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French Lake Township

 French Lake is the name of a township, a 332 acre lake, and a settlement at the crossroads of Wright County Roads 3 and 37, also called French Lake Corners.

1855:  Wright County, Minnesota Territory, was organized and surveyed.  Township120 North, Range 28 West (future French Lake Township) was surveyed in September 1855 and subdivisions surveyed in November 1856.  French Lake Township is bordered by Southside Township on the north, Cokato Township on the south, Albion Township on the east, and Kingston Township, Meeker County, on the west.  Until June 9, 1865, French Lake Township was part of Albion Township.       

1856:  A pioneer road, the Forest City Trail, was surveyed from Monticello to Forest City.  In October Ernest Howard from Belgium and his family, traveling to Forest City with oxen and wagon, were stranded in the future French Lake when their rented oxen wandered off.  With winter coming, they built a cabin in Section 15 one-half mile west of the present French Lake Corners.  In the spring, they decided to stay.

1857:  First wedding:  Casimer Brasseur from Canada married Miss Genevieve Howard, daughter of Ernest Howard on March 15, 1857.

Sidney Shaw of Machias, Maine, and Henry Averill of Louisville, Kentucky, laid out a town they first called Twin Lakes in Section 14 by two lakes, later named Dan’s Lake and French Lake.  In the summer a 320-acre town named Portland was surveyed and platted.   A hotel was erected by James Curtis from Maine, which was used for two years.  Settlers in 1857 were Andrew, Daniel, and George McDonald from Nova Scotia.

March 3, 1857, congress granted to the territory of Minnesota 4,500,000 acres for railroad land grants, odd sections in a strip 12 miles wide (six miles on each side of the proposed road and their branches.) 

1858:    Minnesota became the 32nd state on May 11, 1858.  John Howard, born October 10, 1858, was the first recorded birth in the future French Lake.  Settlers in 1858 were M.C. O’Donahue and Thomas O’Loughlin.

1859:  The Howards were almost destitute.  The arrival of ginseng buyers in 1859 enabled them to pay for their land.  They received a land patent, United States to Ernest Howard, on August 22, 1861.  Settlers in 1859 were the Philip Gerard family and other Belgians and French Canadians.  The first settlers purchased their land directly from the government for $1.25 per acre.

Certain improvements were required by law before entering a townsite.  The proprietors of Portland were in default of these laws.  In the spring, Mrs. Hannah O’Loughlin, a widow from Missouri, came to the area looking for a claim.  She learned of the case, pre-empted the claim and took possession of the Portland land in 1859.

The French Lake post office was established in 1859 with Michael O’Loughlin, postmaster.  The French Lake post office was discontinued in 1905.  The last postmaster was Andrew Lindberg.

1861:  The first school was taught by Peter McCormick in the spring of 1861.

1862:  The first death in French Lake Township was that of John Kean, January 10, 1862.

1862:  Homestead Act of 1862 became effective January 1, 1863.

1862-1863:  The U.S.-Dakota War lasted about five weeks, August 17-September 23, 1862.  Most of the settlers left for safety and some never returned.  On ------David Hart was killed by an Indian near Swartout Lake in Albion Township.  On July 1, 1863, James McGannon was killed by Hi-Uka, Little Crow’s son-in-law, near Lake Union in neighboring Southside Township.

1863:  First schoolhouse was built in Section 14.

1865:  June 9, on petition of 30 legal voters, the Township of French Lake was set off from Albion Township which was organized in 1858).  The following officers were elected:  Supervisors, Michael O’Shea, Patrick Kennedy and Michael O’Loughlin.  Clerk, M.L. O’Loughlin; Treasurer, Michael O’Loughlin; Justices of the Peace, M.C. O’Donahue and M. L. O’Loughlin. (History of Wright County, P. 751)

French Lake Township has a total area of 35.5 square miles land and 2.0 square miles water.

1875: St. Ignatius Catholic Church, organized in 1873, completed a church in Section 13 in 1875.  The church building was sold to a Finnish church (present Our Saviour’s Lutheran) in 1907 and moved to French Lake Corners.

Nels O. Nelson was the first Finn in French Lake.  In 1885 he donated one-half acre in Section 22 for the Crow River Apostolic Church aka Riverside Church.

1879:  A.D. Kingsley built a dam, saw mill and roller mill on the Crow River near the bridge.

1898:  A general store was operated by A. J. Lindberg on the southwest corner of French Lake Corners.  In 1907 a new schoolhouse was built where the store once stood.

1907:  A new schoolhouse was built on the southwest corner at French Lake Corners, Section 15.  In 1971 French Lake School closed and consolidated with Annandale Public Schools.

Cokato, French Lake, Albion American Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (renamed Our Saviour’s Lutheran in 1951) moved the old St. Ignatius Catholic church building to French Lake Corners.  The congregation built a new church in 1925 using some of the lumber from the old church.


1908:  Abe Lantto purchased Bergstrom’s Store at French Lake Corners.  Lantto’s Store has been owned

in turn by Abe, his son, Ernest, and grandson, Chris Lantto.  Lantto’s French Lake Store celebrated

100 years in 2008.  A new store was built across the road in 1999.  The old store is still a landmark in French Lake.   


1914:  With the prospect of the Luce Line electric railroad, French Lake townsite was platted.  When plans for the railroad failed, the plat was not filed.  French Lake townsite has remained unincorporated.  Also in anticipation of the railroad, a bank was established in French Lake by Howard Lake and French Lake citizens.  The Farmers State Bank at French Lake opened for business in September 1914 and closed in October 1923.


The 1914 unfiled plat included the following roads and streets.  The north-south roads were State Highway (now Wright County Rd. 3), Central Avenue and First Avenue.  The east-west roads were Park Street, County Road (now County Road 37), Elm Street, and Maple Street.  Roads, avenues, streets, six alleys and 123 lots were platted west of present-day CSAH 3.ighway (now Co. RH


1915:   History of Wright County, Page 752:  “French Lake village is a thriving little business center with a population of about 100 people.  It is located 25 miles west of Buffalo and six miles south of Annandale.  It is an inland village and has a bank, a creamery, two general stores and a blacksmith shop.  Not far away is a good mill.”

1920:  According to Lillian Barberg, French Lake was a busy settlement in the 1920s with a creamery, bank, blacksmith shop, barber shop, township hall, two general stores, school with two teachers, two churches, flour and feed mill, temperance hall and several houses.

1923:  The National Finnish Church sold their log meeting house by the Crow River bridge and built a new church at French Lake Corners.  This church was sold in November 1955 to Immanuel Lutheran Church for use as a dining hall.  Immanuel sold the church building in 1995.   

1924:  The French Lake Roller Mills located by the Crow River bridge since 1879 was dismantled and rebuilt in Richmond, Minnesota.

1928:  Fire in French Lake Corners destroyed two general stores (A.W. Nelson’s and Lantto’s), a bank and Lindala Brothers’confectionary.  Only Lantto’s Store was rebuilt.

1930: “Incorporation of Bethany Old Folks Home of the Minnesota Conference of the Finnish Lutheran Church, made possible by generous donation of Cokato man, J.W. Swartz, who died c.1926.  It is expected that the home will be located in the former parsonage.” (Annandale Advocate, March 13, 1930).  This home was later the Kaskinen home on County Road 37 in French Lake.  The home was razed when they built a new one. 

1931:  French Lake Co-op Creamery became a cream station when it merged with West Albion Co-op Creamery.  The French Lake Creamery became a co-op in 1916.  There was a creamery in French Lake as early as 1895.

1938:  Electricity became available in French Lake Corners. Lantto’s Store turned electricity on for the first time March 24, 1938.  Businesses, homes and farms got electricity when their owners could afford to wire their buildings.

1958:  The French Lake Speed Bowl organized by Floyd Nolan existed 1958-1960.

1971:  A new District 5 Wright County Highway Department maintenance facility was constructed at French Lake Corners.  Wright County Highway Department previously rented a building in French Lake. 

1986:  A new French Lake Township Hall and maintenance building was constructed at French Lake Corners.  The old Township Hall and storage building still stand next to the old Lantto’s Store.

Current (2016) French Lake Township Businesses and Dates Established:

1908:  Lantto’s Store established in former Bergstrom Brothers’ Store.  The store was started by a Rousseau.

1956:  French Lake Auto Parts

1987:  A beauty shop opened in December 1987.

1992:  The French Lake Butcher Shop was established as a full-time business southwest of French Lake Corners in Section 18.

1998:  French Lake Curb & Gutter

2004:  CK Septic

2007:  Weber’s Deck was started in French Lake featuring bluegrass music concerts on scheduled Sunday afternoons.  The music brought many visitors to French Lake.  Music in French Lake continued until 2014.

Water:  The Crow River meanders through 25 miles of the township.  French Creek flows from the west side of French Lake to the Crow River.  Lakes in French Lake Township include approximately east one-third of Lake Francis (formerly Lake Hutchins on the Wright County side until the 1940s), southern end of West Lake Sylvia (formerly Twin Lake) and approximately south two-thirds of Goose Lake.  Also all of Moses, Pickeral, French, and Dans (named for Dan McDonald).  Birch Lake was drained in the 1930s.


Settlements:  French Lake (Corners) is the largest settlement.


Portions of Knapp and West Albion are also in French Lake Township.  The south side of present-day Wright County 35 in Knapp is in Cokato Township.  North Crow River Lutheran Church is on the south side of County Road 35.  In 2014 there are no businesses left in Knapp. 


The west side of West Albion is in French Lake Township and the east side is in Albion Township.  Present-day Mitchell Avenue is the dividing line. There are no businesses left in West Albion.

Churches:  Note:  All of the churches have cemeteries except the Independent Finnish Church.  Most of the churches met in homes or schools for many years before incorporating or building. 

French Lake Mission Church (c.1890-c .1967), Sec. 30, existed earlier as Davis Free Church.  The empty church building burned down in 1982.

 Swedish Congregational Church, aka Sunrise or Happy Corner Church (1908-early 1940s), Sec. 30.  The church was torn down in 1946 and the lumber reused for a barn in Maine Prairie.

Grace Lutheran Church (1898-present), Sec. 19, formerly French Lake Lutheran until 1952.  

Immanuel Lutheran aka Emmanuel (1898-present), Sec. 9.  Formerly Emmanuel.  Also called the Norwegian Church because of affiliation with the Eielsen Synod.

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (1892-present), Sec. 15, formerly Cokato, French Lake, Albion American Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church until 1951.  In 1907 the old St Ignatius church was purchased and moved to French Lake Corners.  A new church was built in 1925 using some of the lumber from the old church.   

National Finnish Church (1905-c.1955), Sec. 15, French Lake Corners.  The church building at French Lake Corners is now privately owned.  

St. Ignatius Catholic Church (1873-1998), French Lake Township, Sec, 13).  In 1898 the congregation moved to Annandale and rented meeting space until a new church was built in Annandale in 1900.  In 1907 St. Ignatius’ French Lake church was sold to the present Our Saviour’s Lutheran and moved to French Lake Corners.   

Crow River Apostolic Church aka Riverside Apostolic (1885-early 1950s), Sec. 22.  In 1975 the tin church building was moved to Pioneer Park in Annandale and restored.  

Independent Finnish Church (c.1948-c. 1960s), Sec. 33; church building is now a home;

 Swedish Free Church at North Crow River (c.1890-1930s), Sec. 34, aka Birch Lake Mission Church.  The deteriorating church building was moved to a farm on the east side of Cokato in 2001, restored, and used for family gatherings. 

Former Schools: 

Kean, Sec. 10 (1867-1953), District 64.  Consolidated with Annandale.  The Kean schoolhouse was moved to the nearby Lindala farm for a storage building.  

French Lake,   Sec. 15 (1869-1971), District 68.   First school taught in 1861; first school built in 1863, Section 14.  New school built in 1907 in Section 15.  Consolidated with Annandale.  The French Lake schoolhouse was moved to the nearby Nolan land for a storage building.  

Lake Francis, Section 6 (1886-1964), District 113.  Consolidated with Annandale. The Lake Francis schoolhouse was purchased by former teacher Mildred Olson and used briefly as a summer school for special needs children and later as a storage building. Lake Francis schoolhouse was razed in October 2010.  

Myrback, Sec. 36 (1884-1958), District 110.  Consolidated with Cokato. The Myrback schoolhouse was purchased by former teacher Hazel Benson and still stands at the same location.  The schoolhouse is in disrepair.  Named for Myrback, Sweden.  

Lee, Sec. 17 (1899-1971), District 131.  Consolidated with Annandale. The Lee schoolhouse was purchased by Jerry Bajari, who donated it to Cokato Finnish American Historical Society.  The schoolhouse was moved to Temperance Corner in 1999 and restored.  

Gunnary, Sec. 13 (1909-1952), District 138.  Consolidated with Annandale.  The Gunnary schoolhouse was moved to the veterans’ camp at Swartout Lake and remodeled into a home.    

Happy Corner, Sec. 30 (1873-1967), District 47.   Consolidated with Cokato.  The brick schoolhouse, located one-fourth mile west of Happy Corner, was razed in 1967.   Bill Opsahl built a new home on the site.  

Birch Lake, Sec. 34 (1874-1971), District 92.  Consolidated with Cokato.  The former Birch Lake schoolhouse was sold to Harlan Nolan and is now a home at the same location.

Bridges in French Lake Township – North Fork Crow River

1873:  The first bridge over the Crow River was built in 1873 on the Old Cokato Road in Section 27.  The 1901 French Lake plat map shows this bridge located near the east border of Sections 27 and 26 about midway in Section 27.  This bridge no longer exists.

County Road 3 Bridge - 1879:  The second bridge in French Lake Township was built in 1879 by A. D. Kingsley in Section 22 by the French Lake Mill.

1906:   Annandale Advocate, May 31, 1906:   Of the four bridges over the Crow River in this vicinity only one is passable.  There is four feet of water in the French Lake Roller Mills.  It is reported that a dam at Forest City broke away, thus adding to the flood.

1908:  A new bridge 160 feet in length of concrete and steel construction was completed in August 1908.  

1975:  A new Crow River bridge was built west of the existing bridge at the former mill – Bridge No. 86504 on present-day Wright County Road 3.

Happy Corner Bridge -  The original bridge was constructed circa 1900.   Cokato Enterprise, May 16, 1957: “A contract has been awarded by the county commissioners for construction of a new bridge over the Crow River two miles northwest of Knapp.  The cost will be $26,456.”  2006: The “Happy Corner bridge” on County Road 2, Section 31, was replaced in 2006, Bridge No. 86529.

Myrback Bridge, aka Lundeen bridge, Section 25, was replaced in 2002, Bridge No. 86525.  It is not known when the original bridge was built.

County Road 35 Bridge on the dividing road between French Lake and Cokato Townships (Section 35) was replaced in 2013, Bridge No. 86532.  The original bridge was built in 1939 or 1940.

Wright County Parks in French Lake Township: 

Stanley Eddy Park Preserve:  879 acres in four units, including 114 acres in Southside Township.  Mr. and Mrs. Paul Eddy donated the first 40 acres in 1967 in memory of their son Stanley Eddy, who died in 1963 at age 16.

Betty T. Mason Canoe Access:  County Road 3 at Crow River bridge, one mile south of French Lake Corners.  The Masons owned the French Lake Mill property.  They donated land to Wright County Parks after the new bridge was built in 1975, cutting off the small piece of land from the rest of their property.

Carl Johnson County Forest: 40 acres, Section 26.

State of Minnesota Land:  80 acres in Section 28 and 69 acres in Section 3.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Land:  172 acres in Section 25; 216 acres in Section 10; 137 acres in Section 3.  

Nearby Railroads:  In early 1869 the St. Paul & Pacific Railway reached Smith Lake west of Howard Lake.  In June 1869 the line was completed through Cokato and Dassel.  The first train traveled through Cokato and Dassel to Darwin on July 4, 1869.  This line became the St Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba in 1878, the Great Northern in 1889, the Burlington Northern in 1970, and the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe in December 1996.

In 1886 the Minneapolis & Pacific Railway constructed a rail line from Minneapolis west to

North Dakota and Canada.  On December 8, 1886, the first train rolled through Annandale and

South Haven.  This railway became the Soo line in 1888 and Canadian Pacific in 1990. 


Compiled by Annandale History Club Secretary in 2016