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History of Dakota County, 1881
by E.D. Neill

Burnsville as originally established, included within its boundaries, all of township 115, range 20, and all in county of 115, 21, 5, and all in county of 27, range, 4; subsequently Lebanon was formed by taking off from said township, all of township 115, range 20 east of a line drawn north and south through the center of sections 8, 17, 20, 29 and 32. This boundary was established at a session of the county board held April 6th, 1858. The regular organization of the town was effected May 11th, 1858. Its present geographical boundaries are as follows: On the north by the Minnesota River, east by Eagan and Lebanon, south by Lakeville, west by Scott County.

The surface of the town from the river on the north, extending through the town from eighty to one hundred and sixty rods in width, the land is very level, and in some places marshy. The dryer portions make fine meadows and pasture lands; to the south of this tract, it becomes more rolling, and the north-eastern part quite bluffy. Extending to the south through the town we find hills, dales and valleys.

Upon the arrival of the first settlers, the surface was covered with timber, mostly what was known as oak openings, but as the country has grown older, a large portion of what was not improved and placed under cultivation, has sprung up with a thick cover of second growth. Many first-class farms with fine improvements are the result of the persevering industry or the pioneers of the town.

The drainage of the town is fine, with the Minnesota river on the north, with a long slough extending from near the center of section 13, parallel with the river through portions of sections 24, 23, 26, 22, 27, reaching to the center of section 28. On the east, between Burnsville and Lebanon, we find the irregularly formed lake of Alimagnet, located in sections 20 and 29. In the south-east corner of the town lays the large and beautiful Crystal Lake, located in sections 31, 32 and 36, a small portion extending into Lakeville. The primitive name given to this lake by the Indian was "Minne Elk." At the time when the government survey was made, its clear shining surface let to the adoption of its present name.

This lake occupies about six hundred acres of ground. Located in the southwestern part, it has a fine island of over twenty acres called "Maple Isle," covered with a dense undergrowth. The shores of the lake are dry, sandy and pebbly. It abounds with the best of fish. Some very large pike and pickerel are taken from its shining waters. About four years ago the lake was stocked with trout and salmon, though it is thought that t he larger fish have used them for food, as but few have been since.

During the early days, when this country was the home of the "red man," this lake was a great resort for deer as well as the Indian, and within the recollection of the earliest settlers of the county, large bands pitched their tepees on its shores. At the west end of the lake is a high hill, which rises over 300 feet, called by the early settlers "Buck Hill." From the top of this high eminence the Indians would watch the deer as they came to drink from the cool waters of the lake. By common consent, the name has changed to "School Hill," being located in school section 36. At the north of this lake, in sections 25 and 30, we find a small lake called Middle lake, occupying about 50 acres. To the west of this is sections 25 and 26 we find "Lake Early," a long narrow lake nestled among the hills, so name from one of the first settlers, William Earley, who settled on its western shore in 1854. These, with some small streams and spring, make up the drainage of the town.

The soil is mainly of a loamy nature, with a white and red clay subsoil, well adapted to the cultivation of wheat, in fact all grains and grasses do well under a good state of cultivation.

The first settlers in the town were John McCoy, Martin, Patrick and Thomas Burns, David Nixon and John Woodruff, in 1852. The following year came William burns and family from Canada, and settled in the north-western part of the town. In 1854, Francis Newell and family from Chicago, came and settled near Crystal lake. Patrick Harkins and W. Earley settled near what is know as Lake Earley. Other settlers gathered in from time to time, making their claims, and with the enterprise that characterized those early settlers soon made that wild, rough country present a far different appearance.

With the early settlers came the desire for religious services, the first of which was held in the house of Wm. Burns, in 1853, by Father Ravoux, then parish priest of Mendota. The first birth was that of Kate Kearney, daughter of James Kearney, in 1854. The first marriage was James Lynn to Miss Ellen Ronan in 1856. The ceremony was performed by Father Ravoux. The first death was that of Mr O'Hare, father of Mrs. McCoy in 1854. The year following, Francis Newell. Both were buried in a little grove on the top of what was known as Tepee hill, a spot of ground which had been used by the Sioux as a burial ground. The first school was taught in the house of John McCoy by John McMullen, in 1856. In the meantime, a log school-house was erected on a corner of Mr McCoy's land, and in 1857, a school was taught in it by Andrew Carberry. The district was organized the same year, and comprised the whole town of Burnsville. The first clerk was Patrick Lynch, with John McCoy for director and treasurer. This building served its purpose until 1867, when their present house was erected in section 23, on the farm of C. O'Neil, at an expense of about $250. The district was numbered 16 in 1862, when by an act of the legislature all the districts of the state were renumbered.

The date of organization of school district No. 15, does not appear, as the records were not preserved. The first house was erected on land donated to the district by Thomas Hogan, who was a warm friend to masters of education. The first school-house was a small frame house, built about 1862, but was replaced in 1879 by a fine, large house, 28 x 22.

The "St John's Catholic Society" was organized in 1854, with ten families, under the ministration of Reverend Father Thomas McMannis. The first house of worship was built of logs, near the site of the new one, was commenced in 1854, but not completed until 1855.

Following Father McMannis came Father D.J. Fisher; during his ministry in 1862, their fine parsonage was built, the main part 20 x 24, with a wing 16 x 24. Their present beautiful church, situated in a fine grove of maples, was erected during the ministry of Father Stevens, built of wood, 40 x 75 ft., with tower and steeple reaching upward one hundred feet. They have a fine large bell of seven hundred pounds weight, mounted in the belfry, which calls the humble to worship to his seat in the house of prayer. Rev. P.F. Glennan is the priest in charge.

The records of the town from the date of organization until 1860, were destroyed, if kept at all. The first officers of the town do not appear. At the date of its organization it was named in honor of William Burns.

The first road established in the town was the old territorial road known as the St Paul and Shakopee road, opened about 1853. The first town road opened south from the center of section 15, bearing south-east to Crystal lake, and leaving the town from section 32, known as the Lakeville and Shakopee road.

What is now known as the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha railroad runs through the town. This road was first chartered as the Minnesota Valley railroad company, March 4th, 1864. The road was constructed and put into operation from St. Paul to St. James in November, 1870.The different branches of this road were consolidated October 1st, 1879, under the title of the St Paul and Sioux City railroad. In the summer of 1880, the road passed into the hands of the present corporation.

The mercantile interests of the town are represented by John Berrisford, a native of England. He first embarked in the mercantile business in "Credit River" township, Scott County, where he remained for a time, when he conceived the idea that this point would be a good position for a store. In 1872 he came to this point and erected his store, 20 x 32 feet, with a wing 24 x 24 feet, at the junction of the St. Paul and Shakopee and Lakeville and Shakopee roads. He keeps a general stock of goods, and in connection he deals largely in cattle, and during the summer months supplied the surrounding community with fresh meats.

The only hotel of which the town can boast is kept by Lewis Judd at Crystal lake, on the north shore of the lake, on what was known as the Newell estate. The estate purchased by Mr. Judd in 1872, since which time he has improved it very much, making it, together, with its natural attractions, one of the finest points for a summer resort in the state. He was induced by parties from the south during the summer of 1880, to open his home to excursionist, which he did, and found the experiment a success. He is still making other improvements by the erection of cottages and additions to his house to accommodate those who are expecting to make a home with him during the coming heated term.

An incident in the history of the town is related, which merits more than a passing notice. In 1863. A sad event occurred, by which a life was lost and the community was filled with sadness. A dispute arose between some settlers in relation to a piece of meadow land located in the northern part of the town. James O'Hare claimed the land by right of a tax title. James Norman and Thomas Kearney claimed it on the same grounds, and were engaged in mowing the grass. Mr. O'Hare armed himself with a gun, and still continued his demand for them to leave. They still refusing, many hard words passed, and they undertook to drive him away with their forks when he, O'Hare, shot at them and killed Kearney on the spot. O'Hare fled the country, and remained for some time, but finally returned and delivered himself up and stood his trial, and was acquitted on the ground of self-defense. Mount Calvary Cemetery, located in section fifteen, was first consecrated to its use in 1859. It is a beautiful, shady spot of two and one-half acres, owned by St. John's Church. The inhabitants of the town have up to this time, never allowed a saloon within its limits. Several years ago parties undertook to establish one, but the ladies took the matter in hand and soon obliged them to seek other quarters.


William Byrne immigrated from County Kilkerry, Ireland, to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada about 1840. He moved his family to the northwest corner of what is now out city limits about 1855. Upon arrival, he named what we now call Savage "Hamilton" after he left Canada. This community was the focal point for new settlers. Trade, school, religion and social events were cemetery there. Byrne donated land for a church, school, and a cemetery, later named Mount Calvary. It has been assumed by some that BYRNESVILLE township was named after him. On April 3, 1860, a Thos Burn named the minutes of the Town Board meeting. One record states that Thomas Burn was Byrne's son. There is evidence, according to Neill's History of Dakota County, 1881 that a family whose name was Burn settled before Byrne. Was Thos Burn Thomas Byrne? Supposedly Burn is Scotch, and Byrne is Irish. Regardless, in 1860 Michael Connelly, the town clerk who wrote the minutes, signed the records BURNSVILLE, Minnesota. So began the basis for the much debated enigma of the spelling of the town's name.

At study of the original Town Board minutes, beginning in every written record until 1876. The town clerk spelled BU at the March meeting and BY at the December. It appears as MY on March 16, 1881, and as BYRNESVILLE for the last time March 16, 1882. (The records, on microfilm, are at the library; the originals are in the vault at City Hall.)

Records show that William Byrne had several sons. Many early settlers had large families. For sheer identity from one another, some changed the spelling of the last name to make mailing purposes easier. "Kennelly" is spelled three different ways, for example. Was there so much mail in the 1850's that "son" Thos. Had to go from Byrne to Burn? It is doubtful. Long time residents in the community say they simply do not know when or how the spelling changed, IF IT DID AT ALL. Not one can offer an historical fact to pinpoint the change.

Dorothy Byrne Benson, a great granddaughter of William Byrne, in a speech given at the dedication of Byrne School, made much ado about the misspelling of the town's name. She thought, "the least we could do was to correct it." She said she had "called the village manager about it". In a taped interview dated February 1, 1975, she admitted she had been south of the Minnesota River twice, once to a funeral in Savage at the age of six and again at the school dedication. The fact is not one of the original Byrne family has lived in town for many decades. So why the fuss?

Burnsville is not such a bad name. It's better than Ballclub, or Embarrass, or Fertile, or Dent, or Climax, Minnesota, to name a few. Perhaps William Byrne, who is buried in his own cemetery, would care more about Hamilton being renamed Savage than a misspelling...if there ever was one...of out town's name.

Richard Brooks


It is referred to by geologists as River Warren, long-standing result of a vast glacier whose bulk inched across Minnesota 12,000 years ago. At a time when its source, Lake Agassiz, covered most of northwestern Minnesota and the mighty Mississippi was but a tributary to Warren, those powerful torrents spanned almost a mile across and plummeted depths for hundreds of feet.

Both rivers fell into a wide valley, spilling down a waterfall that spread from what is now the state capitol in St. Paul to the Robert Street bridge. As the rocks gave way under the powerful force of moving water, the falls moved slowly back and finally split at the junction of the River Warren and the Mississippi. Over the centuries the Mississippi's shelf receded until man halted the process at the present site of St. Anthony Falls. The softer rocks of the River Warren's bed gave way completely. The glacial waters found their way to the river basin, leaving the previous torrent more like the stream we know today (from Bray's A Million Years in Minnesota).

The Indians referred to this final product as Waddepaw Minnesotar, and the French exploders who moved who moved into the area named it Rivierre St. Pierre. Eventually the more fitting name given by the Indians evolved into the Minnesota River.

In the St. Paul Science Museum are found many examples of prehistoric life from the Minnesota River Valley. Fossil-laden limestone and shale found along the river's banks evidence the marine life which existed about 450,000 years ago, when it was first preserved in the sediment of an ocean floor. Near the Burnsville area, there are many specimens of crinoids and brachiopods to be found in the outcroppings of shale and limestone, and fossils of larger prehistoric life have been discovered that lived 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, namely: giant ground sloths as much as eleven feet high, five hundred pound beavers, ice-age bison, and woolly mammoths. The fossils may be seen at the Science Museum, whose curator of paleontology, Bruce Ericson, provided this information.

The north and northwest sections of Burnsville have many hilly areas resulting from glacial action. The stony clay, gravelly sections; thick loam patches with huge granite boulders (focal points used in landscaping so many yards in Burnsville), the pot holes, and the moraines (drifts of soil) are all characteristics of a glacier's edge. There is a sort of divide running from the Minnesota River along the Scott County line, following Judicial Road toward Early Lake on County Road 5 and thence to Crystal Lake. Many ridges exist along the divide. The hill of St, John's Church Cemetery, Teepee Hill, Mount Relief north of Billy Goat Bridge, the hills of North View Park, and the well known Buck Hill are only a few of the landmarks. Most of these hills are stony and treeless, with considerable limestone deposits. In the History of Dakota and Goodhue Counties, written in 1910, another such drainage is mentioned, running from the north side of the Walter Connelly farm to the Nicols Station (where Cedar Avenue crosses the railroad). The book makes note of red till drifts existing in north Lebanon Township (County Road 11) extending through South Eagan, drifts of light sand and some sandy loam, where only short grasses could grow, with an occasional patch of red sorrel, mullein, thistle, goldenrod, or astor.

Today, the edge of the glacier is evident against the sudden contrast of prairie in Rosemont and Farmington townships. It is on this glacial edge that Burnsville exists, home of both prehistoric land animals and marine life, a place whose boulders and revines were deposited, uprooted, or fashioned by glacial hands, a land whose every wrinkle is a product of Millenia and the elements........Burnsville

Bea Nordstrom


An archaeological "find" of great significance was located in Burnsville last week as workmen uncovered skeletons in an ancient Indian burial ground on a high hill overlooking the Minnesota River Valley.

Paul Emerson and Dick Hoogheem, owners of the E & H Earth Moving Co., Lake Elmo, made the discovery on Monday when their earth moving tractors uncovered a human leg bone in a portion or the River Hills development. The land was previously a part of the Walter Christensen farm.

Archaeologists of the St. Paul Science Museum were on the scene Tuesday morning, have been probing the site daily since, and expect to continue to do si through next week at least. At the end of the first week of probing, 23 skeletons had been unearthed.

Supervising the project is Vernon Helmen, curator of anthropology of the St. Paul Science Museum. As many as 15 to 20 volunteers, college and high school students, have been assisting Mr, Helmen in the slow process of unearthing the skeletons.

Carefully removing the sand of the hill with shovels, trowels and brushes, the archaeologists photograph each skeleton as they are uncovered and remain in their original position. They are then labeled and removed to make way for deeper probes in the underlying sand. At a later date, the material gathered will be reconstructed under laboratory conditions for further study.

Helman stated last week that no artifacts or carbon deposits had been found yet with which to date the find positively. He did, however, express the opinion that the burial ground was probably used by Indians between 400 and 2,000 years ago. It appears likely the skeletons pre-date the coming of the white man to America.

"Absence of artifacts," Helmen stated, "could be significant in itself, possibly indicating a very ancient burial ground."

Helmen explained that some of the skeletons appeared to have been "flex buried," or bound in a fetal position before burial. Others appeared to be buried by what the scientist called "bundled reburial," or bound and buried together after the bodies had been allowed to decompose.

Site of the ancient burial ground is on the highest hill of the area and lies directly south of the Black Dog Plant of Northern States Power Company. It is believed the Indian village of Chief \black Dog lay in the valley to the north not too distant from the burial ground.

The archaeologists expressed the opinion this was the closest burial ground to the Twin Cities ever excavated. An excavation at Red Wing was the closest previous find.