Nelson Next Socrates Nelson--Community Leader  


Washington County Court House (c 1870)

  The first public political meeting in what is now Minnesota was held on August 4, 1848, in Stillwater. At this meeting, Socrates Nelson was appointed a member of a subcommittee of seven to draft a document proposing the creation of new territory. At that time the area was part of the Wisconsin Territory. The draft proposal argued: "That this region of the country is settled by a population of nearly 5000 persons who are engaged in various industrial pursuits; that it contains valuable pine forests, excellent arable land, mineral treasures, almost unequaled facilities for mills and manufactories and possessing an exceedingly healthful climate, is capable of sustaining a dense and prosperous population; that its population is now constantly and rapidly increasing and is characterized by industry, energy and sobriety."

At the Territorial Convention held in Stillwater on August 26, 1848, the document was approved and sent to the U.S. Congress with the signatures of 61 citizens including "S. Nelson." The convention also recommended the name "Minnesota" for the territory. This name was derived from the Dakota Indian words meaning "sky-tinted water." On March 3, 1849, Congress passed a bill organizing the territory of Minnesota. Nine years later, on May 11, 1858, statehood was granted to Minnesota.

The first city election was held on November 26, 1849, and Socrates Nelson was elected treasurer. Nelson also served as the territorial auditor from 1853 to 1857 and as a state senator for one term in 1859 and 1860 in the second State Legislature.

Nelson was a member of the first board of regents of the University of Minnesota in 1851 along with Alexander Ramsey, Henry H. Sibley and 10 others. The University of Minnesota was founded as a preparatory school in 1851, seven years before the territory of Minnesota became a state. Socrates served on the board from 1851 until 1860. Financial problems forced the school to close during the Civil War, but it reopened in 1867. In 1869 the school reorganized and became an institution of higher education. Four years later, at the first commencement, two students received bachelor of arts degrees.

In 1861, Levi Churchill and Socrates Nelson donated four lots to the city for a school which was called the "Nelson School," now an apartment building.

A plaque on the Washington County Court House, the first court house in the Territory of Minnesota, reads: "On May 6, 1867, Socrates Nelson and Elizabeth Churchill [wife of Levi, I assume], in consideration of five dollars, conveyed to the Washington County Board of Commissioners Block 36 original city of Stillwater for a site for county buildings." Ground was broken for the building in late April, 1867 (Socrates died a month later). The beautiful brick structure, which cost $60,000, was completed in early 1870. It still stands on this land at the corner of Third and Pine Streets, although it no longer serves as a court house.