Ada, Norman County, Minnesota

Information taken from "Under Prairie Skies" by Lenora I. Johnson, 1976 and Turner and Semling's "Clay and Norman Counties Minnesota" 1918

In May of 1876 William Shields of Bremer County, Iowa, made a tour of the area. He liked the county and persuaded six other settlers to move here from Iowa with him. It is possible that among those six settlers were M.J. Dunlap, depot agent, and Robert Barton owner of the Commercial House, as they also came in 1876.  There was already a house on the Wild Rice River, but the new settlers decided that locality was too low and swampy, so located the village where it is now. The first building was a shanty erected by Shields and two of the other settlers for their living quarters that first fall. He also put up a grain warehouse and began buying grain from the farmers in the vicinity. He was listed as a lumber dealer in the Ada business directory of 1880. The new settlement was first called Ada that year, when the post office was moved from Finnian McDonald's farm two and a half miles south on the Wild Rice River to the village. The Ada village was platted on June, 1880, and the instrument was signed by officers of the old Manitoba Railway Company, James J. Hill and E. Sawyer, the former then being vice-president and the latter the secretary of the company. The town was named for the little daughter of H. W. Fisher, formerly assistant superintendent of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, who had a large farm at Edna (now Beltrami) at that time. Ada Nelson Fisher died at the age of six in 1880.

Because of the grasshopper ravages, the Indian scares, and the long distance to markets, not many people came into Ada and its vicinity until after 1876 but from then to 1900, they came in large numbers, rapidly settling on all available land. The summer of 1877, Robert Houston of Crookston, built an eating house in the new settlement. W. Stuart, also of Crookston, started the first hotel, but sold it the next year to Frank Bergquest, who renamed it the Ada House. In 1878 John Pfund and William Bloom who had been working in a sawmill at Red Wing, Minnesota each brought a carload of lumber to Ada.  According to early settlers, the first hotel was only a large residence where travelers were accommodated, not in the greatest comfort. Bergquest built the Hotel Ada, a large frame building, in 1881. In 1884 it was taken over by George Warniger, who turned it over the same year to John Heitman.

Flooding reported as a problem in the Ada area as early as the spring1878 when John Merkins floated lumber from the village to his farm, a half mile west and three miles north of Ada where he built on the one dry spot he found on his farm.

Davis and Cleveland built the general store in 1877 and G. S. Barnes and Company shipped in a stock of goods for the store that summer. The next year they built a new and larger store with Lars Ramstad put in charge of the store. Lars and his brother Peter were two of the leading business men of Ada in the eighties. They came from Coon Prairie, Wisconsin, and bought lots in the newly formed village in 1881. They had the largest store in Ada at that time. Lars was also postmaster, and upon his death, his brother Peter succeeded him in that office. Their sister was the wife of A. K. Strand, county treasurer from 1883-89.

Walter Wilmot, later a noted professional baseball player, and his father A. C. Wilmot operated Ada's first meat market. During the winter of 1879-80 the only meat they had to serve their customers was elk, plentiful at that time as herds of elk approached the town daily along the banks of the Marsh River. The inrush of settlers to Ada and vicinity in 1879 and 1880 created a building boom, attracting carpenters, masons, and bricklayers.  Lewis Weatherhead was one of the first carpenters in Ada. He sent for A. O. Rolfe whom he new from Glyndon, in 1880. Rolfe did the plastering and mason work on many of the early residences. He built the Hotel Ada block, the Barlow and Prentice buildings and the Congregational church, all made from Ada brick.

Other early business places in Ada in the early eighties were a drugstore operated by Thompson and Hahn; a confectionery store run by A. B. Watson, Civil War veteran and grandfather of Mrs. Jason Weatherhead; Ada's first furniture store was established by August George; the first hardware store started by Cragin Brothers, later bought by Sandvig Brothers; and a general store established by G. S. Barnes of Minneapolis, who sold it to W. H. Bangs of Boston, who in turn sold it to P. O. Onstad.

One of the first doctors in Ada was Dr. F. H. Stuart, who came to the village in 1879. He was a dignified appearing man, who wore a stiff silk hat, and drove a team of spirited horses. He became the main figure in Ada's famous murder trail of 1885. E. L. Narum, who was a physician and druggist, had also come to Ada in 1879 and opened a drugstore together with G. T. Lysingen and S. A. Swenson. It appears that Stuart and Narum were friends, however on one occasion Stuart had been fined fifty dollars for striking Narum during an argument at a coroner's inquest. Narum was described a small, hunchbacked man, while Stuart was large and strong. Some time during 1885 Stuart brought a prescription to be filled to Narum's store. Narum refused to fill it on the grounds that it was not properly filled out. The two got into another argument which ended with Stuart knocking Narum down and injuring him so badly he died several days later from a broken neck. Stuart was arrested for murder.

Feelings in the community ran high and some of the hotheads wanted to lynch the doctor, but were restrained by Peer Stromme, a local pastor, and other level-headed citizens. It was impossible to secure an impartial jury in Norman County as everyone had formed an opinion on the case so it was decided to try it at Detroit in Becker County. When the day of the trail came, everyone that could do so went to Detroit. The prosecution had investigated Stuart's early life and brought out a number of damaging facts concerning him. His real name was Frank Fields, a former hostler of a physician named Stuart. When the real Stuart died, Fields stole the diploma of the dead man, assumed his name and proceeded to practice medicine. Stuart was found guilty of fourth degree manslaughter on December 11, 1885 and fined five hundred dollars. He left for Kentucky immediately afterwards, but soon came back to Ada about four years later and resumed practice. Except for a short stay in Wisconsin, he remained in Ada until 1900 when he went to Minneapolis. In spite of notoriety gained by the trail he was very popular and had a large practice in Ada and surrounding territory. He accumulated considerable property while in Ada and was said to have had about twenty thousand dollars when he left the county.

The pioneer photographer of Ada was Halvor W. Thune who opened his photograph gallery in 1883 and continued to operate it until his retirement many years later. He held both county and village offices, including court commissioner, chief of the fire department, mayor of Ada, and member of the school board. Another early photographer was L. H. Loverstone, whose advertisement appeared in the 1884 papers.

The first resident pastor of Ada seems to have been Peer Stromme, a picturesque pioneer preacher, who wrote an account of his experiences during the early days of the village. He served a number of other congregations in the county, even a German one, although he admitted he was not very proficient in that language. He was the first county superintendent of Norman County, serving from 1881 until 1886. He combined the jobs of pastor and school-man as he traveled around the country inspecting the schools, organizing districts, and holding religious services.

Early records are incomplete, but in 1883 the village officers were: H. M. Hunting, president of the council; J. S. Johnson, C. H. Brown, F. A. Gaetke, councilmen; D. H. Fiske, recorder; W. H. Hanson justice of the peace; H. G. Lee and M. Woodbury, constables; Al. L. Shields, road overseer.

Ada Bank and Hotel

The first banking house in Ada and in Norman County was started by W.H. Matthews in 1881. It was called the Bank of Ada.  Mr. Matthews came to Ada from Waverly, Iowa in 1881.  He secured most of the capital for the bank from L.H. Ware, also of Waverly. Mr. Matthews was cashier, bookkeeper, janitor and general factotum.  A.O. Rolfe roomed with him at the rear of the bank.  Every night they would count the cash and ship the excess to St. Paul by express. In June of 1890 it was organized under the state laws as the Bank of Ada.

Board of Directors: W.H. Matthews, Ed Matthews, Sylvester Peterson, H.H. Phelps, W.H. Bangs, C.R. Andrews, O.H. Myran. It became the First State Bank of Ada in 1895.

Mr. Matthews had the Hotel Ada block erected in 1900 to furnish quarters for the bank. In 1903 it was sold to A.L. Hanson and B.F. Tenny. Mr. Tenny sold everything to the Hanson’s in 1919.

The first Hotel Ada was a large frame building. It was replaced by a brick structure for which plans are located at the museum in Prairie Village in Ada. The Hotel Ada didn’t end up looking exactly like the blueprints, but it was a stately building that met its end when fire damaged the upper floor beyond repair.

  • The Hotel Ada was made of Ada brick from the Ada Brickyard. 

  • There were two stories.

  •  The manager of the Hotel had an apartment there, and there were twelve other rooms available. 

  •  The Hotel Dining Room and kitchen was to the west. 

  •  Part of the space was rented by Dr. Herman Sittko for his dental office.



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