Four years before Minnesota gained its statehood in 1858, the township of Credit River was platted in eastern Scott County.
Credit River is a 22-mile long tributary of the Minnesota River that flows through New Market, Savage and of course Credit River Township, which will soon be incorporated from a township to a city.
While the population and town of Credit River has grown over time, it still provides a quiet rural charm to its residents just as it did when its first settlers arrived.
Many cities and townships were historically named after notable people or its settler’s original home, such as New Prague which was named after a large city in the Czech Republic.
But how Credit River got its name is still somewhat of a mystery, explained Scott County Historical Society Program Manager Rose James.
Three different stories are passed around when one inquires about the history behind the township’s name.
One is of a town shopkeeper who extended his generosity by giving “down on their luck” Irish families credit. The other story is that French traders gave Irish immigrants credit as they traveled their way up the Mississippi River, a SCHS blog post states.
The third story is the most widely shared of the three and tells the tale of Reverend Albert Ostet from Lakeville who traveled to the township church to deliver mass, which was common during the time. On one of his trips to Credit River, the river was so flooded he was unable to cross and he had to return home to Lakeville. When he arrived back home he found his mother was dying. Had the river not been flooded he would not have seen his mother before she passed and for that he gave the river credit, the post states.
The historical society collected what information it does have on the history of Credit River’s name from a 1987 Shakopee Valley News article which gathered the tales from resident interviews.
“We don’t necessarily have a verified source for the history of the name of Credit River. I think it’s one of those histories that exists in stories more than elicit theories or facts,” James said.
Early inhabitants and settlers
The Dakota people were the first inhabitants of southern Minnesota and European American settlers didn’t arrive until 1854. Most of the settlers were Irish who most likely immigrated because of the Irish potato famine. The famine was caused by a fungus that infested crops and led to a devastating loss of potato crops, which were a main source of food.
Credit River provided the opportunity of land ownership to its settlers, one they didn’t have in Ireland. This led to a large Irish community in the area, James said.
According to the historical society, records from 1870 show the township was two-thirds Irish.
“Which is kind of interesting because if you look at Scott County as a whole really the majority of immigration came from German and Czech families but there’s definitely this Irish pot in the Credit River area,” she added.
Farmland drew the families into the area, but many ancestors of the first settlers noted the land was actually difficult to farm because of all the lumber that had to be cleared from it, James said.
Some of the early families to settle in the area were the Caseys, Sherins, Flemmings, Whites and Clearys — names still prominent in the area today, the historical society notes.
The Cleary family is perhaps the most well known name and is how Cleary Regional Park got its name. Cornelius and Bridget Cleary like other settlers came to America to escape the potato famine. They first lived in New York before claiming land in Credit River and building a log cabin home.
“Like many settlements in Scott County one of the first couple families, the ones that seemed to have the most social clout would use their home as sort of a de facto hotel and church so it became a community center in these small communities,” James said.
Credit River’s first municipal elections were also held in the cabin and Cornelius was described in his obituary as an excellent citizen, friend and the town’s first settler, according to the SCHS.
The Cleary family land passed through multiple owners before it became what is now Cleary Lake Regional Park and at one point 100 acres of the land was loaned to Fort Snelling during WWII for flight instruction and practice flights for soldiers, James said.
Cleary Lake Regional Park now offers outdoor recreation for residents of Credit River, Savage, Prior Lake and other visitors and is actively looking for residents to update the Cleary Lake Master Plan.
Presently, Credit River is nearing 6,000 residents and waiting for a chief administrative law judge to set a hearing date, which will allow the township to hold a special election to nominate a city council and mayor, officially changing Credit River to a city.
For more information the history of Credit River visit the SCHS blog on scottcountyhistory.org.