THEN AND NOW
New London, Minnesota is the oldest town in Kandiyohi County. It had its pioneer beginnings in 1850, when Louis Larson discovered a waterfall while out on a trapping expedition and visualized a mill. In 1861, he took homestead on a large piece of land, which includes most of present day New London. Larson later named the place for his old home town - New London, Wisconsin.
According to the Centennial History of Kandiyohi County, "the discovery of the falls marked the real opening of this area for settlement. Water power, fuel and transportation were the prime needs for the growth of the early settlements. Larson and a man named Stoner began the construction of a sawmill and dam in 1862, with C.J. Sperry in charge of construction. A. H. Sperry, John Cavanough and others in the construction crew laid off work August 17, 1862, to go to their homes to harvest their crops. Just days later the Sioux drove all the white men from the land lying between the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, closing the entire area to any white settlement until 1864."
At the end of the Indian wars, construction on the mill resumed and by 1865, a grist and sawmill were in operation. Fur-trading helped create a business community and W.W. Pinney opened a general store in 1866, followed by Samuel Adams and A.S. Lybe in 1867. Within a few years, the County seat was established at New London with offices on the upper floor over Pinney's new store.
In the latter part of the century, New London became an official weather observation station. "Civic-minded men such as J.O. Estrem, Harold Swenson, Dr. R. J. Ripple and O.A. Nelson faithfully took the required observations and forwarded them to U.S. Weather stations for inclusion in weather forecasts." Because of the distance between the business district and the train depot, where the telegraph was located, there was some delay in getting the report out each day. "According to contemporary reports, it really wasn't important enough to make a special trip 'downtown' with the telegram, because by the time it arrived at the depot, nearly everyone was up and about and fully aware of the kind of weather they were having."
The weather instruments included a rain gauge, thermometers and other instruments, and a complete set of weather flags, which were flown from a long pole "close enough to Estrem's bank so it would be easy for him to run the proper flag up the halyard, upon receipt of the forecast telegram. The system worked quite well. Since the new forecast wasn't usually received by Mr. Estrem until the depot agent brought it in at noon, people soon developed the habit of ignoring the flag in the mornings. After noon they'd take a look to see which flag Estrem had run up to replace the one which had been flying since noon the day before. Everyone was quite happy with the system. The flags usually agreed with the weather, and everyone became quite familiar with the flags. They were happy, that is, until one day several years after the system was inaugurated.
"It was a fairly typical morning with nothing worth reporting out of the ordinary…Mr. Estrem was seated at his desk at the bank when someone, now unknown, stepped in to ask, 'What kind of weather is that?' as he pointed to the top of the weather signal pole.…Imagine the consternation of a conservative banker of the last century, a pillar of the community and an 'official' U. S. Weather Observer when he saw a pair of ladies' bright red flannel 'unmentionables' waving briskly in the breeze where his weather flag should have been… The names of the perpetrators were buried with them. Although reporting the weather has been carried on by civic-minded residents of New London since that time, the last weather signal ever flown in new London village was a pair of ladies' 'long johns.'"
According to the Centennial History, "frontier towns had limited entertainment, and perhaps New London was a bit more fortunate than most." In addition to practical jokers, "it boasted a roller skating rink and a Brass Band in the early 80's."
The town mill continued in operation for seventy-three years, growing in size and prospering, and even exporting flour to foreign markets. Then in 1938, the Federal government acquired the mill, the dam and the water rights for a fish hatchery. The mill was removed, but the millpond remains a scenic center for the town. The fish hatchery is now operated by the state of Minnesota. Over the years, other industries have included a creamery, a glove factory, a concrete supply company, a manufacturer of propane gas tanks, and a printing company. The Lebanon Church dates back to 1859. The railroad arrived in 1886 connecting New London to Willmar and St. Cloud. The New London Library was founded in 1887, its first books purchased with $50 raised by students in the school from a basket social. Today, the community is served by the New London-Spicer High School, built in 1963.
The information above was provided by the Kandiyohi County Historical Society
610 NE Highway 71
Willmar, Minnesota 56201