(The following news release comes from Hennepin County.)
Today, the minutes of Hennepin County Board meetings are accessible to anyone at the click of a mouse. In 1852, there was just one set, handwritten by board clerk John H. Stevens in the parlor of his small house, where the first board meetings were held.
Hennepin County celebrates its 160th birthday on March 6. The county was established by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1852, and the three county commissioners held their first meetings that fall.
There were only about 200 settlers living in the county at the time (a total of 73 votes were cast in the first election). The county’s first officials included three commissioners, a sheriff, a coroner, treasurer, register of deeds, district attorney, judge of probate, county surveyor, assessors, and a road commissioner.
Stevens’ records of the board’s first actions are preserved in a leather-bound book stored at the Hennepin County Government Center.
Some excerpts from the minutes:
- November 29th 1852: A petition was received from A. E. Ames and others praying for the establishment of a public Highway from Little Falls Creek to Crystal Lake. The prayer of the petition was granted, and William Dickey and Emanual Case were appointed in connection with the County Surveyor Examining to select and mark the course of said road.
- (The most common issue the first commissioners dealt with was requests for roads to be built. It’s not known exactly where “Little Falls Creek” was, or whether the Crystal Lake mentioned is the one in what is now Robbinsdale. Current County Surveyor Bill Brown theorizes that the road requested in this record might be part of a well-known trail used by the Mdewakanton Dakota along the west bank of the Mississippi. Brown’s office keeps the notebooks of the county’s first surveyor, Charles Christmas, who in 1854 drew a map for such a road.)
- Albion November 30th 1852: Ordered by the Board that the County Commissioners seal be and is hereby described to wit: Three circles. The words “County Commissioners Hennepin County Minnesota” with a device representing a deer.
- (There doesn’t seem to be a record of a seal with this description ever being created. The official seal of the Hennepin County Board is the seal of the State of Minnesota with the words “Hennepin County Commissioners” encircling it.)
- Jan. 3 1853: Petition from Charles Miles, praying for a ferry license near the mouth of Wanzecha Creek across the Mississippi River. Said petition laid over until the next meeting of the Board.
- (Before 1855, people relied on ferries to cross the river, and many settlers who owned land on riverbanks applied for licenses to operate ferries. The first bridge across the Mississippi opened in January 1855, where the current Hennepin Avenue Bridge stands today. It was privately owned and charged a toll of five cents for pedestrians. )
- Jan. 3 1853: Ordered by the Board that the county seat of Hennepin County be known until further orders as Myona.
- (Histories of the county don’t mention any place called “Myona.” Minneapolis, originally named Albion, is the county seat. )
- 1853 July 4: Report received from Mr Jas Dean who reports Joseph H Lester to be in want which fact was corroborated by H. Provost under oath when the Board ordered that the said H. Provost be allowed Eight dollars a month for boarding the said pauper J. Lester.
- (The Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1851 passed a law for “Relief and Support of the Poor,” giving counties the responsibility of providing financial support for vulnerable persons without family to care for them. The law applied to persons who had lived in the county for a year or more and were “unable to earn a livelihood in consequence of bodily infirmity, idiocy, lunacy, or other cause.” Hennepin County established a “poor farm” in Hopkins in 1865; before that, local residents received 15 dollars a month to provide room and board.)
- July 5 1854: The Board then counteracted the order for an appropriation of Fifty-Dollars to purchase a Safe, and ordered the Clerk John H. Stevens to ascertain upon what time and at what price a good and sufficient Fireproof Safe could be obtained for the use of the County and report to the Board next session.
- (Apparently $50 was felt to be either too much or too little to spend on a safe. Fire was a constant concern in a community of wooden homes heated with stoves and fireplaces. The county’s first courthouse burned down in 1914. Whatever safe was purchased did its job well enough to protect the records of the County Board from 1852 on.)
Hennepin County’s 160th birthday will be commemorated March 13 during the County Board meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Jada Hansen, executive director of the Hennepin History Museum, will present information and photographs from the county’s past.
This and other Hennepin board and committee meetings may be viewed live on Metro Cable Network/Channel 6, with replays Friday nights at 8 p.m. Board meetings also are streamed live and available on demand at www.hennepin.us. For more information about Hennepin’s history and artifacts, visit the Hennepin History Museum’s website at hennepinhistory.org.