WATSON AT EARLY HIGH TIDE
During a few years right after Watson was founded it was a bustling marketing and trading center for a huge agricultural territory. There were then no Madison. nor any Dawson and the farmers on more than fifty per cent of the total area of Lac qui Parle county did all their trading and grain marketing in Watson. They even came to market and trade from as distant points as Yellow Medicine county and eastern South Dakota. That was until the townsites of Madison and Dawson were laid out and those villages "boomed" in 1884.
And in those first five years Watson grew by leaps and bounds. In the early summer of 1882 it had three grain elevators with a joint capacity of 200,000 bushels of grain. It had four general stores, one hardware store, one furniture store, one drug store, one millinery store, one jewelry store, one bakery, one harness and shoe shop, one doctor and his office, one hotel, one livery and drayage concern: two lumber yards, two billiard halls, one dance hall, four carriage and blacksmith shops, and five saloons. Then the Irish brogue resounded, tangled up with the "Norsk," in the public places in Watson for Jim Connelly was the livery man and Mother Finnegan was also a resident.
To endeavor to reconstruct a mental picture of the appearance of a village as it was more than half a century ago is more difficult than any cross word puzzle ever invented. There are no early village records or photographs whatever available to aid one. It must all be based on, and worked out from, hearsay from those who were themselves practically naught but children at that time. - But, in the spring of 1882 Watson was on an equal footing with New York city in this respect that it had a prosperous east side and also a prosperous west side. It did not sing "east side, west side" very long.
On the east side, where the residence of Fritz Olson stands now, stood then Arne Sparby's ill fated carriage and blacksmith shop. Right north of it stood a bakery owned by Gunerius Husher. North of that, on the corner now occupied by the residence of S. K. Fosnes, stood then Melchior & Sparby's Saloon & Billiard hall. It was a double front building, the saloon on the corner and the billiard hall next south of it. Albert Sparby a brother of the blacksmith was the saloonkeeper. South of the carriage and blacksmith shop was a drug store that belonged to Tom H. Onstad and a dwelling house.
On the lot now occupied by O, N. Aamot's hardware store and the post office stood then John Potter's saloon and billiard hall. On the lot now occupied by the barber shop belonging to Morris Falk stood a saloon and dance hall but the manager's name at that date can not be positively ascertained. On the First State Bank of Watson corner stood then Iverson Brother's general store building, a busy place, that contained the first Watson Post Office of which Helger Iverson was the post master. There were also a few dwelling houses on the east side but not as many as on the west side.
On the west side of the railroad track, on the east and west running street that the town well is on, extending from the Methodist church east to the railroad right-of-way was then the prosperous west side. On the corner south east of the town well and diagonally across the street intersection from it, where the old foundation and basement is still to be seen, was the biggest store building in the village, the Eidem general store. Ole Eidem its manager was also in 1882 the clerk of Tunsberg township. Right east of the Eidem store was a big lumber yard building, and east of that on the west right-of-way the Hansen grain elevator.
On the corner straight north the street from the Eidem store stood Ole Isacson's general store building. Straight west across the trail or avenue stood the Hotel built and started by the pioneer A. M. Anderson but in 1882 managed by Dolvin & Bengtson. Right close against the hotel on the west side of the hotel, and fronting north stood Dolvin & Bengtson's saloon building. Right south of the hotel building was Jim Connelly's Livery & Drayage concern in a big livery barn.
On the corner right by the town well, fronting south was Knut Steenerson's general store building. Right west of this building stood Lewis Petersons’s furniture store where Mrs. John Haugland's residence stands now. Right about where Mrs. Hagen's residence is now stood then Berg's saloon building. West of that saloon building clear to the Methodist church corner were more store buildings, and also where the Aamot, Espeland and Eiderm residences now are. In those other store buildings, at that time, there must have been the following business concerns not yet accounted for, namely, one millinery store, one jewelry store, one harness and shoe shop, and one hardware store. On the corner lot now occupied by the home of Hans Heieren was a carriage and blacksmith shop and north of Espeland's house there was another carriage and blacksmith shop.
The four carriage and blacksmith shops were owned respectively by; Rasmus Adamson; G. Pederson; Arne Sparby; and a man named Chapman. A man named Beamon managed the hardware store. Cling-Clang-Cling-Clang-Cling-Clang! went the blacksmith's melodious hammer all day then and took the noise producing place of the present day auto horn. There were no automobiles or tractors then and horses of all kinds and names stood along the rows of substantial hitching posts that lined the sidewalk curbings on both sides of the business streets. Some were restless, some were quiet, and some were fighting, but all were waiting for the time to come when they could go home to their feed boxes again.
The west side of Watson was only just a little bigger than the east side until a Sunday in July 1882. There was a meeting in the Zion church that Sunday at the regular hour, but being that it was yet only the horses and lumber wagon go-to-meeting age the Haugland family could not have driven through the street in Watson much earlier on their return from church than about 1:30 p.m.
Gullick Haugland who was a small boy at that time remembers, however, distinctly that when they drove past Melchoir & Sparby's saloon he saw Albert and Arne Sparby come from the saloon on the corner and go into the carriage and blacksmith shop. And he saw shortly afterwards black smoke arising from the roof of that shop. There was only a gentle breeze from the north-west that day but the village had no fire protection at all that could come with such an emergency at that time, and it was not long before the entire block of buildings was destroyed by the flames.