History of Waterville, MN

Waterville (population about 2000) is located in the southern corner of Le Sueur County between Lake Tetonka and Upper Lake Sakatah. Waterville serves as a retail and service center for agricultural and some forestry operations in the surrounding area. Situated in a popular lake district of about fifty lakes and adjacent to Sakatah State Park, the city also serves as a tourist center for a number of visitors, many of whom come from the neighboring states.


Photo by Mike Williams
Copyright 2007 Lakeside Press

It was not until the middle nineteenth century that attempts at settlements were made. In 1851, an Indian Treaty was signed at Traverse de Sioux near St. Peter opening l and in Minnesota to settlement. In 1855 a group of nine men from Maine, Massachusetts, and New York arrived in what is now Waterville. The town site of Waterville was surveyed and platted in late 1856. The name was suggested by E.I Wright, a native of Waterville, Maine and because it was nestled between Lake Tetonka and Lake Sakatah. Waterville was incorporated as a village in 1878 and as a city in 1898.

There being no railroad west of the Mississippi River, the early settlers conceived the idea of getting communication with the outside world by water. In 1857, L.Z. Rogers, representing Le Sueur County in the legislature, and L.F. Hubbard of Goodhue County, secured a land grant for the purpose of improving the Cannon River from Red Wing to Waterville so as to have slick water navigation to the Mississippi River, but it never materialized. The land grant was later transferred to the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific Company to aid in the construction of the line from Red Wing to Mankato, later the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. In 1872, the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad (north-south) and the Cannon Valley Railroad (east-west) were surveyed. The M. & St. L. was built in 1877; the Cannon Valley in 1882.

Cut Nose, a Warpekute Indian, operated a ferry at the Narrows between Upper and Lower Sakatah until a bridge was built. He was one of thirty-eight Indians hanged at Mankato in 1862.

His body was exhumed by Dr. Charles Mayo and is now part of the medical exhibit at Mayo Museum at Rochester, Minnesota. Waterville was the site of the last Sioux battle in the area.

Several prominent persons came from Waterville. Early pioneer A.B. Rogers discovered two passes in the Rocky Mountains from the railroads. The first one is Rogers Pass, discovered while Rogers was employed by the Canadian Rocky Mountains Railroad in 1885, and for the Transcontinental Railroad in 1886. He was superintendent to the Cannon Valley Railroad when it came to Waterville.

Anna Dickie Olsen was a member of the advisory board to the League of Women Voters in 1920. She was also the first woman to be nominated for the U.S. Senate in 1922 (unsuccessful).

Jesse James and his gang were frequent visitors to Waterville, posing as land buyers or lumber dealers. They stopped in Waterville on their way to the Great Northern Bank Robbery in 1876.

During the 1890’s - early 1900’s the Andrews Family Opera Company pioneer musicians and performers, established their summer headquarters on the north shore of Lake Tetonka building a magnificent hotel, race track, amusement park, and opera house. Aspur line was built by the M. & St. L Railroad to accommodate the excursion trains that brought people from the Twin Cities and elsewhere.

The Mayo Brothers were impressed with Waterville’s location and wished to build a hospital here. They were unable to secure sewer and water from the city fathers, so they went to Rochester.


Photo by Mike Williams
Copyright 2007 Lakeside Press

Waterville is the hometown of several world-famous artists. Adolf Dehn, one of the greatest artists of Minnesota, pioneered lithographic techniques. His water color prints and lithographs are found in the art galleries throughout the world.

The Christ-Janer brothers- Edward (educator), Victor (architect), Albert (artist) and Arlan (curator) are worldrenowned in their specialties.

Wildlife artist Roger Preuss was the winner of the first federal duck stamp painting. He is nationally and internationally known.

While a resident of Waterville, David Maass gained national recognition winning two federal duck stamp paintings.

From its earliest days the lakes and rivers have been vital to Waterville’s economy. Flour mills, sawmills, ice companies, brick making companies, woolen mills, furniture factory, ski factory, seed company, excursion boats, fishing and fish seiners, and tourists, contributed to its growth.

Today, Sakatah State Park, Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Area Fisheries Headquarters, Singing Hills Girl Scout Camp, Camp Omega (Lutheran Camp), and tourists continue to use the waters around us.


Photo by Mike Williams
Copyright 2007 Lakeside Press

There are three magnets that bring people to visit, to recreate, and call Waterville home: location, people, and relaxing way of life.

Heart of the Southern Minnesota 50 Lakes Region, nestled between two lakes teeming with activities, a comfortable driving distance from the amenities of the Twin Cities and the medical facilities of Rochester, the proximity of other towns for the goods and services not available locally, there is no need to live any place else.

People make a community. Drive the streets of Waterville, walk the downtown, go into the stores, and be prepared to wave to everybody. Experience a crisis or tragedy and half the town is there to support you.

We’re big enough that you won’t know everybody, but we’re not so big that you can’t say hello.

Since the establishment of the first school in 1857, the people of Waterville have supported an outstanding school system. The school district received a Five Star Rating recognizing it as one of the top academic school districts in Minnesota.

Life in a small town is where rush hour traffic means waiting for three cars to go by before moving out. Life is as busy as one makes it.

Opportunities abound to be as involved as one wishes in church, school, community, and organizations.

Waterville is a wonderful place in which to grow-up and grow old.