New York Mills

If you have visited New York Mills, or call it your home, you have undoubtedly noticed the Centennial Monument located in Central Park.  The monument is situated exactly on the Continental Divide and is proudly surrounded by five flags, the flags of England, France, Spain, the current American flag and the American flag of expansion with 15 stars.  These flags represent the various countries under whose rule this land once existed.  A bronze plaque explains that the west side of New York Mills was within "Rupert's Land" granted by King Charles II in 1672 to "governors and advertisers trading in Hudson's Bay".  In 1818 the land drained by the Red River which lies south of the 49th parallel was released by the United Kingdom.  The east side of New York Mills was within the Louisiana Territory, which was under the rule of Spain and France at alternating times from the 16th century until 1803, when ceded to the United States by Napoleon.
The area surrounding what is now New York Mills was once a territory occupied by the Sioux Indians, who graciously helped early settlers in many ways, including mapping, clearing land, cutting firewood, hunting and gardening.  This area was included in a treaty withthe Indians, which was cause for good relations.  Eventually, the Sioux moved further north as more settlers came to this area.  Most who came to settle here were directed here by advertisements placed by the New York Mills Company, established in 1872 by Dr. VanAernam, who was the Commissioner of Pensions in Washington DC, and his partners Olcot P. Boardman and George L. Cornwell.  The area was blanketed with majestic white pines which enticed the lumber companies to this area.  A lumber mill was established on the town's site, followed by building of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1871.
From this time on, families began to settle here and in 1884, when New York Mills was established as a town, the population was about 300.  Today, New York Mills is a city of 1,195 residents and has developed into a progressive, forward-thinking community.  A large number of immigrants of Finnish descent were among those choosing New York Mills as home.  Many came from Finland because of the sawmills and terrain  and climate which resembled their homeland.  Even today, you may catch a conversation being held in Finnish at the local cafe or on the street.  New York Mills has throughout the years, received national recognition for being a center of Finnish language newspaper publishing.  The local publication was called the "Amerikan Uutiset".  The city of New York Mills has come a long way from its first sidewalks in 1904 and first paved street (Front Street) which was paved in 1928.  City water and sewer services were introduced to town in the 1930's as a project of the WPA and PWA projects.  The City Hall building was erected as part of this project in 1939.
New York Mills has flourished since that time.  The unparalleled spirit and determination of its residents, along with a willingness to serve is the reason this community has become the city it is today.
Some interesting facts and stories have been recorded through the years about New York Mills, its residents and its businesses.  A few are listed below, taken from the New York Mills Centennial History Book:
--In May of 1951, Stop Lights were installed by the state at the intersection of Hwy 10 and Main Street (which is now Centennial 84 Drive and Main).
--Drivers licenses were issued for the first time in Minnesota starting on January 1, 1934.  The cost was 25 cents, plus 10 cents clerk fee.  There was no test.
--June 29, 1950, 1700 fans turned out to see the Millers play their first game under lights.  Mills defeated Perham 4 to 1.
--Fall Festival Pickle Days were a popular event in the 50's and early 60's, sponsored by Theissen Pickle Company and the New York Mills Civic and Commerce because many farmers raised cucumbers for extra income.  A Pickle Queen was chosen, along with other activities.
--An early settler, A.J. Sitz, recalled an early 4th of July celebration in New York Mills.  The City had advertised the 'greatest display of fireworks ever seen.'  The boxes of fireworks were opened and covered with a canvas in preparation for the display.  When the first rocket was fired in an improvised trough, the backlash was so great that it swept the canvas off the box of fireworks and the trail of sparks set off the whole collection.  There was a tremendous display which also resulted in one or more of the rockets setting fire to the roof of Fiske's Livery Barn.  This kept the firemen busy for a while.  All this time, the crowd 'sat put' thinking that this was part of the much-advertised 'greatest display.'  When it was explained that an explosion had taken place the crowd scattered in the wildest confusion.
--New York Mills has had several English-speaking newspapers throughout the years.  The first paper was started in 1879 and was called The New York Mills Herald.  It ran until 1885 and was discontinued, until another paper was started in 1899, called The New York Mills Journal.  This paper was also discontinued and the town was again without an English speaking paper until 1915, when Edward Qualey started The New York Mills Herald again. For nine decades, the Parta family printed and distributed the New York Mills Herald.  In July of 2008, the Herald joined forces with the Perham Enterprise Bulletin to produce the EOT Focus out of their office in Perham, MN. Eventually, with its name being changed to the Perham Focus, the community was left without significant representation. In January of 2013,  the New York Mills Dispatch was started by Chad & Dani Koenen and remains in publication today. 
--Before the Liberty Theatre, which was built just after World War I, a theatre was operated in the old City Hall building which was located across the alley just west of what is now Modern Assemblies.  This building was also used for the beginning of the school's basketball team. The building was so small that people attending the game had to stand on the benches while the game was being played.
If you have an interesting fact or anecdote relating to the history of New York Mills, send it to us!  Email it to