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Ghent Minnesota History

From History of Lyon County Minnesota
Written by Authur P. Rose, published in 1912

Not far from where the Northestern railroad crosses Three-Mile creek, on the northwest quarter of section 15, Grandview township, seven miles northwest of Marshall, is the little village of Ghent. Its elevation above sea level is 1173 feet and its population 210. Ghent is the trading point for a populous and thrifty community, made up for the most part of Belgian and French settlers, and is one of the most progressive little villages of Lyon county. 

When the Winona & St. Peter (now the Northwestern) railroad was built in 1872 that part of Lyon county northwest from Marshall was thinly settled, but there were a few homesteaders near the point where the new road crossed Three-Mile creek and they made an effort to have a station located at the crossing. Conditions warranted the establishment of only one station in Lyon county at that time, the settlers near the crossing of the Redwood made a more active campaign, and the railroad officials located the station there instead of at Three-Mile creek. Thus the leading town and county seat of Lyon county became Marshall instead of a city planted where Ghent stands today. 

In time more settlers located in the vicinity of the crossing of Three-Mile creek, and to furnish them mail facilities a postoffice was established early in 1874. It was named Grandview, after the township, and Harrison A. Irish, a homesteader on section 14, was the Postmaster. The office, supplied from Marshall, was maintained for a couple of years and was then discontinued, to be re-established at a later time.

It is the village of Grandview with which we have to deal in chronicling the early history of Ghent, for prior to 1881 that is the name the village bore. Grandview was founded in the spring of 1878. In April of that year A. P. Ray erected a store building and engaged in the grocery business. The venture was not a success and the store was discontinued in October. The Grandview townsite was platted by the railroad company on July 5, 1878, the survey having been made by Arthur Jacobi.

J. M. Vaughn bought grain at Grandview during the seasons of 1878 and 1879 for Van Dusen & Company, and for some time after the closing of the Ray store that was the only enterprise on the site, and that did not boast a building to shelter it. Although the site had been platted and some business enterprises had been started previously, the practical founding of Grandview came in 1880. That year the first of the Catholic colony located in the vicinity and supplied the stimulus for the building of a village. 

During 1880 Van Dusen & Company erected a grain warehouse and John Fodness was employed as grain buyer, Jerry Fagan, one of the colonists, opened a store but closed it the next year; William Heinmiller engaged in the blacksmith business; Burl Story moved a little shack from his homestead and kept boarders, also erecting a barn; one of the residents also sold lumber at the youthful village. While this list of improvements for 1880 cannot be considered large, a start had been made and Grandview was placed on the map. A correspondent to the Marshall Messenger of December 17, 1880, wrote: "We don't look for a city here very soon but hope to see more business done at our station hereafter than in the past .... Six months ago there was not one individual living in this village, now we have seven buildings." 

Progress continued during 1881, due principally to the arrival of a large number of Belgian colonists. A depot was erected during the summer and Mr. King installed as agent, a telegraph office being added in September. The same month, upon the petition of residents, the name of the postoffice was changed from Grandview to Ghent, named after the city in Belgium, and the station was later also given the new name. Burl Story erected a hotel building and founded the Ghent House. R. F. Laythe put up a building and engaged in the general merchandise business, selling out later to Capistrand & Soucheray. A Mr. Hayden opened another store the same season. John Fodness erected an 18x26 feet store building and one of the colonists built a dwelling house. 

In the spring of 1882 a Ghent citizen wrote that the village had a population of 125 and that the business enterprises consisted of one general store, a hotel, blacksmith shop, elevator and lumber yard. A few changes in the ownership of business houses were made in 1883. Capistrand & Soucheray bought the R. F. Laythe store in March and three months later Mr. Soucheray became sole proprietor. In December Emilien Paradis bought the Jerry Fagan store building and engaged in. the general merchandise business. In 1884 Francis Gits opened a hotel and tinware shop, Mr. Vergote a blacksmith shop, and Mr. Cool a carpenter and wagon shop. In 1885 Youmans Brothers & Hodgins established a lumber yard. 

There was no boom connected with the growth of Ghent and at no time did it develop beyond the demands of the surrounding farming country. A special census taken on March 14, 1899, showed a population of 182. It was at that time that the residents asked for incorporation. 

A petition asking for the incorporation of the northwest quarter of section 15, Grandview township, as the village of Ghent was filed with the county auditor March 28, 1899. It was signed by thirty-two voters.[note 5] The County Board granted the request of .the residents of Ghent and named May 15, 1899, as the date for voting on the question. A. H. Lerschen, Alois Bergeron and A. J. Paal were inspectors of the initial election. Of the twenty-five votes cast, everyone was in favor of beginning municipal government. The first officers were chosen May 29, 1899. 

Following are the names of those who have, been elected to office since Ghent was incorporated: 

1899 President, Francis Gits; trustees, George 1. Regnier, B. Brouwer, Alois Bergeron; recorder, Joseph Letourneau; treasurer, Joseph Deutz; justices, James Meaghan, Constant Dirckx; constables, Louis Vermeersch, August Dolieslager.
1900 President, Francis Gits; trustees, Charles Foulon, Alois Bergeron, B. Brouwer; recorder, Joseph Letourneau; treasurer, Joseph Kemna; assessor, A. A. Regnier; justices, James Meaghan, G. I. LeBeau; constables, Jules Van Hee, Louis Vermeersch. 
1901 President, A. H. Lerschen; trustees, Charles Foulon, B. Brouwer, James Meaghan; recorder, Joseph Letourneau; treasurer, Joseph Kemna; assessor, A. A. Regnier; justices, Peter Elbers, John Cavanaugh. 
1902 President, A. H. Lerschen; trustees, James Meaghan, Peter Wessels, G. I. LeBeau; recorder, Charles Foulon; treasurer, Joseph Kemna; assessor, G. I. Regnier; justices, Fred Lerschen, Adolph Overbeke; constable, Gus Rouse. 
1903 President, A. H. Lerschen; trustees, James Meaghan, Peter Wessels, Alphonse Cyr; recorder, Charles Foulon; treasurer, Aime Van Hee; assessor, .G. I. Regnier; justice, H. Princen; constables, G. I. Regnier, Adolph Overbeke. 
1904 President, A. H. Lerschen; trustees, G. I. LeBeau, Francis Gits, Alphonse Gyr; recorder, John Cavanaugh; treasurer, Aime Van Hee; assessor, A. A. Regnier; justice, Fred Lerschen; constable, Arthur Gits. 
1905 President, A. H. Lerschen; trustees, G. I. LeBeau, Alphonse Gyr,- Joseph Kemna; recorder, John Cavanaugh; treasurer, Ed. Gits; assessor, Alex Lord; justice, C. Van Winsberghe; constable, C. H. Monroe. 
1906 President, Peter Albers; trustees, Edward Schreiber, H. J. Bot, B. Dolander; recorder, Ed. Gits; treasurer, Aime Van Hee; assessor, C. Van Winsberghe; justice, Robert Stelter; constables, Leopold Flaeys, A. Van Uden. 
1907 President, Charles Foulon; trustees, G. J. Inhofer, Edward Schreiber, Louis Vermeersch; recorder, Edward Robinson; treasurer, Aime Van Hee; assessor, C. Van Winsberghe. 
1908 President, Charles Foulon; trustees, Edward Schreiber, G. J. Inhofer, Louis Vermeersch; recorder, Theodore Sanders; treasurer, H. J. Bot; assessor, C. Van Winsberghe; justice, H. J. Bot; constable, Emile Loessaert. 
1909 President, Charles Foulon; trustees, Celeste Ampe, G. J. Inhofer, Arthur Gits; recorder, Theodore Sanders; treasurer, H. J. Bot; assessor, C. Van Winsberghe; justice, Hero W. Bot. 
1910 President, Charles Foulon; trustees, Arthur Gits, Henry Lord, Celeste Ampe; recorder, G. J. Inhofer; treasurer, H. J. Bot; justices, H. J. Bot, Louis Vermeersch; constables, Emile Loessaert, Mike Stassen. 
1911 President, Charles Foulon; trustees, Louis Vermeersch, Henry Lord, Arthur Gits; recorder, H. J. Bot; treasurer, John Bankers; justice, S. A. Walrath; constable, Emile Loessaert. 
1912 President, Charles Foulon; trustees, Henry Lord, H. M. Maertens, Celeste Ampe; recorder, H. J. Bot; treasurer, Ed. Gits; assessor, C. Van Winsberghe; justices, Mike Stassen, S. A. Walrath; constable, H. Mortier. 

The federal census of 1900 gave Ghent a population of 119. There has been an increase since that time, the population in 1905 having been 193, and in 1910 it was 210. The village has progressed in a business way and is admittedly one of the best of the smaller municipalities of Lyon county.


For a number of years after the founding of Ghent the nearest school was more than a mile from the village. The first school taught in the village was under the direction of Father Y. Devos. He established a free school for the education of the children and to teach the many foreign born residents the English language. Miss Hannah Lester was the teacher. 

Upon the request of the residents of Ghent, school district No. 67 was formed and a public school established. Francis Gits was treasurer and B. Brouwer director of the district when it was organized. The first teacher was Stephen Walrath[note 8] and the pupils of the first public school were Ed. Gits, Arthur Gits, Clemence Gits, Victor Gits, Joseph Princen, Fred Green, Theodore Thomas, Minnie Thomas, Harry Regnier, John Cavanaugh, Morris Breen and John Breen. Thirty-five pupils are now enrolled in the Ghent school. Sister Loyale is the teacher.


Ghent was founded by and the tributary country settled almost entirely by Catholics and the church of that faith in the little village is one of the strongest in Southwestern Minnesota. The church of St. Eloi is the only one in Ghent. 

The beginning of the Catholic church of Ghent was in June, 1883, when Father Y. Devos accompanied a large number of colonists from the old country and was assigned to the charge at Ghent. The pastor said mass for the first time soon after his arrival and the church was organized. The congregation was not strong enough to erect a house of worship at once and until the church home was secured services were held respectively at the home of Angelus Van Hee, the store of Mr. Soucheray, the home of Francis Gits, and the railroad depot.

The first church was erected in 1885 through the efforts of Father Devos. Later a house and barn were added to the church property. The frame church building erected in 1885 was used by the congregation until January 1, 1902, when it and the priest's house were destroyed by fire, bringing a loss of $12,000. 

The present brick church -the finest church edifice in Lyon county- was erected in 1904 and 1905. The corner stone was laid June 9, 1904, by Rev. Father Walsh, assisted by eight prelates. The building was dedicated by Archbishop John Ireland May 30, 1905. The cost was $30,000 and it was dedicated with a debt of less than $7000 against it. About $22,000 had been raised in the parish during the year preceding its completion. The building committee that supervised its construction was composed of Messrs. Breen, Regnier, Foulon, Maertens, Bot, Cavanaugh, Gits and Engels. The parsonage was erected in 1905 at a cost of $6000. 

The present membership of the Ghent church is 1000, comprising 140 families. Of these 140 families, twenty-two are French-Canadian, five German, four Irish, and the rest Belgian and Holland. The present church trustees are Francis Gits and J. Van Keulen. 

A convent and school is maintained in connection with the church. It was established in 1893 and the convent building was erected in 1898 at a cost of $6000. An addition of equal cost is now proposed. About 125 pupils receive instruction in the school. Mother Evelyn, of the Sisters of St. Joseph, is the mother superior and she has three assistants.


Ghent Court No. 1081, Catholic Order of Foresters, was organized March 19, 1900, and has had a prosperous existence. The lodge now has a membership of forty-two. The principal officers are Henry Lord, Ed. Gits, Charles Foulon, A. D. Schaefer and Theodore Stassen. Camp No. 6617, Modern Woodmen of America, began its existence July 14, 1906, with twenty-six charter members. The present membership is twenty and the principal officers are as follows: Emile Loessaert, E. F. St. Denis, E. Schutyser, John Stassen, Charles Popelier and E. Schreiber.


The Ghent Fire Department was organized February 15, 1903. Of the following named first members of the department only the five first named are still members: George I. LeBeau, Ed. Gits, Ed. Schreiber, Theodore Stassen, J. I. Rhodes, Anton Lerschen, Hector Hofman, A. D. Schaefer, A. J. Lord and Arthur Gits. 

The equipment consists of Watrous gas engine, hose cart and 1500 feet of hose. There are now twenty-eight members and the officers are as follows: George Inhofer, chief; H. Maertens, assistant chief; Charles Foulon, president; A. D. Schaefer, vice president; E. F. St. Denis, secretary; William C. Hess, treasurer; George LeBeau, Earl Schreiber and J. I. Rhodes, finance committee.


One banking institution, the First State Bank of Ghent, is conducted in the village. It is the successor of the first banking house, a private institution denominated the Bank of Ghent, which was organized. with a capital of $5000 on March 23, 1903. The first officers and board of directors were as follows: John E. Burchard, president; John Breen, vice president; Charles Foulon, cashier; D. D. Forbes and M. W. Harden. 

In 1908 the Bank of Ghent was reorganized under the state banking laws with a paid-up capital of $10,000. The present officers and directors are M. W. Harden, president; John Breen, vice president; Charles Foulon, cashier; V. B. Seward and John A. Brewers. The elegant banking house, which with the fixtures cost $7500, was erected in 1905. The business of the institution has steadily increased, and according to a statement made May 30, 1911, the deposits were $145,000 and there was a surplus of $3000.


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