Heron Lake's 125th anniversary to be observed this weekend
HERON LAKE -- The small community of Heron Lake will celebrate 125 years of history this weekend, from the wild days of settlers' conflicts with Native Americans to its days of dollar-driven hunting tourism to the quiet and prosperity of its mode...
HERON LAKE -- The small community of Heron Lake will celebrate 125 years of history this weekend, from the wild days of settlers' conflicts with Native Americans to its days of dollar-driven hunting tourism to the quiet and prosperity of its modern existence.
"In the decades before it was ruined by silting, settlement and the cultivation of its watershed, carp, and excessive shooting, Heron Lake was one of the wonder places of the world for ornithologists as well as a fabulous sportsman's paradise," states "Heron Lake, Minnesota," composed by Gary Richter in 1983 in honor of Heron Lake's 100th anniversary.
The book tells the early story of the town where black-crowned night herons once nested by the thousands.
Once known only to tribes of Native Americans who settled the area, Heron Lake then became the property of France, Spain and England at various times before the Louisiana Purchase ultimately ceded it to the fledgling United States of America.
In 1871 the first settlement on the site of Heron Lake was built, named after the lake itself, known to the Native Americans as "Okabena" -- "the land where the herons nest."
According to "History of Jackson County," John T. Smith and C.H. Carroll first visited the site to set up business, only to find nothing but prairie grass. They had to burn some grass away just to find space to put the lumber they had hauled from Mankato.
That first year, the entire town consisted of a few buildings -- a general store, a drug store, the railroad depot, a lumber yard, the Pioneer Hotel and the Heron Lake post office.
It took the railroad service to breathe life into the small town, which remained under the government of Weimer Township until it officially formed its own municipal government.
Heron Lake and the nearby city of Heron Lake quickly became known for its waterfowl hunting opportunities. At the time, diving ducks, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, white pelicans, cormorants, whistling swans, sandhill cranes, whooping cranes and "vast flocks of shorebirds" all nested on the lake, according to "Heron Lake, Minnesota."
"The lake was instrumental (to economic development) years ago, with the hunting, and it's supposed to have been compared to Chesapeake Bay for duck hunting," said local historian Don Steen of Heron Lake.
The town grew, weathering a financial depression in 1873 and grasshopper invasions that decimated crops every year from 1873 to 1876.
By 1910, 803 people lived in Heron Lake. In 2000, the census showed a population of 768 for the town.
Although Heron Lake has suffered a population decline in both waterfowl and people, it remains prosperous -- and ready to celebrate its quasquicentennial this weekend.