By Tucker Henderson
A while back I was lent a newspaper insert from the New York Mills Herald, which bears only the year it was printed: 2000. With pictures and histories of our local communities from throughout the years, it certainly celebrates the history of what was as well as the history yet to be made.
The village of Bluffton was so named because, well… it sits on a bluff overlooking the Leaf River. The arrival of a post office to its location around 1878 was announced in the Fergus Falls Journal and helped spread the news that it was there, ready for enterprise and expansion.
A short lived newspaper, the Bluffton Enterprise, was in publication in 1883 and reported the news of the immediate area. It is recorded that Bluffton, at one time, was three times as large as the city of Wadena. This was during the boom of the timber industry when the Northern Pacific railroad came through.
Businesses such as a grist mill, sawmill, hotel, elevator, blacksmith shop, railroad station, post office and several merchandise stores kept the economy of the town thriving for a time.
“Nibi-Washkesh” was the first name of the area now known as Deer Creek. The local Anishinaabe tribe had named it that in their native tongue and forever imparted their original meaning of “stream of the deer.”
When the first settlers arrived at Nibi-Washkesh in 1865, there were still Ojibwe living here. Alpheus Stillman and his family made their way to the area after arriving in Clitherall and deciding it wasn’t the place to stay. The Ojibwe were a kind people and oftentimes made friends with the local settlers as they arrived here.
Unfortunately, with time and policy, our Native brethren have been forced to move along. The deep roots of the name Deer Creek still have a foothold with the Nibi-Washkesh Museum and of course, the English translation of the Anishinaabe namesake.
School was first held in Deer Creek in 1875 in either a shanty or a dirt-floored log cabin. Schools in Deer Creek have not had historically good luck. Twice the school buildings were ravaged by fire and in 1991, the school consolidated with Wadena.
Anna J. Smith is a notable character from the village as she was elected mayor in 1923, becoming one of our state’s first female mayors.
New York Mills
Newton Township is the home of New York Mills and at one time three other villages.
Boardman, which was platted first, was never developed and engulfed in the ever-expanding village of New York Mills. You can still see where it was located when you travel down Boardman Avenue.
Topelius, located down the tracks towards Wadena, was once a thriving village as well. The only thing left of original Topelius is the concrete steps of the old school house.
A last village, which never was platted, is the village of Heinola which is still announced to visitors of Highway 67 with a sign bearing its name.
Three creameries existed in Newton as well. New York Mills, Heinola and Topelius creameries raked in a whopping $193,192.11 in 1925 and operated for a number of years before closing or consolidating.
Newspapers have a rich history here in NY Mills. There have been more Finnish newspapers than English and one still exists: the Amerikan Uutiset is still being published out of Lake Worth, Florida.
Other towns such as Butler and Ottertail also have interesting histories, though unfortunately were not included in this insert. They will have to be a topic to revisit in a later column.