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City History

Founding of the Village of Wells

Colonel Clark W. Thompson, the "father" of Wells, was a member of the 6th Territorial Legislature in 1855, and a member of the Territorial Council in 1856 and 1857. As a member of the Minnesota Constitutional Convention in 1857, he helped frame our state constitution. In 1860, he was a presidential elector on the republican ticket. President Lincoln appointed him Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Northwest in 1861, a position he held until he resigned in 1865 in order to take charge of construction of the Southern Minnesota Railroad.

In 1869, he was among a few pioneers who staked out the Village of Wells on land which he owned. With 9,000 acres, he was the largest land owner in Faribault County. It is said he paid $1.25 per acre for land that sold as high as $80 per acre 25 years later. Though he accumulated vast sums of money in Minnesota, he paid it out again in useful improvements that would not only benefit himself, but the community as well. A fitting example is the 53 acre park he donated to Wells.

Formation of a Government

The Village of Wells was established in 1869, but was not incorporated until March 6, 1871. 

From the first, it was governed by a council with a council president, three trustees, recorder, justice of the peace, and a constable chosen by a popular election. The first council included: Village President William Allen; Trustees Samuel Alsip, Thomas S. Fellows and John McNeil; Recorder JP Burke; Justice of the Peace S.C. Leland; and Constable Quincy J. Adams.

Since one function of government is to protect its people, early provision was made for a fire department. Ed Hayes was Chief Fire Deputy at that time. The firemen received $5 per year as salary. A board of health was also provided to protect citizens. Dr. Straw was the first chairperson.

The village showed rapid growth. In 1870, the population of the entire Clark Township was 347. Twenty years later, it had grown to 1,209 and it nearly doubled over the next 10 years. The 1900 census recorded a population of 2,017 hardy pioneers.

In 1894, the village voted 193 to 34 to issue bonds for a municipal water and electric plant and 50 electric lights were ordered for the streets. In 1875, Colonel Clark W. Thompson donated 53 acres of land to be used as a city park. In 1895, the Council invested a large amount of money in a race track for the park, and also proposed an artificial lake in the park to beautify the village. A $250 bid was accepted for the privilege of harvesting the ice crop from the city lake.

In 1897, the Council requested all saloon keepers to remove tables and chairs from bar rooms and prohibit all card playing in saloons. They also requested closing the saloons on Sundays. That same year, according to City Ordinance, "all dogs must be muzzled from July 1 thru Sept 1 or it becomes Marshall Stearns duty to shoot them." 

In 1899, any person riding bicycles on the sidewalks of Wells would be fined by order of Village Council.

In 1901, the village Jail was burned by arson. 

In 1902, the village bought a lot for $1,000 for a new village hall, jail, and fire station and auditorium, the cost not to exceed $15,000. The Council also voted to replace 150 box elder trees in the park plus 25 white birch for $75.

A large amount of curbing was done in the city in 1903. 

An ordinance in 1904 stated, "Owners for horse teams left un-blanketed in the cold an unreasonable length of time can be fined $10 to $100 under Cruelty to Animals state law.” That same year, an opera house seating 505 at a cost of $966 was built.

In 1905, a public library opened in the second story of the village building. The Council was petitioned to remove the hitching posts from Main Street (They were later cut down over night anonymously forcing a new location in the alley). Muddy streets were a real problem, and the Council resolved that certain rotting plank sidewalks must be replaced and no more wooden sidewalks could be constructed.

A resolution to construct new sewer was passed in 1909. 

In 1910, the city fathers were concerned about the cultural advantages in the city, and passed a motion to have the Wells Maroon Band play 23 concerts at $10 per concert.

In 1912, the Council resolved that all male inhabitants between the ages of 21 and 50 will be assessed for road labor in the village. 3,048 feet of new concrete sidewalks were authorized and the repair of 325 feet was ordered. 

In 1913, Wells goes dry in a village election (226-1888 votes).

A crises was faced in 1919 when the water tank burst, flooding and wrecking the power plant beneath it. It was voted to move the power plant from the old mill site in the downtown district. 

In 1922, the largest meeting ever held at village hall concerned paving Wells’ muddy streets. The first paving was started.That same year, the village recovered $3,300 loss found in auditing the books. A bank in the Twin Cities which handled village funds during construction of the sewers had manipulated the account.

In 1933, seven blocks of Wells streets were oiled and seven beer licenses were granted since prohibition was over. During the Depression years, the tennis courts were built at the park and a six-hole golf course was laid out using labor from the government. 

The year 1939 found the school and the city debt free and a big celebration was held.

A municipal liquor store was put in operation in 1948 and a municipal swimming pool opened in 1953. 

A lagoon-type sewer system was installed in 1960 followed the next year by a new city hall containing a community room, public rest rooms, and the jail. This replaced the one that burned in 1959.

In the 1960’s, a municipal airport became a reality.

The water supply was fluoridated in 1967.

Weak Mayor-Council System

The City of Wells works under the weak mayor-council plan which is by far the most common plan in Minnesota. Under the weak mayor-council plan, administrative, as well as legislative authority, is the ultimate responsibility of the council unless the council has created an independent board, such as a utilities commission, to handle one or more specific functions.

The mayor’s powers in weak mayor-council communities are no greater than those of any other member of the council, with the exception of the mayor’s role as presiding officer at Council meetings and several other minor duties. No individual councilmember holds specific administrative powers.

Statutory City

Like the vast majority of Minnesota cities, Wells is incorporated as a statutory city. Wells is a Statutory Plan A City with a weak mayor and four councilmembers. It also provides for an appointed administrator-clerk-treasurer, which is created by resolution or ordinance that specifies the responsibilities of the position. City administrators are appointed because of their professional qualifications. It is not a political appointment. 

Wells has had a city administrator/clerk/treasurer since 2003. Ronda Allis served from 2003 – 2008; Jeremy Germann served from 2008 – 2012; and Robin Leslie has served since 2013.