By Scott Hentges
Yes, Paynesville did have a fort. The location of this fort was at the site of the present armory, which is located at the west end of Paynesville near Highway 23. See old sign below.
This fort was built in the early months of 1862 during the Sioux Uprising. It was built to protect the families in the Paynesville settlement and settlers coming from surrounding areas.
The fort was built using the Methodist Church and the schoolhouse. These buildings were move to act as two walls, and the other two walls were formed by sod, dirt, and timber. The walls measured five feet in height when the fort was completed.
Soon after completion of the fort, Captain Ambrose Freeman came from St. Cloud with a company of volunteers. Their purpose was seeking out endangered settlers and burying the dead.
When Freeman came to the fort, it was so overcrowded that the fort weakened to the degree that it was not safe. Captain Freeman and the rest of the settlers packed up and left the fort, moving closer to Richmond and St. Cloud.
With the fort abandoned, the Indians took advantage of this opportunity and burned the fort and the whole village. This left the fort unsafe for any person to return.
Later, in October 1862, Companies E and H of the 25th Regiment of Wisconsin Infantry arrived at the location of the burned fort and started rebuilding. This time, they used wood timbers and filled the chinks with mortar and roofed it all with boards.
Then this structure was surrounded with earthworks, basically piles of dirt, eight feet high and four feet thick. This provided protection and loop holes for rifle firing.
The Wisconsin soldiers stayed at the fort until the last few days of November, when Company A of the Minnesota Mounted Rangers, led by Captain E.M. Wilson, came to occupy the post. Soldiers of Company A were stationed at the fort until May 1864 with troops patroling the area around the west side of Lake Koronis to Manannah. When the fort was abandoned in May 1864, it again was burned down.
After the Sioux Uprising ended, settlers returned and started building Paynesville again. The village, wanting to commemorate the fort and the part it did during the Sioux Uprising, put a sign up where the fort had stood. Later on, the sign was taken down, and it is not known why the sign was removed.