Swanville, Minnesota

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Swanville History, written by Myrtle Stith
Descendents of Jesse Stith who married Eliza Jane Hatton
     Data from Kenneth Stith, 2010. Some material from Jim Stith, May ,2011
More on Hatton (Hatten) and Jesse Stith connection.
Ancestry of Eliza Jane Stith daughter of John Crittendon Stith b. 1865.
     Data from Kenneth Stith

Christopher Columbus Stith
  Provided by Jim Stith, May 2011.

Charles Stith and Olga Seims, wedding photo, June 20, 1911.
Courtesy of Jim Stith, May 2011


jdstith.jpg (68851 bytes)
Johnson Damascus Stith and Bazilla Cox Stith
Courtesy of Jim Stith, May 2011

History of Swanville Minnesota

Related by Thomas Blais and written by Myrtle Stith Schultz
   Copy provided by Jim Stith, May 2011.

John Baptist Blais and family came to Swanville in 1866 from the District of Quebec, Canada.  His family consisted of John Baptist Blais and wife, Joseph, John, Cyprian, Delia and Mary Blais.  They came by way of Little Falls and were detained several days at Lee's Ferry, three miles below Little Falls.  Many families were waiting to be ferried across the Mississippi River.  While at the ferry they met the William Bain family also enroute to the Swanville community.

Between Little Falls and Swanville it was a wild, heavily timbered country and there were few families.  I believe only two families lived between the two towns, one by the name of Fornier and the other Dan Campbell.  The William Bain family moved to Swanville a couple of months after the Blais family.  Shortly after the Blais family moved,  a coupe of families by the name of Albert and William Rhoda moved in from Chaska, Minnesota.   And in the year of 1880 the railroad was started and in the fall the rails were laid and in the spring the settlers had their first train service this side of Little Falls. 

A supply store was built on the present site of the William Wielke residence in the year 1880.  A settler by the name of Williams built this store and several other buildings.  Five of the Blais brothers were employed by Williams and other employees were John Penningham, Bill Robinson and Frank Bertram.  This was the start of the town of Swanville, but at this period it had no name and was only a store built in the woods.  Williams, owning the store was anxious to find a name for the town and asked suggestions from his employees.  Some of the settlers wanted to name it Williamsville but this did not appeal to Williams.

He gave a dance for his employees when his store was finished in the new store, and invited all of the settlers.  He asked his employees to bring a name in a sealed envelope, which was dropped in a box and opened at midnight and the majority would win in naming the town.  The Blais family had thought of the name of Swanville taken from the Township of Swan River, Swan River and Swan Lake.  Mr. Blais believed the township, river and lake had been named on account of the large number of white swans, which were plentiful at that time.  He remembers a lady by the name of Burnham shooting a large white swan on Little Sean Lake (Pillsbury) and from this family the small settlement then was called Burnhamville.

When the votes were counted there were five votes for Swanville, and then and there Swanville was named at midnight at the Williams store and we can say the name originated with the John Baptist Blais family.

In 1869 Maxine Sepin moved to this settlement from Michigan.  He donated land for a school house on the corner above the Glazier, farm, and this was the first public school in this town.  Miss Isabel Cox (Mrs. Edward Flood) was one of the first teachers.   Among the first pupils were Krouseys, Pepins, Blais, Rhoda, Ehrenbergs, Longe, Stith, Sullivan and Connolly, Merac, Muske, and Pedlow. 

Alex McRae built the second store in town on the present site of the Conoco Station.   His brother, John (J.J.) McRae, a single man came to work in this store and married Lizzie Denning and raised a family as one of the pioneers of Swanville.  Alex McRae was elected President of the Village Council and was the first mayor.  Then J. D. Stith was elected for two terms.

A. P. McRae moved from Pillsbury to Swanville in 1866 and Pillsbury was only a thickly wooded district with only a few settlers within miles of the present site.  The parents of the McRae men lived between Pillsbury and Swanville and Grandma McRae was out in the dense forest and became lost.  She was very deaf and it was feared she would never be found.  Large numbers of settlers came on horseback and scoured the woods through the day and night.  They shot rounds of shells to notify others where they were in the woods.  In the evening when it got dark she noticed a spark from the gun fire and located the searchers, and was brought home from the woods after hours and hours of suspense of the entire community. 

Burnham came to Pillsbury and built the dam and shingle mill, flour mill and saw mill in 1868.  Hogan took over the mill and brought machinery here and installed it making the mill into a woolen mill and some time later disposed of it to Frank Mattock who operated this mill for a number of years.  His son Raymond Mattock was a prominent Methodist pastor in this state, deceased in 1955.  In 1882 George Balmer moved from Pillsbury to Swanville and built a saloon and operated it for about six months, selling it to J. D. Stith who at that time lived and was section foreman at Cokato, Minn.  Mr. Stith moved to Swanville in 1882 with his wife, one son and daughter, Charles and Belle Stith and some time later Isabel Cox and Lizzie Cox, sisters of Mrs. Stith came on a visit and made their home in Swanville.  Isabel Cox had been teaching in Wright County and was engaged to teach in Swanville, Lizzie took employment at the home of W. J. Sullivan.

A Congregational Church was built in Pillsbury, then called Burnhamville and Dr. J. Frank Licke was the pastor and was also the country doctor and delivered most of the babies born in the pioneer settlement and officiated at all church ceremonies, and also established the Congregational Church in Swanville, as services to this date had been held in the school house.

William Sullivan moved to Swanville shortly after the railroad was put through and was the first depot agent and later he built and operated a store and erected the Albion Hotel.  J. D. Stith kept the saloon a couple of years and sold it to Martin Mueller and built a hardware store and later a general store known as J. D. Stith and Son and that store was in operation from 1883 for more than 60 years.  Other settlers names were Pedlow, Weedman, Grier, and Isaac Biteman.

A settler came to town in 1885 and notified the town that a small boy, son of Andy Sturgeon was lost in the dense woods on the Sturgeon farm in Bruce Township.   Horseback riders rode to Hanson Siding, now Brutrum, Burnhamville and notified all settlers to organize a group for searching.  Wagon loads of men, horseback riders and men and boys on foot came to the farm and the search went on for nearly a week.   Women cooked and served searchers.  Belle Stith, my sister, remembers serving the hungry men, women and boys who were searching for this child.  It must have seamed like a friendly warm hearted place to the Sturgeon family in their new home.   Bear, wolves, panthers and wild cats and many vicious animals were in the wilds and women were often chased from a fine berry patch by big bear.  The child was not found and in the spring when the snow left the ground the small skeleton bones were found in a gully, not far from the P.A. Bain farm, miles from his home in Bruce Township.

In 1899 William Siems came to Swanville from Chaska and opened the first bank.   The financial condition in this country at this time from 1880 until 1910 was very good.  In the early days there was little known of law enforcement and it was not unusual for lumberjacks to fight with knives and many bloody battles were enacted in this little town.  The town was filled with every vacant lot, railroad right of ways and up to the business section with logs, ties and cord wood.  Trading was done with barter system.  Bring in a load of logs, ties or cord wood and take home provisions.   J. D. Stith was an official tie estimator for the Northern Pacific Railroad Co.. A tie train would spend a week or more in Swanville loading ties.

George Melver was one of the first constables to serve while McRae and Stith were Mayors.  Fred and Rudolph Muske moved to Swanville and Fred opened up the third store in Swanville and raised a large family and were truly pioneer merchants in Swanville and Fred served as mayor for several years.

The excelsior mill and lumber mills were the main industry and were operated by Perry Stith and several Koenig families.   The Excelsier Mill was erected in 1911 and employed eight men under the foreman Mr. Mitchell who moved to Swanville from St. Cloud.   The mill was not a sound financial proposition and only operated a few years and was dismantled later.