ST. CLAIR HAS AN INTERESTING AS WELL AS IMPORTANT HISTORY.
It was first important as an Indian Reservation and Agency. Later it gained prominence as one of the first settlements in this part of the state. Charles Mansefield and Ansen W. Callen were the first settlers to the area. In 1854 they settled on the east side of Rice Lake. In 1855 the settlement became part of the Winnebago Reservation and Agency. At that time there were a number of government officials and employees settled there.
Among those who were here in 1855 were General J.E. Fletcher, Indian Agent; Henry Foster; Joshua Ady; A.L. Foyles; W.J. Cullen, Superintendent of the Indian School; Charles Mix; Asa White; George Culver; Peter Manaige; Newell Houghton and J.L. Alexander. In 1856, John Johnson came to the Agency as the blacksmith. In 1861, J.B. Hubell and Lucius Dyer and several other men came to join the settlement.
After May 1863, the Indians were removed an many settlers came. By September of 1863, there were enough settlers to form a township. The township was named McClellan in honor of the Union General. In February 1865, the name of the township was changed from McClellan to McPherson by an act of the State Legislature.
Aaron Hilton was appointed postmaster and the Post Office moved from the Agency building to the Brown Brothers General Store (which was opened in 1864 by Geroge and James Brown) in Hilton. A Mr. Koehler had a store there at one time. In January of 1867, J.C. Truman converted the Winnebago Agency House into a hotel. In November of 1869, Hilton sold his mill to Hegle and Reader, and in a year of two, Hegle sold his interests to Peter Pfaff. In 1869 James Brown was appointed postmaster and in 1871 Henry Mohr succeeded him. Brown also had sold his merchantile business to Mr. Mohr in May 1871. Mr. Brown moved to the new townsite of Mapleton and began business there being the first merchant in Mapleton.
Other early businessmen in Hilton included Nick Lang, M.B. Rasdell, who in 1879 became a member of the firm of Brown Bros., J.C. Cook (shoemaker), Charles Young (variety store), Mathias Jost (mercantile business., Fred Gerlich, H.R. King (druggist), and H. Miller (shoemaker). Doctors Eaton and E.B. Haynes were the first physicians and J.C. Nitting, C. Wilber Ray and W.S. Smith treated the sick in later years.
On October 14, 1880, J.H. Barlow started a paper called the "Messenger", which was only issued a short time.
Until 1886 the post office at Hilton had been designated Winnebago Agency. On February 6, 1886 meeting was held and it was decided that the name would be changed to Hilton. April 1, 1886, it was changed to "St. Clair", a name suggested by Charles O'Connor, after General St. Clair. The village has since gone by the name St. Clair. Mr. O'Connor had been a postmaster and later ran a general store in the village. As postmaster he had experienced considerable confusion in the mails between Winnebago Agency and Winnebago, and therefore pressed for a change in the name of the town. It is not clear why the name was changed from Hilton to St. Clair six weeks later.
In February of 1890, Joseph H. Gebbard was appointed postmaster. His successor was Fred Gerlich, who in turn was succeeded in December 1898, by M.G. Rasdall.
Until 1887, the village was divided into two School Districts (District #70 and #73), on August 6, 1887 the districts were united, and a fine brick schoolhouse was completed by the fall of 1888 at a cost of $6,000.
In 1898 the McPherson Town Hall was erected in St. Clair.
In 1882 William Field and Son built a feed mill. The mill was a 14-inch French burr with a grinding capacityof 300 to 400 bushels per day.
Duemeland's General Store was established December 14, 1882. The store, built by E.A. Duemeland, was operated until 1940 when he sold out and retired. (William Goedman bought it at that time and later sold it to Clair Wolcott and his brother, Harold (Chub) Wolcott. They operated the store under the name of Wolcott Brothers. The Wolcott's sold it to Marvin and Lucille Hemshrot. (The store was located at 109 Main Street West.)
Grignon and Coughour started the first creamery in the village in 1891. George B. Caldwell built the hotel in 1895.
By 1895, the Village of St. Clair had a population of 200 people. It had a daily stage to Mankato, four churches, a grade school, boot and shoe store, two blacksmith shops, a carpet weaver, a wagon maker, a druggist, two mills, a furniture store, a harness shop, a hotel, a livery stable, a meat market, one physician and three saloons.
On March 9, 1897, J.W. Ward started the "St. Clair Star" but it only survived a few months.
The party line first came to Decoria and McPherson Townships in 1904. In 1904 the St. Clair Bellview Telephone Company was organized, with S.S. Babcock as president and Henry Thielman as manager. The switchboard was in the back of Thielman's store for ten years and then moved above the Bank. Andy Quinn was the first lineman for the Telephone Company and Hulda Fitzloff was the telephone operator.
A large brick co-op creamery was also built in 1904. (In 1974 the City Hall Fire Department was built on the creamery site - 304 Main Street West.)
The St. Clair State Bank was organized in 1906 by Henry Thielman, Nicholas Juliar, H.S. Haedt, G.J. Juliar, A.A. Juliar, H.A. Hubmer, Thomas Bowe, F.W. Lassow, F.C. Schultz, S.B. Wilson, George May and John Bestman. The Bank building (100 Main Street West) was completed in 1907.
On December 20, 1907, St. Clair was incorporated as a Village by a vote of 40 to 9. The population was 242. The first elections were held in 1908. Trustees: Henry Thielman, President, E.F. Deumeland, P.H. Bowe, J.W. Chase; Recorder: Charles O'Connor; Treasurer: M.C. Dalton; Justices: Charles O'Connor, Christ Aplers; Constables: Henry Luedke and A.T. Andrews.
Thr railroad came to St. Clair in 1908 shortly after the Village had incorporated. The route was started by a group of farmers and businessmen and was known officially as the Duluth, St. Cloud, Glencoe and Mankato line. The long list of towns in the title prompted people to lable it the alphabet line or the ABC line. St. Clair was to have been on the Mankato to Albert Lea run of the new railroad, but tracks were never laid between St. Clair and Mankato. Among other deterring influences, inter-railroad rivalry entered the picture. The Chicago and Milwaukee were opposed to the idea and began laying a track eastward from Good Thunder. Its plan was to cut across the right-of-way, which the Alphabet would use, between Albert Lea and Mankato. In the face of such a move, the backers of the alphabet line sold out to the rival railroad and the St. Clair to Albert Lea route became part of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific system. In 1955 two or three trains a week were serving the community.
Hunting Elevator Company built a grain elevator in St. Clair in 1908. The Botsford Lumber Company was also established in 1908.
In 1911 the Village dug a well and built a water tower (200 Park Street South) to hold the community's water supply. Griffith and Walker of Zion City, Illinois were awarded the contract for the sinking of the Village well (232 feet deep). The contract for the erection of the steel tower and water tank to hold 50,000 gallons was awarded to the Des Moines Bridge and Iron Co., at a cost of $4,100. The contract for the excavation of the water pipes was awarded to W.P. Lovell and Co., of St. Paul. The project was completed in December 1911. The water tower made possible the establishment of a Volunteer Fire Department, which could replace the old bucket-brigade method. Hoses, hose carts and other fire equipment were purchased in 1911.
The Kuske Harness, Leather and Hardware business was established in 1913 and was located on the west end of town in, 1931 the business relocated to downtown St. Clair.
Henry Thielman built a new store for his merchantile business in 1915. Later this store was Pagenkopf's Store (104 Main Street East).
In 1922 a new brick addition was added to the old community school structure, which had been built in 1888. The addition enabled the school to expand to the twelfth grade. Transportation to and from school was provided by four wagons owned by the School District and one wagon and one autovobile owned by a driver. Eighteen charcoal foot-warmers and eight blankets provided heating. The horses to draw the wagons were provided by the driver. By 1930 transportation changed rapidly from horse drawn vehicles to motor buses.
In 1942 the population of St. Clair was 286.