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Trails, Roads and Highways

When Elijah T. Woodcock and his companions arrived at Green Lake in August 1856, the only semblance of what might be called a road was a branch of the Red River Trail leading from Henderson on the Minnesota River to Pembina on the Red River of the North. The trail passed between Green Lake and Twin Lake about a mile west of the present city of Spicer. It was used by the fur traders from about 1844 until the 1860's to freight buffalo hides and furs from the Red River to points further east. The vehicle used was the famous Red River cart, a primitive, strongly built, two wheeled affair constructed entirely of wood, held together by pegs and rawhide. The cart was drawn by a single ox and could carry nearly half a ton of goods. The wail and screech of the ungreased wooden axles of a train of ox carts as they wound single-file across the prairie must have been unforgettable. Traces of this trail are visible to this day, and one of the few remaining ox carts can be seen in the Kandiyohi County Historical Society museum.


One of the business streets at Spicer in 1908

Green Lake township was organized as a part of Monongalia County in 1868. One of the first actions of the town board was to appoint a road overseer and instruct him to "open such parts of the old state road running from Clearwater by way of Manannah to Columbia as he sees fit." The hilly country and large number of sloughs in this area presented formidable obstacles. Oxen or horse-drawn wagons and scrapers were the only laborsaving tools available at the time, and much of the roadwork had to be done with the business end of a Number 2 shovel.

As the population increased, the prairies were turned into cropland. Farmers needed more and better roads to get their produce to market. The construction of the railroad and elevators to handle their grain, which accompanied the platting of the village of Spicer in 1886, served to increase the demand. The needs of the farmers for roads later coincided with the needs of tourists and cottage owners as developments, such as Crescent Beach and sums to assist Green Lake township with road construction.

A new contraption that made a lot of noise and frightened horses became newsworthy about the time Spicer was incorporated. D. N. Tallman, a wealthy Willmar businessman, had a Buick and, in 1904, petitioned the village to open Lake Avenue as far east as Haverlys, so that he could reach his place on Crescent Beach. The petition was not granted. The council became more cooperative in 1908 when Mr. Tallman offered to sweeten the road fund with a $50 donation.

Items in the "Green Lake News" for September 29, 1904, give the reader an idea of the transportation in the village at that time. Halvorson's automobile was the first one in town.


Lars Halvorson's original car, 1900

1904, September 29: "Lars Halvorson and his automobile were conspicuous figures on our streets today ... A great deal of freight is being handled over this branch of the road now and as the gravel trains are also running the number of trains passing through is quite considerable. As many as five trains have been here at one time and the main crossing is often dangerous. Many of the trains go through here at full speed, making the danger all the greater, especially, if there are cars on the track and one is coming from the west... "


Lake Avenue looking north in the early years of Spicer.
Green Lake State Bank building is on the left.

By 1910 the state had begun funding roads. Old highway No. 4 was constructed through the county in a north/south direction. It passed through Willmar, around the east side of Eagle Lake, up Thompsons Hill, and on to Spicer. A number of our present secondary and county roads were once a part of No. 4. All roads at the time were "gravel," although this was a relative term that largely depended upon what was available in the immediate vicinity. The term “mud vacation" referred to a period in the spring when the roads became impassable and the schools were closed due to a lack of pupils. Pit-run gravel often contains high percentages of "fines," a technical term that could be used interchangeably with "dust." Early roads were not only dusty but rough and developed a "washboard" surface that tended to shake everything up, including the people who used them.

Henry Ford began mass-producing the Model T in 1909. By 1915 there were 86,000 licensed automobiles in the state of Minnesota. America's love affair with the automobile had begun. The "Green Lake Breeze" of September 2, 1915, reported that there were 922 autos licensed in Kandiyohi County with 50 alone in the village of Spicer.

A dry period began in 1917 and extended through the drought years of the 1930's. This, coupled with the increase in the number of automobiles and excessive speeds of 35 mph or more, created a mammoth dust problem for the local residents. The problem was not really solved until after 1929, the date when the village started paving the streets. This apparently took some time, for the village council passed a motion on August 30, 1935, that "...Lake Avenue be oiled thru village provided the County will put this street in shape for oiling without cost to the village."


Frances Hillman and her uncle going for a ride in the 1920 Ford.

Lake Avenue North remained State Highway No. 4 until 1934. At that point it was rebuilt from Willmar to New London. The construction included relocating Highway No. 4 one block west to First Street, building a railroad overpass one mile south of the village and a bridge over the Crow River about two miles north of the village. At the same time the highway was rerouted around the west side of Eagle Lake, and after completion, designated Highways No. 71 and No. 23.

The village cooperated with the state in the widening and rebuilding of Highways No. 71 and 23 in 1954. The increased volume of traffic caused the state to build a four-lane highway to Eagle Lake in 1950 and bypass the villages of Spicer and New London with a relocated Highway No. 71 running north from Eagle Lake in 1960.

In 1986 the bridge that had been constructed over the railroad grade south of town in 1934 was demolished, and a bicycle underpass constructed. At the same time the bridge over the Crow River north of town was reconstructed. The old bridges were narrow and the scenes of many accidents.

Highway No. 23 continues to run through Spicer and handles a very heavy volume of automobile and truck traffic. The highway cuts diagonally across the state and undoubtedly accommodates much of the grain shipped from the Dakotas to the lakehead at Duluth. Plans are now being made to widen Highway 23 to four lanes through the city of Spicer.