One Hundred Years (1856-1956)

That summer of 1856 was a busy one in the little hamlet of Cannon Falls. Minnesota Territory was attracting thousands of homeseekers and, while hundreds passed on through, many found what they wanted in the surrounding country and remained. As yet no one had come to control the rushing waters of the Cannon rivers to make them turn mill wheels but the optimists were sure somewhere there was someone with the money who would take advantage of the evidently great opportunity. In June the press and type were presumably on the way for the yet unborn “Cannon Falls Gazette” and there was talk of the establishment of a religious paper to be called the “Minnesota Christian Union.”

All of this Levi Hillman wrote to his wife, Mary, back in their home in Massachusetts, hoping she would catch his enthusiasm for the new home, to which she would come as soon as Levi had a home ready for her and the children. It would give her something to tell her friends who said that her silk dresses would be out of place in a crude, uncultured town. ~May twenty-fifth he wrote, “We have a minister here who generally preaches every Sabbath but he has been sick for a few weeks past. Consequently there has been no meeting. We shall probably have a church by another year. There are some very fine families here from Massachusetts, Maine, New York, etc. it is a beautiful place and I think destined to become a large place.”

Sometime in June he wrote Mary that there was to be a Fourth of July celebration and that Rev. J. R. Barnes was to deliver the customary oration. There is not much doubt that Jeremiah Root Barnes was the minister referred to in his previous letter.

Born in 1809, J. R. Barnes was 47 years old when ill health sent him to the beneficial climate of Minnesota to recuperate from a serious illness. After some time spent at St. Anthony, he came to Cannon Falls and bought a small farm west of town, and evidently conducted church services when his health permitted. His birthplace was Connecticut and he grew up in an atmosphere of culture and refinement. Graduated from Yale College in 1834, he went on to study for the ministry at Yale Divinity School. About the year 1835 he married Katharine Platt who died in 1837, leaving him with a baby son, Charles.

In a touching act of love and devotion to the family she was leaving, she suggested to her husband that he ask her friend, Caroline Webster, to take her place. Miss Webster, a distant relative of Daniel Webster, was a woman of education and refinement, head of a girls’ school in Marietta, Ohio. As the son Charles wrote, fifty years later, “This advice was not disregarded,” and in 1839 they were married. When Mr. Barnes had built a temporary log house for them, Mrs. Barnes and their three daughters, seventeenyear-old Julia and Kate and Caroline, twelve and ten respectively, came to Cannon Falls. This was in 1856.

Had the deep valley in which Mr. Barnes located his homestead been on the seashore it would have been called a cove. It was semicircular with a wide opening to the East, looking across to the hills opposite the new hamlet. As soon as possible Mr. Barnes began the quarrying of limestone from their own hill and, with only the help of his regularly employed man, built a house that still stands as sturdy as it was nearly one hundred years ago. Many men who lean to the fine arts have little ability in the manual arts, but Mr. Barnes was an exception. His building was not only sturdy and commodious, but he exhibited remarkable ingenuity in the contrivance of clipboards, closets, and storage space, things dear to the heart of every homemaker.

(For more, see History, Part 2)