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The Pioneers

Early Settlers

     The first survey of this area took place in July, 1855. The entire region was divided into six mile by six mile townships, each subdivided into a grid consisting of one square mile sections. Government surveyors installed corner posts to establish the section boundaries. Independence Beach was in Section 18 of Township Number 118N-Range 23W.

     The surveyors created maps showing the locations of lakes and streams. They noted that the township was covered entirely by forest, with a few lakes and tamarack marshes. There were no roads – the closest road was approximately where Watertown Road is today.

     The region was opened for settlement in 1855 and the first European settlers began arriving from the Eastern and Southern states, attracted by the news that land could be claimed and eventually owned by homesteading. Homesteading was established by the Homestead Act of 1862, a Federal regulation that permitted settlers to claim property, build a home and begin farming. After farming for five years and making improvements in the property, the homesteader could achieve ownership by filing a claim, proving their occupancy, and paying a small fee.

     These pioneers found nothing but woods and lakes. Often the men of the family arrived first to clear land and build a primitive log cabin, and the woman and children arrived months later. The few settlers were very isolated, living far from their nearest neighbor. There were no roads, only Indian trails that meandered across the high ground. Each settler had to hack through the forest to create a primitive road, stopping when they found a location suitable to their needs. The road would then be extended by the next settler.

     The families lived in small cabins, with a loft where the children slept. The Wolsfeld cabin on display at Medina’s City Hall is a typical example. Their days consisted of physical labor -- cutting down trees to clear land for raising crops including potatoes, wheat, barley and corn. In addition to farming, oak, elm, maple and hickory were harvested and sold to the cooperage in Tamarack (now Long Lake), to be used for barrel staves and hoops. Women and children tended the vegetable gardens and took care of livestock. Maple trees were a source of maple sap which could be cooked down to maple syrup and maple sugar.

     The early settlers faced extremely harsh conditions:

  • In 1855, winter temperatures reached -30°.

  • In 1856-57, an infestation of grasshoppers decimated the crops and left the settlers nearing starvation. They were saved by the popularity of ginseng, a root that grew wild in the forest and was particularly abundant in this area. The settlers gathered ginseng and sold it to buyers in Wayzata and Excelsior, who exported the dried roots to China where it was popular for medicinal uses.

  • A typhoid fever epidemic from 1872-73 devastated many families.

  • A blizzard in 1888, with temperatures as low as -40 degrees, caused the death of 200 people in Minnesota and North and South Dakota.

1855 Survey: Township 118, Range 23 West 
Hamburg Township
Credit: Minnesota Land Management Center
(refers to the year 1857)
Credit: The History of Hennepin County, page 142,
written in 1881
Early Settlers
Medina Township

     On April 10, 1858 Hennepin County commissioners officially named this area Hamburg Township. But local residents did not accept the name, and decided to re-name the township Medina, because the Arabian city of Medina was in the news that year. In May, 1858, 37 residents met and voted to change the name to Medina.

Credit: WHCPA newsletter

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