"Zumbro Falls Memoirs, Wabasha County, Minnesota"

This book was commissioned by the City of Zumbro Falls to commemorate the 1998 centennial. It was created by volunteers Ginny Oelkers, Cathryn Peters and Cheryl Johnson. The book includes the history of the town and surrounding area and tells of many of the residents and businesses throughout the years. There is a variety of old photos of the town and of its people in the early years.

The authors and publishers of this book have generously made the contents available to be included here. Items of historical interest from the book will be added to this site as time to transcribe pages permits. The first few chapters are now done. Please check back in a few weeks to see what's new!

There are still some copies of this book available. It is a spiral bound, 148 page, 8 x 10" book. To purchase the book, or for further information, contact:

Ginny Oelkers
Rt. 1 Box 258A
Zumbro Falls, MN 55991


The idea of the book was to take the existing buildings and businesses, write about them and the people operating them, then look back in time to find out what happened here before. There also were many old pictures to share. Thoughts were to compile the information that we could get into one place, along with the present history for future generations. Some of the dates, places and names seemed to conflict at times from our many sources, even from authoritative books, things didn't always match up. I am sure you will find some discrepancies and some information missing as this became quite an unsolved mystery at times.

This was an enjoyable experience up until the end when the deadline had to be met. Some of the stories could have been more thoroughly investigated and there are so many, many important families that we didn't get to write on, but we could not get them all in. There is so much more we wished we could have written, but had to "let the hair go with the hide", as our late friend Woody would say.

This book was not written by an experienced author or a genealogist, and the structure of the book may be poor, the wording inadequate and some information may be incorrect, just know that you don't get your money back!

This author now has bony, arthritic fingers from typing and pencil pushing, an exploded brain, is slightly deaf from too may conversations on the phone and has a husband that is sick and tired of the whole mess! Also, could the Zumbro Falls Fire Department please donate a fire hose to clean my neglected dirty house? This "authoring stuff" is for the birds!!!!

Ginny Oelkers


There were many people who went out of their way to help get this book completed. Some brought newspaper items and people were very gracious about bringing in their pictures. Others wrote short stories and many gave information over the phone, lots of conversations took place.

A special thanks goes to Nadine O'Connell, who did the favor of copying items from the Wabasha County Historical Society for us. Elmer Miller, the photographer from Mazeppa, certainly did some digging in his files, copying old pictures and news items, periodically bringing something new (old) and exciting.

Thanks also to Gloria Henn for working out the census of our town and Marilyn Preble for going through the council books to get a complete list of past mayors together for us. Glen Atkinson and Alfred Starz made a special trip to help with a story on the Veterans. Every individual needs a special thanks.

This book would not have developed for another four years if it weren't for my two assistants Cathryn Peters and Chere Johnson. Cathryn helped in numerous ways from the beginning by submitting writings and helping to gather information. Chere came in near the end and saved the day by identifying people, pictures and putting things in order. If it wasn't for their help, we never would have met the deadline. Maybe we still won't when Dennis Schumacher and his staff at Hiawatha Design see what we are bringing in for printing

The following people have contributed in various ways by submitting photos, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings or by writing articles or past history books; Leona Davison, Verma Olin, Carl Bremer, Elmer A. Miller, Emery and Dorothy Henn, Mildred Peters, Marilyn Preble, Marvin Hosking, Harold Greer, Gloria and Dallas Henn, Kathryn Schmidt, Nadine O'Connell, Nona Johnson, Jeanette Yennie, David Hoeft, Don Kennedy, Joan Anding, Larry Atkinson, Karen Nute, Joyce Sprenger, Alfred and Ruth Starz, Bruce Heitman, Beth Meyer, Dave and Linda Hosking, Dee Murphy, Arnold Morrisey, Audry Luhman, Deb Kautz, Diane Siems, Verneal Adams and Howard Kennedy for taking Bob Parrott up in his plane for the aerial view photograph. I hope we didn't miss anyone.

Thank You All.


This book will begin with some history of the area around Zumbro Falls since our city did not develop in isolation. Before the railroad came to Zumbro Falls in the mid-1800s, the seven townships surrounding our village were settled and there was much activity in the area. To understand the history of Zumbro Falls, we have to consider the development that took place in the townships bordering the village.

This Wabasha county area is, and always head been, an important part of our history. The farmers in these rural areas have supported the elevators, farm related businesses and other businesses since Zumbro Falls began one hundred years ago. Students from many of these townships attended our local school, before consolidation with the Lake City school district. The people who live in these townships have made important contributions to our history and have helped to make Zumbro Falls the city it is today.


Early in Minnesota Territorial history, Wabasha County was one of nine counties and embraced the entire southeastern portion of the territory. In 1849 Wabasha County was defined as we know it today and organized as a county prescribed by the territorial enactment.

Pioneers traveled overland in this area as early as 1855 and forded the Zumbro River via ferry at an area later known as Zumbro Falls. The early settlement was located on the south side of the Zumbro river, relocated to the north side and established as the village of Zumbro Falls in 1898. The village is in one of Wabasha Counties 17 townships, called Gillford, in the extreme southwest corner of the township, located approximately 25 miles west of Wabasha, the county seat. Gillford is bordered by the townships of Zumbro, Chester and Hyde Park, Mount Pleasant and West Albany. While these other townships are important to the village development, we are most directly connected with Gillford.


The settlement of Gillford township dates back to the early part of 1855, when William McCloud, George and Seymour Fanning, Joseph Fuller and a Mr. Gill came to this township, staking claims. Mr. Gill became ill and passed away shortly after arriving in this, but Mrs. Gill settled in this township, and "on account of her amiable character the township was named for her."

It is bordered on the north by Mount Pleasant, on the east by West Albany, on the south by Hyde Park and on the west by Chester. The land of this township has a gentle roll. It is situated midway between the original forests and rough land, bordering on the Zumbro on the south, and the similar land along the Mississippi on the north. There is an abundance of clear-running water, which render stock raising a profitable undertaking.

Chester Township is bordered on the east by Gillford Township and on the south by Mazeppa Township. The Zumbro river crosses its southwest and southeast quarter-sections. The general configuration is quite uneven, the region being traversed by numerous valleys, but a rich prairie loam covers the whole area and makes for good farming.

A deep valley tributary to the Zumbro, with its several branches, drains the whole surface. Through this valley a bear was pursued by the early settlers, and the region became known as Bear Valley. This township was politically organized in 1858, being called Bear Valley, and later changed to Chester. Trout Brook flows through the southwestern part, known for its good supply of fish near Zumbro Falls.

Zumbro Township lies south of the Zumbro River and near Zumbro Falls, adjoins Gillford, Hyde Park, Chester and Mazeppa Townships. The first settlers to this township were the Baileys, Thomas, George and Andrew who came in early 1855, followed by the Jenkins family and a Mr. Baker in the summer of 1856.

This township was originally called Concord, changed to Troy in 1858, by which name it was known until 1861. Since there was already another township in the state know as Troy, it was changed again to finally be called Zumbro Township.

Hyde Park Township occupies an area north of the Zumbro River. It is bordered by Gillford, on the north, Oakwood on the east and Zumbro on the south and west. The land is quite varied with rough and hilly land near the river and was originally covered with a heavy growth of oak timber. The rolling farm land, with poplar groves attracted the early settlers. Paris Devitt, Samual Parker, John Ritter, Charles Holzman, William McCloud, George and Seymour Fanning and the Baker families were the early settlers of this area.


The history of Zumbro Falls actually began around 1855 when David Tibbetts came to this area and built a substantial log house on what is now the railroad right of way, south of lot 6, block 2, south row, Whaley's Addition, and nearby established a ferry. At the same time his brother secured the land south of the river, but resided on it only long enough to enable him to prove up his claim. His cabin was on the high land south of what is now the Drinkwalter Flat. In 1858 James Glover built a cabin on the ridge north of the village, northeast of the brick schoolhouse.

A gristmill and dam were built on the Zumbro in the extreme southeast corner of the township by Benjamin Clark in 1866, giving name to the new settlement. The grist mill did a good business till it was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1882.

Several early attempts were made to build bridges across the Zumbro to aid the pioneers on their journey, most meeting with disaster resulting from floods. Some of the earliest bridges were made of a pontoon (five flat boats strung together on an iron rod), a wooden structure and finally a steel bridge in 1885-1890.

About the time of the Civil War, Uriah S. Whaley bought out David Tibbetts, moved into his house and started operating the ferry. The village south of the river became quite a hamlet, giving a considerable impetus by the surveying, grading and building of the railroad.

As the pioneers continued to travel the area, Zumbro Falls became a convenient stopping place. Businesses that catered to the traveler, his animals and wagons sprung up rapidly. There were hotels, blacksmith shops, harness shops, wagon shops, general stores, drug stores, a shoe shop, two churches and even a saloon.

Fidel Sugg and Andrew Scholer platted the south side settlement in 1878, but by 1883 after suffering a devastating cyclone and a number of floods, residents of the settlement thought about relocating to the north side of the Zumbro. In 1879 after relocating, Uriah Whaley platted the new village. With the completion of the railroad in 1881, businesses and residents alike clamored for a depot. Shortly thereafter a depot was established and in operation, serving the area residents.

Through the next twenty years, the settlement grew and by 1897 a meeting was called to organize some form of government. A committee of four, consisting of Samual D. Welch, J.C. Strickland, W.J. Disney and Dr. T.R. Watson, consulted with attorney A.J. Green of Lake City. A census was taken and showed a population of 183. A petition was presented to the county board requesting village government. The petition was granted and the election ordered was held February 8, 1898. At the election the proposition was carried by a vote of 38 in favor and 11 against. The settlement was incorporated as the village of Zumbro Falls on February 8, 1898, officers were chosen and the first council meeting was held February 28, 1898. The final separation of the Zumbro Falls village from the jurisdiction of Gillford Township occurred on November 26, 1898, with 41 votes cast for separation and 2 against.

This quote was taken from the Zumbro Falls Independent newspaper following the election for incorporation, "Tuesday was an eventful epoch in the history of Zumbro Falls, it being the day that would foretell in a degree the future of this thriving town, or in other words, would incorporation be a fact or fallacy. Opposition that at first was formidable, gradually simmered down and the result of Tuesday's election was indeed gratifying to those who have zealously worked for the cause. Out of 60 votes cast, 39 favored the proposition. Now the town is in a position to assert itself, and it will."


We are very proud of our pioneer forefathers and believe that they chose a charming spot to settle along the banks of the Zumbro River. We find those first few generations went through many hardships colored with funny experiences to develop our town into what it is today.

With the completion of the railway and now the modern highways, #60 (Main Street) east and west and #63 (north and south) we have seen a great boost in the towns economy. We are in awe of the determination that our forefathers had to establish a town here. Over the years, there have been a succession of buildings erected, torn down and replaced but by and large the community has maintained a steady population of around 200, at least during the latter half of the century.

In doing the research for this book, several names have come up repeatedly and need a special mention. Many relatives of these people are still residents of Zumbro Falls or remain connected to this area. This list of names is of people instrumental here before 1915 and are as follows: Uriah S. Whaley, Abner and David Tibbetts, Benjamin J. Clark, L.A. Doty, Eldon Doty, J.J. Sprenger, W.J. Disney, L.W. Disney, Fidel Sugg, Albert Sugg, Andrew Scholer, George Stevens, Richard Greer, H.F. Anding, F.B. Anding, L.C. Ingram, Pratt Drinkwalter, Samual D. Welch, Hugh R. Smith, H. Gray, J.L. Strickland, Sam Malchert, C.H. Hedemann, A.C. Hosking, E. Theisen, A.S. Roberson, J. and E. Freiheit, J.C. Brinkman, Jake and Tony Schwatz, A.D. Klindworth and Minnie Smith.


The area south of the river across from the present town is where Zumbro Falls actually began. By reading accounts from the history books and books written by early settlers, we get a taste of what life was really like in early times.

William S. Hart, one of the first Hollywood cowboys recounts boyhood impressions of the area in his book, "My Life East and West." Hart tells events of his family settling in the original town of Zumbro Falls on the south side of the river, in a house that had been a store and had a false front. He also says that there were four houses in the tiny hamlet, that there was a bridge across the river which had just been built, half a mile upriver, on the other side. Hart recounts what a sight it was to watch the 20 or so Indians assisting the white men in building the mill dam. Hart also spoke of there not being a school within 20 miles of his home, so we estimated that he lived in this area in the late 1850s or 1860s.

This area was settled in 1857, and quickly grew into a thriving hamlet. Charles Byrant had a blacksmith shop; David Willard, harness shop; David Tibbetts ran the ferry; John Van Smith owned the Smith Hotel; Orrin Pencille, blacksmith shop; Edwin Beaman, shoe shop; John Dales, wagon shop; Perry Card, hotel; Fidel Sugg, general store; James Burns, saloon and store; Mathias Bright, harness shop; Dr. Rogers, drug store; E.A. Harridan, general store and there was a Methodist church. William Oliver erected a hall, with mural paintings and this became one of the social centers of the community.

Fidel Sugg and Andrew Scholer platted this south side settlement in 1878. A succession of floods damaged the homes and businesses here and eventually business began to die away on the south side of the river. Finally after suffering the cyclone of 1883, the hamlet never fully recovered. Fidel Sugg and Dr. Rogers were the first to give up business there and move across the river. It is now a close knit, quiet residential area made up of about 10 pleasant homes and one church.

In the Scholer and Sprenger Family History book, it is reported that Andrew Scholer moved his family to Zumbro Falls in about 1875. He built a new three-story stone house of the present Methodist Church in time for daughter Rosa's wedding to Gottlieb Starz on November 8, 1877. There has always been controversy over this building though; did Andrew really build the house, was it for his daughter, did he ever live there? It was known as being a stage coach stop for some years, too.

Esther Petry Sprenger believes that Andrew actually did the building of the house. But Lloyd Scholer was told by his father Louis, that a stone mason named Kegley did the stone work.

Pratt and Lena (Andrew and Marie's daughter) Drinkwalter lived in the home, as did their son Howard in later years. The Harold Greer family also resided there for a time. The house has been unoccupied for many years and now is owned by Lova Starz Anderson, the daughter of Emil Starz.

In 1874, Andrew Scholer designed and built a two-story frame house southwest of the current Methodist Church for Dr. Harvey Rogers. This structure was used as a hospital and later was a convalescent home known as the Watts home. The house was later owned by the Starz family, who are the current owners.

Gotleib Starz (Alfred's grandfather) and family moved into the house in about 1912. His son Albert (Alfred's father) worked for Emil Sprenger at the time and went to Ada to move his parents' possession here by railway. This trip included caring for and feeding the livestock, and watching the cutters and personal items. Albert rode in the railway car form Ada to watch over all the possessions. What a ride that must have been!

It is interesting to note that the three Scholer sisters, for many years, all lived in "old town" at the same time; Mrs. Pratt (Lena Scholer) Drinkwalter, Mrs. (Rosa Scholer) Starz and Mrs. William (Mathilda Scholer) Herman.

The first residential addition was named Zumbro Heights. It was platted in 1909 by L.O. Cooke and is located on the hill east of Hwy #63 and north of Hwy #60. Cooke stated that the streets were to be made passable by owners of the time. Five homes located here now, the most recent being for Mayor VanDeWalker and family.

Dreamwald Heights was the next addition platted in 1911 by George H. Beaty and is located near the brick school house. There are six nice homes here now.

Our newest addition in Wagon Wheel Ridge, platted and developed by Roderick Adams Sr. in 1978 when he bought the land from Dorothy Anding. This addition is located on the hill, above and behind the north side of Main Street.


The first city council consisted of a president, recorder, treasurer, three trustees, two constables and two justices all elected by the people. A census was taken before the election for incorporation and found to be a population of the area of 183. The first city council was elected on February 8, 1898 at 10:00 a.m. at the Steven's Hall in Zumbro Falls. The first regular meeting of the common council was on February 28, 1898. The very first ordinance passed was regulating the sale of intoxicating liquor!

Later in this century, a new law went into effect in 1971 that required a council to consist of a mayor and four council members. At that time the clerk and treasurer were appointed by the council, now everyone is elected. In about 1973 the name "village" was to change officially to "city." The current city council meetings are held in the City Hall next to the Fire Hall on every second Wednesday of the month at 7:00 p.m.

First City Council Elected February 8, 1898:
President: Samual D. Welch
Recorder: Dr. T.R. Watson
Treasurer: Eldon B. Doty
Trustees: J.L. Strickland, T.B. Waring, and L.A. Doty
Justices: George W. Stevens and Pratt Drinkwalter
Constables: John T. Ritter and Clarence Kirkham

DatesPresidents (Mayors) of the Village Recorders (Clerks)
1898, 1899Sam D. WelschDr. T.R. Watson
1900, 1901Pratt Drinkwalter?
1902L.E. Scruby?
1903, 1904A. Roberson?
1905, 1906Pratt Drinkwalter?
1907L.A. Doty?
1908Pratt DrinkwalterL.W. Disney
1909J.C. BrinkmanL.W. Disney
1909Hugh R. SmithL.W. Disney
1910, 1911Thomas BakerF.J. Sugg
1912R. WarrenB.R. Theisen
1913-1916H.R. GrayB.R. Theisen
1917J.J. FrieheitB.R. Theisen
1918Nelson WattsB.R. Theisen
1919, 1920John A. KlindworthB.R. Theisen
1921L.A. DotyB.R. Theisen
1922-1926Nelson WattsG.M. Reppe
J.A. Klindworth
J.B. Schwartz
1927-1929H. HesbeckJ.B. Schwartz
1930-1938R. GreerJ.B. Schwartz
1939-1948Louis SchmidtW.P. Theisen
1949-1953Lawrence TiedemannW.P. Theisen
1954George DoseW.P. Theisen
1957, 1958Arnold OelkersW.P. Theisen
1959, 1960Walter WempnerW.P. Theisen
Ed Morehouse
1963-1973Emery HennMoritz Anding
Tilman Komesar
Marvin Pruter
1974*C. HaeskaDorothy Anding
1974-1977*Gene JarrettDorothy Anding
1977-1980Emery HennDorothy Anding
1980*Ralph OddenDorothy Anding
1981-1987Mike WiebuschDorothy Anding
P.J. Day
Marilyn Preble (1985)
1988-1990Rachel MorrisMarilyn Preble
1990-PresentAl VanDeWalkerMarilyn Preble
* Appointed

Information submitted by: Marilyn Preble, gathered from the Wabasha County History Book of 1920 and the Secretary State Review Board, State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, MN

1849 - Minnesota Territory Formed
1853 - Wabasha County Formed
1858 - Township Organized
1858 - Minnesota became a State
1858 - Gillford and Chester Township Organized
1878 - South Side Zumbro Falls Settlement Platted
1879 - North Side Zumbro Falls Settlement Platted
1898 - Zumbro Falls Village Incorporated

Samual S. Welch, our first mayor, was born in Quebec, Canada on May 22, 1837. He farmed in New York until 1859 coming to Hyde Park Township farming for 14 years. He then sold the farm and opened a hardware and implement store in Millville. In 1883 he came to Zumbro Falls, purchased a general store from E. J. Stenger, hence the name Scruby & Co. Samual was involved in many civic affairs and associated with the growth of the town. He was our first mayor 1898-1899. He died in Zumbro Falls at the home of his daughter, Mrs. L.E. Scruby, October 17, 1922.


Suggs sold to E.A. Harradon in 1885. He was the Postmaster and ran a general store on the south side until the cyclone of 1883, when he moved his business and Post Office to Lot 8.

J.M. Stenger owned it in 1890, doing a mercantile business.

Samual Welch bought from Stenger and took his son-in-law, L.E. Scruby as a partner. Levi Scruby had been a photographer for 12 years in Mazeppa and was also Postmaster there. He came to Zumbro Falls in 1897, going into the mercantile business. He married Sam and Elizabeth Welch's daughter Mary E. in 1893. She is buried in the Zumbro Falls Cemetery.
Wabasha County MNGenWeb Project
Temporary County Coordinator:
Shirley Cullum

Updated October 6, 2016
MNGenWeb State Coordinator:
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