The following articles appeared in The Watertown Public Opinion on June 6, 1979.
It was once the largest
Before its creation by the territorial legislature in 1877, what is now Codington County was part of at least seven different counties over a 40-year period.
In 1837 this area was part of what was at that time the largest county in the nation. Wisconsin Territory created Fayette County that year. It included the north half of Iowa, all of Minnesota and all of North and South Dakota east of the Missouri River.
Fayette County lasted only one year. In 1838 it became Iowa Territory. From then until Dakota Territory was formed in 1861, Codington County was part of the Territory of Minnesota. When Minnesota gained statehood in 1858, this area became “Indian Country” and was administered by the War Department.
When the first territorial legislature met in 1862 it created Deuel County, which was huge, by today’s standards. It extended from the two eastern tiers of townships in Codington County to the upper end of Lake Traverse. The eastern half of Watertown was part of Deuel County.
In 1871 the legislature created Hanson County. It included the balance of what is now Codington County in addition to parts of 22 present counties.
Codington County became part of four counties through the action of the 1872 legislature. The solons created Hamlin, Clark, Grant and Adair counties, each containing a portion of Codington County.
Hamlin contained the southeastern eight townships, including what is now Watertown, and Clark held the western tier of townships and the north two tiers west of the Sisseton Reservation. Grant County, meanwhile, contained those townships east of the Sisseton Reservation. Adair was to serve as the southern boundary for Grant County, but for some unknown reason it was never formally brought into existence.
The 1877 legislature rearranged county lines in eastern Dakota and thereby created Codington County. It was carved out of portions of Grant, Hamlin and Clark counties.
The boundaries of the county remained set for only six years. On March 8, 1893, another realignment of boundaries occurred and portions of Codington County were returned to Grand and Clark counties. That action created Codington County as we know it today.
Codington County Created in 1878
As Watertown celebrates its 100th birthday, it will also be celebrating the 101st birthday of Codington County.
The county was officially created on February 15, 1878, when the territorial legislature approved a bill carving it out of portions of Hamlin, Grant and Clark counties.
On July 19, Territorial Governor William Howard appointed George Stoddart, Oliver S. Jewell and William McIntyre as county commisioners to organize the county’s government.
They held their first meeting on August 7, at the post office run by Oscar P. Kemp near the outlet of Lake Kampeska. They located the county seat at “the town of Kampeska as surveyed and platted by Calvin J. B. Harris,” one of the county’s first settlers. They also made their first appointment, naming L. S. Deming register of deeds.
One week later, the three commissioners met again, this time appointing more county officers, dividing the county into three districts and creating the county seal.
According to county records, that first seal was “a body of water, with boat on lake, and town on bank.” This apparently was to signing the location of the county seat.
The appointees were: Jim Riley, sheriff; A. D. Chase, probate judge; Charles Carpenter, assessor; Stoddart, surveyor; D. M. Richardson, coroner; D. B. Lovejoy, superintendent of schools; D. K. Connor, George E. Hanson, George N. Tuthill and Arthur E. Weston, justices of the peace; and, Carey Richardson, Weston, John B. Severy and Wilbur Warner, constables.
Their first appointee, Deming, resigned during the second meeting and the commissioners appointed C. C. Wiley to replace him.
Three other county officials also did not last long. At their next meeting on August 28, Lovejoy resigned and E. N. Brown was appointed to replace him. J. Schwartshoff was appointed to fill a vacancy in one of the justice of the peace positions, while Weston replaced Richarson as coroner.
The next meeting, held October 7, brought Codington County its first “city” and preparations for its first election.
On that day the name of the county seat was changed from “Kampeska” to “Kampeska City.” They ordered that the word “city” also be inserted in the record of Harris’ plat. Unfortunately, the plat cannot be found.
Prepare for election
The commissioners also set up polling places for the November general election and appointed election judges. One of the biggest issues on the ballot was the location of the county seat.
In August the Winona & St. Peter Railroad Co. had discovered that they exceeded their land grant when it located its terminus at Kampeska. Because of that, the company platted Watertown, at first calling it Waterville, and at once commenced an active campaign to have the county seat located there.
By this time the country around, and particularly east of Watertown was rapidly filling up with settlers. The railroad company, according to several historians, spared no opportunity to have the county seat moved to Watertown. It issued passes “as free as the grass” to the parties who would vote “right” to come to Watertown via train to vote.
In order to make “good measure” the company also shipped in some of its employees who were working on a construction train near Gary. Watertown, of course, won and has been the county seat ever since.
Fourteen county officers were also elected. They were; J. E. Hanson, Alex Davison and A. H. Dobson, county commissioners; W. R. Thomas, register of deeds; E. H. Ulrich, sheriff; J. W. Drake, probate judge; Kemp, treasurer; Carpenter, assessor; E. W. Brann, Superintendent of schools; Weston, coroner; George W. Carpenter, surveyor; and Connor, A. Mudge and J. McLane, Justices of the peace.
The newly-elected commissioners met for the first time at the new county seat on January 6, 1879. The election doomed Kampeska City, as its residents flocked to Watertown, “the new home of justice.”