The land which later became Nobles County was first occupied by the Sisseton Indians. The first white man to set foot on the land was Joseph Nicolas Nicollette, who came to map out the area in 1842 and named the lakes Okabena (there was also an East Okabena), Ocheyedan, and the Karanzi River. The first settlement was near Graham Lakes. Township surveys were run along the Iowa border in 1852, laying out the townships of Grand Prairie, Little Rock, Ransom, Bigelow, and Indian Lake and continued eastward. The county was named for Col. W. H. Nobles of St. Paul. Many of the names given to the towns were in honor of some Railroad official. The territory was organized in 1849. By 1856 many settlers had come to Nobles County but soon stopped because of the panic of 1857. During this period only the trappers came. Trapping was profitable during the early days. Nobles County was created by the Minnesota Legislature on May 23, 1857, just before the full force of the panic was felt. Settlers were also discouraged from coming by the Indian Massacre of 1857. At this time a band of Dakota Indians had killed settlers in Spirit Lake and along the Des Moines River in Jackson and Cottonwood Counties. The few whites in the area were understandably reluctant to stay.
County Government did not start until 1870. The first railroad was built in 1871 from Mankato through Worthington to LaMars, Iowa. This later became the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha. During the summer of 1867, a mail route was established from Blue Earth City through the Graham Lakes settlement to Yankton, S. Dakota. In January a post office was established in the settlement. The population in the spring of 1870 was 117 and nearly doubled by fall.
In 1871 a group of men from Toledo, Ohio organized a company to locate a colony of settlers in some western country. After traveling 20,000 miles in the Midwest, they decided on Nobles County and by the spring of 1872, hundreds of people came in and took up land. The mail was brought to Worthington by train and an overland route was established from there to Sioux Falls. Post offices were established in Dewald (one mile northeast of Rushmore), Adrian, and in Westside Township. Worthington became the County Seat in 1873. The railroad gave the county a block of land in the heart of the city of Worthington to be used for a courthouse, which was built in 1877. The building was replaced in 1894 by a stately building of red brick and a massive stone foundation featuring a tower and elaborate cornice work. It is now being replaced by three new buildings.
The census of 1861 was 11 families (totalling 35 persons) --3 from Norway, 3 from Bavaria, 1 from Ireland, and the rest from the eastern states. In 1880 the population was 4,435. In 1895 it was 11,905, and in 1970 it was 22,959.
The Indians and the early settlers found a beautiful land covered with prairie grass and wild flowers. There were ducks, wild geese, brant, curlew, pelicans, prairie chickens, and some big game. Land sold for eight to ten dollars an acre but some Okabena lakeshore brought $50.00 to $100.00. The government gave the railroads the odd numbered sections of land adjoining the railroad to encourage the building of the railroads.
From 1873 to 1879 the settlers suffered through plagues of grasshoppers and terrible winters. The January 7-8-9 blizzard of 1873 was one of the worst, covering the whole northwest area. Seventy lives were lost Ś four in Minnesota.
1700 - 1900
1700 -- Sioux Indians arrive
1830 -- Joseph Nicolas Nicollet explores region
1857 -- Nobles County organized
1868 -- Andrew Dillman becomes the first resident
1871 -- G.H. Hoffman builds the first permanent home
1871 -- St. Paul & Sioux City Railroad completed to Worthington
1871 -- National Colony Company founds Worthington
1872 -- First colonists arrive
1872 -- Worthington Township organized on May 20th
1872 -- Union Church organized
1872 -- Western Advance becomes the first Newspaper
1873 -- Tragic Blizzard hits area on January 7th
1873 -- County Seat established in Worthington
1873 -- Grasshoppers arriveŚremain until 1879
1873 -- Worthington Seminary founded
1873 -- Union Congregational Church builds the first church in Worthington
1875 -- State Bank of Worthington becomes the first bank
1876 -- Hexagonal school built
1876 -- National Colony Company bankrupted
1876 -- St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad extends to Sioux Falls
1877 -- First Courthouse built
1881 -- Advocates for granting liquor licenses win village election
1881 -- Longest and most severe winter
1882 -- Burlington Railroad extends north to Worthington
1883 -- Worthington charter amended -- Temperance clause repealed
1884 -- Burlington Railroad connects Worthington with Iowa
1888 -- Worthington High School built
1889 -- Burlington Railroad extends northwest from Worthington in 1891 -- First water works
1894 -- Jail and Sheriffs office built
1895 -- New Courthouse built
1895 -- Diversified agriculture replaces wheat farming as the predominant type of agriculture
1895 -- First electric light plant 1900 -- First drainage ditches constructed
1903 -- Tragic flood in September
1904 -- Carnegie Library built
1906 -- Worthington hospital established
1906 -- First Chautauqua held on lake