When Minnesota's original nine counties were established in 1849 only three, Benton, Washington, and Ramsey,
officially opened to settlers. They lay in a triangle of land between the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers
that reached north beyond Lake Mille Lacs, land ceded by the Dakota and Ojibwe Indians twelve years earlier.
In choosing names for these new counties, territorial legislators turned for inspiration to the country's distinguished political leaders. Benton County honors Thomas Hart Benton, a longtime U.S. Senator from Missouri, whose work on the country's homestead laws in the 1820s won him the gratitude of white settlers throughout the West.
Fur trading and lumbering first drew settlers to Benton County, largely from Eastern states and Canada. The first census of the county in 1850 counted 418 white and mixed-blood residents. The population grew slowly until the 1870s, when large numbers of people from Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Poland arrived to farm. By 1880, much of the land in Benton County had been claimed.
During the territorial years, Minnesota legislators kept busy redrawing old county boundaries and creating new counties. Benton County changed shape several times before the present boundaries were set in 1859. The County Seat, however, kept moving. Originally located in Sauk Rapids, it moved twice as the population shifted. Finally in 1901, the Foley Brothers, powerful Benton County lumberman, brought it to a vote. Seeking a more central location, and no doubt wishing to promote their own interests, they pulled off a win for their namesake town.
Today, farming is still central to the Benton County way of life. But now large consolidated farms dominate the countryside. What was once the backbone of the county's economy, the small family farm, is gradually disappearing. The Benton County Historical Society and Museum's mission is to preserve the past and present history for future generations.
The Benton County History Museum has available for research a number of sources of information available for those wishing to research family history. A number of people have donated a lot of information. We have files of information that cover a great number of people by surnames. Some of the surnames that we have extensive information on include Artig, Baskfield, Bjurnstrom, Bolinski, Bosworth, Brennan, Droplewski (Drops), Dziuk, Forschen, Fromelt, Kaproth, Latterell, Lewandowski, Mayman, Mendel, Misho, Pekarek, Peschl, Rofidal, Russell, Sowa, Studer, Wilson, Wippich, Wood, Youso, and Zawacki.
Other holdings include census on microfilm both Federal and state, Benton County Veterans Census, Benton County Naturalization Records. Newspapers: "Benton County Independent" (1901-1933), "Benton County News" (1945-1984), "Benton County Review" [Rice] (1908-1911), "St. Cloud Democrat" (1856-1866), "St. Cloud Journal" (1873-1869), "St. Cloud Journal Press" (1876-1918), "Sauk Rapids Frontiersman" (1855-1859), "Sauk Rapids Sentinel Free Press" (1903-1930), "Sauk Rapids Sentinel" (1871-1932), "Sauk Rapids Free Press" (1890-1910), "Sauk Rapids Herald" (1940-1984) and the "Watab Revielle" (Jan-Feb 1851).
Original books and documents include city directories: St. Cloud / Sauk Rapids (1912-1976 most copies), probate records, Minnesota atlas and maps, Benton County plat maps (1903-1999), scrap books, high school year books for Foley and Sauk Rapids, and Benton County church histories. There are newspaper clippings with obituaries, weddings, births, and anniversaries. Also available gravestone registrations of all county cemeteries up to 1977, family photograph albums, audio history tapes of Benton County, and family history books.
Other historical items include Benton County Ojibwe and Sioux history summary, World War II military items, Vietnam War items, first Benton County school bus, wooden farm implements, pictures of the cyclone of 1886 from Sauk Rapids, and pictures of early Benton County settlers. Please see our Research Index for details on the collection.
There is no charge for admission, however we do recommend a donation for research by staff of $10.00 per hour, $0.10 per copy, plus cost of postage. Workers are volunteers and we would welcome anyone who would like to volunteer sometime. We would also welcome any donations of work on family history that you may have done and would like to make available. ---Mary Ostby, Executive Director
Copyright © 2011 Benton County Historical Society and Museum