was in Duluth and it could accommodate one hundred immigrants. The houses were “fitted up with cooking-stoves, washing conveniences, and beds.” The 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. It wasn’t that costly to come to America in the early days. In 1885, the Stevens and Company Bank offered tickets from Germany to Litchfield for $23.00. In 1886, you could get a ticket from Sweden to Litchfield for $29.50.

Naming Litchfield

Litchfield's name origins are from three English brothers named Electus Darwin Litchfield (1817-1888), Egbert E. Litchfield (dates unknown) and Edwin Clark Litchfield (1815-1885). The Litchfields were the contractors/investors by whom the railroad line from St. Paul to St. Cloud was built in 1862 to 1864. Later, they provided the means for building a more southern line through Meeker County to Breckenridge. They also did a lot of developing in Brooklyn, New York. The main contributor in this area was Electus Darwin. That’s where the town of Darwin got its name. I suppose our town could have been called Electus, Minnesota.

The people of Ness were permitted to vote on the name of their town. Electus, showing his business sense, had his wife in London donate grants of $2000 each to various religious sects in town to build churches. The Episcopal and Presbyterian churches were two of them. The Presbyterian Church, Litchfield’s first church, was built in 1870. Presbyterian minister Reverend D. B. Jackson had held the first religious service in Litchfield on August 15 1869 in a small building that had no windows. It was also used as a schoolhouse. Litchfield’s first school, however, was in the home of Ole Halverson-Ness in 1860. Ole employed and paid John Blackwell to teach his children and as many others who could get to his house.

The church-going three hundred and fifty-three people in town could hardly snub Mr. Litchfield and keep the name Ness. The citizens put their votes into a ballot box made out of butternut wood in 1868 by Henry T. Halverson, Sr. It was still being used in town in the early 1900s. The majority voted for the name Litchfield 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, which was at the northeast corner of Sibley Avenue North and Depot Street. Jesse V. Branham, Jr. was elected the President of the Council, which was the same as being elected mayor.

In October 1924, E. D. Litchfield’s son, also named Electus Darwin Litchfield, came by train to visit the town. A telegram was sent in advance and the city fathers mistakenly thought old man Litchfield himself was coming. They pulled out all the stops, meeting the train with dignitaries, speeches and flowers. Junior was embarrassed and he wrote the Independent newspaper a letter of apology for the misunderstanding.

“I am afraid the telegram…” he wrote, “may have been worded so as to give you all the impression that my father was to arrive. I hope you will again thank Mr. Branham’s daughter for the beautiful flowers, which his son appreciated no less than would have his father for whom they were intended.”

Remembering that Junior was an architect, the town petitioned to have him design their new Post Office. Washington, D. C. gave Junior the job in November 1933 and so the son of Litchfield’s namesake designed that brick building on the northwest corner of Second Street and Marshall Avenue.

Early years from village to city

An 1889 "Litchfield Ledger" article about Litchfield called it the “Queen of the Prairies” and added the statement “No Drone in Her Hive, and Every Inhabitant Full of Work and Public Spirit”. Apparently the newspaper editor thought quite a bit of the city that had ballooned to a population of 2,500. Litchfield wasn’t officially a city until 1943. Up until then it was a village or a town. In the early fifties, a billboard by Lake Ripley boasted that Litchfield had a population of 5,000 (exactly?) and a town motto of “Large enough to serve you, small enough to know you.” The north end of town had a billboard that claimed “Litchfield - The Hub Of Rural Progress”. I don’t think you could argue either motto. Litchfield’s businesses did have every thing we needed to get by in life and everyone in town knew everyone else’s business.

Source: The above history is from Terry Tales by Terry R. Shaw who was raised in Litchfield.

Notable People

*Gale Sondergaard - (1899-1985) Academy Award winning actress 1936 (first woman to win a best supporting actress award)
*William Nolen - Surgeon and Author
*John Carlson, Jr. - Seattle Seahawks Tight End
*Eddie "King" Roeser - Urge Overkill Bassist


External links

* [ Litchfield Chamber of Commerce]
* [ "Litchfield Independent Review" newspaper site]

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