Drainage History of Turtle Creek Watershed (1900-1930)
At the time of settlement of the land in northwestern Freeborn County in the mid-1850s, Turtle Creek was a small, winding creek that, for ages, had taken the overflow water from Geneva and Rice Lakes.
Albert Lea Farms Company reported in one of its land promotional publications in 1907 that an owner of a large part of swampland (Rice Lake) planned to construct a ditch. Some construction occurred, but because of opposition, it was never completed as designed. This drain way removed all but 2 to 10 inches of surface water from Rice Lake.
In 1918, George H. Payne, land colonizer from a land development company located in Omaha, Neb., became interested in the modified Rice Lake land area. After months of investigation into the productivity of the area's soils and availability of an adequate outlet, the Albert Lea Farms Company was organized.
In spring 1919, this company purchased 15,000 acres in the vicinity of the City of Hollandale (an area approximately 3 miles wide by 7 miles). The company secured drainage engineering services from Illinois, Nebraska and also J.H. Seversen of Albert Lea. In 1920, a drain way was laid over the site of the 1907 drain way but nearly four times larger. This project greatly improved the drainage of the upper reaches of their land tract.
Drain ways were built in succeeding years using a Buckeye caterpillar-type ditcher, which was a machine able to travel through water, dig a ditch and move soil laterally to a spoil bank. The company dug 150 miles of these drain ways with this machine. There was a drain way for each quarter mile and connected to the main outlet.
Laterals running in all directions under the lands were connected with the branches providing drainage to every part of the 15,000-acre tract. Drain ways were 12 feet wide at the top and 7 feet deep. Later, as the open drains lowered the water table in the peat soil, large tiles were laid in the bottom of the drain ways and the ditches refilled.
Upon completion of this task, the spoil banks were leveled down and made the bases for roads, which were to follow. The company stated it spent $750,000 in drainage costs alone. Upon removing water from the peat surface, the land was turned over with 26-inch breaking plows. Then it was necessary to roll the land with huge concrete rollers followed later by disks and harrows.
After two years of preparation, the land was planted to potatoes, onions, celery, cabbage and carrots. To market the abundant production, the Hollandale Marketing Association was formed in 1924. Due to the large tonnage of production per farm and cost of transporting products from the field to the City of Clarks Grove, development leaders sought a railroad line to the Village of Hollandale.
On September 4, 1926, there was a celebration in Hollandale for the joint line built by Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and by the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. The average farm size in the mid 1920s in the Hollandale Community was 23 acres.
In early history of Freeborn County, Franklyn Curtis Wedge wrote that Judicial Ditch No. 1 drained Rice Lake into Turtle Creek passing through Geneva, Riceland, Newry, and Moscow townships. JD #1 is 33 miles long and cost $152,438. Crews removed 1,739,779 cubic yards of earth during construction of this ditch, benefiting 16,124 acres and totaling $417,227.