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Lincoln County, Minnesota

The Lincoln County Courthouse is located at 319 North Rebecca Street, Ivanhoe MN 56142; phone: 507‑694‑1529.


Lincoln County Minnesota is listed with the National Register of Historic Places as a "Multiple Resource Area." Portions of the text, below, were selected, transcribed, and/or adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


Lincoln County, located in the southwestern portion of Minnesota, is bordered by Yellow Medicine County on the north, Lyon County on the east, Pipestone County on the south and South Dakota on the west. The county is rectangular in shape and extends 18 miles east and west and 30 miles north and south. It is divided into 15 townships with a total area of 550 square miles, 540 of which are land and 10 which are water.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies that of the total acreage of Lincoln County (359,776), 78.5% is farmland comprising 234,498 acres.

Lincoln County is crossed from the northwest to the southeast by the crest of the Coteau des Prairie, translated from French to mean "Highland of the Prairies." The Coteau is a long plateau or massive ridge that leads southward through the southwest part of the county past the south end of Lake Benton. The highest points on the moraine are nearly 2,000 feet and there are several square miles above 1,900 feet. The northeast slope of the Coteau is drained into the Minnesota River while the southwest is drained into the Big Sioux and eventually the Missouri River. The northeast half of the county is morainic, consisting of loose textured cobbly and bouldery drift with a stoney loam soil. The western portion of Lake Benton township is cut by a channel or valley which translated from the Dakotah name means "Hole in the Mountain." The valley which runs south-southwest is bounded by high bluffs.

The important lakes in the county are Benton, Shaokatan, Stay, Dead Coon, and Hendricks (largely in Brookings County, South Dakota). Other lakes in the county are small and are often no more than marshes — particularly in dry seasons.

The county is named for Abraham Lincoln, and was created by a legislative act approved on March 6, 1873, when 15 townships from the western portion of Lyon County were joined to form Lincoln County. Governor Horace Austin declared the county organized on December 3, 1873, and appointed a board of commissioners. The Board met and named county officials on January 26, 1874.

The nine platted townsites of the county, six located on the railroad, range today from a cornfield to the largest city in the county, Tyler. Four platted towns, Marshfield, Thompsonburg or Thomsenberg, Wilno, and Verdi were never incorporated (although the latter three have survived as communities) and so no separate population statistics exist for them. The following is the population of the incorporated communities in the county.

Arco - 121
Hendricks - 712
Ivanhoe - 738
Lake Benton - 759
Tyler - 1069

Township populations range from 200 (Hansonville) to 511 (Hope). From its initial settlement in 1870 to 1900 the population steadily increased. After 1910 the county-wide population fluctuated slightly and peaked in 1930. Census data indicates that the cities' population increased sharply from 1910-1920, then gradually leveled. 1970 census data indicates that every township and municipality, except Ivanhoe, experienced population losses during the last decade. Little or no light industry and a drop in agricultural land use may account for these figures.

Before Lincoln County was traversed by explorers and open to white settlement, it was home to prehistoric Indians. Archaeological investigations suggest that their occupation may date from as early as 10,000 B.C. to 1100 A.D. The Sisseton and Wahpeton bands of the Dakota were ranging southwestern Minnesota in the 19th century. The area remained in the possession of the Indians until a vast tract of Minnesota, including Lincoln County, was relinquished by the Dakotah to the United States through the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota, signed in 1851, ratified in 1852 and approved by the president in 1853.

The first white explorers to cross the county now known as Lincoln County and leave an official record were Joseph N. Nicollet and John C. Fremont, who in 1838 explored the region between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

In 1862 in an area near Lake Benton white settlers built homes and broke small tracts of land. Their disappearance was sudden and may in part be due to the 1862 Sioux Uprising, which caused the depopulation of many areas of southern Minnesota. Several years later permanent settlement again occurred in the Lake Benton area. However, a decade of intense cold, blizzards, hail, drought, grasshopper invasions, and crop failure drove out all but the most hardy settlers. In 1875 only 413 people resided in the county.

Agricultural use of the land began slowly in the 1870s-80s and did not gain momentum until 1900. Until the thick prairie sod could be broken only potatoes, turnips and some corn were planted. Contrary to the great wheat production occurring throughout Minnesota in the second half of the 19th century, little grain was grown in Lincoln County, owing generally to harsh climatic conditions and natural disasters, a scarcity of inexpensive farm machinery, unsophisticated farming methods, and lack of rail transport to agricultural marketing centers.

The two decades 1880-1900 represent a crucial development period for Lincoln County. The construction of the railroad established new communities and often curtailed the growth of those hamlets not platted along rail lines. For the farmer, week long wagon trips to farm markets in South Dakota or Marshall in neighboring Lyon County were now made by train to local communities.

The first rail line to enter the county was the Winona and St. Peter (Chicago and Northwestern) which crossed the far northeast corner of the county on its way to Watertown, South Dakota, in 1870-73. This branch had limited impact on the county's development, and it wasn't until the construction of the Chicago and Dakota Railroad (Chicago and Northwestern) that the southern half of Lincoln County was opened to full scale settlement. Three towns were platted along this line in 1879; Tyler platted by the Winona and St. Peter Railroad; Lake Benton platted by Arthur W. Morse, John Snyder and J. G. Bryan; and Verdi platted by Albert Keep, president of the Winona and St. Peter Railroad. Marshfield, which had been the first city platted in the county (1875) by Charles Marsh and Mrs. John Leawton and which had been designated the county seat, was absorbed by Lake Benton and Tyler. Within two years of Lake Benton's and Tyler's platting, Marshfield lost most of its commercial and all of its political status, and in 1895 the townsite was vacated.

A third railroad, the Willmar and Sioux Falls (Burlington Northern) crossed the far southeast corner of the county in 1889. Like the Winona and St. Peter, its effect on the county's development was minimal. The last rail line to cross the county was the Minnesota & South Dakota (Chicago and Northwestern) that extended from Tyler northwesterly to the state line. Platted along this line in 1900 by the Western Town Lot Co., a subsidiary of the Chicago Northwestern, were Arco (Arcola), Ivanhoe, and Hendricks.

Two additional communities besides Marshfield were platted exclusive of the railroad. Wilno, platted in 1883 by Julian E. Buckbee, became the nucleus of Polish settlement in the county. St. John Cantius Church was established the same year as the plat was made, and although the Minnesota and Dakota Railroad track was laid a mile south through Ivanhoe, Wilno survived as a Catholic hamlet.

Thompsonburg or Thomsenberg was the last town to be platted in the county. The community was planned in 1942 by Marvin Thomsen as a resort community. The scheme was never fully developed and though the town remains, it is encircled by trees and is virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside.

Divergent groups of people settled in the county both before and during rail line construction. Settlement continued through 1900 when the last rail line was constructed. The southern half of the county, settled first, drew Eastern Americans and Danes who settled on farms and in the communities of Lake Benton and Tyler.

The northern half of the county drew Norwegians, Poles, and Icelanders who settled in the vicinity of Hendricks, Ivanhoe and Wilno. The Icelanders have been more closely associated with Minnesota in western Lyon County.

The Chicago and Northwestern Line which ran from Tyler northwest to the state line was abandoned in 1970, but Arco, Ivanhoe and Hendricks, all located along this line, survived the loss of rail service and now exclusively use truck transport. Agriculture in the county remains diversified. Corn, oats, flax, soybeans, sunflowers, hay, dairying, cattle feeding, and stock raising produce most of the farm income. The number of farms in the county today is 1,070 with an average size of 303 acres.

The architecture of the county follows the building patterns and styles of other prairie counties. The earliest Euro-American buildings were sometimes of log construction, although the availability of materials usually led to sod or dugout construction methods. As soon as finished lumber became widely available, domestic, agricultural and commercial structures utilized the standard plans for buildings of the period. Style conscious, architecturally designed buildings have generally been limited to public, religious and a few commercial buildings.


The significance of Lincoln County during the historic period lies in the inter-relationship of settlement, agriculture and rail transportation. The county's industrial focus on agriculture is supported by towns linked by rail, by settlement of immigrants who quickly established themselves both on land and in the communities, and by the construction of buildings which reflect their collective interests and heritage.

The Danish Evangelical Lutheran population in Tyler actively recruited Danish settlers and established the religious and educational complex of Danebod (1889-1917, Tyler, placed on the National Register in 1975) to preserve and continue the cultural traditions brought over by the hundreds of Danish farm families. Lake Benton first attracted English settlers, followed by Swedish farmers and merchants. The Lake Benton Opera House (Lake Benton, 1896, placed on the National Register in 1977) reflects, as does Danebod, the need to establish a community social and cultural center. Significantly, the Ernest Osbeck House (Lake Benton, 1896), is indicative of the local prominence achieved by a Swedish immigrant who used his position in the community to boost commercial and social ventures such as the Opera House.

A few buildings constructed in the first part of the 20th century reflect the maturity of the county. All rail line construction was completed and the cities were established in their roles as commercial centers. The sheriff's Residence and Jail (Ivanhoe, 1903), which served as the courthouse for 15 years, and the present Lincoln County Courthouse (Lyanhoe, 1919) are the most prominent public buildings in the county. Increased student population required improved school buildings; the Tyler Public School (Tyler, 1903) survives as an unusually well preserved example of the significance the community attached to educational facilities. Agriculture has been the central economic theme in county development since its settlement. The Lincoln County Fairgrounds, (Tyler, 1873-1938) has linked all aspects of the county's agriculture by way of product and educational exhibits. The Drammen Farmers' Club (Drammen Township, 1921) has played a crucial role in providing a social and educational context for farm families living in sparsely settled areas of the county. It is unique among area farm organizations for its exclusively social role in the sparsely populated rural community.

Architecturally, there are few "high" style buildings in the county and one, in particular, which defies all attempts at categorization. Nonetheless, many of the buildings reflect simplified versions of popular styles at the time of their construction. The Ernest Osbeck House (Lake Benton, 1896) best exemplifies a local adaptation of the Queen Anne style. Moderate in size and modest in design, the house remains an unusually prominent structure in Lake Benton. Governmental and educational buildings stand out as notable examples of adaptations of traditional styles. The eclectic Sheriff's Residence and Jail (Ivanhoe, 1903) and the Romanesque/Renaissance Revival Tyler Public School (Tyler, 1903), both designed by Winona architect A. J. Van Duesen, are outstanding for their attention to design. The Neo-Classic Lincoln County Courthouse (Ivanhoe, 1919), by C. Howard Parson, Minneapolis, is more reserved in appearance and reflects the transition made in courthouse design in the early 20th century. Danebod (Tyler, 1889-1917) strongly reflects Danish heritage, craftsmanship, use of local materials, and reliance on styles popular in Denmark. Outstanding in its own right, the H. P. Pedersen Filling Station (Arco, 1936) is a tribute to the builder's imagination and stands as a reminder of stone craftsmanship and individual artistic expression.


Tasker, A. E. Early History of Lincoln County. Lake Benton News Print, 1936.

"New School House," The Tyler Herald, 28 March 1918, p. 1

Tyler Journal, 24 April and 26 June, 1903, p. 5.

Lincoln County Centennial History Committee, Lincoln County, Minnesota, 1873-1973. Lake Benton, Minnesota: Journal Printing Company, 1973.

Francaviglia, Richard V. "Some Comments on the Historic and Geographic Importance of Railroads in Minnesota," Minnesota History, Vol. 43: 58-62 (Summer, 1972).

Historical Records Survey, Division of Women's and Professional Projects, Works Progress Administration, Inventory of the County Archives of Minnesota, No. 41, Lincoln County. St. Paul: Historical Records Survey, 1938.

Lincoln County Centennial History Committee. Lincoln County, Minnesota 1873-1973. Lake Benton: Journal Printing Company, 1973.

Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey. The Geology of Minnesota. Vol. 1 of the Final Report. St. Paul and Minneapolis, 1884.

Robinson, Edward V. D. Early Economic Conditions and the Development of Agriculture in Minnesota. (Univ. of Minnesota, Studies in the Social Sciences 3). Minneapolis, 1915.

Tasker, A. E., ed. Early History of Lincoln County. Lake Benton: News Print, 1936.

U. S. Department of Agriculture - Minnesota Crop and Livestock Reporting Service. Minnesota Agricultural Statistics. 1978.

U. S. Department of Agriculture-Soil Conservation Service, Soil Survey, Lincoln County, St. Paul: University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, 1970.

U. S. Department of Commerce - Bureau of the Census. Census of Agriculture. 1974.

U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. Census of the United States, Minnesota. U. S. Government Printing Office, for the years, 1880-1970.

Upham, Warren. Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance. 2nd rev. ed. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1969.

  1. Roth, Susan, Minnesota Historical Society, Lincoln County Multiple Resource Area, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington D.C.

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