backroads brighton

Sometimes a back road isn’t a back road at all. Such is the case of Fort Road which crosses Nicollet County connecting St. Peter, Minn. to Fort Ridgely State Park.

Fort Road today is a paved county thoroughfare, but its origin is much more rustic. Legend has it was originally an animal trail, then used by indigenous peoples. As settlers pushed west, the trail became more refined and was the main overland route to Fort Ridgely when the fort was built in 1853. It took five days by wagon to make one's way to the fort from St. Peter.

The fort was designed as a police station to keep peace as settlers poured in to the area. Nine years later, the fort became a sanctuary during the Dakota conflict of 1862. The importance of Fort Road was never greater.

Today, at about the midway point of Fort Road, stands a majestic chestnut tree on a small stand of grass with two markers. One marker designates Brighton Township, the last township organized in Nicollet County. The township was formed in 1877 and named after Brighton, Wis. The first township election held on Oct. 16, 1877. Elected were J. H. Dorn, chairman; Andrew Jenson and Leonard Boor, supervisors; Adam Epper, clerk; C. Peterson, treasurer; Otto Peterson and Andrew Jacobson, justices of the peace; John Hauberick and Charles Stolzenberg, constables. 

The first white man's claim to land in this township was by Bruce Pierce, in the winter of 1854-55 when he took a claim. He built a claim shanty, but did not settle until the autumn of 1855.

The first school was taught by Maggie Wolf, in 1858. The first marriage in the township was that uniting A. Johnson and Johanna Peterson, in 1863. The first birth was that of Anna, daughter of Christian and Christiana Anderson, in April, 1856. Lewis Peterson was struck by lightning in 1861, and this was the township's first death.

Brighton post office was established in the spring of 1879, with S. Otto Peterson as postmaster.

The second marker resembles a grave marker and designates the location of Brighton United Methodist Church. Records show the church was built in 1881 by Norwegian immigrants for a cost of $1,800.

The church held services until 1984 and its future appeared in doubt. The congregation was overjoyed when the FarmAmerica Agriculture Interpretive Center near Waseca, Minn. expressed an interest in moving the church to its grounds as an example of a rural church from pioneer times.

A fund drive spearheaded by former church members raised $20,000 to get the church up on wheels and moved to Waseca in 1987.

The church’s arrival at its new home got off to a shaky start. Straight line winds tipped the building into the new foundation which was being prepared at the site. Miraculously (and this is a church, after all), the century-old wooden structure sustained little damage in the incident. Not even a window was broken.

In a side note, one of Brighton Methodist’s members recalled a school bus which ran off Fort Road and struck the church, damaging a corner many years ago.

There never was a village of Brighton, but the township remains. Swan Lake takes up about 5 percent of the total 19 square miles of the township. It has never served a railroad line, just one of the more famous back roads in Minnesota history.   

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