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Beginnings of Foley, Minnesota

The City of Foley is named after the Foley brothers, lumber barons who settled in Benton County. The four brothers came from Lanark, in eastern Ontario, where their father, John., an Irish immigrant, had settled a century and a quarter earlier, in the second administration of Andrew Jackson—"the turbulent 1830's."

The first brother to come to Minnesota was Michael, who arrived in 1870 and spent most of his time in Benton County. Michael would soon see the awesome economic possibilities in Minnesota, and was catapulted into the lumber industry through getting to know James J. Hill, "the empire builder."

After a few years, Michael returned to Lanark to persuade his brothers, Thomas, Timothy and John, to join him in seeking their fortune in the Land of Sky-Tinted Water. Immediately the four brothers formed, without a word in writing, a partnership which would last for a lifetime. They bought 80 acres of land in Gilman township, land with fine pine and oak trees, and they set up a sawmill and sold lumber to the railroad for ties, bridges, and depots. Then they extended their industry to grocery stores and bakeries located near railroad depots. They speculated, rightly, that the railroad would go from St. Cloud to Hinckley, making it easier for them to ship out their lumber.

Msgr. Vincent Yzermans writes about the size of Foley when the railroad came:

"By the time the Great Northern Railroad opened its line through this area in 1882

the future town site already had a saw mill, an office and general store, a blacksmith shop and several barns to house the many horses needed for a successful logging operation. Several years later the [Foley] brothers opened a two-story hotel. Within a few years the site came to be known as the Foley settlement."

In 1898, the Foley brothers filed the original plat of the village, for business was mushrooming. In 1900 such enterprises as a bank, a newspaper, a drugstore, a livery stable, a meat market, a machinery dealer, and cafes and saloons lined the streets. Incessant efforts were made to have the village of Foley grow.

One of the next major moves was to have the Benton County offices moved from Sauk Rapids to Foley. The citizens of Foley spread propaganda for the cause far and wide throughout the county, and a committee circulated a petition on March 4, 1901, to be presented to the county commissioners. Foley's citizens pledged $12,000 to build a new court house.

The Sauk Rapids citizenry was, naturally, opposed, and spread the rumor that the pledges were not worth a Continental. Immediately John Foley deposited $12,500 in the Foley Bank to cover the pledges and other costs of the new courthouse. The election was held in June, and the editor of the Foley Independent gleefully reported the results. There were 788 votes for keeping the county seat at Sauk Rapids; 1,284 for moving it to Foley. Mayhew Lake voted 106 to 54 in favor of Foley.


From The People of Mayhew Lake, by Robert J. Voigt (Sentinal Printing Co., St. Cloud, MN, 1994).
Courtesy Joe Hall.

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