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What’s in a name?

By Staff | Feb 28, 2010

Here is a quiz for residents of Faribault County.

What do the following men have in common?

Sterrit Guthrie, Stephan A. Douglas, James Dobson, James and Alexander Johnson, James Campbell, Charles Marples and U.S. Grant.

Give up?

All of them had townships in Faribault County named after them.

There is a problem here, of course. There are no townships in Faribault County that are named Guthrie, Douglas, Dobson, Johnson, Campbell, Marples or Grant.

But, there once was.

I got curious one day when I looked at a map of the county and finally noticed that there are 20 townships. While looking at the names of these 20, I became more curious as to how they were named.

It seems that even the early pioneers in the county questioned how the townships were named. So, they renamed a few of them.

Sometimes more than once.

Perhaps residents of the county’s townships are all fully aware of how each one came by its name. But, if not, here is a brief history lesson on how it was done.

In 1858 the state allowed the governor to select a three person panel of commissioners to do the naming of the townships in Faribault County. All three were residents of Winnebago, and it is obvious they were not as well-versed about the county as they should have been.

For instance, Barber Township was named for Chauncy Barber, who the panel members thought was a resident of the area.

He wasn’t. He actually lived in Minnesota Lake Township.

Blue Earth City Township took its name from the Blue Earth River, obviously, but also from the city located within its boundaries.

I guess they never thought that could become confusing in future years.

Likewise, Brush Creek Township was named for the creek that runs through it. Pretty simple. Not every choice was that easy.

Clark Township went through three namings. It was first called Cobb Township, because the panel thought that Cobb Creek ran through it, and they were following their previous reasonings when they named Blue Earth and Brush Creek.

The problem was, they were wrong. No Cobb Creek in Cobb Township.

So they renamed it Thompson Township, in honor of Clark Thompson, the original proprietor of the Village of Wells, and the biggest landowner in Faribault County.

A smart political move on their part.

However, the state said there were too many things named Thompson in the state and they needed to change it.

So, they chose Mr. Thompson’s first name, and Clark Township it is.

Whew, glad that got settled.

But, the naming problems continued for the three.

Delavan Township was originally named Guthrie, for an early settler named Sterrit Guthrie.

However, when the Village of Delavan was named for a local businessman (and railroad employee) named Oren Delavan Brown, the township was renamed to be the same as the village – following the tradition of Blue Earth, Brush Creek, et.al.

The township naming committee originally called Dunbar Township Douglas Township, in honor of Stephan A. Douglas – yes, the guy who debated Abraham Lincoln.

Douglas had never lived in Faribault County. Neither did Willam F. Dunbar, who was the state auditor at the time. He lived in Houston County.

None the less, the panel must have decided they liked the name Dunbar better than Douglas. I am surprised they didn’t call it Lincoln Township.

Elmore Township went through several name changes, too. It was first named Dobson, after an early settler named James Dobson.

It took an act of state legislation to rename it Elmore Township, in honor of Andrew E. Elmore, who in fact, was never a resident of Faribault County, or Minnesota for that matter. He lived in Wisconsin.

A former business partner of Elmore’s, William Drake, moved to Dobson Township and somehow got the name changed.

I suppose it is too late to rename it Dobson, an actual early settler of that area.

The panel of three must have been celebrating St. Patrick’s Day when they came up with naming Emerald Township.

They were under the mistaken impression that the area had been settled by Irishmen. In truth, begorrah, there wasn’t