History: Bribery, Scandal and Bankruptcy with William S. King
A short biography of the controversial man who named King’s Highway and Lyndale Avenue, and who gave us the park land around Lake Harriet.
William S. King was born in New York State in 1828. After spending his early working years in agriculture and journalism in New York he moved to Minnesota, arriving in Minneapolis in 1858.
King founded a daily newspaper called the State Atlas a year after his arrival in Minnesota and was a major stockholder in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
In addition to his interest in newspapers, King was a Republican abolitionist who campaigned for the election of Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln’s election, King was appointed to the position of postmaster to the House of Representatives, a job he held until the early 1870’s.
King was an energetic risk taker who aggressively invested in land and public transit. He formed the Minneapolis Street Railway Company with several investors.
He also purchased large tracts of farmland west of Minneapolis, ultimately acquiring a large area surrounding Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun. His purchase of over 30 parcels of land, made only days apart, totaled over $114,000, an equivalent of around $2,000,000 in today’s dollars.
Some found the rapidity with which King purchased his land suspect. Around the same time he purchased his land, King had received several large checks from the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, a company already implicated in bribing congressmen.
King was brought before a congressional investigation committee for involvement in vote buying. King declared his innocence to the committee in 1873, and remained popular enough at home to be elected to the House of Representatives.
Becoming a congressman didn’t end suspicion about King’s involvement with the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. In 1875, he was indicted for perjury, although the case was ultimately dismissed on technicality.
After only one term as a congressman, King returned to Lyndale Farm, named in honor of his father Reverend Lyndon King. There King raised racehorses, blooded short-horn cattle, and Cotswold sheep.
King was a busy man. In addition to farming, running newspapers and building a public transit company, he campaigned for the Minnesota State Fair to have a permanent home in Minneapolis.
In 1877 he turned a large profit putting on the State Fair in Minneapolis. Streetcars brought fair-goers directly to the grounds and King displayed his herd of short-horned cattle which one report claimed to be, “the finest collection of … animals ever led into any show ring.”
It was his energy for maintaining a diverse group of businesses that led him to be dubbed “Old Thaumaturgus” which means “miracle worker” in Greek.
Not all King’s endeavors were so successful. By 1875 King was losing on money on the farm and had to sell cattle and land to pay his debts. King invested $16,000 to build a pavilion and hotel at Lake Calhoun but without public transportation it failed to attract the customers it needed to make a profit.
The same year of his State Fair successes, King lost his land in bankruptcy to Philo Remington. Part of Lyndale Farm was sold by Remington to Louis Menage, who developed the land into Cottage City, a precursor to the Linden Hills neighborhood.
King’s luck returned in 1884 when a court ruled that Lyndale Farm legitimately belonged to him. It was then that he made his generous donation to the Minneapolis Park Board, leaving the legacy of the great parkways surrounding Lake Harriet.
William King died in 1900 and was interred at Lakewood Cemetary.
Although William King and Lyndale Farm are long gone, we see King’s legacy in the park land of southwest Minneapolis as well as King’s Highway and Lyndale Avenue.