Benton Co. History: The Ghost Town of Watab
SAUK RAPIDS -- For a short time in the middle of Benton County's Watab Township there used to be a town by the same name. Watab was built at the same time as Sauk Rapids and both were incorporated in 1854. They were rivals from the very beginning with only about five or six miles separating them. Both towns had trading posts along the Mississippi River.
Benton County Historical Society Executive Director Mary Ostby says the two towns fought over being named the county seat.
There was a fight down at the legislature about who was supposed to have the county seat and it was located in Sauk Rapids, and the legislature ultimately said it should be in Watab, so it started in Sauk Rapids and then it got moved to Watab and a few years later it got moved back to Sauk Rapids.
Watab held the title for just three years from about 1856 until 1859. Ostby says after they lost the title as the Benton County seat it started to decline in importance. Then the construction of the Watab Mill in 1907 likely led to its final demise.
When they put the dam in it back flooded that area and since it was right on the river the number of inhabitants had gone down, and we haven't proven it yet but the story is once the dam was put in it flooded the town because it was so close to the river.
Watab at one time had its own newspaper, The Watab Reveille, with its first edition on January 13th in 1851, the first newspaper established in Benton.
Ostby says the first white man to set-up residence in the town of Watab was Asa White, who opened a trading post in 1848. David Gilman also opened a trading post and then built a hotel.
In its heyday, about 150 people lived in Watab and a number of businesses including stores, three bakeries, a post office and more.
It was located along the route of the Red River Ox Cart Trail making it the most important business point northwest of St. Paul.
She says there isn't a trace of the once-thriving community left anymore, including any sign of what they believe to be an old cemetery.
We've checked with a couple of the old-timers to see what happened to the cemetery. We only have one little excerpt that states that there used to be white crosses on that area, so there must have been people buried there.
Once a month Ostby is on the News @ Noon Show talking about the forgotten history of Benton County.