By Dolores Hislop
Paynesville - the city that once was a dream in the eyes of men who first came to this area and saw lakes, rolling hills, trees, and good land. Now the dream has turned into reality and Paynesville is a vibrant, growing city. I will relate in this article some of the history of Paynesville and a description of the town.
The first group of people in our area were Indians of the Sioux and Ojibwa tribes. They enjoyed the lakes, camped on the rolling hills, ate wild berries and fruit, hunted, and fished. The Sioux journeyed from southern Minnesota and returned in the fall with their rich harvest of furs and food. The Ojibwas hunted and fished in our area and, at one time, battled the Sioux over this land.
Land speculators came later and looked over the land with the prospect of buying land, selling lots, and making money. It was a good place with water, good farming land, and a pleasing area for making homes. People did come, bought land, settled the area, and Paynesville became a reality. The town of Paynesville was started by the Paynesville Townsite Company, headed by Edwin E. Payne, the agent and secretary. Paynesville was named after him and the town of Paynesville began to grow.
The Indian Uprising forced the early settlers to build a fort to protect themselves; however, it was only a temporary measure and the residents fled the area, and did not return to live until the uprising was over. The Indians burned most of the homes of the town and the settlers began again building homes and creating viable farms.
The next historical event was the coming of the two railroads, the Great Northern running diagonally through the state, and the Sioux Ste Marie Railroad coming in from the east and going west. The competition between the two lines created another part of Paynesville history, namely the beginning of North Town where the Great Northern passed through and Jim Town, named for Jim Haines who donated land for the creation of a town. These areas also rivaled "Old Paynesville" to the west, and finally Jim Town or Paynesville eventually became the center of activity for the rest of our city's history.
Progressive merchants made the town grow with the services they offered. The surrounding farming community patronized the stores and enabled a favorable business climate so Paynesville grew. It was cooperation between the people that made Paynesville grow through good and bad business economies.
It is interesting to read in the Stearns County History book a description of Paynesville in 1914. "From the Paynesville of 1857 has come the Paynesville of 1914, a village of one thousand or more people, a village of many comfortable homes and of good churches; a village peopled by men and women, progressive, intelligent and patriotic; a village of many business enterprises, guided by men, capable, energetic and thrifty; a village that has within its limits an establishment, probably the largest of its kind in the state, paying out many thousands of dollars during the year for material and labor; a village that has its hospital known far and near, and numbering among its clientage people not only from this state, but from other states adjoining; a village that never had a boom and does not care for one, but that has maintained a slow but healthy growth; a village that has near it the finest lake in northern Minnesota, Lake Koronis, of which it was once written: 'To the scholar and student Lake Koronis offers many a place of real historic interest; to the artist a varied scenery and unsurpassed natural beauty; to the sportsman many a victory both of the rod and reel; to the tired business man rest and quiet in a large measure and to the seeker after an ideal summer home a peace that is "Fairest among ten thousand and altogether lovely,"' a village that does not claim to be about to become one of the great places of the state, but being located as it is in the heart of a rich and prosperous farming community, upon two of the leading railroads of the northwest, from thirty-five to eighty-five miles from any large city, and being peopled with men who are up and doing, does claim to have made good during the more than fifty years of its growth, and to offer to the home seeker and business- man many advantages not held out by any other town of its size in northern Minnesota."
The city and surrounding area of Paynesville continues to grow with people still seeking the same dreams of the early settler. The good business climate, school system, farming land, recreation, and medical facilities serve the citizens well, plus the religious opportunities for spiritual growth are still a strong influence on the community. We can be grateful for the courage of the first businessmen, laborers, and farmers who decided Paynesville was a good place to live so we can enjoy the benefits of their work and foresight.
The Paynesville Historical Museum has many items of the early history of Paynesville from the Indian exhibit complete with a tepee, to maps and pictures of residents of that era. We invite you to come see the progression of history through the walking tour of the museum.
We invite grandparents to bring in your children and grandchildren to tour together. The grandchildren will be interested in hearing how you worked with the items on display whether baking, washing, farming, or even using an early typewriter or cash register. Once in awhile during the tour you will remember something that was long forgotten but played a special role in your life. What a remarkable way to tell family history.
The museum also has available two books: the blue Paynesville History book that was compiled for the 125th anniversary of Paynesville for $5 and also the story of the South Koronis Community Park, now called the Lake Koronis Regional Park, "The Vision Which Became Reality," for $3. Both tell the history of our area and are an excellent reading source for the summer to learn about Paynesville, farming, resorts, and general stories.
Please come and share your stories with us as we also enjoy listening as we tell you about each exhibit and guide you through the museum. "Christmas in July" is being featured in the schoolhouse so it will feel cool even though we are experiencing some genuine summer weather.
The admission is $2 for adults, $1 for students and $5 per family. Allow about an hour for the tour and then maybe a little longer if you would like to see high school yearbooks, family files, or other items. See you soon!
Information from Paynesville Year 125 by the Paynesville Historical Society and the History of Stearns County 1915.