On February 9, 1887 Melrose officially became a city. The vote to become a city was 125 for, 65 against. By that date, Melrose had been a village for 16 years and a community of white settlers for 23.
The original inhabitants were members of several pre-historic cultures. A subculture called the Malmo focus lived in the area in the Middle Woodland Period, or roughly 300 to 1000 A.D, In 1963 a burial pit believed to date from 900 A.D, was uncovered near Middle Birch Lake north of town, It contained the bones of three people thought to be warriors, clam shells, and an intact pot, By the mid 18th century, the inhabitants were probably all Wahpeton Dakota. The Sauk River may have been the main "war road" in their ongoing battle with their traditional enemy the Ojibwa, The Dakota were expelled from Minnesota after the Dakota Conflict of 1862.
French explorer Jean Nicolet passed through the area in 1838, The first permanent settlers arrived 20 years later, when brothers Warren and Napoleon Adley from Maine homesteaded on the Sauk River in what would become the city of Melrose. The Adley's brother Moses and his wife Lucy soon joined them. It is thought that the Adleys named their new home for Melrose, Scotland since their ancestors came from the region near that town, famed for its ruined abbey.
Robert and E,C. Wheeler, also brothers from Maine, and August and Louisa Lindbergh and their infant son, Charles, arrived from Stockholm, Sweden in 1858 as well. August, who had been a banker and served in the Swedish Parliament, held a variety of public offices and helped to organize Melrose Township in 1866. Charles grew up to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and father of the first man to fly the Atlantic solo. Charles Lindbergh Jr. never knew his grandparents, but he frequently visited friends and family here. In July 1927, just after his famous flight, he made a 48-state tour in "Spirit of St. Louis" and dropped a letter of greeting on Melrose, It can be seen in the Melrose Area Historical Society Museum.
By 1867 Melrose had a hotel, stage coach station, post office, and school to serve its small population, but not much more. William B. Whitney, who eventually settled on Big Birch Lake, arrived in town that year, traveling on foot through the Sauk River Valley. "I did not see a store," he reported. "If you wanted a pound of coffee you must go to New Munich or Sauk Centre. I did not see a church of any denomination. I did not see a doctor. If you were sick you must ‘grin and bear it,’ or send to Sauk Centre....All goods had to be hauled from Sauk Rapids with ox teams. Dry goods were very high. If you bought a calico dress for your wife it cost $3. A pound of sugar, coffee or tea had to last a long while. I heard one man say he lived on basswood bark for two weeks."
This situation was soon to change dramatically, Later that year a man named Edwin Clark and his cousin William bought the Adley property. The Clarks built or improved the dam and established a flour and grist mill, general store, and sawmill. Edwin Clark, known as "the father of Melrose," invited the railroad to town and built almost an entire block of buildings on north Main Street. By the time he left in 1893, Melrose was a bustling business center complete with churches, railroad yards, and a variety of commercial enterprises.
Settlers arrived gradually, most of them from the eastern part of the United States, Germany, and Ireland. The Germans emigrated for various reasons: religious persecution, economic conditions, the promise of free land, the spirit of adventure, or to escape military service. Some simply wanted a better way of life for their children. They found central Minnesota similar to Germany in climate and terrain. The Irish, many of whom came to work on the railroad, fled famine and anti-Catholic prejudice in their homeland. Railroad division headquarters moved to Melrose in 1894. When they were transferred to St. Cloud 29 years later, it was a severe blow to the town’s economy.
Today Melrose is a thriving community of 2670. Two major manufacturing plants and a strong agricultural base have made it successful and helped it grow. Its schools, churches, medical facilities, parks and recreational areas, and cultural opportunities make it a good place to visit and to live.