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THE EARLY YEARS
1856‑1910

The first white men to visit this area were a party of three men sent out by Joseph Renshaw Brown, a well‑known trader, in midsummer 1856. Passing by Green Lake, they were so impressed by the beauty that they returned to their settlements along the Mississippi River with intentions of returning and laying out a townsite. This, however, did not happen.

While looking about for new opportunities, E. T. Woodcock, a young man of 23, was joined by Jesse M. Ayers and V. L. Forsythe, two young men also in search of a fortune. Securing a horse, wagon, and camping outfit, the three set out with high hopes of selecting the site for a future metropolis. Following the tracks made by Joe Brown's men, they came to the same lake. Enraptured with the beautiful sheet of water and the shade of emerald green, they christened it Green Lake.

Mr. Woodcock may justly claim the honor of being the first settler. He built a cabin on his claim, then returned East, married, and in October brought his bride, yet in her teens, to share hardships and life in the wilderness. Their daughter was born a year later, the first white child born in Kandiyohi County.

The town of Columbia was founded on August 10, 1856. Columbia's first building was a 14 foot x 15 foot log cabin with a shake roof and a packing box door, built by Mr. and Mrs. Woodcock.

Ayers and Forsythe had given land to Francis Arnold, who built a cabin and started a retail business. He became Columbia's postmaster and the first treasurer of Monongalia County when it was organized. Columbia was located along the west shore of Green Lake, a one‑mile stretch where Spicer is now located. A financial panic in 1857 retarded immigration; the short‑lived village of Columbia was history.

With the passing of many years, however, a permanent settlement was established, material wealth increased, farms with cattle and cultivated areas grew in number and size, and songs of contentment blended with the laughter of children.

The U.S.‑Dakota Conflict of 1862 was the next major problem in this area: settlers were driven out. The only ones returning were the Burdick, F. B. Woodcock, and Adams families, Jonas Hart and Thomas Darling.

In 1876‑1877, a grasshopper plague constituted without doubt the most discouraging period, for both farmers and business people in the county's history. These two years of devastation were most trying to the patience, the courage, and the perseverance of men and women who had sought homes for themselves and their children. The grain was four to five inches high, but after the insects attacked, the ground was left as barren as when first sown. People left the area.

Thirty years after Columbia had been settled, the village of Spicer was platted in 1886 on the historical townsite of Columbia. John M. Spicer was owner now of the townsite, and thus the village was named after him. Due to his foresight, two parks on the shore of Green Lake were established‑one in the center of town and the second one in the south part of the village. The St. Cloud and Sioux Falls Railroad was built in the same year, 1886. Mr. Spicer also wanted the business places to be located on the west side of the tracks, where they started out to be.

William Olson was a promoter. The family had settled near Green Lake prior to the Indian uprising and were driven from there but returned. Bill had gone to Minneapolis as a young man to enter real estate until he came back and created a tourist attraction. James J. (Jim) Hill, who was instrumental in getting the railroad through Spicer, encouraged Olson to have boats on the lake. Excursions were organized by train, then boat rides offered on Green Lake; tickets were 25 cents a person for a ride.

The first boat, "Little Eva," carried 50 passengers. Because this was not big enough, by 1887 Olson found an 85‑foot steamer accommodating 300 passengers. Brought from Lake Minnetonka and named "Belle of Green Lake," it was put into service for three years. The many sand bars in the lake were a serious hazard to the boat's navigation. The "Belle" remained here but was dismantled and the machinery sold. The hull was crushed by ice and lay on the bottom of the lake for years until the natural cleansing action of the water removed all traces.

William Olson opened a general merchandise store in 1886. With different partners he was affiliated with lumber. He became the first postmaster. C. F. Burgess was the first buyer for Cargill elevator. Andrew Nelson was the first blacksmith; in 1895 Wil­liam Nelson succeeded him, and later France Walquist. Nels Hendrickson established a small restaurant in 1886.

Charles Nordgren and later William Peterson had a feed mill, and a Mr. Holt had a lumber yard in 1887. 1887 also saw the Lake View Hotel established by Adolph Samuelson and a temperance saloon by a Mr. Sorenson. Nelson, Orred & Hendrickson opened a general store. All buildings were along Second Avenue. Nothing was west of there until 19 10.

Embertson had a creamery at the south end of Second Av­enue. The block between Harriet and Agnes was a sand hill. There were three elevators and a stockyard, from which cattle were shipped out; Carl 0. Thompson operated it. A general merchan­dise store was owned by August Scholen (Scholin) and later bought by M. J. Kloster in 1905. Martin Olson was a shoemaker; Mr. Benjaminson also had a shoe shop.

Then came the Ole Gustrud house, and a hardware store run by Nels Hendrickson. This latter building was sold much later and moved next to Faith Lutheran Church with Walt Wilson owning it as a dwelling place. Walt was a mail carrier on Route 1 for 42 years. Nels Hendrickson soldhis hardware business to theMcManus Brothers. There was a livery barn run by Downs and Wilson. An ice house also there was owned by Dan Downs and Jack Nelson. (In 1990 it was part of a laundromat which burned down). Later Thompson established a large lumber yard.

In 1904 the village of Spicer was incorporated with a special election being held on June 7. Council members were McManus, the Rev. Johanson, M. J. Kloster, Fredolph Johnson, and Otto Ronning. At that time there were three general merchandise stores, one hardware store, one real estate office, one bank, a drugstore, a newspaper office, a lumber yard, a fuel dealer, two restaurants, two hotels, a livery barn, one meat market, a bargain store, a soft drink parlor, a temperance saloon, a blacksmith shop, one barber, a station agent, a jeweler, two shoemakers, and a dressmaker.

A pavilion and a toboggan slide were in the town park. (Later the pavilion burned, as did the creamery and the livery barn, which were rebuilt.) The village also included a stone mason, two wheat buyers, a doctor, a malt and confectionery parlor, the Presbyterian Church, a boat shop (Vettling, Hamnes, and C. T. Thompson), and well drillers.

Spicer had an athletic association, a ball diamond, a depot (agents, beginning in 1886, were Al Whittaker, A. G. Mardin, and W. R. Andrews). Other familiar business names were Thorson & Larson, S. C. Hillman, Holt, Cody & McDermott (hotel), John Nelson, Chris Jacobson, Oslund, Eric Anderson, and P. G. John­son.