Verdi is an unincorporated community (Class Code U6) located in Lincoln County, Minnesota at latitude 44.209 and longitude -96.352 (Verdi Panoramio Photos). The elevation is 1,762 feet (537 m). Verdi appears on the Verdi U.S. Geological Survey Map.
While Verdi is not technically a lost town yet, what once was a community bustling with people, community activities, railroad access, and even a hotel is now a shadow of what once was. According to several sources, the town was named for the Italian musical composer Joseph Verdi, and also to perpetuate the fact of the great and unusual greenness (verdi) of the prairie surrounding the town. One account has it that the town was named after Father Verdi who was working to improve the Rochester area when John C. Enke was there. Enke eventually settled in Verdi and opened a general store, and inside the store was located the post office beginning in 1879.
According to the History of the Origin of the place names connected with the Chicago and Northwestern, and Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railways published in 1908 by William H. Stennet, “Verdi was plotted in 1879 by the Western Town Lot Company.” The legal area of a Minnesota Township is usually 36 square miles (93 km2), but Verdi Township contains 38 square miles (98 km2) being six and one third by 6 six miles (10 km) due to the border between Minnesota and South Dakota. On Sept. 1, 1879 the Chicago and Dakota Railroad, now known as the Chicago and Northwestern, traditionally known as the Dakota Central reached Verdi. Grading for the track was done with horses, and many men were involved. There were two railroad gangs headed by a Mr. Reynolds and a Mr. McCormick. The Verdi depot, stockyards, and tool shed were built along the rails, and years later, the tool shed was moved to Lake Benton, and Albert Roffefson tore down the depot in 1960 for its lumber.
The railroad is the primary reason for Verdi’s start because section crews were needed to keep the track in good repair. The section crew and bosses were the buyers and builders of homes in Verdi, and stimulated the growth of the town. As the use of rail gave way to other modes of transport for goods and people, the town began to decline. Early businesses in town included the creamery, a two story building that burnt down in 1916. The cement foundation is all that remains; the blacksmith shop stood in the vacant lot north of the home of Herman Voltz, after him, a Mr. Rasmensen had the shop for two years. The building was eventually moved and became a garage for Harley Lambert. The Verdi Hotel had room for 26 customers. The building was taken down in 1942 and moved to the Paul Ort farm where it was made into a house. Directly behind the hotel was a butcher shop, this part of the building was torn down and made into a hog barn by Arthur Grinnell. Enke’s General Store had a hall with an outside stairway that allowed residents to attend silent movies and other shows. The hall also provided a place for wedding dances in the early days. The store served meals as well as selling a little bit of everything, and it burned to the ground in 1928. Enke also ran one of the three elevators in town at that time. Albert Enke was apparently a brave soul, at some point, President Calvin Coolidge made an unscheduled stop at the Verdi depot because of a hot box on one wheel and a train wreck on the curve east of town. While many residents gathered around, it is said that Enke was the only one “who dared shake hands with the president and his wife.” The town had a lumberyard, a small café, a tavern, a dance and pool hall, a post office, several grocery stores, and the Verdi State Bank.
The Verdi State Bank was robbed by three armed men, and apparently made the newspapers as far away as Minneapolis at the time because the robbery happened in daylight. According to an account by Edwin Tams, former owner of the bank, the event took place at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 4, 1930. The total amount taken was $1,064, and no one was injured in the incident. “All three were later apprehended. The first two that came in served 20 years, and the third man (the lookout) served eight years.”
Throughout the years, sports including baseball, softball, track, basketball, football, and wrestling were all popular in Verdi, with both the high school and the town having teams at various points in history. The school had an A and B squad of cheerleaders, a twirling group for several years, and in the beginning what was known as a pep club. The school being central to the community also provided annual entertainment in the form of holiday musical selections and a senior play. Often, there was a junior play as well. In the 1966-1967 school year, the school presented a one-act play team for the district contest in Tracy. They presented “The Bishop’s Candlesticks.” In the 1967-1968 school year, Maurice Bickford helped students organize the JETS Club which was established as the first junior engineering technical society in Southwest Minnesota. He was also the wrestling coach that year as well. Verdi was one of the first districts in the state to use motorized school busses. The first drivers were Henry Gust, Hans Klinker, Julius Gramatz, and Edward Dial. In 1928, John Loges and Karl Gust began driving. John drove for 40 years, and Karl for 25. In 1968, John held the distinction of having the longest service to a single district by a bus driver. Other community happenings included the Verdi Crop Show begun in 1945 and discontinued shortly after the school closed in 1969 called the “Verdi Winter Fair,” street sales, horse sales, Gala Days, Founders Day picnics, threshing days, and a variety of other events including those sponsored by the churches that brought people off the farm and into town creating a close knit community.
Today, Verdi is home to the Verdi United Methodist Church and hall, begun in 1889; the pit pumping businesses of Shannon Clipper and Shawn Johnson; the septic service of Keith Clipper; and the elevator and fertilizer business operated by Glyde Knudson. People gather daily for coffee at the Community House that is also used as a town and school museum. The building houses the remnants of the school trophy case, the class pictures that used to hang on the walls, and several of the classroom seats from the school, now closed, standing empty across the street.
Note: Information in this article comes from the booklet A History 1879–1979 Verdi Community Centennial “A Century of Activity” Verdi Minnesota; the booklet History of Verdi and Verdi Public School 1880-1968; and an interview with Keith Clipper regarding the businesses still operating in town.