The History of Oronoco

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Oronoco took a very prominent position in the early history of the county.
At the time of its settlement, on March 13, 1854, the nearest human
habitation was twenty-five miles away. ... The site of the present village
of Oronoco was pre-empted by Leonard B. Hodges, John B. Clark and Ebenezer
S. Collings, partners in the venture of starting a town in the wilderness.
... Messrs. Hodges, Clark and Collings were all bachelors, and proceeded to
build a log hut for their common use and protection. This was placed on the
left bank of the river, but a few feet above its surface, about on the spot
now occupied by the abutment supporting the north end of the bridge.

Stage Route:
They spent much time and money in staking out and opening up a stage route
from Dubuque, Iowa to St. Paul, bridging streams, cutting down river banks
for fording places, and making it possible for a four-horse stagecoach to
rattle through the then howling wilderness on good time; so that in the
summer of 1854 M. O. Walker's stage line was in full blast, making daily
trips from Dubuque to St. Paul through the winter of 1854-5. with far mor
regularity than is now done by railroads.

Commerce Begins:
In 1854 Hodges, Clark & Collins donated ten acres, including the mill-site
and water-power, to Ezra Odell and James Holliston, who built the first mill
- a sawmill - during the following winter. The first store was built and
opened by John A. Moore. The first hotel was erected by S. P. Hicks in the
fall of 1854 ... and in this rude hostelry from sixty to one hundred men
were sheltered and fed daily.

... During the latter part of this season and the winter following, D. J.
Bascomb, T. A. Olmsted and H. D. Evans built a gristmill, and in 1856
Messrs. Allott and Wilcox built a sash, door and planing mill; so that by
the summer of 1856 the village of Oronoco presented a lively appearance. ...
During the summer of 1859 the manufacture of chairs was added to that of
sash and doors, but the "great freshet" in June of that year swept away the
whole machinery, and it was never replaced. ...The flouring-mill changed
hands several times, and was several times remodeled and added to; in 1873,
the property having fallen into the hands of A. D. Allis, who sold a
part-interest to A Gooding and D. S Hebbard, of Rochester, a large merchant
mill was erected, in which were placed eight runs of stone, and shortly
after three sets of rolls.

County Seat:
It was generally believed at first that Oronoco was destined to be the
leading town in this portion of the state, and capital and farmers began to
concentrate in the neighborhood. The first meeting of county commissioners
was held here August 27, 1855, and it was confidently believed that the
county seat was to be permanently located here. The boundaries of the county
had not then been mapped out, but at the next meeting of the territorial
legislature the present boundaries were established and Rochester became the
natural center of the county.

Clark was fond of female society, and soon began to pine for the sight of
calico; he remarked to a prospector who visited the trio that he would make
a present of a town lot to the first white woman who visited them. About
this time a family named Sackett had settled at Pine Island, and a daughter
of the family hearing of this offer came down one Sunday, accompanied by a
brother, and was duly awarded a deed of a lot.

The first family to settle here was that of E. C. Stevens, who made the
second claim in town about the first of August, 1854.

To Oronoco belongs the honor of publishing the first newspaper in the
county. It was originated by the town proprietors with whom were associated
Reuben Ottman and E. Allen Power. The company was organized in the fall of
1856, and the first issue of the "Oronoco Courier" appeared in December of
that year. ... After just one year of profitless publication its continuance
was abandoned.

... During the winter of 1879-80 M. W. Clay, an enterprising and
public-spirited citizen, constructed a printing press of his own invention.
... Having completed this press he purchased and engaging a compositor began
the publication of the "Oronoco Journal" May 21, 1880, which he continued
until June 10, 1881.

In 1856 The Oronoco Literary Association erected a building on the site of
the present schoolhouse, and donated its use to the public for school and
religious purposes. ... In 1857 the building was purchased from the literary
society and was used for school and religious meetings until the erection of
the present building in 1875. Under the act of March 1, 1866, the district
was reorganized as an independent one. After several ineffectual efforts a
vote of sufficient tax for the erection of a suitable building was secured
and the present edifice was erected. It is of brick, two stories high, and
contains four large schoolrooms, with halls, etc. Its cost with furniture
was $4,000, and it is probably the best building for its cost in the state,
and is a credit to the town and county.

It was often said in the early days of Oronoco that the place was so healthy
as to make it necessary to kill a man in order to start a cemetery. This
grew out of the accidental death of a young man named Stukeley, who was
buried here in the fall of 1855. This youth, in company with a friend was
riding ... from Red Wing to Oronoco. Young Stukeley and companion rode on a
trunk, while Hodges and Letts sat in the seat of the wagon. The young men
had a shotgun which they frequently used in firing at prairie chickens,
those birds being very numerous at the time. Each time after firing, the gun
was placed across the seat between its occupants with the muzzle pointing
back. Despite the caution of Mr. Hodges, Stukeley persisted in drawing the
gun toward himself by the muzzle, and when about half-way through the trip
he thus caused the discharge of the weapon by catching the hammer on the
seat, and received the charge, without any scattering, in his head. ... He
sank without a quiver. His body was brought by his companions to this place
and interred next day.

(Excerpts from History of Winona and Olmsted Counties 1883; pp.