Benton County Historical Society and Museum
Sauk Rapids Minnesota
Preserving the Past and the Present for the Future....

County History




Watab is situated on the Mississippi river, between Sauk Rapids and Langola. It has an area of about 28,800 acres, 360 being under cultivation. Mayhew creek flows southerly through the eastern part of the township, and the western portion is watered by the Little Bock river. The soil varies from a sandy loam near the river, to a clay loam in the eastern part; the former being mostly prairie, and the latter, covered with brush and light timber.

The first white man to take up a residence in this town was, undoubtedly, Asa White, who opened a trading post here about 1848. In the spring of 1849, David Gilman opened a trading post two miles above Sank Rapids, but in the fall of the same year, he bought Mr. White's interest at Watab, whither he removed, and is still a resident of the town. Mr. Gilman immediately built a hotel and opened a farm, which was, probably, the first farm opened in Benton county. Mr. White then erected a building in which he opened a general store in 1860. Nathan Myrick, now of St. Paul, also opened a store and bakery soon after. This trade was almost exclusively with the Indians.

About this time Dr. Charles W. Borup opened a transportation business from St. Paul, via Watab, to Fort Gaines and the Indian country, and by that means, regular mail communication was established. In 1851, General Lowry also started a trading post and bakery. Others soon followed, and in 1853, this was the most important business point northwest of St. Paul. The Post-office was established during the latter year and P. Lamb appointed Postmaster. He was succeeded about one year later, by David Gilman, who is the present incumbent.

Watab village was surveyed and platted in 1854. The place then contained about 150 inhabitants. There were a number of stores, three bakeries, Poet-office, etc. In 1856, Place, Hanson, and Clark built a steam saw-mill which was run for a time, but removed about 1863. A wooden bridge was built across the Mississippi river in 1856, but it blew down soon after, and was never rebuilt.

The North Star Lodge, Masonic, was established here in 1857, but subsequently removed to St. Cloud.

As before stated, this was the county seat of Benton county for a time, but since its removal to Sauk Rapids the importance of Watab village has gradually diminished.

As early as 1853, there were three farms opened in the town. The proprietors were, David Gilman, Benjamin Bright, and George Goodhue. Aside from these, there was very little agricultural improvement iintil 1870, since when the population has been steadily increasing, numbering, in 1880, 131 persons.

The township was organized in 1858, and embraced, in addition to its own territory, all of the present town of Gilmanton. It was reduced to its present limits in 1873. The first records of the town have been lost, and but a partial list of the first officers can be given. Supervisors, David Gilman, Chairman, George Goodhue, and Thomas Hardan; and Clerk, R. Carlisle Burdick.

In the year 1880, the products of the torn were: wheat, 4,650 bushels; oats, 1,625 bushels; corn, 400 bushels; potatoes, 480 bushels; wild hay, 355 tons; wool 48 pounds; and butter. 6.850 pounds.


David Campbell is one of Minnesota's early settlers, having come to Stearns county in 1856. and the following spring, to Watab, where he has resided ever since. He was born in what is nov the province of Ontario, Canada, on the 27th of April, 1831. His early days were spent in farming in his native country, until 1855. when he removed to Ohio, and thence, to Illinois, where he remained until his final removal to Minnesota. Since coming to Watab, he was engaged in logging and lumbering on the river for ten years, and afterwards kept a hotel for some time, but is now exclusively engaged on his farm, which is principally devoted to stock-raising. Mr. Campbell was married in 1864, to Mrs. Mary Murphy, of Pennsylvania. Pearl is their only child.

Joseph Campbell is also a native of Ontario. and was born on the 17th of October, 1832. His early life in his native country, was spent in lumbering and hotel business until 1866, when he came to Watab, Minnesota, and has since been engaged in farming and stock-raising. Mr. Campbell has held the office of Town Clerk for six years. He was united in marriage, in 1864, with Mary Lake, who is also a native of Canada.

Hon. David Gilman, for thirty-three years a resident of Minnesota, thirty-two of which hare been spent in Watab, was bom in Saratoga county, New York, on the 29th of April, 1812. When the subject of our sketch was but six months old, the family removed to Orange county, Vermont, where he grew to manhood. In 1836, he went to Kalamazoo Michigan, where he dealt in horses, and kept a livery stable. He was the first City Marshall there, holding the office for six years, and was also one of the organizers of the first fire company. In 1848, he entered the employ of the American Fur Company, and came to Minnesota, locating his family at Mendota. In 1849, he removed to Watab, and has resided here ever since. In the same year, he was appointed by Gov. Ramsey, Sheriff of Benton county, and soon after, elected to the same office, which he held for four years. He has been County Commissioner a number of terms, and Chairman of the Board several years. He represented his district in the Territorial Legislature in 1850, and was also a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1857, where he was noted for his strong advocacy of a proper recognition of the school interests of Minnesota. He was appointed Post-master at Watab, in 1853, and now holds the office, although others have filled the position a portion of the time during those years. The house in which Mr. Gilman resides, was the old Watab Indian trading post. He was married in September, 1844, to Nancy W. Lamb, of Woodstock, Vermont. They have had five children, four of whom are living; Ellen R., Sarah B., John D. L., and Frances E.

Benton County Historical Society and Museum
218 1st Street North
P.O. Box 426
Sauk Rapids, MN 56379

Copyright © 2009 Benton County Historical Society and Museum