New County is Born

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Talk of separation from Itasca county kept recurring among businessmen and ordinary citizens until 1906, when they decided to act. Frank S. Lang, a leader in the movement to establish a new county with International Falls as the county seat, often recalled the expense and inconvenience of public service before Koochiching was organized. Grand Rapids, the county seat, was 130 miles from the Falls, as the crow flies, but by railway it was more than 400 miles. County commissioners and others with official business to transact spent a night and a day on trains to reach Grand Rapids, going by the way of Fort Frances, Winnipeg and Grand Forks. When the Itasca county board, of which Lang was a member, recessed for a few days or a week, officials from the border simply stayed in Grand Rapids to save taxpayer money: "It didn't pay to go home."

To end the isolation, reduce costs and provide better public service, residents of northern Itasca were now demanding a county of their own with easier access to the county seat. Following an aggressive campaign for voter support, leaders of the movement then petitioned for an election. The proposal for county division went on the ballot in the general election of Tuesday, November 6, 1906, and carried by a resounding majority of 800. The votes were then canvassed in St. Paul and on December 19 Governor John A. Johnson issued the proclamation which created Koochiching with International Falls as the county seat.

Vote Contested
While elated by the news, backers of the division movement postponed a public celebration because opponents were contesting the election. Finally the dispute was settled in court — in favor of the new county group — and a victory celebration took place March 6, 1907, in the Falls village hall. The village hall, built in 1904, served as county headquarters until the court house was completed 2 years later. The initial county board appointed by Governor Johnson consisted of R.S. McDonald, Hugh Mclntosh, Nels L. Olson, Fred Smith and Charles M. Bowman. Bowman, a resident of Big Falls, failed to qualify for office and didn't serve.

The first task of the new board was to appoint county officials as follows: Auditor, R.C. Fraser; treasurer, George A. Snyder; county attorney, C.W. Stanton; register of deeds, Frank S. Lang; surveyor, Louis A. Ogaard; coroner, T.H. Kin-shella; superintendent of schools, Annie Shelland; court commissioner, F.J. McPartlin; clerk of court, J.H. Drummond; judge of probate, W.V. Kane; sheriff, Patrick J. Walsh; and county physicians, Droctors M.E. Withrow and C.R. Wood. Attorney McPartlin, who was U.S. commissioner at the time, had the honor of swearing in the new public servants.

Frank Lang of the Falls and A.A. Tone, Northome, retired as members of the Itasca board when the new county was established.

1983 Update
Koochiching's present population (1980 census) is 17,571 and more than half of the inhabitants live along the northern fringe of the county. Of interest, the population more than doubled in the 10 years following the establishment of the county. Setters, businessmen, construction workers, and lumberjacks came by the hundreds in search of opportunities in the new county.

Elected officials at present (1983) are: County Commissioners Carl Kjemperud (board chairman), Otto Jourdan, Innis Nesbitt, Donald Sand-beck and Clarence Sundberg; auditor, Joseph A. Gust; county attorney, Dave Johnson; treasurer, Robert Lovell, recorder, James Palm; sheriff, William Elliott; and coroner, Dr. George Crow.

District Judge William Kalar and County Judge Peter Hemstad comprise the judiciary. Senator Bob Lessard and Representative Robert Neuenschwander represent the county in the Legislature.

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