Sunday, April 14, 2013

Stephen A. Hart: The Singing Surveyor of Goodhue County, Minnesota

Land surveyor using odometer in United States, c. 1850
from Wikipedia Commons
In my quest to find any documents pertaining to my great great grandfather, John Hart, even if they are not vital records, I have encountered records for several other family members, including John’s younger brother, Stephen A. Hart. Stephen is much more historically prominent, mainly due to the fact that he was the first County Surveyor in Goodhue County, Minnesota, and ran the first survey line in the state in 1852. He is also noted as having had the "first white wedding" in the town of Red Wing. Furthermore, he was one of the first singing teachers in the town of Red Wing, according to Goodhue County, Minnesota, past and present (1893). He is particularly significant to my family history research as it appears that he was the first Hart on my tree to relocate to Minnesota. After he emigrated there from Lewis County, New York, his brother John, John’s wife Sarah, and almost all of their living children and their families also made the move. Perhaps in writing about Stephen A. Hart, often recorded as “S.A. Hart”, I will discover more about John.

Stephen A. Hart was born on July 29, 1818 in Pinckney, Lewis County, New York, to the Honorable Stephen Hart, who had been a member of the New York State Assembly and a judge, and Elizabeth Scidmore Hart. Stephen A. was one of the youngest of their fourteen children. In the fall of 1846, at the age of twenty-eight, and as a single man, he travelled to Dubuque, Iowa to work as a surveyor for the government. His work involved surveying in Iowa and Minnesota, which led him to settle permanently in Goodhue County, Minnesota in 1854. In October of that year, when he was thirty-six, he was elected as the first County Surveyor. On Christmas Day, 1855, he married Marietta Farnsworth in Red Wing, Goodhue, where they resided for the rest of their lives. I am really not certain about this, but they may have had around four children, and it is possible that they all died in childhood. I believe them to be Allie, James, William “Willy”, and Nellie (1861-1861). (I would appreciate any further information about Stephen’s children).

Stephen’s experiences as a surveyor are mentioned in A History of Goodhue County (1878) as follows: “When the government surveyors, engaged in establishing meridian and parallel lines, reached what is now the southeast corner of Pine Island township in June 1853, no wagon had ever penetrated to that part of the county. The teams accompanying the surveyors were the first to disturb the grass and herbage. Mr. S. D. Hart [sic], a resident of Goodhue county since 1854, was a member of the government surveying party, and he relates that when they reached Cannon Falls, in the fall of 1853, they found a small, uncovered shanty—or rather the pole structure of what was intended for a shanty—that had been erected on the west side of the falls, to ‘mark a claim’. That was the only evidence of civilization they found until they reached a point within five miles of Red Wing, where they found the body of a shanty on Spring Creek”. Stephen also provided the author with topographical descriptions of many of the townships. In addition, if you go to the Goodhue County, Minnesota website,, you can find several images of surveyor’s drawings for the area created by Stephen himself.

The first member of his brother John’s family to follow Stephen west  appears to have been John’s son and Stephen’s nephew, Joel Merriam Hart, who settled in the neighbouring county of Rice, Minnesota, where John and the rest of the family who came to Minnesota were also to live. Joel also arrived as a single man, and also got married in Minnesota.  I have found one reference to Joel also having been a surveyor. Perhaps he worked with his uncle at some point and/or was taught by him. John himself arrived between 1860 and 1864, the year of his death.

To my knowledge, Stephen is the only member of the family who, after travelling as far west as Minnesota and Iowa, ever returned to visit family in New York State. In fact, he made the trip at least three times. The August 19, 1868 Lowville Democrat reported:

He would have been fifty at the time.  Next, the Watertown Daily Times reported on March 8, 1889, “Stephen A. Hart of Red Wing, Minn., is visiting his brother George Hart on Mechanic Street in this city, and his relatives in Jefferson county generally. Mr. Hart went west 35 years ago”. Stephen would have been a widower at the time, assuming that he did not remarry, as Marietta had passed away on January 16, 1880. In 1893, twenty-five years after the first visit, it was stated in the Lowville Democrat that “Stephen Hart of Red Wing, Minn. is visiting his niece, Mrs. J. G. Goutremont”. She was born Grace Hart, the daughter of Stephen’s brother, Alvin Stephen Hart.

Stephen died two years later, on February 23, 1895, at the age of seventy-seven, at the home of niece, and his brother John’s daughter, F. Chloe Chase, who was married to Gilbert S. Chase. The February 27, 1895 Faribault Republican reported that Stephen Hart “aged 77 years, died last Saturday, Feb. 23, at the residence of G. S. Chase, on West Front Street, where the funeral services were held on Monday afternoon, conducted by Rev. R. C. Grose. The remains were sent to Red Wing for burial. Deceased came to Minnesota in 1843, and was Surveyor of Goodhue County from 1850 to 1890, a period of 40 years”. (Many thanks to John Dalby for transcribing this obituary to his website). Stephen was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Red Wing, a cemetery for which he himself had selected the land. It is stated in A History of Goodhue County  regarding the Oakwood Cemetery: “This beautiful repose for the dead is located on the summit of one of the numerous bluffs that encircle and overlook the city, about one and half miles south of Main Street. The plot of ground includes forty acres, belongs to the city, and was selected by Stephen A. Hart and David Hancock, a committee appointed for that purpose by the early settlers, in September, 1854”. 


Anonymous said...

So great to have stumbled upon this blog. My 3x gr. grandfather Alvin S. Hart, was Stephen A. Hart's brother. Alvin's daughter Mary was married to my gr. gr. grandfather, Herman J. Pitcher and their daughter Clara Pitcher married my gr. grandfather, Elmer B. Gould. Small world.

Anonymous said...


I photographed the Hart graves at Oakwood Cemetery last summer. The photos can be found at: