By Violet Holm as a research story of Richwood for a Minnesota “Red River Basin” History class from Moorhead State College, 1968.
In the fall of 1870 W.W. McLeod sold his homestead in West Union, Todd Co. Minnesota. By covered wagon drawn by a team of mules, he started for the Northern Pacific Railroad. A neighbor, Mr. E.E. Abbott, traveled with him. When they camped for dinner at Old Oak Lake, Andrew J. Haney came along and persuaded McLeod and Abbott to go home with him instead of going to Lake Park. Haney wanted to sell shares in his sawmill located on Buffalo River. These men traveled north ten miles to where the village of Richwood now is. McLeod and Abbott did purchase a third interest in the sawmill, although it was on government land. McLeod was the only one with money. Abbott had to wait until spring.
In the spring of 1871, a new sawmill had been shipped to Benson Minnesota. This was the closest railroad terminus. From there it was hauled by team to the present site of Richwood, a distance of 160 miles. In May 1871, McLeod’s family moved to the new mill site and sawing began June 20, 1871. Because of a dry summer, with low headwater and low streams, sawing proceeded slowly. The dam had been built by Swan Olund and John Engberg, 1870-71.
During the summer of 1871, J.E. Van Gorden came from Oak Lake cut to do some carpenter work. During his stay he traded his farm to Haney for Haney’s interest in his claim, mill, and saw logs. Soon after McLeod bought Abbott’s interest and took a third of Van Gorden’s interest which made them equal owners.
On June 23, 1871, the town of Richwood was organized. The first town meeting was held in Haney’s sawmill on September 29, 1871. Richwood Village was surveyed by surveyor, John Hunter, May 22 and 23, 1876 and filed December 11, 1877, before Judge Hans Hanson, Justice of the Peace of Becker County. It was named Richwood from Richwood, Ontario, Canada, McLeod’s home town.
The first store was brought from Fergus Falls by two Mills Brothers. They put part of the goods in a large tent and part in McLeod’s house. The store tent was erected in the field which is now part of the Alfred Nodsle Farm.
District No. 4 was organized August 7, 1872. Miss Hattie Brigham was the first teacher in the village of Richwood. The first term began on September 22, 1872. There were three families: McLeod, J.E. Van Gorden, and E.E. Abbott. There were eleven pupils which met the first two weeks in Van Gorden’s house, then moved for the remaining term to a log house with a board addition. The original part (north) of the present school house was built in 1876.
In the spring of 1874 the dam went out. McLeod left Richwood. Knowles and A.S. Blowers rebuilt the dam and put a flour mill into operation. This was sold and resold until it was purchased by Henry Reinhart in 1895. He sold the flour mill to John Oberg in 1918. This mill was run by water power from the Buffalo River. Ernest Glebe purchased the saw mill and moved it farther down the river. He used steam power. (the mill stones are now at the Becker County Historical Museum.)
The first mailman was William G. Hazelton, the father of Mrs. J. M. Connell. Mr. Hazelton walked 12 miles, through swamps and brush to Detroit Lakes and back with a mail bag on his back. He was paid the sum of one dollar. The Hazelton home, built in 1872, later served as the first stage coach shop for the express company. Meals were served, rooms furnished and a horse livery. This home still stands and is occupied by a third generation, Boyd Hazelton.
The first church in Richwood Village was Episcopalian, founded by J.A. Gilfilton of the White Earth Epicopal Mission in 1874. He donated the beautiful stained-glass windows. In 1965 this church was torn down and moved. The church and property were owned by F.A. Lidstrom. There was another church, across the road from Episcopal, attended by Swedes from Buffalo Prairie. They later built the Lund Church and sold the one in Richwood to Modern Woodmen of America. It was located just south of the Cook home where Edgar Holmquist now lives. The Hall was later moved to the corner of Mill Street and Butler Street and is presently occupied by Mike Roberts (Where Robert’s store is now stands, was the former location of the J.M. Connell store.) Families that didn’t belong to the Episcopal church held Sunday School in the Woodmen Hall. In 1905, the lot where the livery stable and blacksmith still stands. In 1959, the last of the charter members of the Union Church organized a group to take care of the cemetery located one and one-half mile south of the village. This cemetery was originally given to the village by J.M. Connell and A.P. Larson. The first two to be buried in the cemetery were two young boys, J.M. Connell’s cousin: Willie Van Gorden and R.D. Rice. They drowned in Buffalo Lake July 4, 1877.
One of the first buildings built from the logs sawed at the sawmill on the Buffalo River was a store erected next to the present Glebe home. It was a two story structure where one could purchase clothing, groceries and hardware. The upstairs housed a dance hall. Mr. Mouchamp and Mr. Connell were two of the first grocery store owners in Richwood. Mr. Mouchamp’s store was built about 1900. It was a combination grocery and post office. This store burned in 1922 so Mr. Connell took over the post office section. Connell’s store, built in 1901, burned in 1920 when it was owned by R.B. Olson, still under the name of Connell’s store. The post office section was taken over by Knute Lisdtrom in 1921 and was located in his hardware store, which had been built in 1905.
Mrs. Yourez started the first hotel about 1873. Since 1903, it has been called the Olson Hotel. It is now a private home.
The south addition of the school was built in 1905 or 1904 by Jack Shannon and Knute Lidstrom.
At one time, there were three blacksmith shops in Richwood. One was next to Knute Lidstrom’s hardware, owned by Knute Lidstrom. One was across from Leo Walz’ store (formerly Chris Johnson store), and one near the Emil Lowman home. Mr. Glebe, in connection with owning the mill, was a swithie. He made sleigh runners, did horseshoeing, etc.
In 1927, Bert Hazelton and Earl Connell built a pavilion. Bert also had a small store in connection with the pavilion. This was sold and torn down in 1940.
Charley Monchamp remodeled Richwood’s first store into a dwelling house. It was rented by Mr. and Mrs. Peter Larson in 1910. A few years later, Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Johnson bought the house from Charley Monchamp and moved it to the present location just east of the schoolhouse. In 1926, Johnson divided the house and made one half into a small store. Later a new section was built onto the west part of the store for living and the rest remodeled into a larger store. In 1928-1931, a small section on the east side was used as a cream station. Johnson tested the cream and paid the farmers with script money. Mr. Johnson hauled the cream to Callaway. By 1938 cream trucks started hauling cream so the business ended. After 33 years of business, Johnson sold the store to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Walz on June 13, 1959. In 1960, Walz built an addition for storage and also a “walk-in” cooler. In 1967, Walz sold the store to Darrel Winters. It ceased operation in 1968.
Knute Lidstrom started a blacksmith shop in 1901. In 1911, he added a hardware store. In the back of the store he made sleighs and repairs.
After Monchamp’s store burned, Delia McDougal operated the post office on a temporary basis. A better site was needed so Knute Lidstrom centered it in his hardware store April 1, 1921. One could always tell when it was mail time because everyone in the village migrated to the post office, a center for news and gossip.
During the summer, Knute Lidstrom was an engineer on a steam engine used to run a threshing machine in the community.
As the automobiles became more numerous and horses less used, Mr. Lidstrom installed a gas pump in 1914. Now (1968) Floyd sells Skelly gas, Mike Roberts at the tavern sells Shell, and Walz sells Mobile.
The next improvement was the telephone, first on the Callaway exchange, then on the Detroit Lakes exchange. Later the dial system was installed.
Lidstrom’s got the first radio in 1924.
Knute Lidstrom passed away in 1927, leaving the store to his son, Floyd. Floyd was appointed postmaster June 8, 1927. He still holds this position. Floyd moved the post office to the back of the store and put the grocery department in the front part. The blacksmith shop, no longer needed, was torn down, and a new warehouse was built in its place.
In 1941, the R.E.A. came through Richwood. The village was wired for electricity and refrigeration. A cold meat, fresh vegetable, cream and milk products case was installed. As time passed, Mr. Lidstrom improved his store and added conveniences such as: 1945, prepared baby foods, 1949, newspapers and magazines, 1959, articles of clothing and accessories, and today soft drinks and ice-cream are available. He has a T.V. set enjoyed by many.
The store has the same old “pot-bellied” stove and the same 1911 Regulator clock. This typical country store is a historical monument to the past.
A village water system was installed in 1959. The well is located on the Lidstrom Store lot. The traditional village pump is still standing, “the Town Pump”.
The newest house in Richwood was built in 1966 and 1967 by Mr. and Mrs. Mike Roberts on Future Street. They have been trying to sell the Tavern on the corner of Butler and Mill Street.
Sources of information:
At the Courtroom
- 1. A Pioneer History of Becker County by Alvin H. Wilcox.
- 2. Karen Joan Macauley’s Thesis of 1961 and her interviews with Mrs. Glebe, J.M. Connell, and Mike Roberts.
- 3. Betty A. Flingalson’s Research Paper of 1961 and her interviews with Fingal Fingalson and Howard Fingalson.
- 4. Colleen Macauley’s story of Richwood Store and Post Office and her interviews with Floyd Lidstrom and Mrs. Wallace Fingalson.
- 5. Barbara Walz’s Thesis of 1961 and her interviews with W.O. Johnson and Leo Walz.
- 6. The Richwood School sixth grade of 1967-1968: Mony and Marilyn Cogger, Karen Livingood and Laura St. Clair and their interviews with residents of Richwood.
Richwood, a Tranquil Community
Written by Dorothy Collins, published September 11, 1977 in The Sunday Forum, Fargo-Moorhead.
Drive through the rolling wooded countryside north of Detroit Lakes in the lake area and you come upon the tranquil community of Richwood.
There’s not a lot of excitement here, except perhaps toward the closing 1 a.m. hour of the town tavern, the Mouse House (owned by Casper Maus).
But as one of Richwood’s first citizens, Helen Lidstrom, says, “we are like a big family here.” Perhaps in that there is peace and security, more lasting than crowds, lights, and fast-moving activity.
Richwood does seem to be the kind of place that America talks of going back to these days – leisurely pace, folks who care, beauty all around in woods, water and wildlife.
How large is the town? It’s unincorporated, and there is no official count. There are 14 families on the town well, and that’s nearly everybody.
Each of the families has five or six children, says Helen Lidstrom, “and there are a number of bachelors and a couple of widows.” Apparently, the population runs upwards of 100 persons.
Richwood is part of Richwood Township, which the Becker County auditor’s office says has 476, as of 1970.
Many small towns originated as railroad followers, but not Richwood. The town began 106 years ago with a sawmill on the Buffalo Lake, adjoining Richwood.
Three men – W.W. McLeod, E.E. Abbot and Andrew Haney – banded together to buy the sawmill, which had to be hauled by team from Benson, Minn., the closest railroad terminus, 160 miles away.
Violet Holm, in her history of Richwood, says sawing began June 20, 1871, but “because of a dry summer with low headwater and low streams, sawing proceeded slowly” at first.
The town was organized June 23, 1871, and held its first town meeting in the sawmill Sept. 29, 1871.
Several years later, a flour mill was started; gradually, the town built up with homes and stores. There was a hotel which was the first stagecoach stop for the express company.
Helen and Floyd Lidstrom, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year have lived all their married lives in a house on Butler Street, the main street in town; moreover, Lidstrom was born in that house and has lived all his 72 years there.
He also marks his 50th anniversary this year as owner of the store across the street, the town’s only store which also houses the post office.
The store was originally a blacksmith shop, started in 1901 by Lidstrom’s father, Knute. Ten years later, Knute added a hardware store and made sleighs and repairs in the back. In 1921, the post office was moved there. At the coming of the automobile age, he installed a gas pump in 1914.
Floyd took over the store when his father died in 1927, and he was appointed postmaster the same year.
The store remains one of the last of the general country stores around, but there are plenty of modern lines blending with the old. Behind the pot-bellied stove which centers the store are hardware items and tools.
There are groceries, with a meat and produce case and a freezer with chicken, orange juice, ice cream.
In the rear is the post office, now operated on contract by Dorothy Johnson. Lidstrom was required to retire as postmaster at the age of 70 and the town had to fight federal plans to take out the post office. Everyone was glad Mrs. Johnson could take over the job four hours daily, because the money was needed. Last year, the town was shocked and saddened when her husband died unexpectantly of a heart attack, leaving her with three small children and several older ones.
Across the street at the Lidstrom home, an eye-catching colorful display of flowers everywhere attracts the passerby. Mrs. Lidstrom’s hobby is flowers and there are many unusual ones in addition to the popular kinds.
Down the path behind the house is her greenhouse and in March, she begins starting annual flowers and vegetables for setting out in spring. She plants vegetables among the flowers. As the weeks and months go by, the tapestry of color and form changes, from the early spring-flowering bulbs through all the perennials of mid-summer to the chrysanthemums and bright annuals of fall.
Among the unusual things she grows are the clear bright Iceland poppies, which bloom all summer.
The store ties them down – it is open from 8am to about 9:50 pm (“just before the news comes on” ) every day of the week. When he has to go to Detroit Lakes, she takes over, as well as during his mealtimes.
Mrs. Lidstrom grew up at Worthington, Minn., came to a farm with her parents near Richwood when she was 14 years old.
In reminiscing about Richwood, she says “I suppose it was bigger once but I don’t remember that it was.”
At times, there were three stores in town, and three gas pumps. Now there is one of each. There was once a dance hall.
A log cabin which was the Episcopal Church was purchased by a woman, who had it taken down, piece by piece, “but we don’t know if she had it put together,” says Mrs. Lidstrom. Another church still stands – a community church, with various clergymen alternating. The hotel has been turned into a private residence.
Families in the town banded together and spent $500 in 1959 to build a well, which is located adjacent to the Lidstrom store, along with the town pump. The town treasurer, Jeanine Kivi, has custody of the $3 per month contributed by each family for maintenance. The town is served by Wild Rice Electric Cooperative, the Callaway Fire Department, the Becker County Sheriff’s Department. Two county roads cross Richwood – County Road 21, and County Road 34.
Now the nearby lakes, such as Big and Little Sugar Bush, Buffalo and Strawberry, are being developed and summer cottages built. This makes a difference in store traffic. “We have almost more business now than we can handle,” says Mrs. Lidstrom.
But they have no plans to change their busy, but comfortable life.
Lidstrom’s sister, Esther Lidstrom, makes her home with them. A graduate of Bemidji (Minn.) State College, she taught elementary school for many years in Becker County.