Here’s how Willmar became a rail center

A matter of great importance in the early 1830s was the construction of an railroad line from Duluth on the north, to Iowa on the south. The line would pass through Kandiyohi County, and serve New London, Green Lake, and Kandiyohi, leaving Willmar out in the cold. Since the route included Kandiyohi, Willmarites objected strongly because they were afraid that, logically, this would lead to moving the county seat from Willmar back to Kandiyohi.

Early in 1883, a bond proposition was voted upon, with very interesting results. The count was 706 for and 742 against the proposition. It wasn’t that simple, however. The vote in Mamre Township, in which 23 votes were cast, was declared void because of faulty ballots. They read, “For or yes or the bond issue” and “For or no for the railroad proposition.” The election judges decided that those votes were confusing and removed them from the results. Had they been left their two votes for and the 26 votes against, the proposition would have resulted in a tie.

Because of time restrictions, no one protested the vote. The Superior, Willmar and Dakota Railway Company was incorporated in April, with J.M. Spicer as president. Directors were John Paulson, Paul Roise, Dennis O’Brien, A. E. Rice, Louis Larson. Andrew, B.F. Jenness. H. R. Gale. L.O. Thorpe. Andrew Railson, George Perkins, W.R. Gillis. Hans Dale, A.J. Luce and K.O. Neste.

At the first meeting of the corporation, plans were completed for driving the line westward with all speed. Although the previous plan to bond the county had not been endorsed by the voters, the new corporation’s officers were men who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and held a campaign to bring the new plan to a successful conclusion. The vote this time resulted in a solid victory for the railroad.

The Sauk Center Southern Railway Company decided not to get involved in any kind of negotiations because they believed it would take at least two years to come to any conclusions, and that would be too late.

The following June, the matter of bonding the county was raised again and this time the vote gave the county and the railroad a majority of 140 out of 1,762 votes cast. The bonds were for 20 years, with interest at 6 percent. The bonds for $65,000 were conditional, requiring the LS, W&D line to complete building by a certain date. The county was given $65,000 of the railroad company stock at face value. The railroad was constructed and finally sold to the St. F.M. and M. Railroad, which later on became the Great Northern Railway.

In 1836, the Lake Superior, Willmar & Dakota Railway Company offered to surrender the $65,000 in bonds issued by the county, if the county would return $65.000 worth of capital stock to the company. It did and that’s why and how Willmar became a rail center for St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company, which rapidly acquired all the other railroad interests in the area.

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