1849, when Minnesota became a territory and
people were going to California to strike it
rich, the land on which the city of Benson is
now located was the home of the Dakota Indian.
No other settlement had occurred in the area
even though the Santa Fe Trail, first traversed
in 1821, and the Oregon Trail in 1842 were used
by thousands as they sought out new homes in
March 3, 1857, Congress gave extensive land
grants to aid in railroad construction to the
Territory of Minnesota. The right of way and
the odd numbered sections within six miles on
each side of the tracks were to be given to
the railroad company completing the various
projects. Since railroads were absolutely necessary
for future prosperity, strenuous efforts were
made to get construction work started. The Minnesota
& Pacific Railroad Company was authorized to
build a road from Stillwater (by way of St.
Paul and St. Anthony) to Big Stone Lake in the
western part of the state. The company was unable
to carry out the contract. In 1862, the St.
Paul and Pacific Railroad Company built 10 miles
of railroad between St. Paul and St. Anthony
(Minneapolis). Then work ceased. In 1866, the
DeGraff and Company was given the contract for
construction of the road. The next year, the
western terminus of the line was changed to
Breckenridge. By locating sites at intervals
of approximately eight miles, the railroad company
determined the number of future trading centers,
one of which was Benson.
P. Strom, who had established claims bordering
the Chippewa River, negotiated for the establishment
of Benson on his claims. The railroad company
considered that the price demanded was too high
and therefore declined. The chosen site for
Benson was on the southwest quarter of section
five, township 121 north, range 39 west. Benson
was surveyed and laid out in the spring of 1870.
served as a market center for a 100-mile radius
from 1870, when the railroad reached Benson,
until 1871 when the line was completed to Breckenridge.
During that time the Hudson Bay Company had
a warehouse in Benson making the small village
a stopping point for the famous Red River Ox
Carts. Goods, which consisted mostly of choice
wines, brandies, whiskies, teas, tobacco and
hardware, were transported from Benson to Fort
Abercrombie, about 15 miles downstream from
Wahpeton, North Dakota, and shipped on the Red
River to Fort Gerry Winnipeg.
five years, the population of Benson had grown
to 300 with four general stores, two drug stores,
two machinery houses, three hotels, one bank
and two saloons. Sales had run up to $60,000
in one of the general stores. During the same
period there were sold in Benson almost one
and one-half million feet of lumber; 1,260,000
shingles; 170,000 laths; 380 reapers, mowers
and harvesters; 240 seeders; 10 threshing machines;
160 plows; 137 wagons; and 61 sulky hay racks.
1876, the legislature made Benson the county
seat for Swift County and authorized the construction
of a courthouse to be built there. This frame
building served the county until 1898 when the
present courthouse was constructed just north
of the first courthouse. In 1877, one hundred
carloads of gravel were put on the streets and
a system of drainage to the Chippewa River was
completed. That same year, on February 14, the
village of Benson was incorporated.
continued to expand more rapidly than the other
trading centers in the county. In 1880, its
population was 457 with business interests numbering
30 stores and shops. That same year, a fire
started by a cigar butt dropped through a knothole
in the floor of a saloon, destroying all the
businesses located on the 1300 block of Atlantic
Avenue. A fire department had not been organized
at the time of the fire nor ample water supply
to fight the fire. As a result, the Village
Council organized a volunteer fire department
in 1881 and installed cisterns within the village.
The fire fighting equipment was kept in the
newly constructed City Hall, located on the
west end of Atlantic Avenue.
1893, Dr. Scofield had the first telephone in
Benson. It operated between his office and his
home. In 1904, after ten years of development
as a local exchange, the Benson Telephone Company
incorporated, taking the name "Swift County
Telephone Company". Improvements to the city
occurred in 1894 when 4,000 feet of sewage pipe
were laid and waterworks installed in 1895.
The power and light plant was built by private
investors just before the turn of the 20th century
and was purchased by the city in 1902. Streets
in Benson were paved in the 1920's.
first school classes in Benson were held in
1870 in the Emigrant House Hotel. The following
year, a one-story frame structure was erected
on the northeast corner of what became the courthouse
block. This building is now preserved and is
one of Benson's attractions located at Ambush
Park. In 1879, Benson School District built
a school of Chaska brick, two stories high,
for $4,994 on 13th Street North. This building
was torn down and a new school built in 1904.
An addition was built at a cost of $135,000
in 1929. In May of 1963 construction began on
the present high school. The 1904 building was
torn down and work began on a new complex that
included an indoor pool in 1975. Residents living
on the south side of Benson felt that the school
on the north side was too great a distance for
their children to attend school there. A two-room
wood frame building was built on the south side
in 1888 with an addition made in 1891. The frame
building was torn down in 1913 and a new brick
building was constructed in its place. The brick
building used for elementary students, kindergarten
through 3rd grade, was demolished in 1995. Students
were transferred to the Northside Elementary
School, which is located west of the courthouse,
built in 1958. An addition to this school was
completed in 1994.
public library was established in Benson in
1911 through a $7,500 donation from Andrew Carnegie
and many generous gifts from local citizens.
A new library, featuring 6,154 square feet,
was built in 1992 when the city recognized the
fact that the Carnegie building did not serve
the needs of the community as it was not handicap
accessible and had limited space. The historic
library building was demolished in 1994.
first hospital in Benson was built in 1912 at
a cost of $15,000. It had an original capacity
of 20 to 25 patients. The Swift County museum
was located in the building before it was demolished
in 1969. A congregate housing facility, Scofield
Place, was built in its location in 1996. The
Swift County - Benson Hospital was built in
1949 at a cost of $400,000 with a million dollar
addition built in 1973. The top floor of the
1949 building is used as a Medical Center. Extensive
remodeling and an addition for emergency rooms
and entrance were completed in 2002.
industries in Benson, like today, were mostly
agricultural related. The Benson Woolen Mill
opened in 1880 and was located next to the Chippewa
River. It manufactured wool into rolls of yarn
and cloth. The Benson Roller Mill was erected
in 1881 and made three grades of flour, much
of which was shipped to the Twin Cities and
the east. For a time, tobacco was grown in Swift
County. Benson is reported to have had more
than one cigar factory. There also was a brick
factory in Benson. Some of the brick used in
the construction of the1898 courthouse came
from this factory.
1958, Loren Tyler founded Tyler manufacturing
and two years later constructed an 80 x 80 ft.
building on the east edge of Benson to mass
produce a trailer spreader to distribute fertilizer
on ag. fields. These spreaders are shipped across
the United States and to other countries. In
1995, under new ownership, a $5 million state
of the art 130,000 sq. ft. addition was made.
In 1998, Case IH purchased Tyler Industries
and added the production of cotton pickers to
the Benson plant in 2003. Herman Lorenz began
manufacturing the original hydraulic driven
grinder mixer in Benson in 1962. Since the original
incorporation, the plant has been moved just
east of Benson and several products added to
the Lorenz production line. Lor-Al Inc. was
founded in 1975 and expanded into a new building
on the southwest edge of Benson in 1980. A 21,000
sq. ft. expansion was added in 1995 by Ag-Chem,
Inc. whom had purchased Lor-Al in 1990. Lor-Al
manufactured Easy Eider high flotation fertilizer
applicators until it closed in 2001. Custom
Ag Products (CAP) began business in 1984 in
the lower level of a downtown Benson office
building and moved to its current location in
1990. CAP manufactures and distributes the Redball
brand liquid application monitor equipment as
well as other ag. equipment. In 1995, CAP constructed
a 22,500 sq. ft. expansion to its plant. A ground
breaking ceremony for the Chippewa Valley Ethanol
Company (CVEC) was held in 1995. The 15 million
gallon ethanol plant was created to give added
value to the corn produced in the Swift County
area. Since it's opening, CVEC has expanded
its plant and added the production of vodka,
"Shakers", in 2003. Other industries in Benson
include Future Products, a garment manufacturing
plant. Don Lenz, current owner and manager,
began working in Benson as a manager of Wiman
Manufacturing when it opened in 1966. The plant
made coats. Wiman became Fingerhut Corporation
in 1971 and produced luggage. Custom Roto-Mold's
60,000 sq. ft. plant opened on the west edge
of Benson in 2001. One of the products it manufactures
pioneers to Benson enjoyed music and social
activities. The Benson Opera House was built
in 1895. The entire second floor was used as
a theater with room to seat 400 people. The
Opera House featured local talent as well as
theatrical performers and medicine shows from
the eastern states. A motion picture theater
opened in Benson in the Aldrich House in 1916.
In 1925, John DeMarce purchased the theater.
Today, the DeMarce Theater, operated by Larry
DeMarce, is the only movie theater in Swift
Cotorie Club, a women's study club, was organized
in 1895 and is still active. The Benson Golf
Club was organized in 1923. The addition of
nine holes in 1978 made the club one of the
finest 18 hole golf courses in western Minnesota.
The Benson Outdoor Swimming Pool was a WPA project
and one of the largest and most modern pools
in the state at the time of its construction.
Construction started on a new pool in May, 2003.
It will feature a water slide that drops into
a plunge pool, a large open swimming area and
lap pool, a diving area, and kiddy pool. The
pool is located across the river from Ambush
Park. The park is surrounded by some 200 acres
that form a natural setting for people and wildlife.
It includes miles of hiking trails; two accesses
to the Chippewa River for canoeists, anglers
and tubers; and camper pads with electricity
and water. The Benson Civic Center was constructed
in 1994 and provides an indoor hockey arena
for the Benson Hockey Association.
the events hosted by the Benson community are
"Kid Day" which began in 1930 and the "Pioneerland
Band Festival" in 1988. Each year on June 14,
thousands of people come to Benson to watch
the best high school bands in Minnesota compete
in Benson's band festival.
1900, Benson's population had grown to 1,525.
It made it over 2,000 in 1920 and over 3,000
in 1950. Benson's highest record population
was in 1960 when it reached 3,678.
History of Benson tells the story of pioneer
life, of hard working people, and a community
that endeavors to meet their needs--a community
of people working together to create the quality
of life they truly cherish.
submitted by the Swift County Historical Society,
Marlys Gallagher - Director.