Column: Looking Back

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 27, 2006

He was called the &8216;father&8217; of Wells

By Ed Shannon, staff writer

WELLS &8212; Just about every community has a person who can be considered as being the locality&8217;s founder first citizen. And for Wells that distinction goes to a real promoter named Clark W. Thompson.

He was born near Rockford, Ill., in 1825 and likely worked for his father who owned a woolen mill. In 1849 he went west to the gold fields of California. Unlike many of the hopeful people going to that area to become rich, Thompson actually accumulated a sizable fortune. He returned to Minnesota in 1853 to work with a brother to operate a flour mill in Hokah, Houston County.

He became involved with territorial politics and served in the Legislature starting in 1855 and helped to write the state constitution in 1857. As a result of his connections, President Lincoln appointed Thompson to be Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northwest in 1861. He served until 1865 and resigned to take charge of the building of the Southern Minnesota Railroad to the west from La Crosse, Wis.

This pioneer rail line reached Albert Lea in October 1869 and what was to soon become the town of Wells in January 1870 and continued on west to Winnebago City.

By the time this rail line crossed into Faribault County, Thompson had acquired over 9,000 acres of land, including the site of Wells.

This new town, incorporated

March 6, 1871, acquired its name from Thompson&8217;s wife who had the maiden surname of Wells.

After people started to settle in this new town, they discovered that their water wells were of the free-flowing artesian type. Thus, Wells actually gained its name in two different and appropriate ways.

(Several privately owned wells in Wells are still artesian where the water flows above the top of the pipes without pumping, due to pressure from below the surface.)

When this part of Faribault County was organized as a township the original name selected was Cobb. This name was based on as river which is actually a part of Blue Earth County to the north. Thus, in 1869, the decision was made to change the name of the township to Thompson to honor the founder of Wells.

However, according to a book about Minnesota geographic names, there was already another township in the state with this name. As a result, it was decided in March 1870 to use Thompson&8217;s first name instead. Today, Wells is officially located in Clark Township, Faribault County.

For some now unknown reason, Thompson acquired the honorary title of colonel. He decided to live in Wells with his wife, Rebecca, and four sons, and soon owned the first grain mill,

a brick factory, a cheese making plant, a barrel factory and a place for the making of vinegar.

As a major area landowner, Col. Thompson sold off or rented most of his property for farm use and promoted the continued growth of Wells. He also donated land for the community&8217;s first school.

Yet, the one legacy which endured to perpetuate the memory of the man who died on Oct. 4, 1885, in Wells is Thompson Park.

He donated 53 acres to be used for a municipal park. By 1895 there was a horse stable and race track. About 1905 a small somewhat shallow pond called Park Lake was created in this recreational center for the people of Wells.

Today, the race track, horse barn, a grandstand and the small lake are just memories of the past. Now this park has baseball and softball fields, the city&8217;s water tower and filtration plant, the municipal nine-hole golf course and nearby outdoor swimming pool, playground, picnic tables and a shelter building sponsored by the Wells Lions Club.