Worthington 150: Worthington, Adrian battle for county seat
Adrian proposed dissecting Nobles County so it could reign over a new county.
WORTHINGTON — Nobles County was created by an act of the Minnesota legislature May 23, 1857. The question of where the county seat would be located plagued the county until the mid-1890s. Worthington became permanent county headquarters after defeating Adrian’s earnest struggle to steal the position.
During the first decade, Gretchtown was designated the county seat. Gretchtown, however, was merely a phantom of the prairie. It never really existed. The earliest county commissioners met at members’ homes near Graham Lakes.
When Worthington was founded in 1872, the colonists asked that the county seat be established here. Ex-Gov. Stephen Miller, a later Worthington resident, introduced a bill in the 1873 legislature providing for the colony’s wish.
Not wanting arbitrarily to locate the county seat in Worthington, the legislature passed a bill to remove the county seat from Worthington to Hersey, now Brewster, along with the Miller bill. The residents were thus required to vote to decide which of the two towns would become the county capitol. Worthington was logically the best location. It was centrally situated and had the greatest population. The county conceded its support to Worthington in the November election by a vote of 379 to 104.
Immediately after the first bill was passed in St. Paul, the county commissioners set up shop in a leased back room of the Worthington post office. The first official meeting was held there on June 10, 1873.
The Sioux City and St. Paul Railroad had given Worthington the courthouse square in 1871. Financial difficulties of that decade made construction of a courthouse impossible. County funds were urgently needed to relieve destitute victims of the grasshopper scourge.
When the community recovered, a temporary building was erected on the site. A structure built in 1877 for $1,124 served as the Nobles County courthouse for 18 years.
The next year, hundreds of German and Irish Catholics settled in Bishop John Ireland’s colony at Adrian. The community grew quickly and soon threatened Worthington’s primary position in the county. The 1885 census listed Worthington’s population as 997 and Adrian’s as 533.
Adrian petitioned to remove the county seat from Worthington, but the effort produced only 600 signatures. Later, when the legislature adopted a county seat removal law, the western rival attacked again.
During the 1890s, the western portion of the county surpassed the eastern section’s population. When it proved practically impossible to wrench the focus from Worthington, Adrian proposed dissecting the county. Worthington could remain the county seat for the eastern half, and Adrian could be the county seat for a new county to the west.
A conference was held between representative groups from both towns in 1893. No decision was made, but a committee was organized to investigate the proposed schism.
People living in the center tier of townships opposed any county division. They called an immediate conference at Rushmore and drafted a resolution condemning the Adrian plan. They had no desire of splitting their land between two rival counties.
Meanwhile, the county commissioners in Worthington rushed plans for building a new courthouse and combination jail and sheriff’s office.
D.J. Forbes of Adrian filed a suit against the county and forced an injunction to halt construction of either building. The case, known as D.J. Forbes vs. J.J. Kendlen, was carried to the state supreme court, where the injunction was finally dissolved.
With Adrian’s hopes destroyed, Worthington proceeded with the project, completing the jail in 1894 and laying the cornerstone for the courthouse in the center of downtown Worthington.