A Brief History of Freeborn, Minnesota
by Jillian Jacobsen
In June of 1857, a man by the name of E.S. Dunn claimed a spot of land that was level, and even in some places marshy, located on the north shore of a lake, and which would prove later to be surrounded by some of the most productive farming lands in the nation. From this spot of land was built up a village, and as one of the first villages in the county—situated in the northwest corner—this place was gifted to Squire Dunn, the son of E.S. Dunn, and eventually developed into the city of Freeborn. Now yet a quiet, still town on a quiet, still lake, Freeborn boasts over 150 years of community prosperity.
Freeborn earned its name from the man William Freeborn, one of the pioneers of Goodhue County, and a prestigious member of the territorial legislature in the early years of the Midwest. As Freeborn was then one of the early villages of what was named Freeborn County in his honor, the town was also called Freeborn. It is the only “Freeborn” in all of the United States.
In these first few years, Freeborn saw the formation of a first school, a first church, post office, and hotel. In 1857, Freeborn established the post office and L.T. Scott was the postmaster. The first school, not even a one-room school house yet—that was to come, was held in the home of E.S. Dunn in 1858, and then in other various private homes for the next couple of years. It wasn’t until then that a twelve-food square building was erected and lasted as school house for three more years; until, again, a larger building could be made.
The first church was not constructed until 1867. It was built by a Baptist congregation about two blocks north of the lake. In 1880 this church moved to its present location and was sold to the Congregationalist denomination. 1867 saw also the construction of the first flour mill in all of Freeborn County. It was built on the north bank of the lake, a third of a mile west of the village that is now Freeborn, and soon a second was added. These firsts for Freeborn brought with them hotels, like the first one built by Mr. Chase between the two flour mills, more settlers, and a sense of success. From here on out Freeborn would grow, see new businesses come and change, and develop that small town love that lingers today in the community.
In the early 1900s there was another boom in growth. In 1907 a one-story, four room schoolhouse was built and used until 1922 when the present-day building replaced it. The bank building was erected across the street from a grocery store. (This bank would be robbed twice. Once on March 26, 1938, and again on November 3, 2003—sixty-five years later! In both instances the robber was caught and the money recovered.) And, also in 1907 the first train came through Freeborn at a speed of eight miles per hour. A telephone exchange was started in 1908 that travelled through five different homes, and then eventually reached 150 telephones in the 1950s. Perhaps at first glance this history seems slow, meandering through huge passages of time. Perhaps the greater history of the world seems to pass it by. But these small businesses, changing hands and places, propelled Freeborn into the town it is today.
In the early 1960s, Kenny Bishop built a café, north of the legion hall; it would later be sold through several hands until it was owned by Curt & Shirley Miller in 1985. This was a popular gathering spot for residents, and many still have memories of times spent there, friendships made, lives forged. In 1951 the American Legion was formed. Freeborn became Birth Place of the F.F.A. Corn Drive for Camp Courage in 1953. In 1982 the town received its ambulance license and the fire hall housed the first ambulance. The first city council, consisting of Irvin Hinkley, George Christensen, Gerry Jacobsen, Robert Miller, Jr., Ben Gilmore, and Lowell Wood convened. And Freeborn landed itself in the present-day, where stands buildings of the past and businesses of the future. The current Mayor of Freeborn Edward Mosser, and the council consists of four members (Jim Beach, Kaleb Bjornstad, Jeremy Henke, and Pat Stenzel). The lake and the town retain the quietness and prosperity of the first pioneers, farmers, settlers.