Meet One of Woodbury’s Early Settlers

by | Apr 2024

William's father, James, with Eliza, Margaret and Jane Middleton

William’s father, James, with Eliza, Margaret and Jane Middleton. Photo: Woodbury Heritage Society

What would Woodbury’s first European settlers think of us now? I think they would be proud of what they started. For example, let’s take one boy’s journey.

At age 17, with his mother’s inheritance in hand, William Middleton set sail with his neighbors from a small village in Ireland to New Orleans, St. Louis and Stillwater before his family joined him as early settlers in Woodbury.

Surely their dreams were realized in religious freedom, fertile soil for farming and a new life. How could they imagine Woodbury as a vibrant center for jobs and shopping that it is today? They did, however, strive for a better life in the United States.

The booming city of Stillwater was the perfect source for lumber and other building materials for Middleton’s settlement in Woodbury. Two years of searching led him to 200 acres near what is now Cottage Grove Drive and Bailey Road, where beautiful oaks, fertile soil and a lake completed his homestead.

Upon receiving Middleton’s letter, James and Sara Middleton joined their son with his seven brothers and sisters. As the late great local historian Inez Oehlke once imagined their arrival: “They were all singing and happy. They were coming to their new home in Woodbury.”

Progressive as their family was, their land housed the first school where their Scottish neighbors attended and got along with the Irish settlers. You may have seen the historic school on a Woodbury Heritage Society-sponsored History in Our Backyard tour.

The Middletons had a great relationship with the Dakota and are known to have shared meals and rest with the Indigenous people under the big oak tree on the homestead.

We have much to learn from the hard work, sacrifice and service of our elders, the Middletons. Yet, I think they would be proud to see their names on the current Middleton Elementary School as well, honoring their first one-room schoolhouse in our—and their—beloved town.

Mathias Baden is a member of the Woodbury Heritage Society and a Realtor at Edina Realty. Find more at


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