In 1967 the Peavey Elevator burned to the ground when a fire broke out under the floor of the wooden elevator building, bringing fire departments from Taunton, Minneota, Porter, Canby and Marshall. The $75,000 blaze could have been worse, as explained by Alice Bertemes, “We’re thankful that the wind last Wednesday was from the northwest not the south. Had it been from the other direction, the damage to nearby buildings would have been much greater and much of the Taunton business district might have been destroyed.
In January of 1981 the last train pulled alongside the Taunton Elevator. The next year the elevator purchased 2 acres from the railroad on which they built two outside loading bins for trucks, thus continuing to be able to transport grain to market.
The Taunton Elevator Co. story is pretty much every small-town grain elevator’s story in the Midwest. The railroads wound their way out from the large cities to the small hamlets in the rural areas bringing supplies but, most importantly, providing transportation of the harvests of grain produced by the struggling farmers. The farmers banded together to form cooperatives in order to build the grain houses and work together on production, marketing strategies, expansion and shipment. Finally, the railroads were not needed to the extent they once were — but an alternative was found in the expanded road system and semi-trucking business.
Taunton remained a small village until the turn of the century, although its residents were extremely proud of its growth. In a letter to the editor of the Marshall News Messenger, Dec. 9, 1898, the writer gave the following description of Taunton:
“In your paper of November 25th you speak of Taunton as a railroad station with but half a dozen or less buildings. You have a mistaken idea of the size of our town. Taunton has about 100 inhabitants. We have 30 businesses and dwelling houses; we have 3 firms buying grain, 2 elevators and 1 warehouse; we have a lumber yard which does a good business; we also have 1 restaurant, 1 boarding house, and 2 blacksmith shops. At present there are 3 gangs of carpenters busy every day, and there will be several new buildings added to the list.” This above prediction came true, when a few years later the population grew to 184, along with several new enterprises in the village. Residents petitioned the county authorities for village government, and incorporation took place later that year. The growth period ended about 1910 and remained stable until after World War II. But after losing some of their stores, a church and, finally, the public school in 1970, the decline of the farm economy of the 1980s came as the crowning blow.
Every small town has interesting people, and Taunton is no exception. One of these people was Col. Samuel McPhail who in 1864 was sent to Minnesota by the United States government to help put down the Indian uprising. McPhail helped in the establishment of government by organizing a voting district, which comprised the present counties of Redwood, Lyon, Lincoln, Yellow Medicine and Lac qui Parle. In 1863, he also established a tree claim and tree farm near Taunton and was the first man to grow orange trees in Minnesota. McPhail’s wife, Minnie, along with Frank Kopicki invented and patented a safer coupling for connecting rail cars in 1894.
In 1879 the William Nicolays came to Taunton from South Dakota to run the hotel. At that time there were few sources of water for the townspeople, as Taunton was one of the driest towns in the state. Nicolay decided to dig his own well in the back yard of the hotel, which turned out to be the clearest and coolest water in town, and with typical small-gown generosity he said, “My well belongs to the people of Taunton. As long as I shall live, all residents of this community will be welcome to use it.” Years later, his daughter, Mrs. Mary Swedzinski, continued to keep the old well in repair so the residents could continue to use the well, which was dubbed “Old Faithful.”
Other well-known personalities from Taunton include: Tommy Tomek, who played sax with the Lawrence Welk Orchestra before forming his own band that toured all over the Midwest; and, Mrs. Grace Hoffman Pridal, who was crowned Mrs. Minnesota in 1986.
So where is Lonesome-Taunton? It could be said it is in the center of nowhere. You can start there and go anywhere in the world.
Source: Small Town Minnesota A-Z, Tony Anderson; Taunton, Minnesota, 1886-1986, Jessie Maertens, Alice Bertemes and Tony Traen.