Originally called Watonwan, Garden City Township lies on the edge of the beautiful Watonwan River. The first settler, S. Titus Mills, arrived in 1854. Mills, along with his family, opened a small hotel that served travelers passing through the township. Being the only place of lodging until Lake Crystal was re-established, he attracted many visitors. He continued to run the inn until his death in 1873.
Other settlers came the same year Mills arrived, also bringing along families and ideas. The first village to be established in the Township was Garden City Village. A man by the name of Edson Gerry saw great potential in the village. It was surrounded by a vast amount of water which would serve perfectly for milling. Convinced this area would thrive, he attempted to buy the town site and establish the village. To his disappointment, he could not afford the heavy fee to buy a village. Unfazed, he reached out to a friend: Samuel M. Folsom. Folsom gave him the money needed in exchange for two-fifths of the land. They named the village Fremont, and along with another gentleman by the name of Eri P. Evans, they quickly got to work. Just as Gerry had hoped, the village began to thrive. The first store opened in 1856, which was gradually followed by mills, schools, post offices, and hotels. In 1858, the village of Fremont was re-platted and renamed Garden City. Farmers and millers alike thrived in the village, where resources were plenty and community was loyal. The schools erected in this village became renowned as some of the highest ranking in the county.
In 1860, the county fair moved to Garden City and has been held here ever since. Garden City tried to become the county seat in 1885. After a much heated debate and vote, the courthouse and county seat were established in Mankato.
Just when the village was reaching its peak, a railroad was built along the edge of town with a small postal stop. Due to the lack of places to stay, people went on to booming cities like Lake Crystal, instead of the small village of Garden City. Due to a decrease in population, jobs began disappearing along with labor and resources. The village of Garden City is still a peaceful community to visit; although the booming business district no longer exists.
The only city in Garden City Township is Lake Crystal. Lake Crystal was not established until 1912. Up until then, it was just a large village. The first settlers were William R. Robinson and Lucius Hunt. They came to the Garden City Township while seeking fortunes westward. After searching for the perfect spot, they stumbled across a plot between the Crystal and Lily Lakes. They were entranced by the beautiful translucent waters, which was a huge factor in their final decision to remain in the area. The men sent for their families and friends and eventually small log cabins began to emerge. Dakota from neighboring areas began to observe the new settlement.
The settlement lived peacefully with the Dakota until the Dakota Conflict in 1862. One night, a Dakota friend arrived on the doorstep of Mr. Robinson’s home, fully dressed in war apparel. The man hurriedly explained to him that the tribe was going to attack the village the following day. He warned him to take his family and leave quickly. That night, Robinson decided to investigate and spied on their camp which lay a short ways away. To his horror, what he heard confirmed what his friend had warned him. He attempted to escape quickly but was stopped by a Dakota man. In his anger, he killed the man and quickly fled home. He awakened the community, and under cover of night; they fled to a fort in Mankato. The next morning the Indians arrived at the community, their resolve set. Only instead of villagers they found empty homes and stores. In their rage they burned down the village. Soon after, the guilty were arrested and the town was renovated, but people were still weary to purchase land near the village.
The village truly began to grow in 1869 with the decision to build a railroad through the main business district. This brought in an influx of new settlers. At the time, a whopping forty buildings existed in the village. The area continued to expand, and in 1912 Lake Crystal officially became a city.
It’s not just the magnificent buildings and achievements that make a township unique. The people and stories of a place are the things that really set the foundation for a great community. All of the towns and villages in Garden City Township share a passion of community, the outdoors and prosperity. To this day they serve as a reminder of the courage of our ancestors and the potential of our future generations.