Pictures and history donated by Marianne Lantis


Religious freedom, no compulsory military training, few taxes and rich and unlimited farm land must have been the driving force that caused John Martens, 19 to leave his beloved Holland to migrate to America where he arrived at De Pere, WI in June, 1850.

By 1878 covered wagons were moving west with pioneers wishing to take up a piece of farmland. With a family of seven boys and a daughter to feed and raise, in the fall of 1878 John Martens entered Dakota Territory to lay claim to what later would be Section 18, Township 121, Range 47 of Melrose township in Grant County.

After disposing of his saloon in De Pere in the winter, John arrived April 8, 1879 along with three grown sons. They built a combination frame and sod shanty (See Photo upper left) on the banks of the North Branch of Whetstone Creek which crossed the new claim. Later that year his wife Theodora and the remaining children arrived. By Fall a permanent home on higher ground had been built. This also served as post office for St. Joseph where John Martens was postmaster from 1880 until 1902.

A scow was built (upper right hand photo) to ferry covered wagons and passengers across the swollen Whetsone. St. Joseph's Post Office, Martens Crossing, Dakota Territory, would be the correct address for the welcome mail tot he predominantly Holland settlement even before Milbank was established.

Fortune smiled on the Martens family and by the early 1880's a brick home was constructed. For 90 years it has provided a gathering place and home for five generations of Martens descendants and friends.

Sound religious background must have been instilled in John and his wife, the former Theodora Tillemans, for riding horseback to Graceville, MN, John arranged for a Catholic priest to come to the home. On Nov. 29, 1879 the first known Mass in Grant county was held there. The home continued as a gathering place for religious services for the community. Later the family helped raise funds and construct both the Milbank and Big Stone Catholic churches.

The farm is now owned and operated by John's grandson Bernard Van Stralen and his wife Gladys.