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Towering History

The Wadena County Historical Society is hoping to salvage a towering remnant of community history Saturday when it will remove the old Wadena County Courthouse tower from the county fair grounds. The society planned to move the structure July 8, but a crane malfunction delayed the project.

The cedar shake-shingled tower topped off the courthouse from 1886 until it was demolished in 1970. The tower survived the destruction of the courthouse, however, and stood on the Wadena County Fair Grounds until this weekend.

Sandi Pratt, museum curator, said she decided in 2004 the tower should relocate to the historical society. Her decision accompanied the fair board's announcement that it did not want the structure to remain on the fair grounds. She said the tower is an important landmark and should serve as a focal point for visitors entering Wadena. Pratt said she hopes the tower will draw passersby into the historical society to inquire about the unusual structure.

"It's going to be a beautiful thing to have out here," she said about her vision of a refurbished tower.

Pratt had a cement square laid last summer in preparation for the tower's arrival on the south side of the historical society's property on North Jefferson Street. She would like to restore the tower to its past glory by replacing the cedar shakes and painting it with the original colors. Pratt also plans to place green-tinted windows in the now-empty openings and install a bulb to illuminate the notable piece of architecture. A small garden of flowers and a marker detailing the history of the courthouse tower will complete the landmark.

The old courthouse was the centerpiece of a feud between Verndale and Wadena concerning which town should serve as the county seat. 1886 issues of the Wadena Pioneer Journal reported it was considered to be unsafe for women and children to be out in the streets while the competing towns awaited the announcement of Wadena's win by a majority of 474 votes. Wadena contracted Greenlaw Hurst to build the old courthouse right on the corner of Dayton and Jefferson Street. The soaring tower not only served as a symbol of Wadena's triumph, but as an air raid lookout station during World War II, according to Bob Zosel, county historian.