Fairfield faded fast as a county community

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 10, 2002

Just who can be given credit for the establishment of the town of Fairfield in Riceland Township in 1857 seems to be a historical question with three possible answers.

One answer says two businessmen from the East &uot;made plans to build a future city believing a proposed railroad route would pass this way …&uot; That’s part of the statement placed on a poster used for a 1949 celebration at the site of this former community.

The second answer mentioned in several vague historical accounts says the two town promoters were newspapermen from New York.

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However, the most logical answer could be a blacksmith named Samuel A. Beardsley. His family was one of the first to settle in this part of Freeborn County. In fact, the original name selected for this township was Beardsley. After six months or so, the name was changed to Riceland. This newer name

was based on the vast expanse of wild rice growing in the wetlands area of a large shallow lake.

The site of Fairfield was located on the south side of what became known as Rice lake and in a thick grove of mostly oak trees. Those trees resulted in Beardsley constructing a small steam-powered sawmill. This was the start of Fairfield.

It wasn’t long before a townsite of 20 blocks was plated. Each block, except one, consisted of eight lots. One of the blocks was designated at the public square. The street names selected for this new town were South, Freeborn, Marion, Broadway, Pearl, and logically enough at that time, Lake.

Within a short time the new village of Fairfield consisted of the sawmill, a store, a post office, a blacksmith shop also operated by Beardsley, and four homes.

By 1860 the Beardsley family had moved to Wisconsin, and then later to Otter Tail County in the northwestern part of Minnesota.

According to the historical marker now at the site of Fairfield, the village managed to exist until 1890. However, the real end of the community and its hoped for boost for future growth came in 1869. That’s when the railroad came into the county from the east. Instead of going through Fairfield, the South Minnesota Railroad passed by about four miles to the south on a route from Oakland to Hayward.

(One of the odd ironies of county history took place in 1926. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad constructed a branch line to Hollandale. This rail line passed within a mile of the Fairfield site and went to the north across the former bed of Rice Lake and its wetlands which had been drained a few years earlier. This rail line was abandoned in the early 1970s.)

Just over two miles to the west of the Fairfield historical marker on County Road 25 is another pioneer community in Riceland Township. This is Lerdal which once had a creamery, school, telephone exchange and store, and still has a few homes and the township hall.

In May 1949 the people of Freeborn County were observing the centennial of Minnesota’s status as a territory in the national union (statehood came in 1858).

On May 27, 1949, the people of Riceland Township decided to hold their own centennial celebration at the Fairfield village site.

About 300 people attended this event which featured historical information about the former town given by A. T. Vollum, who lived on a nearby farm. This was followed by a skit presented by the teachers and students of the Hollandale School. Another highlight of the program came when Dutch folk dances complete with native costumes and wooden shoes were presented by a group of adults from Hollandale.

In 1973 the Riceland Township Board and the Freeborn County Historical Society installed the present roadside monument to mark the site of the former village of Fairfield for future generations of area citizens.