Birth of a New Town and Community

Anders R. Kilen, an early Jackson County pioneer who had homesteaded in Belmont Township in 1867, was a young man very interested in the growth and development of Jackson County. Mr. Kilen felt that a tract of land within the southwest quarter of section 33, Heron Lake Township, would make an excellent location for a town.   The area chosen by Anders Kilen for a town site was higher in elevation than the surrounding area and the land here was well drained on all sides. For many years the earliest trappers who passed through the area had known of this beautiful piece of ground called “The First Mound” by the Indians. The lakes in the area were abundant in fish and waterfowl which provided early residents a source of food. There were also many muskrats to be trapped for fur. Heron Lake, just a mile and a half away, was famous as a hunters’ paradise and was the site of considerable market hunting for several years.   Anders Kilen had visions of a town being located on this tract of land. Not knowing who owned the land, he took action to locate the owner. First, he walked to Jackson, the county seat, consulted the records and learned in whose name the 80-acre tract was assessed. He then walked to Windom and took a train to St. Paul where he located the owner of the land and returned home with the deed in his pocket. He had purchased the original site of the town of Lakefield from The St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad Company for $420. The date was July 1, 1879. Mr. Kilen then met with officials of the Southern Minnesota Railroad (later known as the Milwaukee Railroad) and agreement was reached for a side-track on the land. Finally, he hired James E. Palmer to survey and plat the new town site, and by August of 1879 there was much interest and excitement about the new town born on the prairie. For a time the people in the area called the new town Bethania. However, on September 5, 1879, Anders R. Kilen, the town founder and proprietor, dedicated the new town and called it Lakefield.

Thus the town of Lakefield was born. A train depot was built and train service began on November 3, 1879, less than two months after the town’s christening. Within a year a ­­­hotel, a post office, two hardware stores, a lumber yard, a saloon, several grocery stores and several grain dealers had sprung up to serve the people of the surrounding area.

In 1884, a resident of Jackson wrote, “A few hours spent by the writer in Lakefield this week convinced him that Jackson’s sister village is up to the times. New buildings are going up, a large acreage of prairie turf is being reduced to a state of cultivation nearby and prosperity prevails. Within the past year Lakefield has seen a newspaper, a creamery, a hardware store, a drug store and doctor ‘spring up in her midst.’”

Since its very beginning, Lakefield has been and still is dependent upon its area agriculture. This is its industry. It is located in the exact geographical center of Jackson County and has some of the best agricultural land in the nation. Some of the crops that have been grown here over the years include flax, corn, oats, barley and soybeans. In addition, production of swine, beef, lambs, eggs and dairy products have also met with great success.

Faith has always been an important aspect of life in Lakefield. The following is a list of some of the churches in the area, past and present, as well as their dates of incorporation: Belmont Lutheran of Belmont Township (1867), Bethlehem Lutheran of Lakefield (1870), Delafield Evangelical Lutheran of Delafield Township (1873), St. Peter Lutheran of Lakefield (1878), St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran of Rost and later of Round Lake (1885), Swedish Lutheran of Lakefield (1887), Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran of Lakefield (1890), Presbyterian Church of Lakefield (1890), Methodist Episcopal Church of Lakefield (1892), St. John the Baptist Catholic of Jackson (1893), Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran of Hunter Township (1896), Baptist Church of Lakefield (1898) and St. Joseph Catholic of Lakefield (1912).