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Fillmore County, Minnesota
Nineteenth Century History of Preble Township
Fillmore County historical records show that Preble Township was named after one of America's oldest naval heroes – Commodore Edward Preble. As a young man, Preble fought during the Revolutionary War as a junior naval officer on several ships. As an older man, Preble commanded the USS Constitution and fought Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean area. When he returned to the United States, he was a hero. He had helped establish the US Navy's fighting tradition, and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1805. Six naval vessels have been named after Edward Preble, including the latest in 2002 – the USS Preble, a guided missile destroyer.
The first two settlers in Preble Township were the Nels Johnson (Nessa) and Thore Olsen (Faae) families, who located in section 33 in year 1853. They came from La Salle county, Illinois, and immediately built a double tenement cabin covered with basswood bark. By 1854, the two families split up, with Thore Olsen moving into Newburg Township, and the Nels Johnson family developing a farm in section 22 of Preble. Both families shared the area with a Winnebago band located in section 32. By the end of 1854, other settlers migrated to Preble including Jacob Jacobson, Rasmus Spande, Walter Braden, J.C. Braden, Peter Peterson, Christian Christopherson, Ole Gjermundson, Bjorn Larson and Lars Tarvestad. In 1855, David Weisel migrated from Cattarangus county, New York, and built the first sawmill in section 19. Nels Johnson built the next sawmill in the township in section 17. Between 1856 and 1870, resident families including Aslak Housker, Anders Halvorsen, Daniel Steeland, Arne Arneson, Jacob Ellefson, Collins Hall, Ole Anderson, Ole Housker, Gulick Olsen, William Sutherland, Norman Sutherland, John Larson, Martin Gudmondson, Thomas Hall, Iver Thompson, Nels Nelson and Isaac Isaccson, moved into Preble Township.
The first town meeting to organize the township and elect officers was held on May 11, 1858. Thomas Hall, David Weisel and Iver Thompson were appointed by the county commissioners to serve as judges of the election. J.C. Braden and I.H. Titus were appointed clerks. The total number of votes cast was 27. Thomas Hall, Iver Thompson and Walter Braden were elected supervisors. Also elected to positions were J.C. Braden, clerk; David Weisel, assessor; Nels Nelson, collector; Christian Christopherson, overseer of the poor; David Weisel and A.C. Seelye, justices of the peace; and William Sutherland and Iver Thompson, constables. The house of Nels Nelson was designated by ballot as the place for holding elections. Meetings were held in various homes.
Schools were developed early in Preble. The first school was a log house built near the home of Nels Johnson. The second school was the Nessa School built in 1859 in the Tawney area. Other early schools included the Choice School, the section 21 school, the Scheie School, and the Storlie School in section 26. Most of these schools disappeared with the decrease in Preble population during the 1950s, and students were transported to the school in Mabel. Nevertheless, the
second Storlie School still survives, having been used as the Preble Community Center until the late 1970s. The Arneson family now owns the old school building and has begun restoring it.
Click here to view
photo of the restored Storlie School.
In 1880, Nels Johnson, Rasmus Spande and 35 other leaders of Preble and Newburg founded a mutual insurance company, which they named Preble Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The company started with $25,000 of insurance in force, and provided fire and casualty coverage to many of the farms and homes in the area. Preble Mutual Fire Insurance Company, headquartered in nearby Lanesboro and celebrating its 125 anniversary, still provides fire and casualty coverage to the farms and homes throughout southeastern Minnesota.
Twentieth Century History of Preble Township
Township resident Jersing Thompson wrote a poem about the area in 1936 entitled "South Fork", which proclaimed:
Here Sons of Norway paused encharmed
To rear their huts and turn the soil;
With joyful heart and brawny-armed
They builded homes in fearless toil,
And here behind the sharpest bend
They reared their kirk for praise and prayer;
And when their toil came to an end
They slept their last sleep there.
Tollef Halverson built the Tawney Store in 1894 located on the road about 7½ miles north of Mabel. It was named for Minnesota U.S.
Congressman James Albertus Tawney from the Winona area, who was traveling in the area as the store was being built. The store was a general dry goods store selling groceries, milk pails and cans, fabric, small gifts, candy and shoes. A post office was established there for a few years, until the Mabel post office was developed. A pony express route thrived in the area. The store became a gathering place for friends, and the neighborhood around the store became an active community within the township. Tent shows would be set up for weeks at a time. There was a telephone switch at the store by which one would ring someone on the north line and switch together the south line so that neighbors could talk to one another. There were numerous proprietors of the Tawney store, including Julius Spande, Jim Amdahl, Orrin Spande, Ernest Hagen, Myles Hoff, Jerome Stennes, and Clarence Gordon - who ultimately closed the store.
The Tawney store wasn't the only general store in Preble. The Choice store was built in Choice Valley along the south side of Highway 43 in the 1860s. Choice, with its picturesque valley, cabbage rock formations, flowing creek and beautiful trees, became sort of an entertainment center. People came there to fish and picnic. Traveling medicine men would set up tents and furnish entertainment. Choice had a large creamery known for its superb buttermaking. Cyrus and Marian Hanson purchased the property in the center of Choice in 1942. They developed showplace barns and buildings, including a large building in which area events are regularly held.
There were several versions of the Choice store over some 50 years, with the final version burning down in 1945. An oil company serviceman overfilled the underground gasoline tank, causing an explosion. Several members of the Larson family were around when the store exploded, but were not injured. Two large storage buildings were moved to the site to create a new store. Finally, in 1964, that store closed. The final building still stands and is used as a storage building by its present owner, David Larson, who today functions as the Preble Township clerk.
Chickentown was a valley community developed in the southwest area of the township through which Weisel Creek runs. During the early 1900s, there were a dozen families occupying the community. The Scheie Church congregation had its start in Chickentown. By the 1970s, the community was reduced to about two families. Today, Chickentown and the area along County Road 18 west are growing and regrouping.
Churches and Cemeteries. From the early development of the township, Preble had several churches – St. Mary's Catholic Church, Scheie Lutheran Church, Choice Methodist Church, and South Fork Lutheran Church. With the population decline in the township during mid-century, only Scheie Lutheran Church survived. Scheie today is a very active congregation having thrived continuously since its founding in the 1860s. The original
South Fork Lutheran Church building still exists. It survives in the same location as a restored family residence.
The cemeteries are the markers today of these former congregations. Choice Cemetery, South Fork Lutheran Cemeteries, St. Mary's Catholic Cemetery, and the Scheie Lutheran Cemeteries contain the evidence and remembrance of these township communities. The Weisel cemetery was private burial ground developed by the Weisel and Lerohl families on the western edge of the township to bury their family members.
Preble Township Today
Descendants of many of these early settlers continue to live in Preble Township. Generations of families have lived on the same farmland for 150 years. 150 years later, the terrain and the activity is still pretty much the same today as it was in the mid-1850s. Small family farming and hunting/fishing recreational activity. The old stores are all gone, and Preble residents shop further away from home. Yet, some newer residents of call Preble home. Regardless of how long people have lived in the township, Preble residents are uniform in their belief to keep Preble largely the same as it was 150 years ago. Residents value the natural assets of woods, bluffs, streams and rolling hills. Small family farming dominates. Residents want to maintain a rural agricultural lifestyle.
Scheie Country School:
Several return for special 'lessons' at
Scheie Country School
Bluff Country Reader
August 30, 2006
The Scheie alumni
attending the recent reunion
included, in front, from
left, are Amanda Redwing,
Eleanore Iverson and Carla
Faa Johnson. In the second
row are Mervin Tripp,
Phyllis Tripp Vigeland,
Gertrude Gossman Ellestad
(Teacher) and Gloria
Erickson Opsahl. In back are
Don Gjerdrum, Odell Iverson,
Carol Vatland Thomas and
The Scheie School was
constructed in 1907. Some of
its early teachers were
Sadie Swenson, Grace Solseth,
Mildred Halvorson, Nellie
Hahn, Dora Westby (Elefson),
Beth Franklin, Mildred
Aygarn, Beulah Amdahl,
Myrtle Erickson (Rasmussen),
Arnold Sanness, Arlie
Burreson, Aubrey Serfling
and Gertrude Gossman (Ellestad).
Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006, was the perfect
autumn day just as the first day of school
had been for each one "once upon a time" at
the Scheie country school. The corn had
tasseled; the golden rod and black-eyed
susans lined the ditches. And suddenly above
the chirping of the crickets was heard the
old school bell as its sound was carried
down the lane and across the fields.
Don Gjerdrum rang the bell as he brought it
to school on his tractor. Former teacher,
Gertrude Gossman Ellestad, rang it again as
she had back in the 40s, to start the school
This was the way the first Scheie School
District 11 Reunion began on the lawn of the
school with former students and family
members in attendance.
The teacher led the Pledge of Allegiance and
the singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee,"
replicating the opening exercises of the
school. What could have been called a
geography lesson was remembering where
things were: the pot bellied stove,
bookcase, water crock, trap door to the
cellar, grapevines, sand box, the best
sledding hill, an infamous ski jump, the
outhouses and where on the outside wall the
erasers were dusted, to mention a few.
The history lesson was "remembering when"
the bell was rung, the snow that was so deep
students came in sleighs, lunch buckets
carried sorghum sandwiches, pancakes and
soup that needed to be heated in the pan of
water on the pot bellied stove. They also
remembered when the paper chains and cutouts
decorated the windows, when sheets on wires
became stage curtains for performances, and
wood working for boys and needlework for
girls was a Friday activity. They reminisced
about when "Evangeline" and the "Courtship
of Miles Standish" were studied. One cannot
forget the two grass fires. At the first one
the teacher "fainted dead away"! At the
second one, a firefighter was heard to say
to the student involved, "Well, at least you
did get the whole neighborhood together!"
The memories brought all who attended back
to a time when life was simple, families
were strong and character building was as
important as what was learned from the
lessons. The old bell was rung one more time
at the school to close the "school day." To
each of those who hold dear the one room
country school experience, they will always
hear the bell!
Gertrude Ellestad was a special guest of
honor, having been Scheie School's last
teacher when it closed Feb. 28, 1943. In
having honored Ellestad and her fine
teaching, those gathered for the reunion
honored all teachers of one-room schools.
There were five students at the time of the
school closing: Eleanore and Odell Iverson,
Roger Eiken, Lowell and Carol Vatland.
Eleanore, Odell, Roger and Carol were
present at the reunion. (Lowell passed away
in 1989). Other alumni in attendance were
Carla Faa Johnson, Amanda Overby Redwing,
Gloria Erickson Opsahl, Don Gjerdrum,
Phyllis Tripp Vigeland, Mervin Tripp, and
Laverne Holland (at the luncheon). There
were messages shared from six alumni who
were unable to attend.
The reunion concluded with lunch at The Farm
House Tea Room in Caledonia. Amanda Redwing
prayed the Norwegian table grace. The story
telling, begun at the school, continued to
regale listeners throughout most of the
afternoon. Don Gjerdrum gave the closing
prayer for the reunion.
Throughout the reunion day, expressions of
gratitude were heard over and over among the
former students. Each person felt truly
thankful for the unique and rich experience
of having attended a one-room schoolhouse in
Family History Research
Some of you are involved in family
history research of your ancestors who lived in Preble Township. We have a
research tool that might be of some help to you. Bruce Larson, a Preble
historian, has compiled two extensive lists of births and deaths of residents of Preble
Township during the period 1872 to 1900. Click on these two Excel
spreadsheets to view the
deaths of township residents during this
For additional historical information about Preble Township, please contact the following volunteer liaisons to local historical societies:
Bruce Larson, for historical information on the Choice area and Preble area cemeteries:
8932 Northwood Parkway
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55427
Janice Spande, for historical information on Preble
40659 County Road 18
Mabel, Minnesota 55954
Charles Olson, for historical information on Preble
17728 455th Avenue
Spring Grove, Minnesota 55974