Here’s what happened on this date in Central Minnesota History…

July 19th, 1853 – John L. Wilson, the “Father of St. Cloud”, purchased a section of land in central Minnesota for $100. This is where Middle Town (St. Cloud) would develop.

The first town-site location at St. Cloud, covering what came to be known as “Middle Town,” now the business center of the city, was purchased on July 19, 1853 by John L. Wilson.

John L. Wilson was by common consent known as the “Father of St. Cloud,” a designation to which he was justly entitled. John secured the land on which the city was originally located 158 years ago today, platted it and built on it the first frame house. This was his home continuously from the date of his settlement here in 1853 to the day of his death, January 3, 1910.

Mr. Wilson was of New England birth. He was born and raised in Maine and upon his family’s move to the new west in Illinois Mr. Wilson took up the business of contracting and building saw and flouring mills. This interest brought John Wilson to Minnesota in 1851 where he erected a saw mill and a house at Sauk Rapids, completed a previously begun sawmill at Little Falls, and afterwards built in St. Augusta Stearns county’s first sawmill.

It was on July 19, 1853 that John L. Wilson decided to locate at St. Cloud, purchasing a claim made by Ole Bergeson, a Norwegian squatter for 100 dollars. Mr. Wilson platted the town-site and gave it its present name of St. Cloud.

The name was chosen by Mr. Wilson out of his lore of the French Revolution. His fancy had been struck by the name of the city in France which had been the scene of some of Napoleon’s famous exploits. However, St. Cloud would make a name for itself in years to come.

New settlers quickly came in and the new town grew in population and importance. In order to attract newcomers and have them become permanent residents, Mr. Wilson was very generous with his lots. John Wilson encouraged settlement by giving those who first arrived some land on which to build. The first settler to arrive in St. Cloud was Anton Edelbrock, who came in 1854. He rented a house from Mr. Wilson, who remained with him as a boarder. Wilson’s liberal actions encouraged both public and private improvements on the land.

Wilson was not only a pioneer but an engineer of what is now St. Cloud and Stearns County. In 1854, Wilson built the first frame house of Stearns county now standing 517 3rd street. His 60 years of residence was also characterized by the many offices he held in order to serve his developing town. Wilson spent the winter of 1854 lobbying through the bill establishing the counties of Wright, Stearns, Davis, Meeker, and Todd in St. Paul and also served as a member of Territorial and State Legislature.

John L. Wilson retained little of his original possessions as a first settler, yet he saw a new generation reaping the benefits of the harvest he so generously sowed over a hundred years ago today in modest Middle Town which has now developed into a prosperous city.

Thanks to Stearns History Museum Intern Brittany Bokovoy for her help with our series “This Date In Central Minnesota History” on WJON.