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Lake Francis History Book
Presentation to the Annandale History Club
October 3, 2010
Karen Christofferson

2004 Annandale History Club Lake Francis Presentation 
Lake Francis website:


Lake Francis is located in two townships and two counties:  Kingston Township in Meeker County and French Lake Township in Wright County.  It has a shoreline of 6.6 miles and covers 921 acres.  The DNR previously said it covered 1,172 acres.  Water flows from Goose Lake to Lake John, East Lake Sylvia, West Lake Sylvia, Lake Moses, Lake Francis,  into Eagle Creek on the west side of Lake Francis and to the North Fork of the Crow River, eventually reaching the Mississippi River near Dayton.

Lake Francis had two names.  Meeker County identified it as Lake Francis on an 1857 plat map and Wright County plat maps called it Lake Hutchins until the 1940s.  The 1945 Wright County plat map has Lake Francis.  Samuel Hutchins was a pioneer in Kingston in 1856 and helped build the Kingston mill.  He moved to the northeast side of Lake Francis circa 1863.  Samuel and Arvilla Hutchins graves are on the north shore of Lake Francis.  The cement marker on their graves reads:  “Samuel Bradbury Hutchins (1816-1892) and Arvilla Bailey Hutchins (1817-1890).”   The top of the marker reads: “Father, Mother” and has a Masonic emblem in the middle.  There is an easement leading to and around their graves.  Part of the Hutchins farm is now Rustic Ridge.

History Book        

The idea for a Lake Francis history book started when Cheryl Knox and Pam Oestreich from the south side of the lake were told about the Town of Winchester while visiting the Forest City Stockade.  Winchester was platted on the south side of Lake Francis in 1857.  Cheryl and Pam asked Tom Stanton, editor of the Lake Francis Area Recreation and Conservation Club newsletter, to write a story about Winchester.  The three of them decided to write a book about Lake Francis instead.  Karen Christofferson became involved when Cheryl contacted her after reading the 2001 Lake Francis presentation notes on the Annandale History Club website. 

Karen’s husband, Dave, grew up at Lake Francis. They have been Lake Francis property owners  since 1965 and have been full-time residents for ten years.  Karen has collected historical information about Lake Francis since the Lake Francis School reunion in 1999.  She was intrigued by the fact that the Wright County side of the lake was called Lake Hutchins until the 1940s and that Samuel and Arvilla Hutchins’ graves are on the north side of the lake in what is now Rustic Ridge. 

It was decided that the book would include the extended Lake Francis area. Tom outlined 14 chapter titles. Tom wrote about the Ice Age, Indian history, railroad history and the Lake Francis Area Recreation and Conservation Club.  He also did the layout and typing for all the chapters, and added the photos Karen collected over the years.  Karen wrote about the early settlers.  Cheryl and Karen wrote about towns, schools and churches.   Twelve towns or settlements from Cokato to Fair Haven, five area schools and eight churches are included in the book.  Newspaper articles, poems, and submitted stories were also included.  Pam and Cheryl held book committee meetings at their homes and scanned photos.  Pam’s sister, who works in marketing in New York City, designed the front and back covers.  Everyone edited and proofread.

The cover photo is from a 1910 postcard of the east side of Lake Francis.  At that time Charlie Lundberg rented boats and cabins at his farm on Lake Francis.  The black and white photo on the back cover shows Charlie Lundberg casting from a wooden boat in 1917.   Pastor and Mrs. Blaness are in the photo.  The Blaness family moved to Lake Francis in 1916.  Charlie Lundberg sold his Lake Francis farm to Lauritz and Ragnhild Christofferson in 1918.   The color photo on the back cover is a sunset scene of Charlie Olson and his son boating on Lake Francis.  

The Lake Francis Area Recreation and Conservation Club agreed to fund 200 copies of a 200-page book.  All of the copies were sold before the book was printed.  The owner of the company that printed the book, Allegra Print and Imaging in Burnsville, has a cabin on Lake Francis.

The stories, poems and submissions from people who have lived around Lake Francis are a favorite part of the book. Two books have been written about the Lake Francis area:  “Stepson of the Forest” by Lewis Nathan Holm and “Tiny Tenacious Thilda” by Mildred Erickson Olson.   Both Lewis Holm and Mildred Olson attended Lake Francis School for eight grades and later taught there.  Mildred lived near Lake Francis her entire life.  The Holm family moved to other states, eventually settling in California.  Lewis Holm continued his education, earned his doctorate and retired as president of a college.  He spent his entire career in education.  “Stepson of the Forest” is available at the Great River Libraries.

Many of the pictures in the book are from the descendants of pioneers.  Photographing pictures in natural light with the flash off is a convenient way to get copies.   Several photos in the book are from the Minnesota Historical Society Photo and Art Database at   The Lake Francis book has photos from the database and from other historical societies.   Eight historical organizations contributed information or photos to the Lake Francis book.      


Several people told about finding Indian artifacts near Lake Francis.  There are several places in the area that look like Indian mounds, but are more likely places where trees fell and decomposed.  There are ceremonial mounds at Lake Sylvia (Koinonia Retreat Center) and burial mounds near Cokato Lake.  Big Swan Lake just six miles from Lake Francis  has six documented Indian sites registered with the Office of the State Archaeologist.  Photos and descriptions of the artifacts found at these sites are at the Dassel Area Historical Society.  A dugout canoe made from a white oak log and constructed using the scrape and burn method was found at the south end of Big Swan Lake in 1957 by DNR Fisheries employees.  This dugout is now at the McLeod County Museum in Hutchinson.  A dugout canoe was recovered from East Lake Sylvia in 1961.  The Lake Sylvia canoe is in the Harold Warp Pioneer Village Museum in Minden, Nebraska.

On July 3, 1863, James McGannon was killed by Indians very near Lake Francis.  He was approaching Lake Union on what is now County Road 2 and as he neared the bridge over Six Mile Creek, which flows into Lake Union, he was shot by Hi-Uka, Little Crow’s son-in-law.  McGannon’s body was found by the mailman.  They attempted to bury the body where it lay, but the ground was too wet.  McGannon was buried by present-day County Road 2 and Rockwood Ave. in Southside Township.  The sign at the site reads:  “Here on July 1 1863, James  McGannon was killed by Hi-Uka, son-in-law of Chief Little Crow.”  McGannon’s body was later reburied at the Fair Haven Cemetery.  His gravestone is inscribed, “James McGannon, Killed by the Indians July 1, 1863, age 28 years.”

McGannon had been scalped and his body left in some bushes.    Hi-Uka took McGannon’s horse and rode north.  Little Crow was killed two days later, July 3, 1863, near Hutchinson by Nathan Lamson.  Little Crow and his son were eating berries when spotted by Lamson.  Little Crow had McGannon’s jacket with him, and his son Wowinape, age 16, said that Hi-Uka had given Little Crow the jacket.

The McGannon killing happened  two days after four members of the Dustin family were killed

by at least five Indians between Howard Lake and Cokato.  It is thought that Little Crow and

members of his band returned to the area to steal horses.  Little Crow and other chiefs had

escaped after the final battle of the five-week Sioux Uprising  or Dakota Conflict (August 17-

September 23, 1862). 


There are other written reports of Indians in the area.  Indians collected maple syrup south of

present-day South Haven.  There were Sioux winter camps at Pearl Lake, Fair Haven, and by the

Salisbury Bridge in Kingston Township.  There was a Winnebago camp west of French Lake.



The St. Paul & Pacific built a rail line through Cokato and Dassel in 1869.  In 1890 the line

became the Great Northern Railway.  Because of the  rail line, many of the pioneers in the Lake

Francis area came to Cokato first and later purchased land in the Lake Francis area.  The

Minneapolis & Pacific Railway (Soo Line in 1888) constructed a line through Annandale, and

the first train traveled through Annandale and South Haven on December 9, 1886. 


Early plat maps show many odd-sectioned railroad land grants owned by the Litchfields who

were connected with the railroads.  They purchased  the land grants from the railroad and resold

the acreage.  At one time William B. Litchfield owned 15 percent of the land in French Lake

Township.  William B. Litchfield’s land was later sold to E. D. Litchfield.


Towns and Settlements

There were 700 lots on the 1857 plat for the town of Winchester on the shore of Lake Francis.    Winchester became the Damuth farm.  It was a resort called Camp Wildwood in the 1920s and 1930s.  In the 1950s, Norman Smith platted this land into the Wildwood Terrace lakeshore development.


East Kingston had a dam and mill on Eagle Creek, which flowed from the west side of Lake

Francis.  The dam and mill were constructed in 1866 by brothers Jefferson Carville and A. H.

Carville.  In 1871 the Carville brothers platted 50 lots.  East Kingston failed to become a town.


The first settlers came to Kingston about 1855.  The town was platted in 1858.  Kingston had

many “firsts” including the first mill, school, and bridge in Meeker County.  A dam and mill

were built in 1856.   Pioneers started platting claims in Fair Haven in 1856.   Maine Prairie was

also settled in 1856.  All three of these towns were prosperous and had high hopes for the

railroad to pass through their established towns.  All three towns were bypassed. 


Kingston started a daily stage to Dassel.  Kingston was a busy town until the 1960s and ‘70s. 

Houses and businesses were moved from Maine Prairie to Kimball and the last store closed in

1911.  In 1929 the last building disappeared from Maine Prairie.  All that is left is a wayside

marker along Highway 15 commemorating Maine Prairie.


In 1886 the railroad was built two miles south of Fair Haven and the towns of Annandale, South

Haven and Kimball were established.  South Haven had the first coal and water station west of

Minneapolis and grew to be a popular shopping destination.


The first settlers in French Lake were Ernest and Mary Howard in 1856.  They were on

their way to Forest City when the oxen ran away, and they had  to build a cabin and

stay the winter.  By spring they decided they would stay.  In early 1857 the town of Portland was

platted east of French Lake Corners near French Lake and Dans Lake.  Portland was another

town that failed.  In the 1860s, the first schoolhouse was built in Section 14, French Lake

Township. A new schoolhouse was built at French Lake Corners in 1907.  French Lake was

platted in 1914 when it was thought that the Luce Line railroad would be built through the town.   

The railroad didn’t materialize and the plat wasn’t filed.


 Lake Francis School

The Lake Francis schoolhouse overlooked Lake Francis.  The school opened in 1886 and closed in 1964.  Teachers have been identified for all but the first ten years.  The Lake Francis School was razed in October 2010. 


In 1999 a Lake Francis School reunion was planned.   Virgil Staff of Berkeley, California, whose

father Herman Staff, uncle Lewis Holm, great- uncle Nathan Hamilton, and grandfather, Joseph

Hamilton, all taught at Lake Francis.  Virgil Staff sent photos of early teachers and also

photos that his parents, Herman and Mae Holm Staff, had taken on a visit to Lake Francis in

1961.  Local people wouldn’t have thought to take a photo of County Road 2 in 1961when it

followed the east shore.  Now it’s a treasured photograph.


Lake Francis Beach

Lake Francis had a beautiful sandy beach where Red Cross swimming lessons, sponsored by

Kingston Township, were taught to area kids.  The shore was sandy a long way out and there was

a dock and raft or diving platform.  The beach area on the northwest shore of Lake Francis was

purchased by Kingston Township in 1954.  About the year 2000 the swimming lessons were

moved to the Watkins pool and the dock and raft removed.  The changing houses and the picnic

shelter are also gone.  The beach was a favorite place for family and church picnics. 


Renee (Maikkula) Isaacson, retired Kimball school teacher, wrote a story about the beach.  She

said kids  rode their bikes on dirt roads to the Lake Francis beach.  By the time they got

home, they were ready for another swim.  After supper they begged their parents to take them

back to the beach for more swimming.  She said that her goal as a young woman was to earn a

Red Cross teaching certificate, inspired by summers of swimming at Lake Francis and the

swimming teachers she had.   She wrote, “The two weeks of swimming lessons were the

highlight of the summer.  Every morning we would board the Kingston bus with Charlie Leppa

as the bus driver.  He would park the bus and around noon, when the morning lessons were

completed, he’d take us back to town. 


She wrote that she was privileged to give back to Kingston and Kingston Township, organizing

and teaching Red Cross swimming lessons at the Lake Francis beach for ten years.  The program

grew over the years and at one stage there were 330 students signed up for lessons.  It was a

good program and unfortunately is no longer offered at the lake.


Renee wrote, “Now the north Lake Francis beach no longer exists as it once was.  The DNR

altered it considerably.  From my personal viewpoint, we have lost the wonderful swimming

beach that once existed.  It was a perfect place to teach beginning swimmers and advanced

swimmers at the same time.  It had a sandy, gradual incline and, along with the permanent and

floating docks provided over the years, it made a wonderful teaching classroom.”


The entrance to the beach, parking lot, and boat launch were paved by the DNR in 2007.  The

beach isn’t as popular as it once was. In the past there could be 150 people enjoying the

beach.   Astrid (Sammeli) Gottshalk provided photos of the beach taken in the 1970s when she

and other 4-H members cleaned and mowed the beach area as a community project. 



The Lake Francis history book is dedicated to the pioneers who settled the area.  Information and

photos of families that lived around the lake are included.   Most of the barns and houses around

the lake are now gone.  Most of the original houses were log.    


Lake Shore Developments

The first permanent cabin on the lake was on the south shore.  The stucco and stone cabin was

built by the Bergquist family on lake shore at their large farm.  The first lots sold were at Ranta

Lane and the first cabin at Ranta Lane is thought to have been built by Juell Pearson in 1954. 

Ranta Lane was not platted.  The first subdivision surveyed and platted was Wildwood Terrace

in 1956.  Many of the lot owners on the lake have been there 50-plus years, longer than many of

the pioneers lived at Lake Francis.



In 1921Camp Wildwood Resort was started on the south shore on the land that was once the

Town of  Winchester.  There were three cabins and a picnic area.  Eklunds on Cedar Point had

camp sites, rented boats for fishing and duck hunting, and had a small store on their porch.

Lundbergs on the east shore rented a small cabin and boats.  Two circa 1910 postcards were

made of  lake scenes on the Lundberg property.  Jacob Myllykangas built wooden boats and kept

some on by the shore to rent to people.  He also built and supplied wooden boats to the Eklunds.



By Karen Christofferson e