COKATO HISTORY QUICK FACTS
1. First settlement: The first settlers came to the Cokato area in 1858, settling just south of Sucker Creek. At the time, all of southwestern Wright County was called Middleville Township. Cokato and Stockholm Townships were established in July 1868.
2. Coming of the railroad: The First Division of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company (later Great Northern) built a line west from Howard Lake to Willmar in 1869. A station was built at the 59-mile mark. Samuel Jenks, a pioneer settler of the area was named first stationmaster.
3. What does “Cokato” mean?: The name Cokato is a Dakota language word. Roughly translated from co-ka-ta, it means “in the middle of” or “in the midst of.” This area was once the geographic center of a region called The Big Woods, which stretched from the Mississippi River to about Willmar. So we can safely say that the name “Cokato” meant that we were in the middle of the Big Woods.
4. When did Cokato begin?: After the building of the rail station in 1869, settlers began arriving. Businesses sprung up virtually overnight to serve the stream of people, including hotels, general stores, saloons, blacksmith shops, and a post office. The Village of Cokato was officially founded by a vote of the young settlement’s residents on March 9, 1878.
5. Cokato’s population: 1880 – 274 1980 – 2056 2000 – 2727
6. Who came to Cokato?: The first settlers were Yankees, people from states like New York, New Hampshire, and Maine. They came to speculate (buy and re-sell) land and establish businesses. Soon, waves of immigrants from Europe began to arrive. They were mostly from Sweden and Finland, but also included Norwegians, Germans, Poles, and Bohemians. Today, Cokato is still known as a Swedish and Finnish community.
7. Schools: The first school building was built in Cokato either 1871 or 1872. This one-room structure was soon outgrown. A new two-story brick structure was built on the site of the present Cokato Elementary in 1884. The first graduating class was in 1904, with 3 people. In 1969, Cokato and Dassel voted to consolidate. A new high school was built between the two towns, opening in 1972. Each town’s old high school is now an elementary school. In 2003, total student population for Dassel-Cokato was about 2247.
8. Newspapers: Cokato’s first paper was the Cokato Republican, in 1878. It lasted less than two months. In 1884 a group of businessmen provided money for the Wright County Republican. Five years later, a new owner changed the name to the Cokato Observer. In 1892, after a short break, the Cokato Commoner began printing. The Commoner lasted until March 1896, when new owners changed its name to the Cokato Enterprise. In late 1986, the Dassel Dispatch and Cokato Enterprise merged to form the Enterprise-Dispatch.
9. Canning factories: The Cokato Canning Company was started in 1904. It was the second canning factory in Minnesota. It was sold in 1924 to Minnesota Valley Canning Company (later Green Giant). Another factory, Northland Canning, was established in 1924, giving Cokato the unusual distinction of having two canning plants. Green Giant closed the Cokato plant in 1978. Northland was bought by Faribault Foods in 1969 and continues to operate year-round.
10. Street Fairs: Early in each October, from 1903 to 1915, the Cokato Street Fair attracted crowds from miles around. Carnival rides like the merry-go-round, entertainment, including jugglers and knife throwers, displays of locally grown vegetables, and exhibits of sewing, cooking, and canning were all featured. The town band entertained in the street. Politicians, like Governor Adolph Eberhart and U. S. Senator Moses E. Clapp spoke to the crowds.
11. Corn Carnival: The annual Cokato Corn Carnival began in August 1950. It has run every second Tuesday and Wednesday of August since. Through 1988 the grand prize was a new car from a local dealer. Fresh corn-on-the cob, provided by local canneries, has been a favorite. Children and adults enjoy the midway. Since 1987, the Cokato Queen has been crowned at the carnival. The carnival has become the favorite time of year for class reunions also.
12. Mail delivery: A post office was established in the home of Josiah Mooers near Sucker Creek in 1857. When the railroad arrived in 1869, the office was moved to the station. Later, a more spacious office was built on Millard Avenue, one block from the station. Mail arrived by train and was carted to the post office. Rural delivery began in October 1900, when Peter Danielson became the first rural carrier in the county. By 1915, there were five rural routes. During the 30s and 40s, before snowplowing, converted cars sporting skis and metal tracks (“snowmobile cars”) kept the mail moving. The Cokato Post Office moved to its present location in 1960.