- The History of Afton
as written in the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church 50th Anniversary
- AFTON AND ENVIRONS
On the western banks of Lake St. Croix lies the village of
Afton. Nestling in drowsy seclusion in the sheltering embrace
of rugged cliffs and verdure-clad hillsides that pulsate with
life and murmuring melodies in the romantic days of June; beautiful
as an artist's dream, and strikingly picturesque even in the
cold, bleak days of winter, it greets the morning sun as it rises
majestically over the Wisconsin hills. Stately maples placed
with military precision border its main thoroughfare (traversing
it north and south), their lofty wide-spreading heads forming
a leafy arch hovering protectingly over the transient motorist
and the casual pedestrian. The shops and homes blend harmoniously
with the scenic surroundings, and over all rests an air of domestic
The village - lying about midway between Hastings and Stillwater,
and within a thirty-minute ride of the capital city - still retains
much of its quaint charms, reminiscent of its early pioneer days,
despite the natural trend of modernism, and it does not require
an unusual imagination to visualize creaking wagons drawn by
straining yokes of oxen responding to the urgings and exhortations
of their drivers as they trekked over the rough trails, now evolved
into well kept streets and graveled highways. A veritable "Sleepy
Hollow" comparable to the one made famous by Washington
Beyond the village limits on the north and northwest the landscape
is broken by flats and valleys through which meandering trout
streams find their way to Lake St. Croix. Extending south and
southwest are deep coulees and natural ravines, while on the
west the hills and cliffs merge into a rolling prairie, at one
time covered with virgin forests, now dotted with farms and comfortable
Lake St. Croix bounds village and township on the east and
forms a natural boundary line between the states of Wisconsin
and Minnesota. Afton has many natural attractions, and of these
the "Bissell" mounds are the most singular, being elevations
rising to the height of fifty to seventy-five feet, covering
an acre or more of ground. They are formed of limestone and are
located in the northwestern part of the township on which was
originally the Elijah Bissell homestead, from whom they received
Rising and overlooking the village on the west is Mount Hope,
and from its top a splendid far-reaching view may be obtained
of the surrounding country. Hillsides and valleys are still well
timbered, principally with oak, although birch, basswood, elm,
butternut and a sprinkling of cone-bearing trees are found in
certain localities. The eastern portion is well adapted to gardening,
while the western section of the township is devoted to grain
and dairy farming.
The first settlers to make an effort at permanent improvements
were Joseph Haskell and J.S. Norris, who made a claim in Section
21, in the fall of 1839, and settled on it in the spring of 1840.
They made improvements and broke the first land to be used for
In 1838 Lemuel Bolles had made a claim on 480 acres in Section
15, and began preparations in the fall of the same year for the
construction of the first grist mill north of St. Louis. The
dam and mill were completed in 1839. The structure was built
of slabs and hewed timbers, carried by Bolles and Indian squaws,
hired for that purpose, from Lake St. Croix, a distance of approximately
a mile. Wooden pegs, because of the scarcity of nails, were used
throughout its entire structure. A small stream of water which
still bears Mr. Bolles; name, provided the power for the twenty
and sixteen-inch stones which ground the corn and wheat.
He lived with his family in a one-story log cabin, which together
with the mill, was located on what is now known as the "Munch"
place. He was the first postmaster in the township, receiving
his appointment in 1852, the postoffice being located in the
mill and was know as "Milton Mills." Mail was received
from St. Louis and was carried by steamboat until close of navigation
when it was transported across country on horse back. Later the
postoffice was transferred the village, Meredith Thomas succeeding
Bolles as postmaster. Mr. Bolles was seventy-seven years of age
when he settled in this territory, a typical rough and ready
specimen of the early pioneers who were always found in the vanguard
of advancing civilization.
The first white child, Helen M. Haskell, was born to Joseph
and Olive Haskell. The first well in the settlement was dug and
blasted on the Haskell farm to the depth of ninety feet.
In 1845, the first road, a military road, was surveyed and
opened by General Thorn. Two years later, in 1847, the Point
Douglas and Stillwater road was built. The first span of horses
brought into the township in the late fifties was owned by a
farmer named Palmer.
The first hotel in Afton village was built by s.H. Patterson
in 1856 and operated by him for about three years when it was
destroyed by fire. It was located just south of the present Afton
The first store of general merchandise was opened and kept
by Meredith Thomas in the early fifties. Thomas, as elsewhere
noted, was also postmaster, succeeding Lemuel Bolles. The store
was later remodeled into a dwelling and is now occupied by the
Bert Spreeman family on practically the same site. This building
was used as a public primary school for a short time in the early
nineties, Miss May Persons teaching.
Oxen were used in field work and as a means of transportation,
hitched to high-wheeled wagons or carts, until the fifties when
horses were introduced. Cattle roamed at large and farmers were
forced to build fences, consisting of brush, slabs, rails, or
boards, around their fields as protection against their raids.
Wire was uncommon and the price prohibitive.
On April 14, 1855, District Number Twenty-Three was organized
at the home of Joseph Haskell and was designated as the Haskell
District. J. Haskell, H.F. Dayton and Tom Persons were elected
Trustees, and C. C. Cushing, Clerk. The building site was donated
by Jesse Jackson, and the school house was completed the following
year, holding a three months' session of school commencing July
12. This school is now commonly known as the Eastwood School.
At about the same time, or previous to the opening of the
Haskell District, the Boxell School was organized, receiving
its name from its promoter, and it will always be a question
as to which school was the first to organize and open its doors
to the children of Afton. The Boxell School was located about
a mile west of Valley Creek on the "creek road" a short
distance east of the Brunner homestead. After a number of years
of activity, the school was destroyed by fire and never rebuilt,
its circuit being absorbed by the adjoining schools. So far as
known, C.E. Bolles of Valley Creek is the only surviving settler
who attended the Boxell School.
meeting was called in the village of Afton on December 6, 1867,
for the purpose of interesting the people in the education of
the young men and women of this county and to consider the construction
of an academy. C.S. Getchell and Rev. A.D. Roe were appointed
a Committee to solicit funds, and at the end of a vigorous sixty
day campaign, pledges to the amount of ten thousand dollars had
been secured. Another meeting was called on February 25, 1868,
and elected the following Board of Trustees: Alvah D. Roe, President;
Richard Buswell, Vice President; W.W. Getchell, Secretary; L.F.
Olds, Hon. J.W. Furber, P.E. Walker, J.B. Thompson, Hon. A. Huntoon,
M.M. Chase, David Cove, E.M. Cox, James Middleton, R. Lehmicke,
and C.S. Getchell. On the Executive Committee were R. Buswell,
A.D. Roe, E.M. Cox, M. M. Chase, and C.S. Getchell.
Its present site was chosen near the northern limits of the
village on the principal street. Construction began in the spring
continuing through the summer until its completion and dedication
in the fall of 1868. The corner stone of the academy was laid
by the Free masons June 18, 1868. The building is two stories
high, exclusive of basement, and is surmounted by a bell-tower,
and is built of brick and stone. The basement was used for storage
and fuel, and also as a gymnasium where the male students would
practice the manly art of boxing. At the opening of the school
the faculty consisted of: W. Gorrie, Principal and instructor
in classics and higher English; Miss Flora A. Hammond, teacher
in instrumental and vocal music; Miss Jennie Gorrie, assistant
in English branches; Miss V. Wandry, assistant teacher in German.
One hundred and thirty students were enrolled the first term,
among them being C.E. Bolles and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Eastwood,
who are still living and residing in Afton.
Because of a serious decline in the number of students attending,
the trustees were forced to dispose of the property. It was bought
by Rev. P. Duborg who, wishing to see a theological seminary
established in the Northwest, presented it to the Evangelical
Lutheran Joint Synod of Ohio. The seminary was founded in 1884
and it was maintained as such until 1893, when the school was
moved to St. Paul. During this period the basement was remodeled,
providing living quarters for some of the students.
A year or two after its abandonment in 1893, School District
Number Twenty-four acquired it by purchase, and up to the present
day it is still in use as a public school. This academy is the
oldest educational institution of its type in Washington county
if not in the state.
It may be of interest to know that the last U.S. Senator Moses
E. Clapp graduated from this academy.
- VILLAGE OF AFTON
In the spring of 1855, the village of Afton was laid out and
platted by J. Haskell, R. Haskell, H.L. Thomas, and C.S. Getchell.
Up to this time, this settlement had been known variously as
the Haskell settlement and Milton Mills, but to Mrs. C.S. Getchell
belongs the distinction and honor of giving Afton its official
designation. The name was taken from Burns poem, Afton
Water. Mrs. Getchell also gave Mount Hope the name it bears
today, a name poetically appropriate for those who sleep on its
summit, in what is probably the oldest cemetery in Afton.
- INDIAN BURIAL GROUND
In the heart of the village of Afton lies an Indian burial ground,
accidentally uncovered by the late B.P. Squires many years ago
while plowing. It lies along the west side of the Milwaukee railroad
track, extending and occupying a narrow strip of ground between
the Afton garage and Holbergs confectionery store.
- AFTON TOWNSHIP
On October 20, 1858, a meeting of the voters of Afton was called
at Pattersons hotel in the village, choosing W.H. Getchell,
chairman; Joseph Haskell, moderator; and Richard Busell, clerk;
J.J. Rice, assessor; S.P. DePuy, collector; Enos Gray, overseer
of the poor; S.P. DePuy and G.W. Bolles, constables; R. Buswell
and J.J. Rice, justices.
- The first annual town meeting was held April 5, 1859, at
the Afton village school house. A tax of $150.00 was voted for
current expenses, a levy of thirty cents was laid on every hundred
dollars of taxable property and two days of poll tax. G.W. Getchell,
Joseph Haskell, and H.L. Thomas were elected supervisors, and
M.H. Thomas, clerk
- In 1880, the population of Afton township was 925 and the
valuation of real estate, $248,555.00 The population in 1932
is 871 and the present valuation of real estate is 498,425.00.
- Today  the township administration is in the hands
of Supervisors Godfrey Wrege, Lincoln Nelson and Nels Lindgren,
with Harold Broecker, treasurer; C.E. Bolles, clerk; C.A. Preston,
assessor. Incidentally, Mr. Bolles had begun his forty-fourth
year as clerk. The township appropriations for 1932 are $5000.00
for road and bridge fund, and $800.00 for current expenses. These
figures are a striking contrast to the ones of the first annual
- VALLEY CREEK
A collection of homes lying about two miles northwest of Afton
on the Stillwater and Point Douglas road. Erastus Bolles came
to this valley in the spring of 1856, built a house, and opened
a blacksmith shop which he operated about two years, when he
bought water power on Bolles Creek (names for Lemuel Bolles,
who was an uncle of Erastus Bolles and grand uncle of the well-known
C.E. Bolles) bringing the water through a race to the shop to
which he added more equipment, consisting of a trip-hammer and
other machinery. He then began to manufacture farm tools, continuing
until the spring of 1875, when he turned the shop over to his
son, Charles E. Bolles. Mr. Bolles acquired additional power
and moved the shop a short distance further down the stream,
and added corn and feed grinding. Part of the mill race was built
of timber where otherwise a ditch carried the water to the mill.
In the early 80s the mill was partially destroyed by fire
and never rebuilt.
- Until a few years ago, the water-wheel was practically intact,
but today the only visible reminders of a once busy shop and
mill are the steel axle of the wheel and its stone foundation
and a still well defined outline of the mill race.
- SOUTH AFTON
Of the hamlet sometimes referred to as South Afton, located about
one mile south of the village, few or no traces remain. The sawmill
owned by Charles and William Getchell and a store of general
merchandise kept by B.P. Squires have all been destroyed by fire.
A warehouse and elevator owned and built by J.P. Furaber in 1869
were later wrecked and rebuilt in Afton. At this point, a rope
ferry, owned and built by Furber in the Fall of 1879, crossed
the river. It was operated for a short time by Nels Melander.
- ST. MARY'S
In the late fifties, about 1857, Marshall, Caldwell, and Cathcart
platted a townsite in Section 14, bounded on the east by Lake
St. Croix, and lying a short distance northeast of the village
of Afton. Lots were sold and a number of houses built, together
with a saw mill which, however, failed after only a years
operation. Saw mill and houses have vanished in smoke, leaving
here and there only faint traces of a foundation or a caved-in
cellar. In late years the old townsite has been transformed into
a colony of summer residents and it is dotted with the cottages
and bungalows of people who wish to escape the heat and bustle
of the cities to enjoy the freedom of the countryside and the
cool, refreshing waters of Lake St. Croix. A pretty story is
told of how St. Marys originally received its name. A Jesuit
missionary traveling on foot came to the edge of the hills at
the southern limits of Afton village and as he gazed northward,
he was struck by the resemblance of this point, combined with
the general conformation of the lake, to a rude cross, and hence
he named it St. Marys in honor of the Mother of Christ.
- JACOB FAHLSTROM
The early annals of Minnesota record the names of many distinguished
characters, representing a wide variety of professions, each
playing an important part in the building of this commonwealth.
However, few indeed are the pioneers whose careers parallel in
boldness, color, versatility, the adventurous spirit of Jacob
Fahlstrom, who spent the latter days of his life in Afton.
- Jacob Fahlstrom, or Father Jacob, the Swede Indian,
as he was also known, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, June 25,
1793, and came to British America at the age of fourteen with
a company of Lord Selkirks men to a settlement on Red River.
He found employment as a fur trader with the Hudson Bay Co. and
in the course of his work soon became proficient in the French
and Indian languages as well as gaining a thorough knowledge
of Indian psychology. As a fur trader, he covered the territory
where Fort Snelling was later built (1819), and after its construction
found employment with the U.S. Government as mail carrier between
Fort Snelling and Prairie du Chien, and later as post rider between
Prairie du Chien and St. Croix Falls.
- In 1823, he married Margaret Bungo, a Chippewa girl, born
at Superior, Wisconsin, in 1797, and was living at Camp Cold
Water, a short distance above Fort Snelling on the right bank
of the river, at the time of his conversion, 1837 or 1838.
He was converted at the Kaposia Methodist Mission at Little
Crow village, opposite Red Rock, and was one of the earliest
converts of this Mission. Judging by his fruitful efforts among
the Indians as Lay Preacher, Elder Brunson stated that his conversion
along justified the existence of the Kaposia Mission. As missionary
he found his experience as Indian trader an invaluable asset.
- While on an overland trek in the early summer of 1834, he
was assailed by a band of Sioux Indians at Mud Lake, who shot
and killed his oxen. On July 13, he appeared before the Indian
Department at Fort Snelling with the hoofs and hams of these
oxen, presenting a claim of $35.00 against the Government for
the loss sustained. He failed to collect.
- In the early forties, Fahlstrom settled on a farm in Afton
near Valley Creek on what is known as the Indian Trail, where
he lived and from where he continued his missionary activities
among the Indians until his death.
- His home, widely known for its hospitality, was recognized
as Father Jacobs Place and was a very popular
rendezvous for preachers and missionaries who had occasion to
travel through this territory. One time, arriving home from an
extended missionary trip, he found his family without food. Filling
a sack with corn, he carried it to Lem Bolles grist mill,
and though it happened to be on the Sabbath, he asked him to
grind it. Bolles, who was a rough and ready character, remarked
at this request, You are a h_ _ _ of a preacher to ask
a man to start his mill on Sunday. Well, replied
Fahlstrom, I came home and found my family destitute and
I cannot permit them to suffer. The corn was ground and
Fahlstrom returned home with a sackful of corn meal, much to
the relief of his family.
- Nine children were born to the, John, Nancy, Sarah, Jane,
James, and George, who died in infancy; James and George the
second, and Cecelia. Fahlstrom died in July, 1859, and his wife
passed away February 6, 1880. Both are buried in the family plot
on the old homestead.
- Were it possible to write the story of Fahlstrom, the first
Swede in Minnesota, in complete detail, it would make the wildest
stories of fiction appear drab by contrast. Romance, hairbreadth
escapes from death at the hands of Indians, the dangers of the
trail, and the hazards of the hunt were the spice of his life.
- Physically he was about five feet seven inches in height,
sturdily built, with an unusually large head, the lower part
of his face adorned by a chin beard so often affected by the
men of his day. Unselfish and honest, sincere beyond a doubt,
inclined to bluntness in language that perhaps would not be appropriate
at a pink tea--and we have a fair picture of his character.
- INDIAN LEGEND OF CATFISH
The Northwest is particularly rich in legendary lore of the white
mans predecessor and therefore it is not extraordinary
in the least to find a mystic Indian legend enveloping, like
a mantle, the surrounding hills and waters of Afton, including
the Wisconsin shores.
- It was an old established custom among the Chippewas and
Sioux that when defeated in battle, the survivors were not to
partake of any food, particularly fish, as a measure of self-inflicted
discipline or abasement, until their return to the tribal village.
- At one time, so runs the legend, the Chippewas went on the
warpath against the Sioux and engaged them in a skirmish, on
the present site of Red Wing. The battle proved disastrous to
the Chippewas--all but two being massacred. Sadly these two surviving
warriors wended their way northward, despondent and broken-hearted
over their defeat.
- Before their eyes rose the picture of grief and wailing that
would be their reception when they reached their village, and
told the news of their tragic defeat. No more would these departed
warriors, now resting in the arms of the Great Spirit, taste
the pleasure of the chase or enjoy the thrills of the war path
and never again would they sit in the council of the wise hearkening
to their elders, old in years and in wisdom.
- Famished and fatigued they reached the eastern shores of
Lake St. Croix, after many weary hours of travel over hills and
streams without food or rest. Here they paused for a brief rest.
Brother, cried Hard-Heart, my body is hungering
for food. I must eat or I perish. But, expostulated
Light-Foot, we will incur the wrath of the Great Spirit
if we transgress this law. Remember our sacred traditions.
Just then they espied a raccoon up in a tree with a fish in its
mouth. Ah! exclaimed Hard-Heart, here is an
answer to my desires, and since you do not wish to eat, I will.
Beware, Brother, it is but a temptation placed there by
the Evil One, warned Light-Foot.
- But Hard-Heart was deaf to the others warnings. He
retrieved the fish, and gathered twigs for a fire to prepare
the forbidden repast. Light-Foot firmly refused to eat and only
reluctantly agreed to carry water to the thirsting Hard-Heart,
while he ate.
- Finally, overcome by exhaustion, Light-Foot fell asleep,
and when he awoke the following morning, he found to his consternation
his comrade-in-arms had turned into a huge catfish.
- Mercifully, the waters of Lake St. Croix gradually spread
a coverlet of sand over the metamorphosed warrior, shielding
him forever from the gaze of man, thus forming what is known
as Catfish Bar. And sometimes at early dawn or at twilight of
a summers day, a wraith-like mist may be seen hovering
over the Bar. This is the restless spirit of the departed brave
again visiting the scene of his transgression.
- AFTON FRUIT AND FARM
On February 11, 1914, a group of fruit growers in and about the
town of Afton met at Wolfes Hall in the village and organized
a cooperative association for the purpose of selling their fruits,
consisting mainly of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries,
currents, and gooseberries, through a body of this type. Twenty-two
members were enrolled at this meeting. Today  the association
has an enrollment of about seventy growers.
- The first permanent officers elected were: John C. Hedstrom,
president; Charles Nelson, vice-president; Alvin Hedstrom, secretary-treasurer;
Swan nelson and peter Peterson, directors at large. In 1914,
F.K. Gregg of Bayport had charge of the selling end of the association.
- The first method used in transporting the fruit to the St.
Paul market was by water from Afton, via St. Croix Lake and the
Mississippi River. A barge, propelled by a gasoline engine, furnished
transportation and power but it proved impractical and therefore
was abandoned in favor of the speedier truck. C.C. Kelley of
Afton owned and operated the barge.
- The peak of the associations success was reached shortly
after the World war when fruit tot the value of $45,000 in round
numbers was handled by the association in a single season.
- The officers of 1932 are: John C. Hedstrom, president; Swan
Peterson, vice-president; Charles Nelson, secretary; Nels Lindgren,
treasurer; Nels Hawkinson and Levi B. Hedstrom, directors at
large. For 1932, Melvin Hendrickson and Nels Lind, both of Afton,
were engaged as salesmen.
- THE CLOUDBURST
On the afternoon of May 25, 1926, a cloudburst of great intensity
struck Afton and its immediate vicinity, such as never before
was experienced within the memory of any of the oldest inhabitants.
Cellars, living-rooms, and streets were flooded with rushing,
debris-laded, tide-like waves of water. In the twinkling of an
eye, gullies were filled with roaring avalanches of water, and
gently flowing trout streams were transformed into raging torrents.
Tons of silt were deposited in cellars and on living-room floors,
and a considerable amount of poultry and young live stock was
drowned. No human lives were lost, but one narrow escape is noted.
While attempting to close the kitchen door of his home against
the inrushing water, Alfred Swanlund was overwhelmed for a moment
when an uprooted tree or log was hurled against the door, shooting
through the kitchen and out the door on the opposite side. Several
families were forced to seek shelter in their attics.
Almost a century [ in 1932} has rolled by since the advent of
the first white settlers. They have long since been gathered
to their fathers and the old landmarks will soon be but a memory,
but their intelligence, integrity, and diligence, combined with
a clear vision of the future, forming the solid foundation upon
which our present social, educational, and economical structure
rests, constitutes a monument that will forever withstand the
corroding elements of time.