In May, 1882, Myron R. Kent filed the first plat of the village of Mora. The railroad had not yet reached Mora, but it had been surveyed and was under construction. On October 27 of that year a construction train, pulled by an old wood burner locomotive, was the first train to reach town. This was the short lived Hinckley branch of the Minneapolis and St. Cloud line. The road was officially opened for operation on December 4, 1882. R. J. Williams, a brother of C. E. Williams, was the first station agent. The first post office was opened February 27, 1883, with Myron R. Kent as postmaster.
Israel Israelson, a settler who homesteaded near Lewis Lake in 1871, suggested a name for the new village, that of Mora, his home town in Dalarna, Sweden. The name sounded good to Mr. Kent so he requested the new town be named Mora.
Mr. Kent lost no time in starting the first building in town by building a log structure located on North Lake Street. He sold this building to A. J. Conger, who completed it for a hotel opening for business on July 4, 1882; celebrating the event with a big dance. A building boom followed; by 1888 the town boasted a court house, jail, school, two hotels, five stores, a lumber yard, three saloons and many residences.
These few paragraphs are from the 1981 second edition printing of “Ken-A-Big” written by Frank Ziegler, edited and arranged by Robert H. Beck. The book’s first edition was printed in association with the Kanabec County Historical Society in 1977 as the Bicentennial Project.
How many people in Mora today know who the founding fathers of Mora were? Or that the original plat of Mora filed by Mr. Kent did not even include Union street which became our “Main Street” The original plat of Mora was defined to the North by the South shore of Lake Mora, Maple Avenue and South two blocks to Forest Avenue, with an indication of the future rail line but no avenue. (Became known as Rail Road Avenue and for many years was the town's main street.) The original plat was only three blocks wide with Lake, Vine and Elm streets.
Who Was Myron Kent?
This article is reprinted in part from a story in the May 12, 1952 Kanabec County Times : “40 Years Ago A Man Dies.” With information from other articles found in the Newspaper archives at the History Center.
Myron Kent was one of the most important men in Mora’s history. He platted the town of Mora, was it’s first postmaster, served as county attorney for a short time although he was not a lawyer, operated a store and carried on logging operations under the Firm name of Kent and Laird. His story is also a bizarre bit of early Mora history. It was the story of a highly respected businessman who wound up as a two-time embezzler, an impostor and finally a convicted wife murderer.
From what we know the Kent story begins in Medina, Ohio where he was a respected citizen known by his real name of William Wilder Pancoast. In 1873 at the age of 23 he married Emma Terrell, daughter of a prominent resident, and the town was shocked when the young wife died suddenly a short time later.
Kent (Pancoast) collected a heavy life insurance payment and although the case eventually died away , many suspected that Emma Pancoast had been poisoned. Shortly afterwards, Kent disappeared, but took with him $30,000 from the First National Bank of Medina where he had been employed as cashier.
He had fled to Canada, and by the time he turned up in this territory he had changed his name to Myron Kent. He married the daughter of Frank Laird, a lumber man at Mission Creek in Pine County. Although the parents protested the marriage at first, Kent was later taken into the lumber firm. Later when $20,000 was missing, only the impassioned plea of Kent’s wife saved him from prosecution.
The couple then moved to the site of Mora, where he platted the original town site and one of the additions still bears his name. Here he became a respected businessman.
The last chapter in Kent’s life began to take shape when the couple moved to Mandan, N. D. On March 4, 1894, friends in Mora received word that Mrs. Kent had been killed. By this time Kent was in Nebraska. The first report of Mrs. Kent’s death said she and Thomas Swidensky, the
hired man, had surprised a burglar and Mrs. Kent had been shot by accident by Swidensky in the darkness. The death was first deemed to be accidental, but the Laird family did not believe it to be an accident
and hired a detective to investigate the case. Swidensky later confessed to receiving money from Kent to murder Mrs. Kent.
Kent was arrested in Nebraska were he had assumed yet another name, stood trial and was convicted in North Dakota for the murder of his wife. The original sentence of death by hanging was commuted to life
imprisonment by Gov. Allin of North Dakota. When word reached Mora,
village merchants posted signs: KENT STILL LIVES, GLORY TO GOD, AMEN.
Although Kent claimed his innocence until his death in prison on June 6, 1912, he had received the guilty verdict in two trials. And although he was known to twice have stolen large sums of money and had hidden his identity with two known alias, many Mora residents of the time believed him innocent.
You can find out more about Myron Kent founder of Mora, by being your own History Detective and take a look back through the archives, available free to members of the Kanabec Historical Society and History Center. Without the History Center archives, this story and other pieces of Mora’s past could have been lost forever.