Farmington History

How Farmington Got Its Name

Photo: Third Street in 1867

In 1856, James C. Dow, editor of the Dakota Weekly Journal, a territorial newspaper published in Hastings, wrote this, “Farmington is situated on the Vermillion River, about fifteen miles from Hastings. This place is rightly named, for it looks like a village of farms. Good soil, good water, and intelligent citizens is their wealth.”

The City of Farmington, named after Farmington, New York, is one of Dakota County’s oldest communities and was on the map before Minnesota became a state.

Irving Todd, publisher of the Hastings Conserver, recorded these observations in 1863:
“Farmington seems to us to be suitably named, being a vast conglomeration of farms and farm houses. We could not but notice the thrifty look which bespoke the careful husbandman.”

The “vast conglomeration of farms and farm houses” would inevitably be platted in 1864. A business district, with a railroad depot to serve its needs, was constructed a year later. Schools, churches, and community organizations were established to meet the necessities of an increasing population.

On the first of April 1997, Farmington’s municipal government marked its 125th year of serving the needs and interests of the community.

Early Farmington

Minnesota Governor William Marshall, played an important role in Farmington's ill-fated attempt to become incorporated in 1868.
The first generation of Farmingtonians - the proper name for the community’s residents - were unsuccessful in having the village incorporated. The story of Farmington’s Village Charter, and the individuals involved in how it came to be, begins in 1869.

Farmington was an unorganized village when it was pummeled by the city of Hastings for attempting to have the county seat moved from Hastings to Empire Township. Hastings, the first community in Dakota County to be incorporated, wasted no time flexing and using its political muscles on any community in the county that challenged its position of power and importance, and Farmington was no exception.

Farmington was quick to learn that if it wanted to prosper materially and be a force in county politics like Hastings, it needed a strong municipal government.

In February 1869, R. J. Chewning, a state representative from Farmington, and a member of the Military Affairs, Agriculture and Manufactures, and State Prison Committees, introduced a petition to the house signed by forty residents requesting that the legislature pass an act to incorporate the village. The act was approved by both branches of the legislature without a dissenting vote and sent to Governor William Marshall for his signature. Frank J. Mead, the outspoken publisher of Farmington’s first newspaper, the Telegraph, gave an account of what happened to the bill in the March 18, 1869 issue.

“While the matter was yet pending in the Senate, a gentleman named Donaldson, who constitutes himself the peoples guardian for this section of Dakota County, went to St. Paul and requested one of our members to kill the measure. With the measure in his hands, and no remonstrance from any one except a verbal one from Donaldson, our member did not feel justified in doing so, and the bill passed into the hands of his excellency, Gov. Marshall.”

The “gentleman named Donaldson” that Mead referred to was Major James Donaldson, a veteran of the Fourth Minnesota Regiment, and one of Farmington’s leading citizens. Donaldson was Farmington’s postmaster before he was elected to the state legislature in 1867.

“Now, it so happens,” continued Mead, “ that Donaldson is a species of “Man Friday” to Gov. Marshall, being interested with him in an agricultural venture (not wheat seed) down in Mower County. So much is Gov. Marshall in love with Donaldson that the latter has become a “power behind the throne” a kind of deputy governor for Dakota County, and hence when he whispered in the attentive ear of the executive, that the bill of incorporation was liable to make him (Donaldson) pay a few more dollars in taxes to build sidewalks and grade streets in Farmington, the accommodating governor-in-chief quietly kills the bill by a pocket veto.

“Of all the mean things done by the Radicals since they have been in power in Minnesota it was reserved to Gov. Marshall to perpetrate the meanest contemptible office of “court favorite,” and allowing one man, and he a man void of either principle of ability, to override the wishes of a whole community.”

The “Radicals” Mead referred to were the Republicans. Gov. Marshall played a role in the founding of the Republican Party in Minnesota and defeated the popular Democrat Henry M. Rice for governor in 1865.

Mead was no stranger to politics and was the publisher of the Northwestern Democrat, a weekly newspaper at Hastings for a brief time. He was described as a “bitter Democrat” and a “loud denouncer” of the Republican Party.

“We do not propose to discuss the merits or demerits of the act of incorporation, “Mead continued. “Whether it was good or bad, just or unjust, it had a proviso attached submitting it to a vote of the people, and we have always been taught that the community at large was the best judge of what was for its own immediate interest, and neither Marshall or Donaldson had a shadow of right to steal from the people of this village the opportunity to vote on the question of incorporation; and such an act of favoritism on the part of the Governor, in the teeth of a large majority of the most respectable of our citizens, was nothing less than contemptible.

“Thank God, we have only a little more than nine months longer to live under the administration of this man Marshall,” rejoiced Mead, “and unless we are sadly mistaken his chances of playing the tyrant another two years are waxing beautifully less with each cropping out of the bed rock of his natural and constitutional meanness.”

The residents of Farmington were happy to read in the May 13, 1869 issue of the Telegraph that Gov. Marshall refused to be re-nominated for governor in 1870.

History of Farmington contributed by David Schreier.

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