Worthington 150: Worthington, Adrian battle for county seat

Adrian proposed dissecting Nobles County so it could reign over a new county.

Little Sioux
The Little Sioux steam boat takes passengers for a ride on Lake Okabena.
Henry Blume
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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.

A timeline that celebrates big moments in our town's history.
Adrian proposed dissecting Nobles County so it could reign over a new county.
While Worthington City Hall maintains all council meeting minutes, the early minutes are handwritten.

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.

One Worthington woman who was close to the welfare scene expressed it another way: “I never told my kids how tough we had it. And I forgot it as soon as I could.”
E. O. Olson was a prominent figure in Worthington's history
Worthington was a natural for the natural ice industry. The railroads were here. The lake was here.

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.

A timeline that celebrates big moments in our town's history.
The Indian culture along the shores of Lake Okabena remained undisturbed until the mid-19th century, when white settlers first moved into the area.
An addition to the junior and senior high complex, the auditorium was designed with the classic art deco features so popular at the time.
The first public school consisted of 49 students and two teachers who met in various rented rooms throughout the village.
At least 50 confirmed reservations were received from Midwestern windsurfers of various skill levels.
One night he ran smack-dab into a group of evangelists while staggering out of a saloon. He was converted on the spot. Since then he traveled all across the country preaching the gospel and convincing sinners to “get right with God.”
The city’s Army National Guard unit, Co. F of the 215th Coast Artillery, was ordered to active duty in 1940, a full year before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
First festival focused on playing soccer.
Committee member recounts sorting everything from dresses and suits to shoes.
It was a noisy, hilarious and potentially dangerous scene. But the merchants of 1934 declared it a huge success.
Ludlow a figure in Worthington's early history.
“Building international relations on a community-to-community basis … represents a new approach to democracy.”
Jack started as an immigrant shoemaker and went on to lead a flamboyant rags-to-riches life. He was part of an interesting era in Worthington’s history.
Last local casualties were from Vietnam war.
The founder of this unique partnership visited Crailsheim in 1958, when she was decorated with the “Bundersverdienstkreuz Erster Klasse.”
His home still stands today as a bed and breakfast.
The Mobergs and Larsons came to America together in 1870, an arduous journey by boat, foot, wheel car and railroad.
Worthington’s economic base began to broaden from the narrow pedestal of farming to the much broader one of agriculture.
Worthington soared to a new population of 3,481 persons by the 1920s.
In 1916, a hexagonal bandstand was built about 75 feet out on Lake Okabena at the foot of Third Avenue.
His most notable accomplishment was in 1911, when the four-story hotel which bears his name was built, with 118 feet of it faced on 10th Street and the courthouse square.
From the first permanent house to the largest King Turkey Day in 1966, Worthington has a storied past.
Prior to 1909, post was termed president.
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle shares thoughts on city's milestone anniversary.

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