Taking a look back to Farmington’s early daysIn 1856 James C. Dow, editor of the Dakota Weekly Journal, a territorial newspaper published in Hastings, wrote, "Farmington is situated on the Vermillion River, about fifteen miles from Hastings.
By: David Schreier, Farmington Area Historical Society, The Farmington Independent
In 1856 James C. Dow, editor of the Dakota Weekly Journal, a territorial newspaper published in Hastings, wrote, "Farmington is situated on the Vermillion River, about fifteen miles from Hastings. This place is rightly named, for it looks like a village of farms. Good soil, good water, good timber and intelligent citizens is their wealth."
Three short years after the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota were signed in 1851, resulting in the acquisition of more than 24 million acres of land from the Medewakanton, Wahpekute, Sisseton, and Wahpeton bands of the Dakota, Farmington was settled and became one of Dakota County’s firstborn communities. The young agrarian community was settled by Old Stock Americans, many from New York, and English, German and Irish immigrants. As Dakota County grew in population so did Farmington. The "village of farms" and its activities were described in newspapers in 1856, 1858, and 1863.
Several of Farmington’s youth joined to represent Dakota County during the Civil War. Some had seen severe fighting as members of Company H of the First Minnesota Volunteers. As the war raged on, A.B. Rogers platted a portion of section 31 in Empire Township for the Minnesota Central Railroad in 1864. "Old" Farmington became "new" Farmington with a business district, a railroad depot, and soon afterward, a modern school, churches and community organizations to meet the needs of the community.
Many Civil War veterans chose to settle in Farmington and became its leading citizens. Dr. Levi Dodge, a graduate of Dartmouth College and a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, arrived in Farmington in October 1865 with his wife, Henrietta. The 24-year-old physician worked to improve the quality of life in the young community and saw to it that Farmington had all the advantages of more established communities. He helped to organize the first public library in Farmington in 1871, which was also the first public library in Dakota County.
Crafty politics kept Farmington from being incorporated in 1869, however the community was incorporated in 1872, the second in the County to do so. Edward Brackett was elected Farmington’s first mayor. He served as a commissary sergeant in the Ninth Maine Volunteer Infantry during the war. He arrived in Farmington in 1866 and was the station agent for the railroad until his retirement in 1909.
A year after Farmington was incorporated, the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company Number One was established with 33 names signed to the company list. The company was a self-governing institution, establishing its own rules and electing its own officers. The village trustees agreed to accept the Eagle Hook and Ladder Company as organized and set aside funds to help purchase fire equipment. In 1876, the United States’ centennial year, sufficient funds were acquired to buy a 400-pound bell, which proved to be inadequate. The "little tinkler," as the community named it, was returned and a second bell, an 800 pounder, was purchased from a St. Paul foundry. The historic firebell can be seen near the City Hall on Oak Street.
The "Great Fire of 1879," which consumed several buildings on Third and Oak Streets, made it possible for the downtown district to rebuild. Modern brick buildings replaced old wooden ones. The Bank of Farmington, now known as the Exchange Bank building, was completed in 1880. Designed by the German-born architect Augustus Gauger of St. Paul, the structure is one of the finest examples of Italianate architecture in the state. The Eagle Hook and Ladder Company formally disbanded on March 3, 1880, having not received financial support from the community to purchase fire fighting equipment and was reorganized on June 18, 1885, as the Cataract Engine Company No. 1. The community had voted in favor of purchasing a new fire engine and the construction of fire wells in April. The five-year period without a fire department was one of the most perilous in Farmington’s history.
In 1883 a Board of Trade was established to facilitate and promote the commercial, mercantile and manufacturing interests of the Farmington area. The first item of business was to establish a creamery. A site was chosen on Fourth and Willow Streets across from the Vermillion River. Construction on the building began in April and was completed in June 1883. The creamery produced a superior quality fancy butter. Seventy cows supplied milk to the creamery its first year. By 1899 the creamery was processing 20,000 pounds of milk a day and specializing in the Norwegian cheese "Norsk Pultost."
The cooperative creamery needed to expand and constructed a modern building. In 1916, Farmington helped establish the Twin Cities Milk Producers Association (TCMP). Farmington’s up-to-date facility became one of three TCMP dairy plants in the metropolitan area.
That same year the Capital-National Highway, an international highway extending from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to New Orleans, Louisiana, was opened through Farmington. The community had been instrumental in establishing the Central Good Roads Association in 1913 in order to acquire the road. The Federal Government had its eye on Farmington and was pleased with its successful Rural Free Mail Delivery experiment in 1897, the second community in the nation to attempt the unprecedented project. The Capital-National Highway was a result of the government’s "model postal roads" program.
Farmington was responsible for important advances in agriculture in Dakota County. The community organized the Dakota County Improvement Association in 1913, which made it possible for the County to obtain an agricultural extension agent. R.C. Pollock, a graduate from the University of Iowa and Farmington’s high school agricultural instructor, was selected by the University of Minnesota to be the first agent. The Extension Service changed the lives of farm families by teaching better farming and homemaking methods, resulting in increased farm incomes. The Extension Service has been located in Farmington since 1914.
Farmington’s schools have a long tradition of excellence. The community’s wooden two-room pioneer schoolhouse was replaced by a modern two-story brick facility on Elm Street in 1869. The accredited school was a magnet for students from the rural townships and other communities. Having outgrown the Elm Street facility, a new school was constructed in 1913 on Walnut Street. As one of the finest schools in the state, with 27 acres of school grounds, a modern athletic field, and an established school bus service, Farmington easily absorbed a large number of students with the merger of 12 rural school districts in 1951. As the community grew, so did its number of schools. At the close of the twentieth century, the community has seven schools and plans to construct more.
Since its early beginnings in 1854, Farmington has been a leader in Dakota County and the state in advancing agriculture, the business of agriculture, and education. A proud history for the former "village of farms."