Biography of Peter E. Thompson of Barnesville Minnesota

Peter E. Thompson, born November 16, 1852, in Dane County, Wisconsin, was a prominent figure in Barnesville, Minnesota. Son of Norwegian immigrants Ingebert and Maritt Thompson, he moved to Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, with his family, enduring pioneer hardships. Starting his career in retail, Thompson moved to Barnesville in 1878, establishing a successful grocery and hardware business. He named the town Barnesville, honoring his employer, G. S. Barnes. Thompson contributed significantly to the town’s development, serving as its first mayor, postmaster, county commissioner, and state legislator. He was a community leader, active in various organizations, including the Knights of Pythias and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Married to Hannah C. Ohlson in 1877, they had five children. Thompson’s sudden death on January 20, 1905, was deeply mourned. His legacy continues through his contributions to Barnesville’s growth and his family’s ongoing presence in the community.

P E Thompson
P E Thompson

Peter E. Thompson, who was born in Dane County, Wisconsin, November 16, 1852, was a son of Ingebert and Maritt (Haugen) Thompson, both natives of Norway, who were among the pioneer settlers of Dane County, Wisconsin, where the father died in 1862. The mother moved with her family to Goodhue County, Minnesota, and then to Pelican Rapids, in Otter Tail County, being among the first settlers there. Here they endured all the privations and trials of a new country; the nearest market was at Alexandria, in Grant County, seventy-five miles distant, and the trip was made in covered wagons.

Peter E., when seventeen years old, went to Northfield and clerked for two and a half years, and after the family settled at Pelican Rapids, lived on the farm for about two years and then began clerking in the store of O. A. E. Blyberg, a pioneer merchant of that place. He entered the employ of Mr. G. S. Barnes & Co., at Glyndon, in Clay County, in 1875, and three years later G. S. Barnes & Co. sold out to R. L. Frazee, of Pelican Rapids, and Mr. Thompson went into business for himself, buying the stock of groceries and hardware from Mr. Edward Keene. Several years later, he built a store on the lots where the new store now stands. In the fall of the year 1880, the selection of a name for the town was left to Mr. Thompson, and, although his friends preferred he should call it Thompsonville, he chose to honor his employer and christened the town Barnesville. At this time, Mr. Thompson bought the stock of goods from Mr. Edward Keene and, moving his store from the old town, became Mr. Keene’s successor, and at that time established his home on two beautiful lots of ground comprising some seventy-two acres, his elegant and commodious house facing Broadway. The town site laid out in 1882 comprised Wheeler and Thompson’s first, second, third, and fourth additions, and joined Mr. Thompson’s home property. Going back a little, it should be stated that the first store of Messrs. Barnes & Company was the first building within five miles of Barnesville proper. In 1877, the business was carried on in a boxcar. Those were pioneer times; everything was crude; the railroad had not yet reached the place and farmers hauled their produce and grain with ox teams from beyond Fergus Falls, often being delayed for days, awaiting their turn to unload, on account of the rush and crowd.

Mr. Thompson continued in general merchandising at Barnesville from 1878 until 1899, and then sold his business to Messrs. Norby & Solum and turned his attention to the real estate business. In the fall of 1904, when the firm of Norby & Solum moved their store into the new Oliver block, a new firm of Thompson, Felde & Company was organized, and Mr. Thompson resumed his interest in the mercantile life of the city. Mr. Thompson is fittingly called the father of Barnesville; his life’s best years were given to the development of the city, and any adequate history of his acts and doings as a private citizen and public official would necessarily involve a history of the city itself.

He was the prime mover in every enterprise looking to its welfare and growth when it was but a sparsely settled hamlet, and the fruits of his wise counsels and safe, conservative and honorable methods and far-sighted plans are manifest on every hand in the prosperous and thrifty city of today.

He was the first regularly elected mayor of the city after its incorporation, and for many years represented the first ward in the city council. He was justice of the peace for a number of years, and his eight years’ service as postmaster are well remembered. As county commissioner for four years, he did valiant service, and when sent to the state legislature in 1890, he discharged his duties with honor to himself and to the satisfaction of his constituents. A man of firm convictions, he was slow to express his opinions, but when once his mind was made up on any vital question, he stood true to his convictions unmovable.

He was a man of generous impulses, large-hearted and kind, always ready to give a helping hand, and many who today are enjoying the fruits of prosperity recall with grateful remembrance his hopeful words and helpful deeds that started them on the road to thrift.

Mr. Thompson stood high in the commercial and social life of his city. He was vice president of the First National Bank of Barnesville and president of the local Building and Loan Association; he was the first district deputy of Lodge No. 119, Knights of Pythias, and the first past chancellor of the local lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. His home, elegant in all its appointments, was a center of culture and refinement, and there, surrounded by his family and a host of true friends and enjoying the well-earned fruits of his honorable dealings, his life presented a picture of domestic enjoyment at once beautiful and complete.

Mr. Thompson departed this life suddenly, on January 20, 1905, and his unexpected death, which was universally mourned as a public loss, brought forth the tenderest expressions of sorrow and tributes of love from all classes of the community, who had known him and who had shown the kindly and sweet influence of his unostentatious and helpful life. On October 15, 1877, Mr. Thompson married Miss Hannah C., daughter of Mr. Peter Ohlson, of Evansville, Minnesota. Mr. Ohlson settled on a tract of government land near Evansville in the pioneer days of 1867, and had to go to St. Cloud, a distance of 110 miles, for flour and other necessities. He was a man of influence in his community and an active member of the Norwegian Lutheran church. He had two children; the eldest, Anna G., married Mr. A. O. E. Blyberg and died in January 1905, leaving a daughter, Mrs. Carl Hangen, of Pelican Rapids. The second daughter, Mrs. Thompson, was born in Port Washington, Wis., September 8, 1857. She acquired her education in the district school and under the tutelage of her father. She was ten years old when the family settled in Douglas County, Minnesota, and both there and in her new home in Clay County, after her marriage, experienced the trials and hardships incident to pioneer life in an unsettled country.

Mrs. Thompson cheerfully shared with her husband the privations of their early married life, and with him enjoyed the well-earned fruits of their struggles. She now lives in the family homestead in Barnesville, loved and esteemed by all.

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson had five children, namely: George E., Alma M., and Julian S., who attended Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., and in 1908 entered the law department of Yale University; also Lottie C. and Estella L., now aged fourteen and twelve.

Mr. Thompson left a considerable estate at the time of his decease, which is now administered by Mr. Charles E. Miller, a business man noted for his executive abilities and financial achievements.


C.F. Cooper & Company, History of the Red River Valley, Past And Present: Including an Account of the Counties, Cities, Towns And Villages of the Valley From the Time of Their First Settlement And Formation, volumes 1-2; Grand Forks: Herald printing company, 1909.

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